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January 18, 2018

Alumni Spotlight: The Le Boeuf Brothers


Photo by Shervin Lainez

 

Alumni and identical twins Pascal Le Boeuf (BM ’07, MM ’10) and Remy Le Boeuf (BM ’07, MM ’09) are making waves in the music world. Most recently, Pascal received a 2018 Grammy nomination in the Best Instrumental Composition category for “Alkaline,” a track from the Le Boeuf Brothers’ newest album, imaginist. In addition to their work together as the Le Boeuf Brothers, Remy and Pascal take part in a number of diverse projects.

Remy has performed as a sideman with Grammy Award-winning saxophonist Donny McCaslin and Bob Mintzer and has opened for Dirty Projectors. He has also received commissions from the Jerome Foundation and Chamber Music America. Pascal received a 2016 FROMM Commission from Harvard University, composed music for the 2008 Emmy Award-winning movie “King Lines,” and is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in music composition at Princeton University.  

We asked Pascal and Remy some questions about their lives, careers, and time at MSM:

Tell us about your path from student to professional musician.

Pascal: I’ve never thought of the relationship between “student” and “professional” as a linear path. As a college student, I did a great deal of professional work in the city: performing, teaching, writing music, recording, and producing. My ultimate goal was to achieve a lifestyle that provided both financial stability and creative freedom.

Remy: The student environment is a professional environment, and the relationships you make in school carry forward into the professional world. There wasn’t a path from one to the other; we were working while at MSM, and so were many of our peers. As we developed our voices as composers and performers, we pursued professional opportunities simultaneously.

What does a “day in the life of the Le Boeuf Brothers” typically look like?

Pascal: I can’t speak for Remy, but we share a life sometimes, such as when we’re on the road. When we’re not performing, we spend a lot of time in the car talking and listening to music with our bandmates. We try to spend time engaging with the communities we are visiting by seeing sights, doing as locals do, visiting old friends, and teaching whenever possible. When time permits and I find myself in a new city, I like exploring hot yoga studios and local coffee shops.

Remy: Every time I try to establish a daily routine, I end up veering from it. At best, I’ll block off windows of time for various activities: wake up, two hours of composing, two hours of saxophone, lunch, emails and computer work, more practicing or writing or a jam session… by evening I might spend time with my girlfriend, play a gig, or go see a show. If I am busy during the day, I’ll often stay home and work into the night.

What have been your greatest challenges after graduating?

Pascal: There was a time when I found it of primary importance to learn about everything I loved in order to develop an understanding of myself as an artist, but a transition occurred after which it became more important to take action by focusing original thoughts and influences into a cohesive unified artistic output. Basically, prioritizing input changed to prioritizing output. I have a tendency to cast a wide net when following my interests and try to maintain fluency in divergent idioms, but if there are too many, they can compete with each other instead of complementing each other. Finding ways to unify the many things I love has been the most wonderful but also the most challenging task of my artistic life. I spent and continue to spend many long nights self-doubting and creating failed experiments that no one will ever hear. I am now used to this process and can navigate it more efficiently, but it took time and patience. I’m still working out the kinks.

Remy: After graduating I wanted to gain some perspective by living in a new place, so I spent a few years in Los Angeles. Transitioning into a new community and finding my place within it was a huge challenge but one that helped me understand who I am as an individual in the context of a larger community.

What career and life advice would you give to new grads entering the “real world”?

Pascal: You don’t have to follow the prescribed paths. When you look at the environment around you, you’ll notice there are career paths that many successful musicians follow. For example: practice harder, listen harder, research harder, be creative, be a good person, make rent by teaching, don’t drink too much, dress sharp, make a website, book a tour, release a record, look for opportunities, apply for grants, repeat… This works. There are similar paths in orchestral music, the lower east side rock scene, composers in academia, etc. That’s nice, but remember… the path doesn’t define you. Don’t lose touch with what you are trying to do differently. You are in charge of the path you make for yourself, and if you are interested in innovation, it likely does not exist yet.

