The Album Leaf officially began in 1998 as the solo project of Jimmy LaValle, who had performed in several other local bands, including Swing Kids, the Locust, and GoGoGo Airheart.
When the band formed, LaValle had been playing guitar in the post-rock instrumental band Tristeza. Being a multi-instrumentalist, he began playing drums for San Diego band GoGoGo Airheart during downtime in the fall of 1998. The singer and guitarist for the group, Mike Vermillion (who later inspired the song name “Vermillion” on the album One Day I'll Be on Time), recorded LaValle doing improvised material, playing to a vintage Roland drum machine on a Rhodes piano that would become his first full-length album, the ten-track release An Orchestrated Rise to Fall. Benjamin White of GoGoGo Airheart and Vermillion both supplied added improvisation with synthesizers and vocals to these recordings.
Before Tristeza released Spine and Sensory on Makoto records in 1998, the band was talking with a handful of different indie record labels, one of which was the Music Fellowship out of Salt Lake City, Utah. LaValle asked them if they would be interested in releasing his solo material. They accepted, and An Orchestrated Rise to Fall saw release in 1999 on CD. Later in the year, Tristeza and the Album Leaf both signed with newly started Tigerstyle Records out of New York City.
LaValle played his first official Album Leaf show at the Che Cafe in the winter of 1999. Band members for this show consisted of Rafter Roberts (of Rafter), Jimmy Lehner (of Tristeza), Leilani Clark (of the Straight A’s, also with LaValle), and Benjamin White (of GoGoGo Airheart).
Soon after signing with Tigerstyle Records, LaValle received his first recording advance. He used this money to buy his first computer and purchase equipment for a home recording studio. He did his first recordings and those songs were released as a four-song EP entitled In an Off White Room on Troubleman Records Unlimited. The title for the EP came from the color of his home studio, which was in his living room. During time off from Tristeza’s busy tour schedule in 2000, he began writing One Day I’ll Be on Time.
The Album Leaf performed their second show during Tristeza’s 2000 spring tour at South by Southwest in Austin,Texas. This show was at Club Deville at a day party for online distributer Insound.com. This line-up consisted of Lavalle, Leilani Clark on guitar and keyboards, Tana Helean on keyboards, Susanna Waiche on bass, and Jay Hough (of GoGoGoAirheart) on drums. They shared the stage with Tristeza and the American Analog Set. This lineup also did a four-week U.S. tour in the summer of 2000 with Andy Robillard (also of GoGoGo Airheart) replacing Hough on drums.
After the summer tour, LaValle took a full-time job in San Diego at the new music house Singing Serpent, producing jingles for television commercials. This also gave him access to a full-service recording studio. LaValle used this studio to rerecord the material he had written for One Day I'll Be on Time. Rafter Roberts recorded the track “Storyboard” and can be heard in the beginning of the song talking with LaValle about his guitar tone. Jason Soares of San Diego band Aspects of Physics provided drum programming for the song “Vermillion,” and fellow Tristeza bandmate, Christopher Sprague, played guitar on “In Between Lines” and designed the album art. After completing this record, LaValle left Singing Serpent, telling reporters that “Making jingles was killing my creativity!”
One Day I'll Be on Time saw worldwide release in early 2001. LaValle decided to leave Tristeza and focus on the Album Leaf full time. In 2003, LaValle began recording again. He recorded three tracks for a split EP with New York City's “On! Air! Library!” for the Arena Rock Recording Company called A Lifetime or More. Drew Andrews provided guitar for the track “Another Day.” During May 2003, with the addition of electronic beats, he recorded five songs released as the Seal Beach EP for Spanish record label Acuarela Discos.
In August 2003, the Album Leaf headlined a tour of the U.S. with fellow San Diego band Ilya. This tour introduced the Album Leaf ’s use of live visual projection art by Andrew Pates and the line-up went down to just LaValle and Drew Andrews on keyboards and guitar with them incorporating laptops and Pates projecting visuals onto a backdrop of the stage. The line-up was becoming more permanent.
In December 2003, the Album Leaf opened for the American Analog Set on their U.S. tour. This line-up consisted of Matt Resovich on violin, Andrew Kinney and Sean Ripple (both of the American Analog Set) with Pates doing live projections.
In January 2004, LaValle signed with Seattle-based record label, Sub Pop Records and Berlin-based label City Slang Records. LaValle completed In a Safe Place in February 2004. Jón Þór Birgisson, Kjartan Sveinsson, and Orri Páll Dýrason (most of the members of Sigur Rós), María Huld Markan (of Amiina), Gyða Valtýsdóttir (formally of múm) , Pall Jenkins and Matt Resovich (of the Blackheart Procession) all contributed to the record, with Brigir Jon Birgisson (“Biggi”) engineering at Sigur Rós’ Sundlaugin studio.
