The Silver Lake Chorus has made its career out of creating choral arrangements for original and unreleased songs by notable artists — including Sia, Tegan & Sara, Bon Iver, Ben Lee and others. But the chance to work its magic on a Van Dyke Parks composition — “Tabu,” premiering exclusively below — was something of a holy grail moment for the 20-member Los Angeles troupe.
The connection came via TSLC member Bobby Halvorson, who works as an engineer assistant for Parks. “Van Dyke is sort of historically inaccessible, but I knew Bobby had the connection with him,” TSLC music director Mikey Wells tells Billboard. “I said to Bobby, ‘Ask him if he has a song he wants to share,’ since (Parks) allegedly is sitting on a treasure trove of songs. Right away Bobby said, ‘Yep’ and he passed along the song, which was flush with a fully recorded track and production and all the things you’ve come to expect from a Van Dyke Parks song.”
Wells and groupmate Heather Ogilvy arranged the track for TSLC, with Luke Top producing. “We were impressed by the classic buoyancy and virtuosity of (Parks’) arrangement, but of course we wanted to make it our own,” Wells explains. “We wanted to keep it ornamented but add a little different feel to it, so we chose vowel sounds that sounded cathartic and almost tribal or something. This has six altos sharing leads. It’s fun to figure out how to bring out the individual performers as well as create some unity and blend everything together.” TSLC also put its stamp on “Tabu” with “this sort of dirty fuzz bass” producer Top created, while the group also employed ukulele and vibraphones to insure “a more direct nod to the Van Dyke/Beach Boys sensibility.”
Wells adds that TSLC will probably “reward” Halvorson for the Parks get by letting him arrange a future track. He indicates TSLC may not be above exploiting the connection again, either. “We’ve done a lot of this working with a bunch of individual artists,” Wells says, “but we also have brainstormed and talked about going a little bit deeper and longer in collaboration with a given artist, like a Beck or a Justin Vernon or a Van Dyke Parks or a Jon Brion or someone you can go deep for six to 12 songs and explore the colors of their, and our, musical rainbow. Van Dyke would be a cool person to have a more meaningful, more extended collaboration with for sure.”
“Tabu” is one of two new tracks TSLC has released recently, following “Not Not” from the group Lucius. The group is planning to release another two songs during the fall or winter, according to Wells, while there are no plans yet for another full-length album to follow-up 2015’s self-titled debut and the remix set that followed in 2016. “It took us forever to do the first albums — I mean just forever,” Wells says. “So in doing these two (tracks) we wanted to do a much more simplified sort of recording vision. We just put up two microphones in the room and rehearsed the hell out of them and recorded them with little to no tweaking or technical mess, which was really fun.
“You just need to find a way to pop out of the myriad of options you have, whether video or audio, and having both a vivacious arrangement and also just great raw material to work with helps a lot.”