Sable talk new album ‘Ayllu’ and the influence of ‘Mortal Kombat’ on their music

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Sable duo Jaco Imani and Dmitri sit down to chat about new album Ayllu, their origins in a highschool band, and the influence of Mortal Kombat on their music. 

Earlier this year, Sable released their latest single Contrarian. Lifted from their sophomore album Ayllu — which arrived in 2022 — the track stands as a testament to the music duo’s free-wheeling blend of jazz and electronica, a diverse palette refined since their early origins in a highschool rock band. Comprised of guitarist, producer and singer Jaco Imani alongside Dmitri on drums, Sable is the brainchild of two virtuosos committed to sonic storytelling. 

One such story is that told on Ayllu, a seven-track project which was conceived and created during the pandemic and explores the kinship of chosen families. The album’s title refers to a communal, non-blood unit in Incan society, with each song offering a vignette of Imani’s formative experiences with dear friends — what he lovingly calls his “heart family.”  Contrarian was accompanied by a self-produced music video, which you can watch below. 


With their sophomore music offering under their belts — their first since 2019 debut The Due Return — and plans for a follow-up music video in the works, Happy Mag caught up with Sable for a chat on all things Ayllu, family and the “harmonic colors, timbres, and rhythmic figures that [they] gravitate towards” in their music. Read the full interview with Sable below, and keep and eye out for the visuals for the track Cutti due out soon.   

HAPPY: Your music has been described as a blend of indie, electronic and jazz. How do you decide which specific genre/sound you want to dip into for a given song?

SABLE: We usually let the lyrics and the vibe of the idea guide us. It’s more about using a palette of options than setting out to make a genre specific tune. There are of course certain kinds of harmonic colors, timbres, and rhythmic figures that we like and gravitate towards, but I think we try to make a point of writing to support the idea.

HAPPY: What was the creative process behind your album Ayllu?

SABLE: The songs on Ayllu were primarily written by Jaco, but it was created over the span of two years, so there were a medley of different approaches. A lot of it was written in ableton looping parts, applying different effects, and just playing with sound. A few songs were primarily guitar based numbers that were fleshed out over successive versions and revisions. This was the case with CatDog which started as an exercise using quintuplets (a fancy way of saying that you are subdividing a pulse by 5) and morphed into a full fledged arrangement.

HAPPY: Contrarian is also accompanied by a music video. What was your main vision or goal with the visuals?

SABLE: Well we knew we wanted to make a video that had a surreal narrative thrust. It wasn’t that important to us for the story in the music video to be connected to the lyrics of the song. However, we did want to create something that was responding to the music, so we tried to storyboard and plan out the video so that key points would relate to different sonic elements in the music. We wanted the rhythm and dynamics of the song to match the pacing and narrative dynamics of the video. What we ended up with was a dream sequence that follows the journey of an uber driver picking up multiple eccentric characters in different scenarios.

HAPPY: You have been playing together since as early as high school. Do these roots still influence your music at all?

SABLE: Yeah all the time. We listened to a lot of math rock, Dmitri liked the bands Russian Circles and And So I Watch You From Afar, as well as Cloud Kicker and other related djent-adjacent ambient post rock, but was simultaneously playing in a West African Shona music group, smoking absurd amounts of weed and jamming out to Steel Pulse. I was listening to a range of bands from the heavier subgenres. There was a pretty wide arch from the mathcore band The Number 12 Looks Like You and Daughters, to more screamo-y stuff like the Fall of Troy and Architects to straight up death metal like Skinless.


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However, I also loved the Danish dream pop band MEW as well as the Icelandic group Mum who sound almost saccharine in comparison. So we were both interested in this heavier metrically angular music, while also having a taste for completely disparate styles. These days we’ve both grown to really value improvisation and the way that a song structure can be and mean so many different things. Overall, I think our tastes have gotten a little softer on the whole, but you can definitely still hear the tendency to privilege off kilter rhythms as well as raucous heavier sounds.

HAPPY: Why is the concept of family, both blood related and found, so central to Allyu?

SABLE: “Ayllu” (pronounced Ai-yu) is a Quechua word that refers to a community unit in Incan society that traditionally shared resources and land, but were not always related by blood. Members could be inducted into the group and become part of an extended network of self-sufficient communities.

During the pandemic I (Jaco) took the time to reexamine some of my familial bonds and strengthen my inner circle of friends. It was a super challenging time at first, but it blossomed into a really fruitful period of my life. I had never felt more a part of a community than I did during that time. I lived in a house with 3 roommates who became very close and shared so many special, mundane, beautiful moments.

Sable new album Ayllu

There was also a deeply intimate routine to my social life at the time due to the lack of places to go, so I ended up going on long walks or bike rides with the friends I didn’t live with. It was like all the fat had been trimmed from my social interactions and what was left was a deeply nutrient rich framework of relationships. I was playing and writing a lot of music at the time and I realized I wanted to organize an album around this special time that was unfolding.

HAPPY: What does a typical day of recording consist of when creating a new album?

SABLE: It varies pretty widely. The way I used to do it was pretty different from how I do it now. In the past the process was usually a mix of writing and recording in my room at whatever hour inspiration struck, it was creating a collage of different sounds and stitching them together to create a final sound product. However, in the interest of actually being able to perform the songs once their written, especially being able to improvise over them/ with them, I’ve decided to try and be a bit more intentional about practicing or constructing the songs on paper- or at least on guitar- as I go so as to fully understand the harmonic implications.

All this is to say, the recording now looks a bit more traditional in that I’ll try to be building a tune as an intellectual blueprint before/ while I record it. That said, I think it’s super valuable to be open to experimentation and the incorporation of inspiration outside of your theoretical understanding, so I am trying to maintain a balance there. Usually once some amount of the initial form or idea is sketched out, I will send it over to Dmitri who will either elaborate on some of the rhythmic ideas presented or create new ones entirely.


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However, in terms of the specific setting of recording, since we record stuff from home, a typical day is pretty much any day. We will usually spend a day to get final drum recordings with our buddy Kabby at Kabby Sound Studios, where we hang out in his incredible home studio and talk shit, but otherwise everything else is created and developed from home.

HAPPY: Have any movies, books or other artistic mediums inspired your work in music?

SABLE: A previous album was inspired by the narrative components of a multimedia interactive group installation art piece called the Due Return built by the Meow Wolf Art collective. I took narrative components (with permission) from that story universe and made a concept album focused on the journey of an intergenerational crew traveling to multiple worlds in something akin to a cosmic eternal recurrence, it was pretty heady.

Like a lot of younger millennials we both have been heavily influenced by video games and video game music. I think our inclination to create music that borrows from any genre to fit the content or mood while also simultaneously becoming its own style comes from video games. Some notable examples are Zelda Ocarina of Time, Street Fighter II, Mortal Kombat, and even more recent games like Death Stranding. In the future I would love for us to incorporate more influences from other mediums and have our creations be guided by our various other intellectual interests.

HAPPY: What’s next for Sable? Any teasers of upcoming projects or shows in the works?

SABLE: We’re working on another music video for the song, Cutti. We’re hoping to film it in the summer. In the meantime, we’ve got a couple shows coming up in New Mexico and New York. Keep an eye on our instagram for new show dates.