Cover Image for Low Leaf’s Decolonizing the Release Schedule by Doing the Shadow Work

Low Leaf’s Decolonizing the Release Schedule by Doing the Shadow Work

Words by Alex Siber
Published on 

When Low Leaf tells you she’s been here for eons, you believe her.

Closed eyes might see the harpist incarnate in the crowd of Mulatu Astatke’s homecoming jazz concert with Duke Ellington in Ethiopia in 1972. Or maybe spot her levitating deep within the Mindanao rain forests, suspended midair by vibrations rising like geysers from the earth. Set your local library time machine to ancient Egypt and there she’ll appear, on camelback with drum pads, trotting through a patch of desert that’ll one day host triangular prisms and the sandstorm-proof tombs within them. Some say Low Leaf told the joke that made the Mona Lisa smile (it was at the expense of producers who use stock sounds). Water is wet and Angelica Lopez is eternal.

Even after morning alarms scramble dreams into hiding and sunlight floods the retinas, you can sense Low Leaf, ever-present, through calm and chaos. For over a decade, the LA native has used music to extend imagination horizons. During her 2020 Heritage Square performance, she glides across her 47-string instrument like a flat stone across still water. Meanwhile, an early 2012 cut, “Go Go Go,” could soundtrack a send-off rave within a collapsing star. “Let It Go,” her recent release on Zora, is its spiritual successor. Then there’s her Palm Psalms album, which John Hopkins Medical Center should consider using for its psilocybin therapy research. Prismatic healing begins with the “Cleansing Incantation” on loop.

To those who know Low Leaf, be it through Low End Theory’s immortal ripples or deep Ras G rabbit holes on YouTube, she’s a living legend. Her comment sections — internet weathervanes that they are — tend to feature the word “mesmerized.” To herself, though, she’s just another work in progress. Someone who just so happens to make space odysseys with any given instrument, wield Ableton like a magic wand, and translate photosynthesis into sound waves. Auric fields always have at least a little room for improvement.

Low Leaf was kind enough to speak with us about treehouses, harp calluses, content vs art on TikTok, shadow work, and testing out web3 to get free. Read our interview below and check out ‘Can’t Meditate’ released today, the first song from her new project MiCRODOSE.

What’s your rising time?

To be honest, I go to bed at 3 a.m. or 4 a.m., then I wake up anywhere between 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. I wanna wake up earlier though, like around sunrise. There’s a magical early morning essence. Over the summer, I was staying up till super late, but—

Making music? Or going out?

Oh, making music. I don’t really go out.

Did the night owl schedule start because of music? Or since childhood?

In high school, I always used to go to bed late, considering what time I had to be up in the morning. I would always go to bed at least around 1 a.m. or 2 a.m. and have to wake up at 7 a.m. It was really stupid of me, but it was in high school that I started writing songs on the guitar, just arting out.

Immersing yourself.

Yeah. When my family slept, it was easier for me to enter a creative place. I wasn’t on the internet too much, but I’d be journaling, reading, recording music on a voice tape thing.

Your first recordings were on a cassette?

That’s what I used to do. I’d rewind it and listen to the playback, how it changed my voice. But it wasn’t long before I moved on from that because I wanted to layer things. I wish I still had those tapes. Maybe my Dad donated them. Maybe I gave them away. I gave one tape I made to a friend. I worked so hard on it, but I’m not sure she ever even listened [Laughs].

Please return the missing tapes to Low Leaf @universe.

It’s okay. The fact that it exists is really special.

Did you have the space growing up at home to create at night without worrying about the noise?

Whenever my family was gone, I’d make noise. Sometimes I’d make music all loud when my little brother was home, but he’d just deal with it [Laughs] At night though, most times I’d wear my headphones and sing really quiet. I’d try to sing into the mattress whenever I belted. Straight up serenading the mattress [Laughs].

It’s a rite of passage, almost. To find some way to sing without disrupting family when we’re younger. Testing ourselves out, our sound. Random but related: Have you recorded in a treehouse?

It’s my dream! I’ve always wanted to live in a treehouse, or access one to tap in and make music. Do yoga, meditate, eat, drink tea. Why?

