Laura Stevenson:
The TVD Interview

“Whatever you want to ask me, I’m an open book of honesty right now,” Laura Stevenson tells me, laughing. And there was lots of laughing during our chat.

For someone whose music has been called melancholic and dark, Laura Stevenson is remarkably cheery about her songwriting and her career. The former sorta-punk turned country-tinged songstress released her third album in two years, Wheel, on April 23. It’s a treatise on the modern-day anxieties and deep musings of a gentle, introverted soul—with an extroverted voice. 

Uninterested in having a carefully cultivated “rock chick” persona, fans have come to adore Laura for her authenticity. Her songs are honest. Her finger picking guitar style is impressive. And she’s not out to be famous. “I kind of just started it because it was what I loved to do and I didn’t know what to do with my life, so I’ll do this while I’m figuring that out,” she tells us.

In the meantime, Stevenson‘s on a relentless tour across the US with her band in support of Wheel. We chatted with her between West Coast gigs and found out the song she’s most proud of, the songs she’s writing, and the song she’s always loved.

First of all, I love that you call Dolly Parton your “guitar god” because I don’t think she gets the respect she deserves.

Yeah, I think so, too, because she’s absolutely incredible, and nobody really pays attention to her playing. [They talk about] her singing and performing, and her whole persona. But just as a musician and songwriter and technical guitar player, she’s off the charts. I’m very inspired by her; I think she’s awesome.

Your new album, Wheel is getting great reviews. The production is being called more “refined” than your last albums, but I think the sound compliments A Record and Sit Resist beautifully. If your mind is even onto the next album, do you think you’ll want to keep exploring different sounds?

I have songs that are written and I’m thinking about the production and where I want to go—if I want to take electric instruments out or… I’ve been definitely going through that in my mind, especially on these long drives. I’ve been thinking about the songs and listening to a lot of records in the van, taking inspiration from that. It’s definitely very up in the air right now in my head, but it will probably get a lot clearer as the songs form more and I show them to the band—because I haven’t even shown them to the band yet. [Laughs] We’ll see!

Are you one of those musicians who takes inspiration from being on the road, or is it more about the energy of being on stage?

I definitely can’t write when I’m on the road at all. I have to be alone; it’s a very solitary experience for me. It’s more like I’m thinking about how to fully form those ideas that are already there. The songs are written acoustically… I mean, I don’t have a lot of songs right now—I have, like, five songs so far—but they’ve been written acoustically so they can get as big as I want them to, or they can remain folk songs. I think they’re strong that way, but I’m interested in trying things when we get home, definitely.

Your songwriting has elements of dealing with cognitive dissonance—the idea that two things at odds can seem to coexist in our minds or our lives. Why was this theme so big on Wheel?

I don’t know. I guess I feel things in extreme opposites sometimes. I think that is just how life is, at least for me. There’s the balance between total joy and crippling sadness, but you can have both those emotions at once. If I can express that through words and music, that juxtaposition, I want to do that because I feel like that’s an honest expression of the way I feel most of the time. [Laughs]

And you talk of “playing the songs like human beings, flaws and all.” Do you think mainstream music will ever be played with those human “flaws” or imperfections again, or will that “humanness” remain in the indie sphere?

I hope so, but it seems like everything is becoming so Pro Tools-corrected and auto-pitched. And everything [makes it] so easy to make things perfect now, instead of having to play them perfectly. I just saw the Sound City documentary and listened to Dave Grohl’s WTF podcast the other day in the car… and I was listening to Neil Young’s Waging Heavy Peace. They talk about that—that decline in the human element in music and how they’re struggling to bring it back into the forefront. I agree with that; I was raised on pure rock and roll music, and so that’s something that I’m aesthetically drawn to—the humanness of it. I do like Katy Perry, I’m not gonna lie! [Laughs] I think that it’s very pleasing to listen to that kind of music that’s scientifically perfect, but at the same time… I don’t take anything from that into my soul. I don’t feel anything except fun—I don’t feel a strong connection to it.

So, I’m gonna try to keep doing this. I’m never gonna auto-pitch my vocals. But people do, and it sounds good! [Laughs]

You named three of my favorite music-related things—Dave Grohl, WTF, and Neil Young. I wish I could give you a high five for that.


And your dedication to that authenticity seems to come through your songwriting as well. Is that a focus for you?

I think to express a pure emotion you have to have some ugly or you have to have some flaws to really express something. I think a pure, straight tone is not going to have any human element cut through. So, I’m always trying to write as honestly as I can and making melodies that actually move me so that I can move other people, perhaps.

Do you have a song you’re most proud of?

