Husband-and-wife team Sean Hoffman and Leyla Akdogan Hoffman weren’t even dating when they started working together on the gorgeously layered and intricate dream-pop project Loch and Key. They were good friends, looking to create something special on an artistic level.
But everything clicked beautifully; the working relationship blossomed into a personal one, which eventually led to marriage. And all of the levels of that relationship suit the sweet-natured and honest music.
“Sean was on tour with American Music Club [his former band] in Spain, and I flew over to meet friends but I met up with him and it turned into a road trip,” Leyla says. “He had bought this little guitar at a souvenir shop. We were at a laundromat one day, we started writing a song, and that’s how we started.”
While Loch and Key, as the name suggests, was started as a duo, the couple are always working and collaborating with other musicians. Keyboardist Kip Boardman, for example, is an unofficial third member. But Sean and Leyla are the core creative team. They write the songs; they make the big decisions.
Both are experienced musicians; Sean was previously a member of local bands American Music Club and Bedroom Walls, and a composer for TV before that.
“Bedroom Walls was my invitation into playing in Los Angeles,” he says. “I ended up meeting American Music Club, and then I joined afterward. But that got me introduced to people in the scene, meeting different musicians and being able to book shows, that kind of stuff. It pulled me out of the studio and out performing again.”
It was refreshing, Sean says, to start a project within which he has more of a say, rather than compromising, submitting to the democracy that naturally exists in most bands.
“I get to do the stuff I didn’t get to do in those bands,” he says. “It was nice to be able to let all the good and bad ideas flow for this one. There were no limits, and that’s what was appealing — to do something that was our own.”
Leyla, meanwhile was playing with friends in different configurations of different bands around L.A., from around 2001. Sean was impressed with what he heard and, one European road trip later, the pair came together to form the project that he now describes as “dreamwave.”
“It’s funny because it is all built out of dreamy, ambient ideas,” he says. “We always try to stay a little pop and pretty with it.”
“I would say that there’s always a certain underpinning of jazz, just because Sean has a jazz background,” Leyla adds. “It’s not overt. There’s a lot of lush sound overlay, even a proggy thing. It’s like really safe experimental music.”
Loch and Key are not one of those instrumental bands keen to have the volume turned up to 11 when performing live. Rather, they prefer a quiet room, in front of a “performance art” crowd willing to shut up and listen.
“I always imagine it being performed in front of a very quiet audience, where you can hear a pin drop,” Sean says. “That’s the kind of sound — we play really quiet, we’re super mellow, so that’s the environment we like to perform in. That’s what the music is suited for. Sometime when you’re playing rowdier rooms, we have to be a little louder than we want to, but ultimately we like to play really quiet and really pretty.”
There had been a seven-year gap between Loch and Key's debut album, Jupiter’s Guide for Submariners, and the sophomore Slow Fade, which dropped in October. In that time, Leyla went back to school and Sean spent some time producing other independent artists. Still, the album would have been out sooner had they not suffered the nightmare of a hard drive crash that saw them lose 60 percent of their work.
“I learned the hard way about backing up your hard drives,” Sean says. “It did work out for the best because we redid the songs, and they definitely came out a lot better. We also learned a lot in that time about exactly the type of sound we wanted for the record. Hopefully there won’t be that type of delay between this album and the next one. It was really bad, though. I had to go to data retrieval. I got maybe 40 percent back. I had to reassemble it. Now, I tell everybody this — back it up two times. I don’t mess around.”
It’s out now, and the pair are happy with it. We can enjoy the fruit of their double efforts when they play a “Spaceland Presents” show at the Love Song on March 12.
“We love the venue, and the folks down there,” Sean says. “We don’t have any lulls — the show just keeps going. It’ll be different than your typical three bands, with equipment getting torn down between. All the equipment stays up there, and there’s a narrator.”
Loch and Key play with special guests at 8:30 p.m. on Monday, March 12, at the Love Song.