A treehouse kind of feels like the right place to listen to your music. I also love treehouses so I may be projecting.

I feel at home when I’m in a tree, or next to a tree. When I’m creating, I’ll just root myself there without realizing it.

Hopefully the treehouse piggy bank fills up soon.

Wait, what’s your sun sign?

I’m a Scorpio. I remember telling someone I was a Scorpio after a show once and they told me they couldn’t trust me anymore and stopped talking [Laughs]. What about you?

Oh no, I love Scorpios. I’m a Virgo. In my experience, Scorpios and Virgos are the same sign but express themselves in an inverted way. There’s just this understanding between them. A Scorpio will think something and then a Virgo will go live it out, and vice versa. A Scorpio will have leopard print on the outside of a jacket, and a Virgo will have the leopard print on the inside. This happened to me.

Thought you were going to say Virgos had leopard print on their soul. Thank you for breaking it down. I know tea is a big part of your ritual — what are you brewing?

I’ve been drinking this blend of dandelion root and burdock root for years. I make it a latte or drink it straight with no honey. It fulfills that coffee feeling of wanting something bitter but sweet. But it feels non-buzzy and gives this really grounded feeling. It purifies the blood. I drink it every day, all day. I used to brew just dandelion root and I’d mix that with mushrooms, reishi, chaga — it was fire but such a process. This comes in a powder so it’s really easy. It’s low caffeine. Caffeine makes me buzzy and I’m already buzzy.

From Low Leaf’s Grand Performances video, directed by Azul Amaral.
From Low Leaf’s Grand Performances video, directed by Azul Amaral.

Do you remember your dreams?

For the most part, yes, but honestly lately, no. I haven’t as much because I’ve been smoking a lot of herb. I usually keep a dream journal but I stopped for the past month. It’s cool though. I only write in my journal if I want to, not out of obligation.

If it’s dream-related, it’s probably a bad time to force anything.

I’ve had experiences where I was in prayer or meditation, and I was like, to my higher self, ‘Look, I need to see a confirmation in my dreams. Work on me in my dreams.’ I receive so much insight from my dreams and they really help guide me or bring clarity. Sometimes it’s prophetic, about a person or a situation. Thanks for bringing that up, because I want to make it a point to harness this more.

I’m glad the conversation’s happening at the right time. You were in a groove really recently though, only a month since it was consistent.

Even without the journaling, I’ve definitely had dreams that were important for me to have in the past month. If I didn’t remember any, I’d be concerned.

Sirens going off in your head a bit?

You’re just not in touch with yourself when that happens. Looking at your phone before bed fucks with you too. If you sleep with your phone next to you, especially if it’s not on airplane mode, it’s messing with your auric field. I want to be in my own energy when I sleep. You’re really vulnerable if you don’t do things to seal up that space, before the dream state.

Is there a decision you can remember that was influenced by dreams?

I was given opportunities on the path that I said no to — really amazing things, because of my dreams. That aspect of my consciousness has set me on the less traveled road time and time again. You have to really believe in yourself to move forward that way. It goes really fucking deep for me when there’s any kind of exchange.

A few years ago, I had no psychic boundaries, so nothing felt safe. I used to see things very dualistically. But I’ve done a lot of shadow work since then to understand how frequencies express themselves through different people. I can feel that in a room now and accept it and focus on my own experience, on being sovereign. That said, now I’m on a different timeline.

When did the shadow work begin?

It just got really dark one day and I had to walk through it. Life got challenging. Like I all of a sudden realized I was on new terrain and I didn’t understand how I got there. The landscape around you shifts and you’re in it. I was just living it out, like, “When does this end?”

Where’s the light.

Yeah. And that shit’s still going. My next project is called MiCRODOSE, and it’s inspired by shadow work. In the past, I hadn’t really allowed my shadow to speak in my music. But I’m more embodied now. I’m not going to suppress or deny that shit. I love my shadow.