I think “The Wheel”—that’s the closer on Wheel—which is a confusing thing, because people have been calling the album, The Wheel and the song, “Wheel”… I made a mistake with that one. [Laughs]

But I’m really proud of “The Wheel.” It was written in this moment of straight up, no holds barred, pure, honest inspiration. I was alone and I’d already had all of the tracks for the record and thought, “This needs an ending. This needs something.” I just listened to everything and wrote the song on the spot and I recorded it the next day in one take. I sang the trumpet part, and it was played exactly the way that I sang it.

It was all a really honest experience for me and really cathartic. So, I’m most proud of that one. It may not be the most catchy one, but I think it was scary and it took a lot of bravery on my part to say the things I wanted to say, and how I said them, and in the way I wanted to sing them.

To use a California term, it sounds like you were “in the flow”…


And it sounds like you took a big risk and it really paid off. It’s incredibly satisfying when that happens.

Yeah! And I don’t know if anybody else will feel the way that I feel when I listen to it, but for me… it might have been a selfish thing for me to do, [Laughs] but I needed to do it. And it’s the last thing I’ve recorded that I’ve written and I think it’s, hopefully, going to be a new chapter in my writing.

Given your fondness for the human element in your own music, I have to ask if you’re a fan of vinyl and if you are, what’s in your collection?

I am a fan! I don’t have a collection. My dad gave me a record player when I was little, and me and my sister had some of the records that my dad had in his collection that he had three copies of. If he had only two copies of a record, we did not get a copy of it! But if he had three, we got the extra copy.

We had Magical Mystery Tour, Led Zeppelin II… We had a Motown compilation, and a bunch of random records… and my sister and I would listen to them all the time. It was just really fun because it was something that my friends had never done. When they came to my house, I was playing records and I knew how to do it, and it was really fun! Then I got a CD player and bought the Ace of Bass CD and got really into that… [Laughs] I never got records on my own; I mean, I have some LPs… My boyfriend has the most immense record collection ever, and every time we move it’s so heavy! [Laughs] But I kind of just add things to his collection sometimes, and I just listen to his records most of the time.

Are there certain albums or songs from childhood that still resonate—that you never get tired of?

Yeah, let’s see—there’s a lot! I think my favorite song of all time, ever since I was a little kid, was “Got My Mind Set On You” by George Harrison. [Laughs] That was my favorite song! I felt so happy whenever I played that song. That song, I’d say, is probably my favorite.

I love the video, too. I was fascinated by it as a kid.

[Laughs] That video was crazy!

So, was music something you always wanted to do? 

I don’t know if I necessarily wanted to do it as a job. I didn’t see it being a thing… I mean, I always knew I wanted to play music, but I don’t know… My mom wanted me to be a doctor, and my sister to be a lawyer, but neither of us have fulfilled her wishes. [Laughs] But if I can make her proud doing this… I hope I’m doing that. We’ll see. I sent her flowers for Mother’s Day and she hasn’t called me yet, so I don’t know. [Laughs]

You didn’t go the doctor route, but music is a huge devotion of time and energy, too. What lessons do you feel that your career in music has taught you so far?

It’s taught me that it is not easy. [Laughs] I didn’t necessarily expect it to be, but I didn’t start it with stars in my eyes to become a famous person. I think some people start it that way and they’re so crushed by reality. I kind of just started it because it was what I loved to do and I didn’t know what to do with my life, so I’ll do this while I’m figuring that out. Then it evolved into me doing this thing.

So, it’s taught me that it takes a lot more work than people would like to think it does! And to be realistic, because it’s a long journey and I’m trying to do it for the right reasons.

What’s up next after you’re done with this tour?

Well, I’m going to go to Maine for a week as soon as the tour’s done because we don’t have a place to live for the next week because we’re subletting our apartment until June 1. I don’t know… after that we’re just gonna… I don’t know. I have no idea! [Laughs] Probably a tour’s on the horizon, but as of right now there’s nothing 100% set in stone, so I can’t say. So, yeah… hang out in New York and go on tour and keep writing and see what happens to us.

Laura Stevenson: Official | Facebook | Twitter | Tour

May 16: Jackpot Music Hall – Lawrence, KS
May 17: Triple Rock – Minneapolis, MN
May 18: Beat Kitchen – Chicago, IL
May 19: Mac’s Bar – Lansing, MI
May 20: Beachland Tavern – Cleveland, OH
May 21: The Drake Hotel – Toronto, ON
May 22: Club Cafe – Pittsburgh, PA
May 23: TT the Bear’s – Cambridge, MA
May 24: Bowery Ballroom – New York, NY

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