In a Safe Place was released on June 22, 2004. The Album Leaf played a record-release show at M-Theory Records in San Diego with its lineup of Matt Resovich on violin, keyboards, glockenspiel, guitar, and vocals; Drew Andrews on guitar, keyboards, and vocals; Tim Reece on drums and keyboards; and Andrew Pates projecting live visuals. Following the release, the Album Leaf toured for a year with little time off, performing in the U.S., Europe, Taiwan, and Japan. During this time, the Album Leaf self-released the Red Tour EP with five tracks to showcase the band as individuals and each member (with the exception of Reece) providing a song; the CD is also enhanced with a tour video made by Andrew Pates. The EP also featured a live recording of “Micro Melodies,” a song that only appeared on the soundtrack for the film Moog, a San Diego-based documentary about Robert Moog, the inventor of the Moog synthesizer. The track “Over the Pond” is also used in the film The Family Friend (L'Amico di Famiglia) by Paolo Sorrentino.
This record saw great commercial success and popularity, establishing the Album Leaf on the map and playing to bigger audiences. Many of the tracks from In a Safe Place were used in the soundtracks for television shows such as The O.C. and CSI: Miami.
Following the extensive touring, LaValle re-joined Tristeza, filling in on guitar for two shows in Guadalajara and Mexico City in place of Alison Ables, the replacement to the band for himself. When he returned, LaValle began writing his next full-length album.
In December 2005, LaValle traveled to Seattle to Bearcreek Recording Studio to begin tracking the record. After tracking, he then traveled back to Sigur Rós’ Sundlaugin studio to mix the record with the help of Brigir Jon Birgisson and Joshua Eustis (of Telefon Tel Aviv).
On September 12, 2006, Into the Blue Again was released on Sub Pop Records in North America; the album saw a slightly earlier release in Europe courtesy of City Slang Records. Into the Blue Again sees a return to the Album Leaf’s conception and LaValle handling virtually all instrumental duties. LaValle’s few collaborators on Into the Blue Again are Josh Eutis of Telefon Tel Aviv, who aided additional drum programming and engineering on choice songs; the Black Heart Procession’s Pall Jenkins adding vocal harmonies on “Wherever I Go;” violinist Matt Resovich (who performs with the Album Leaf live, and also played on In a Safe Place); and Drew Andrews adding additional guitar work on select songs (Drew also performs with the Album Leaf live).
Drew Andrews (who's also in Via Satellite) has a new 3-piece group, From the Shade, with two other Album Leaf members: Matthew Resovich (keyboards, violin, vocals) and Andrew Pates (visuals/projections). Drew Andrews released a solo EP in 2008, I Could Write a Book,) and a solo EP in 2010, Playing Birthday Games.)
The band won Best Electronic at the 2008 and 2009 San Diego Music Awards. In 2010, they released A Chorus of Storytellers.
As of 2010, Jimmy LaValle is living in northern California. Guitarist Drew Andrews left the band in mid-2010, as did percussionist Tim Reese, who moved to Denver. What emerged for a time was a touring three piece featuring LaValle, Matt Resovich, and drummer James McAlister.
A new EP, Forward/Return, was released in September 2012, the first Album Leaf record to be self-released in quite some time. Recorded and produced in Lavalle's new home studio in Los Angeles, the EP includes both new contributors as well as some familiar hands. It also continues in the spirit of the last Album Leaf LP (2010's A Chorus of Storytellers) in that the songs were performed by a full band and not just by LaValle himself.
PacificUV's song “Russians” was remixed in early 2013 by the Album Leaf and made available online. Around the same time, LaValle collaborated with singer-songwriter Mark Kozelek (Red House Painters, Sun Kil Moon) to release Perils From the Sea. It features LaValle trading the orchestral, layered textures of the Album Leaf’s recent work for ambient beats more akin to Jimmy Tamborello’s sucrose backbone of the Postal Service while melancholic storyteller Kozelek delivers unassuming recollections that feel like an account from an old friend.
In September 2013, they appeared at the San Diego Music Thing conference, along with Caveman, Wild Nothing, Ra Ra Riot, Lol Tolhurst (the Cure), and Scott Page (Pink Floyd). They hosted and perform at the debut screening of their new documentary film Beyond There -- directed by Michael Raines and documenting their first tour of China and Asia -- on July 15, 2014 at the Hollywood Forever Masonic Lodge.
In summer 2014, their collaborations series included a new track featuring Peter Broderick of Efterklang called “Never Held a Baby.” Their documentary film Beyond There, chronicling their first tour of China and Asia, was released on iTunes, and they played the Adams Avenue Street Fair on September 28.
Their 2016 album Between Waves was released by Relapse Records. Former drummer Tim Reece, who also played with Via Satellite and others, lost his battle with cancer and passed away in May 2017.
In September 2021, the band debuted One Day XX, a 20th-anniversary edition rework of One Day I'll Be On Time, pairing LaValle with longtime collaborator James McAlister (Taylor Swift, Sufjan Stevens, the National) and members of his live band. A reworked edition of the single "Vermillion" was released featuring Matt Resovich's violin work in a full band performance. Dave LeBleu tracked his drums remotely in Gainesville, Brad Lee recorded bass in San Diego, and Lavalle tracked his Rhodes Piano at a Los Angeles studio.