Does your shadow connote pain? Does this mean there’s a level of hurt on MiCRODOSE that hasn’t surfaced in your previous releases

Confronting the shadow can be very painful. It usually is, because there’s parts of ourselves we haven’t loved or processed, like frozen pictures of trauma that are just stuck in your aura. But it isn’t necessarily pain. I do talk about my personal life more on a few of these songs, as a creative experiment. What would it be like if I just talked my shit? It’s coming out of me, so what else am I going to do? Just lie about what I’m feeling when I’m writing? I kinda outgrew my former identity, where I was just singing about peace, love, and harmony. It was still genuine though, cuz I was in that space.

Did it take more time to share another dimension?

See, this project, I fucking made it in 2020. So it’s already not even me anymore. But it’s taken this long to materialize all the cosmic momentum I needed to finally share it. And in today’s musical landscape, I move different. I don’t move as fast. I’m doing everything myself. That’s not an excuse, but I’m just trying to move at my own pace and rhythm. It seems like with web3, that’s the way you’re supposed to move. I’m coming from years of programming from web2 structures and the industry pressing you. I’m rambling, stop me.

I have 100 questions. But first, reaching the point of saying, “This is how I feel, this is the time I need, what ripples out is what ripples out,” that’s beautiful. The shadow work you’ve prioritized has clearly led to massive strides as a person and as an artist. Are there specific tools you’ve valued most?

One of the biggest game changers for me was basic energetic hygiene – like making it a point to tune my auric field, and clear all the energy that isn’t mine. I had let so much in that didn’t belong. I had a really damaged aura. I’d take in things that didn’t belong and leave pieces of myself behind. I was a whole mess. Not as if I’m all perfect now. I just had no practice before. Even just clearing yourself from the day before bed, or soul retrieval.

Have you found particular methods that work well for you?

Rewiring the brain is a real thing. If there’s something that needs to be healed, we have the power to do that. I had yet to tap in with myself and learn more about having a body and how it works. Things got better when I stopped gaslighting my own intuition. I realized I was a highly sensitive, intuitive person. I didn’t get any guidance with this stuff from family. No one is clairvoyant or speaks on it. If they have questions, they know they can come to me. I know why I chose to be born into this bloodline.

If someone who was new to this work asked you for some techniques, what would you say?

I’m not an energy work practitioner, so I can’t really speak on that. But I’d recommend looking into New Earth Mystery School. That’s where I learned a lot of techniques that have helped me on my journey.

Really appreciate you sharing a resource you trust. There’s too many hustles in the health & wellness game, especially as more venture capital pours into it. Meanwhile, you were doing sound baths in what, 2015? The majority of the US population still probably doesn’t know what that term means, as en vogue as it is.

I honestly distanced myself from the wellness thing. There was a point in time when I was moving in that direction and more active with sound baths. But I realized I didn’t really enjoy that role as much because I feel like I was giving so much and it wasn’t—


Yeah. I could do it. But while I was doing it, I’d feel this calling to get back in the studio. It was important for me to plant those seeds in LA at that time though. But it’s fucked up. I’ve seen so many documentaries of people taking advantage of others in that industry. There’s a shadow side to it, so you need to have discernment. Either way we have to get used to coming into contact with fuckery. We’re literally in Babylon.

It sounds like a path that your dreams maybe helped steer you away from. Were you doing those sound baths around the time you got involved with Low End Theory? What was your experience like then?

Not yet. It was between 2010 and 2012, when I went to Low End often, because friends were playing. I feel like I was an outlier in that space. My boyfriend [Zeroh] would get mad at me saying that [Laughs]. He says I always try to separate myself. It’s so funny the way we choose to share our narrative. But I definitely witnessed a lot. I stayed witnessing the whole time.

I think my experience was a little bit tainted because I had relations with someone in that scene. I just wanted to keep a certain distance because of certain vibrations. I really did love how super experimental it was — people just went for it at Low End. It also made me ask myself, “Where do I exist in all of this?” Sound baths were an early way to try and carve a path for myself.

At one sound bath, this girl was having a whole ass exorcism — I think she took some shrooms. But I was just like, “Yo, am I doing this?” It’s real though. If someone doesn’t understand or respect that work, they could really open up some strange portals.

Was the ‘danger’ of sound baths, if harnessed by bad intentions, what really set off the decision to move away from them?

