Laura Stevenson: I'm not writing for people with an "aesthetic of cool"
Photo by Dave Garwacke
Laura Stevenson's music is beautiful, but it hurts to listen. It hurts because she writes like a contemporary poet who feels too much and too deeply, her lyrics like fragile black-and-white snapshots remembering, with bittersweet nostalgia, a moment long gone. This is not an impression: in the past, Stevenson has spoken of her battle with depression and suicide and the long road from that dark place.
"Renee," the opening track on Stevenson's recently released third album, Wheel, opens delicately, a slow string arrangement progressing along with Stevenson's soft voice, and progresses into a throbbing crescendo. Much of Wheel goes on that way, with Stevenson exploring the edges of her early days as a punk singer-songwriter in Bomb the Music Industry! as well as he legacy of her grandfather, Harry Simeone (who famously composed "Do You Hear What I Hear" and "The Little Drummer Boy").
Ahead of her gig on Friday at the Triple Rock Social Club, Gimme Noise caught up with Stevenson to discuss her new album, why she went from being Laura Stevenson and the Cans to just Laura Stevenson, and how weird the music business is.
Gimme Noise: Let's talk about the album. It feels so gentle and sad but so strong at the same time. Tell me about the songs on this album -- where they came from, your process.
Laura Stevenson: The process is just me trying to find a time to sneak away and write. There was no setting out to write the record, start to finish. "Bells and Whistles" and "Wheel" were the first two and then everything else trickled in throughout the year.
I feel like one of the themes that you're working with on this album is facing a certain situation -- like the inevitability of death, the need to work things through.
I think it's definitely helped me work through some things by putting them out there. It makes it real, it makes it less overwhelming. When it's a feeling, it's an abstract thing, and when you can record it, it becomes a song on a record. You can look at it as a problem that you can deal with, and it's less overwhelming. It was a learning experience, and I grew a lot in the writing process for this album.
You've dropped "the Cans" from your band name this time around. What made you decide to do that?
It was a long time coming. There was several factors, but it started with... We were getting advice from people we work with. It was like, "This sounds like a ska band," even though it doesn't sound like a ska band. It didn't sound like the band we were. Not that there's anything wrong with ska, but it wasn't reflective of the sound we had or what I was writing. "The Cans" are kind of jangly, and it could sound hokey or too rootsy, and it was just like... I just wanted it to end, basically. But it was a group decision, and I felt the most weird with it because I felt like it was a move towards not recognizing the band in these songs, so it's weird. But maybe we'll be something completely different later. Who knows.
You come from a family steeped in musical tradition. Your grandfather was a famous composer. Do you ever get tired of people asking you about him?
I don't know. We just got a review on Pitchfork, and I don't know how important that is... I don't really understand the blogosphere and the internet and the music business at all. I am trying to make something that people can connect with. I'm not trying to make something that people will "collect" and pay to go see a show but not care as much to listen. I guess to be successful, maybe that's the audience you should target, but I don't care that much. If people are interested in listening to that, then I'm not interested in writing for those people, the people that have a sort of "aesthetic of cool."
Your music can be so intense. Is it hard for you to return to that place on stage when performing?
It's only hard if I'm distracted by something. Like yesterday, someone was in the front row and they were on their phone, and I was playing "The Move," and then I heard someone in front of me singing along, which was sweet, and I looked up, and then there was this guy was on his phone. So only when I'm out of it [is it hard], but I can get there. I remember how I felt when I wrote it, so it's always a little time capsule of my experience.
Laura Stevenson will be performing on Friday, May 17 at the Triple Rock Social Club with Field Mouse and Savannah Smith. Doors at 8 p.m. $10. 18+. Ticket info here.
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