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Lex Leto and Jarrett Purdy get experimental

Jarrett Purdy and Lex Leto outside IPR Studios in Iowa City.
Lucius Pham
/
Iowa Public Radio
“I think the first time that I actually met you was at Mission Creek 2022, after your set,” Jarrett Purdy said, to his now-friend Lex Leto. “I was totally blown away.”

“We kind of became friends through this project, which is really cute.” April Artists of the Month Jarrett Purdy, a jazz pianist, and Lex Leto, a classical flutist, shared with IPR's Tony Dehner. The pair fused their distinct styles on their 2023 EP have you been the night?.

Lex Leto and Jarrett Purdy get experimental

A match made at Mission Creek

Towards the bottom of the 2022 Mission Creek announcement poster, beneath a stacked list of names including Beach Bunny, Kassa Overall and Son Lux, were two friends who didn’t even know each other yet.

“I think the first time that I actually met you was at Mission Creek 2022, after your set,” Jarrett Purdy said, to his now-friend Lex Leto. “I was totally blown away.”

Some time after the fest, the pair’s musical relationship began and “really snowballed” after Leto put out a call for collaborators.

“I very much consider myself a collaborator and a collaborative-based, kind of project-based musician,” Leto said. “I posted on my Instagram story, ‘Hey, I play these instruments. I want to make music with some people.’”

Jarrett Purdy and Lex Leto pose inside IPR Studios in Iowa City.
Lucius Pham
/
IPR
While much of the EP was tracked in Purdy’s bedroom studio, the pair also recorded at The Vault and Flat Black Studios for the “nicer mics.”

Playing nice with others

Since 2020, Purdy has been a synth and keys player for the Iowa experimental band Wave Cage, which has tapped unique artists for features including guitarist Elvis Phillips and spoken word performer Caleb "The Negro Artist" Rainey. In 2022, Purdy and seasoned Iowa guitarist Dan Padley released their collaborative ambient project Ecotones, a ten-track collection of natural and technological soundscapes.

Leto, on the other hand, is a classically trained flutist, best known for their flute, bass and miniature drumset contributions to the Elly Hofmaier-fronted garage rock band Penny Peach. In 2023, with drummer Aaron Knight, that same trio announced their new creative project, KL!NG, with a stronger emphasis on group songwriting.

All Access Live! Featuring Penny Peach

Experimentation is the point for Purdy and Leto, whose styles aren’t conventionally simpatico, but who share an innate desire to collaborate. According to Leto, they’re both “pedantic workers,” all about the practice and process.

“I feel like that's part of where [our] cohesion comes from is just the continual practice, really consistent and collaborative,” Leto said of their similar work ethic. “We would just go over to [my house] or I would go over to Jarrett's and we would kind of have a set-up where we would produce together and record and make the demos of these songs, which I remember playing… for some of our friends. And they were like, ‘Why are you recording this somewhere else? They already sound so good.’”

While much of the EP was tracked in Purdy’s bedroom studio, the pair also recorded at The Vault in Lone Tree and Flat Black Studios in West Liberty for the “nicer mics.”

have you been the night?

When Studio One host Tony Dehner announces songs from have you been the night? on-air, he makes sure to emphasize its title interrogatively. It’s a cryptic and curious question that binds the whole piece together. The four-song EP, much like Purdy’s album Ecotones, explores the music of nature and examines human nature through music. The twinkling of descending raindrops begins and permeates throughout “Rainwalker,” while “N'importe pas" feels like a hike the French Alps.

“Rainwalker” is the EP’s lead-off track, the first song they wrote together and the album’s namesake.

Rainwalker

“It started with 'Rainwalker,'” Leto said. “When we started making that song, we didn't really have the, well, maybe you did, I don't know, but we hadn't talked about really the full scope of it. We didn't really know each other that well. We weren’t really friends yet. We kind of became friends through this project, which is really cute.”

Leto actually sings the phrase "have you been the night" in the song "Rainwalker," whereas the song "have you been the night?" is a wordless and atmospheric showcase of contributor Nolan Schroeder on the bass clarinet. Shroeder also shines on the tenor saxophone in the third track, "N'importe pas."

Ultimately, “WHATEVER I WANT," the cocky and percussive final dance track (think Bonobo mixed with Sylvan Esso), drives it all home with an authoritative snare, electronic production and Leto's demanding lyrics:

“Make no mistake, I’m gonna fall on my face / But you know I’m sure as hell, not getting in my own way / Remember my face, remember all my names / Cuz I’m going places, get out of my way.”

Lost in the shuffle

Alignment, they say, is crucial. The pair aligned their creative minds, persistent work ethics and busy schedules to craft a compact, thoughtful EP. Even Purdy and Leto admit that, once they completed have you been the night?, attention quickly turned to other projects. It was almost like a blip on a radar.

In fact, with Wave Cage (Purdy's band), KL!NG (Leto's band) and individual endeavors galore, have you been the night? wound up buried in a very busy summer of 2023. By October, four months after its release, Wave Cage was busy promoting their latest album Even You Can See in the Dark and KL!NG was opening for Model/Actriz at Gabe's.

To this day, the pair have never gotten to perform the EP live for an audience.

"Honestly, we've both… we have a lot of our own projects and other things that we're kind of working on, like even right at the time the thing came out," Purdy said. "And so we kind of just go where our own projects and creative ideas take us and there's such a lag between when you record something when it actually comes out on Spotify in the world... It's just kind of the reality of when you record something, when you release it and where creative flows were at."

Still, the two are certain their paths will align again.

"We definitely, I think both of us still have stuff that we want to make together," Leto said of the pair's musical future. "So it's just a matter, I would say, of when that time is right in both of our creative lives and that kind of aligning again."

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Music News Iowa Artist of the MonthMusician interviews
Lucius Pham is a writer, producer and videographer based in Des Moines, where he graduated with a bachelor’s of journalism & mass communication from Drake University. Since 2022, Lucius has profiled artists for IPR News and Studio One, including Dionne Warwick, Ginuwine, Pictoria Vark, GZA, McKinley Dixon, spill tab, Ted Park, Caleb Elliott and many more.