I asked myself what I should do and I had a dream about it. I still remember it. I was running with my gear to a show and I made it to the check-in person, who had this list of performers. I said my name, and they were like, “Oh, Low Leaf, Low Leaf, Low Leaf… Ah, there you are” and I got to play! But it made me realize I had to choose my focus at the time. I remember a lot of vivid details from dreams.

Anything random pop out to you? A blue serpent with dandelion wings?

Right before you said that, I thought about a dream I had about eating a snake in a sandwich [Laughs]. But it made sense. At that time, lots of doors were closing and opening in my life. New chapters. In nature, that’s what a snake does. They shed their skin. I hope to be able to express some of this dream language in my videos. Each track on MiCRODOSE will have one. That’s my plan anyway. Speaking it into existence.

Do your thing @universe. A video for every song would be a feat.

It’s brought me a lot of excitement. I watched so many films over the past two years and became just fascinated by storytelling and how we choose to share our narrative — and how people create narratives around artists. There’s so much illusion, but also beauty in playing with that illusion. After my last music video I directed, I realized I was translating sound into light.

On “InnerG”, you say everything we see is a reflection. And every sound is a vibration. Has it been challenging to translate the two senses?

In the past it felt more challenging because I thought I lacked resources to make videos. It’s like I was waiting to align with the right people, the right director. Once I started experimenting with self-documentation, I experienced the magic of capturing light, as is. There’s this idea that to make something impactful you need a super big budget, but after watching and learning from a number of films, my favorites always have this raw quality. You just have to get out of the way.


There’s a lot of that content nowadays, you know what I mean?

Oh, the c-word, yeah.

I know, I know. Earlier this year I was pushed to make these TikToks. It was one of those “give it a shot, play the game” moments. For three months, I did what I was told, and I was exhausted. Maybe when I was on an earlier path, when I had energy to burn, I could have kept at it. But it’s past me.

Do you think the difference between content and art is intent?

Maybe. There’s amazing people making content that feels resonant to them, where you could really sense the artistic approach. But one could also say that isn’t actually art. I definitely could feel the difference when I was using my artistry to create just content. When I was on TikTok more, I was on a crazy schedule. I had a day where I would film a gang of TikToks and chop them up for the week. It was weird, bro. Once, one of my videos went semi-viral, and I had that rush, that high. It’s also draining because you immediately experience this want to keep the numbers up. It was so goofy.

It’s like an assembly line, that process.

I’m not a machine. I felt like I was using my talents in this very inorganic way. I became physically sick. I had to rest and think about what I was doing with my energy. But I still loved all of it. I’ll learn or discover lots of cool things on TikTok. But I’m just not at that place as an artist.

Noting that there has not been any blanket anti-TikTok statement made by Low Leaf. That energy is not broadcasting at this time.

Thank you.

You posted a harp cover of a One Piece song on Instagram, years ago. It’s special — my partner and I played it for an hour straight on loop. I owe you some money for that. It was one of those things that felt so pure but also could have come from a TikTok #ideation in a major label meeting if it happened today.

I really do fucking love that song, but it’s also that type of ‘content’ that works. I didn’t even have TikTok back then. What I need to do is to get back into One Piece.

Low Leaf in her home studio.
Low Leaf in her home studio.

Have you endured ligament damage to your fingers or wrists from the harp?

I have calluses on all of my fingers. Except for my pinkies. If I don’t play, I have to remake the calluses, so it’s best that I play often. When I practice too much, it hurts to close my palm. This is what happened when I was preparing for an Alice Coltrane tribute concert, for her birthday. I practiced too much, trying to make sure I played well. It was a good lesson in trusting yourself though. It’s all about being present in the moment with jazz. With all music, really. Something people don’t realize about the pedal harp though, is that it’s a full-bodied instrument. My center of gravity is not my feet, but my core getting sort of pushed into the chair. A lot of harpists are just seen as graceful, but it’s a whole ass thing.

The harp definitely has this softness connotation, but it sounds like training for a professional sport. Do you ice yourself after long sessions?

I’ll ice my hand whenever it’s hurting. I do a lot of movement to keep my energy circulating. Before I can even get to the harp, I have to tune my body so I too can be an instrument.

It’s a partnership between the two of you. Years ago, you saved up enough money to buy a silver electric harp. Was that your first? How did you get into playing the harp?

