Musical vets Sean Hoffman and Leyla Akdogan had been making beautiful music together for almost five years before the couple ventured into the audioscape as Loch & Key. Complicated chords and bossa nova jazz intertwine on their 2010 debut "Jupiter’s Guide for Submariners" but a more striped-down sound awaits listeners on their next release. Hoffman and Akdogan sat down with us at the downtown bar where she bartends (and suggests wines) to hash through the old and dish on the new.
SH: So, I just want to warn you - we have a new record that we’re still working on. This last record came out in 2010. I was on a tour with a band called American Music Club and we were on a tour, we did a one-off in Spain. And I took Layla with me and we spent about a month there and wrote an album. So it’s really vacation-y, kind of light. It was born of a vacation.
LA: Did you tell her the story about the laundromat?
PO: He did not
LA: It’s not really a very exciting story but that’s like when we first started working on the record. He bought this really cheap guitar in Spain when we were driving. And we first got the idea, he started playing, in a laundromat on the south of France.
PO: Respective question for each of you—what is your background in music? What is the first thing you remember hearing?
SH: I know this exactly. The first record I ever became obsessed with was William Tell’s "Overture", it was the theme to Lone Ranger. I had a little 45 of it, my parents had got it for me. I was obsessed with it, I played it non-stop, to the point where my mom was like, ‘Haven’t you heard it enough?’ And I don’t know what it was… back then it was almost erotic or something. It grabbed me, it had my being! I was totally immersed in it.
PO: How old were you?
SH: I was three.
LA: I have actually answered this question before and it was Cyndi Lauper, "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun." And it was the first song I ever recorded. At Busch Gardens, you could go into the booth and record your own little songs. I was like six. My best friend at the time and me both recorded our own versions and hers came on first and she sounded like a chipmunk and I burst out laughing. And then mine came on and it was so much worse.
SH: She just needed a good producer.
LA: I sang my whole life, in musical theater and in little kid vocal groups where you sing “God Bless America” in the shopping mall. But I never had a real vocal lesson until 2001.
PO: What made you decide to get the lesson? When did you suddenly want to do music?
LA: I actually knew it from the moment I moved out to LA. It was a little naïve and overblown at first—like, ‘I will conquer the world with my music!’ I always knew that I wanted to do it. And I really believe that if you work hard at anything and treat it like a business and do the work then you can be successful. So that was just my plan. That I would keep doing it until something worked.
PO: What was your first performance that you can remember?
SH: I can remember this—it was in front of the PTA. The first instrument, even though I always wanted to play the guitar, was the family instrument, the clarinet. And I played "I Love You Truly" in front of the PTA with piano accompaniment by the teacher. My grandparents flew out for that gig. I still have that clarinet—I have to get it re-padded. But I always wanted to play the guitar.
PO: When did you get your first guitar?
SH: Well I got my first guitar that was my own when I was 13. It was almost like a depression-era test I had to go through to get my first guitar. He gave me the acoustic guitar he’d gotten when he was stationed in Korea and it was terrible to play. But he also gave me a reel-to-reel, and I’d take the mic from the reel-to-reel and stick it in the acoustic guitar. And if I pushed the freeze on the reel-to-reel I’d get distortion and I’d get tape delay if I started the recording process. So when my dad came down and saw me playing the acoustic guitar with a microphone in it he realized it’s time to buy this guy an electric guitar.
It’s a good way to make sure somebody wants to do something. Make ‘em earn it.
PO: So your music obsession is literally lifelong.
SH: It’s all I ever wanted to do. […] It’s a weird time to be a musician, in this economy. It’s not the easiest way to make money in this life.
PO: What about you? How long have you been playing?
LA: Well, I don’t have the kind of formal training that Sean does but I’ve been playing in bands since 2001. I was in a different band when I met Sean, and then we broke up. And I got to know him for a couple of years but he was always working on other side projects when we were dating. He does all of the music writing and then I write some of the lyrics.
I get frustrated if I can’t do something well. And I’m an artist, that’s what I studied in school, so I kind of felt like I do want to learn and it’s still important to me to learn… but people are already so far ahead that I will just never be as good as someone like Shawn doing what he does. You just let the person that’s awesome at what they do be awesome at what they do and you sort of humbly bring what you can bring to the table—
SH: That’s not necessarily true. (LA laughs) She was gifted with pitch for a singer and it’s a good place to start. She’s been able to pick up everything very fast. So she’s always been singing, she has good pitch, she had piano lessons when she was a kid.
LA: Well, thank you. I really love playing piano. I’m getting much better at it.
PO: How do you think the second album will differ from your first one?
SH: Second record I spent a lot more time as an engineer sonically crafting it. First record I kind of did it Prince-style—just throw a microphone up, be like "Okay, that’s good enough, let’s move on." I’m not saying its poor quality but I didn’t sit around and really mess with the sonics. We wrote songs, we got them done, and we just finished it.
This one we’ve been sitting around and obsessing with it, thinking of all the different things we can do. I don’t know if that’ll make it better, but that’s what we’re doing. (laughs) We’re putting our guts into it. It sounds a lot more simple, kind of like Nick Drake. Simple but effective.
LA: We're also doing a lot of art, visual art tie-ins. I'm animating a music video for one of the songs - hopefully that will be up in February. It will! It will be up in February.
PO: Does being in LA effect your music at all?
SH: The way I feel about Los Angeles is—there’s no curfew. There’s no bedtime. People always complain about the bars closing at 2:00 but there’s always a party, and I mean like every night. I always just feel the buzz of activity. Like when you drive around in the middle of the night and see the bright lights of a film shoot. Or just knowing that people are always up doing something. And the fact that it’s a town of dreamers. There are people that come up here and really fail and hate the place. But a lot of people come up here and just want to live an exceptional life.
Loch & Key’s 2010 album, ‘Jupiter’s Guide for Submariners’ can be found on Amazon and iTunes. They – along with L.A. staple correatown - will also be guests at the Crawford Family Forum on Wednesday, Feb. 1.