Raised on Long Island, famously an incubator for pop punk and emo bands, Laura Stevenson began her musical career as the keyboardist for punk band Bomb The Music Industry!. From there, she began her solo project Laura Stevenson & The Cans, releasing A Record in 2010 on Asian Man Records. Soft, sad, and beautiful, the record isn’t very long, but incredibly powerful in its emotionally intelligent lyricism and the way Stevenson’s graceful vocals are able to adapt to both the slow, vocal-driven tracks on the record as well as the faster, more energized ones that reflect her roots in the pop punk community.
Today, it’s just Laura Stevenson, and she’s still honing her own style of emotionally raw indie rock tinged with a punk rock sensibility. And while that remains the same seven years after A Record, so much of her sound today reflects her own growth since then. Nowadays, she’s eschewed the lo-fi, distorted vibe of that album for a more confident one – the type of confidence that can only come from learned lessons and being forced to stand on your own feet. Now, her vocals are clear and loud over her backing band’s instrumentals; it’s as though each record Stevenson settles more into who she is as an artist. And while the same characters continue to reappear on her records – her most recent album, Cocksure, was produced by Jeff Rosenstock – so much has changed. Here she sheds more light on this before her show at (le) Poisson Rouge on March 24.
Your sound and style has definitely evolved over the course of all your albums. How does writing music as a solo artist compare to when you were Laura Stevenson & The Cans or part of Bomb The Music Industry?
Well- with the Cans it was still just me writing the songs, so that was kind of the same, but as the band got more solid and we had permanent members I started writing parts with particular people in mind and also bandmembers would contribute during the arrangements before going in to record. So that was fun. As for Bomb, I never wrote my parts- I just learned what Jeff had already recorded (which was sometimes super hard because he uses every chord possible) – that taught me a lot about chords haha and also it made me focus on making my hands much more nimble to play those synth parts.
In fact, Cocksure was produced by former bandmate Jeff Rosenstock – what was it like working with him as a producer instead of as a bandmate?
It was awesome. He’s one of my best friends and we just know each other so well it was like- I didn’t have to struggle to describe what I wanted- which is always so difficult for me to communicate just what I want and actually execute it. But Jeff could just read my mind and I could read his. Plus our tastes are so similar it was like- we were just making something we both wanted to hear. It was such a positive experience.
How would you compare your songwriting today to the days of A Record, in terms of themes and subject matter?
The songwriting is just growing all the time, I’m learning so much from other songwriters and finding inspiration all over the place, plus I’m just living more and seeing more so there’s more to talk about and the language is always changing because I’m always changing. In terms of subject matter it’s still largely autobiographical and I’m getting braver about how much I am actually saying and sharing which is challenging and scary but yeah, its growing for sure in an exciting way.
I’ve been listening to your music for years, and this SPIN review of “Torch Song” hit the nail on the head of what is special about your music: “heart-sleeved songs that are punk in approach and intent if not in actual sound.” With that in mind, are there any other genres you’d like to explore or approach while still maintaining a punk ethos?
Hmmm – maybe not electro pop but maybe… who knows? I definitely want to explore more orchestral stuff, that’s just aesthetically where my mind wants to go a lot of the time.
You just did the live album for Planned Parenthood, which was rad. What are your plans for the rest of 2017?
Oh great! I’m psyched you liked it! For the rest of 2017- I’m going to keep working on this next thing I’m writing, which is still becoming what it’s going to become but I’m having a really good time working on it, I’m really proud of it.
– Mandy Brownholtz