My first harp was an acoustic lever folk harp. My mom always wanted me to play. When I was in fourth grade, she asked me if I was interested, and I was. She took me to a harp store and it felt so magical. I had lessons for two years or so, then my teacher retired. That was kind of the end of it for a while.

An elementary school hiatus. What brought you back?

By 2009, I was making beats already, and I wanted to sample the harp. I was like, “I have a whole ass harp. What the fuck am I doing?” So I started teaching myself after that. It’s like a vertical piano. On the piano, there’s a string for every single note – even the flats. With the harp, there’s only a string for each letter note, and the pedals control if it’s sharp or flat. It’s just harder on the harp to get to the chromatic scale, because it’s not all laid out like a piano is. I feel most comfortable playing barefoot. I’m so excited to keep learning.

As talented as you are, you’re still on this path of self-improvement. Do you think you’ll hit a point where you’ll need a mentor?

I’ve never had a harp mentor who’s alive, but I’ve had lessons with different harp teachers in my dreams. Not like in a classroom setting, but I’ll just be in a space with another harpist.

You’re really on some Avatar shit. Accessing your musical lineage and waking up with new skills.

I fucking feel like that sometimes. I tap into the higher network of myself, like when Aang talks to his previous incarnations. But these teachers aren’t me, it’s more so like—

—the harp support line.

Pretty much.

Are there any names of harpists you’ve had dreams with, living today or passed on?

I had this experience once in the dream realm where Alice Coltrane picked up my tuning lever, put it into my harp, struck a chord and transported us into another dimension. That was in 2009. My first harp dream.

Your music has that transport power even in an awakened state. On “Bubinga” (2022), you have these vocal runs — like a hollering vibrato that’s ancient and future. Is there a musical lineage you attribute that to?

I was trying to tap into my Filipino ancestors, but there was no clear reference point — sometimes when I’m in a trance state of singing, I access this part of my throat that lets it come out. I also really love a lot of Ethiopian jazz, and there’s music I’ve found from Northern Africa that resonates with this deep part of my soul. All our ancestors ultimately come from the same root anyway.

You gave an interview once about identifying with the stars more than anything else. We’re all stardust. But it seemed like people — fans, journalists — were really honing in on your Filipino identity, to a point that you both appreciated and found a bit discomforting. Have your feelings on identity changed?

Yes. That’s definitely some 2014 me shit I’d say — when I wasn’t as grounded. I still know all that stuff I said before to be true though, but it’s also true that I’m a Filipino woman. Identity is an interesting thing because you can choose it on one hand, and at the same time, there’s a part of you that you can’t deny. Now, I’m able to embrace my multi-dimensionality.

The term you use to describe yourself, “astroasiatic,” says so much, so elegantly.

It’s from a lyric of a song I haven’t put out yet. Not the next project, but the one after that.

Those hard drives are fed. We’ve been talking about a lot of new chapters, and your entry into ‘web3’ is another one. I’m wondering what led you down that path.

When I began to find out how it’s possible for artists to move in this space, I was like, “This has been my whole ethos for years.” I used to have this thing, “Create or Die,” but I spelled it as “Creator DIY.” This space has that spirit. It’s all kind of a game. But which game within the game do you want to play? Who decided we all need to release music on a Friday? I want to put my music out when I want, how I want. It’s cool to just interact with something that feels new.

It’s staggering to think about how much music we wouldn’t have if the artists behind it had to adhere to the ideal production schedules of the current powers that be.

For a while I’ve been thinking about what it means to decolonize the release schedule because creating the music is pure, but once it comes time to put it out into the world? There’s a lot of choices for how to present something, how to move. I’m excited to experiment and stay moving with integrity. During my early Bandcamp days, I used to release music with the lunar cycles. I like having that freedom of choice.

Have you released music on a label for more than a project or two?

I’ve just done one-offs. I remember I was in this meeting with a major label once, and they were only interested in metrics. That’s all we talked about. I thought at least some of the focus would be on…

The art?

The art. Then I was just like, “Duh, you already knew this. Now you can really experience it and interact with this energy.” There are so many timelines I could project myself into. The one that excites me the most is the one where I’m just sovereign.