Remy: I agree with everything Pascal said. I’ll add that I think a lot of students expect that if they work hard then opportunities will come to them – this was not my experience. You have to figure out who you are and make your own opportunities. If you want to go on tour playing music, don’t wait for someone to call you for their tour – book your own tour. If you want grants, apply for them. If you want to put your record out on a label, the label isn’t going to contact you. Of course there are exceptions, but you can’t count on these, especially with so many amazing musicians in New York living the same dream. The best path is often the one you make for yourself.

What does MSM mean to you?

Pascal: MSM is a wonderful community of musicians and teachers learning and reaching for truth together.

Remy: MSM is a place where people go through the process of figuring out who they are. That was my experience in college. Now I teach at MSM’s summer program and enjoy working with excited, inspired, and profoundly creative high school kids as they explore and discover their identities.

How did your education at MSM impact you or prepare you in life?

Pascal: I learned some great aphorisms from Justin DiCioccio that still serve me well, especially “work a little harder than everyone else, and pay attention to detail.” Also, the concept of the “complete musician” (a performer, composer, and educator). Chris Rosenberg once referred to the musician’s income as a pie chart with many sources… this remains a helpful model. I also gained considerable teaching experience from watching the faculty and how they engaged with various students and topics.

What surprises you about where the music industry is moving?

Pascal: I am encouraged by companies like Bandcamp and Patreon, both of which work to help artists maximize audience engagement and revenue so we can operate effectively without needing record labels or having to give away music for free. Most major digital streaming services today are spineless, and being able to subvert them is great. Also, crowd funding is a wonderful way for students to make a record without having to break the bank.

Remy: I agree.

Who is your role model and why?

Pascal: Geri Allen. I’ve thought of her as a role model since I was a teenager. As an artist, she was a stylist and an innovator. She developed a distinct and moving language of her own which can be heard in her angular improvisations and compositions. As a person, she was always kind to me and conducted herself with grace and strength. The world is a better place because of her contributions.

Remy: Bjork. She completely invented herself, and she isn’t afraid to make music that is personal, explosive, or intimate. No sound or emotion is off-limits to her. Everything about her is inspiring.

Name something outside of music and your career that you are passionate about.

Pascal: I love hot yoga and the communities that I’ve interfaced with through practicing. There’s a great studio near MSM called Bikram Yoga Harlem on 145th Street between Broadway and Amsterdam.

Remy: I am a mushroom specialist. Since childhood I’ve spent many a winter covered in poison oak digging through the forests of California to hunt for prized fungus. I am a member of the New York Mycological Society which, oddly enough, was founded by John Cage.

What is the most surprising track on your playlist?

Pascal: Rick James’s “P.I.M.P. The S.I.M.P.” from the album Cold Blooded.

Remy: I think I can speak for both of when I say we have always been huge fans of Ace of Base.

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

Pascal: When I was four, I wanted to be a train conductor like Ringo Starr in “Shining Time Station.”

Remy: I wanted to be a professional paper airplane maker when I was three. It seemed like a practical profession at the time.

What is one surprising thing people don’t know about you?

Pascal: We once sang for the Pope as soloists in Bernstein’s Mass when we were 13.

Remy: I am the voice of the main character in a PlayStation2 game called “Zone of the Enders.”

What is your favorite MSM memory?

Pascal: When Remy and I graduated, we switched places to receive our diplomas.

Remy: Although I was a jazz major, I did a lot of writing for my friends in the classical department. I remember pulling an all-nighter finishing my first string quartet in time for a rehearsal. My cellist friend, Jillian Bloom (BM ’09, MM ’17), had a voicemail box set up with her playing the opening phrase of the Shostakovich cello concerto. When I wrote my quartet, I decided to quote it as a joke. As my friends and I rehearsed, the piece entered into a long build section that got more and more exciting until a sudden break—and in comes Jillian with her answering machine melody. Everyone fell out of their chairs laughing.

Check out the video for "Alkaline," the track from "imaginist," which Pascal Le Boeuf received a 2018 Grammy nomination for Best Instrumental Composition.