Laura Stevenson Is a Master of Art

Laura Stevenson by Shane McCauley

Laura Stevenson, formerly of Bomb the Music Industry, has recently released her second album since leaving BTMI. Sit Resist, released in April on Don Giovanni, if a feat that shows off many talents. You may come for Stevenson’s powerful, distinctive voice, but you’ll stay for the witty lyrics (“I’ll cut your hair short so I can see your ears,” she threatens on “Master of Art”), the diverse instrumentation, the breathtaking strings (wait till you find out who did them!), and the rest of the package proffered up by Stevenson, who is also a graduate student in art history.

ELM: What did working with Bomb the Music Industry teach you about music?

LS:I learned how to exist as a member of a band, I learned how to be on tour and what to expect, and just being in the same room as Jeff from the band helped me become a better songwriter. He rules.

ELM: The video for “Master of Art” is really interesting for the still photographs that are used. Can you tell me more about making the video and who directed it?

LS: It was directed by a friend of ours named Sara Crow. She’s currently making a documentary about Bomb the Music Industry and we ended up hitting it off while she was filming it. She’s brilliant and I hope she gets big and famous.

ELM: Are you still in graduate school for art history? What period of art history resonates most with you, and why?

LS: I am sort of on a break from my thesis right now which totally sucks. I need to get work done now that I’m done with tour. I’m giving myself a day or two to settle into my new apartment (we moved in last night) and scrub the tour grime off of me but then I need to buckle down. My thesis is on Cosimo de Medici and Eleonora di Toledo and their commissions which is Renaissance era, 16th century. It’s pretty hard to choose but I’d say my favorite period or movement would probably be Art Nouveau. My grandma had a lot of Art Nouveau jewelry so, maybe it reminds me of her. I was always drawn to that aesthetic and how it borrows from the most beautiful shapes in nature. It was hyper-decorative and over-the-top but I think it’s interesting how it was incorporated into every aspect of visual culture and design at the time – architecture, painting, sculpture, advertisements, wallpaper, furniture, pottery, textiles, everything.

ELM: What was on the last mixtape/mix cd/iTunes playlist you made?

LS: My mixtapes all end with Sex Bomb by Tom Jones because that song is amazing. Everything else is just filler.

ELM: What’s your favorite song of the 90′s?

LS: Probably “Good” by Better Than Ezra or “Possum Kingdom” by The Toadies.

ELM:I read that your grandfather was a famous pianist. Were you close to him?

LS:We got closer when I got older. I think we butted heads when I was little, he was really stern with me about music, but when I was going to Hunter I would cut class and go hang out at his apartment (which was only 4 blocks away) and sit with him and play his piano. We started to understand each other closer to the end.

ELM: I also read that you lost a lot of songs when you had a dreaded hard-drive crash. Did you try to recreate any of the lost songs?

LS: Oh yeah, that was a disaster. I think they’re gone, but they were just pieces. If I had finished any of them they would have been in a deeper wrinkle of my brain. They were all budding ideas that I wanted to hold onto. Maybe I’ll remember some of them some day. Maybe if I go get hypnotized or something.

ELM: When you’re writing songs, what element usually comes first? Do you always compose on your guitar while you’re writing?

LS: I can’t really write on the piano. There are too many places to go…the guitar kind of restricts me because there’s only so much I know about that instrument, so that helps keep me focused. There’s no formula for the way I write… sometimes I start with chords, sometimes I start with a melody idea, sometimes I start with words I
wrote down. I think it’s better to write in an organic way…otherwise, it’ll feel like work if it’s too regimented.

ELM: You said in one interview that you feel awkward talking in front of people, even though you like playing live. Has the talking part gotten easier as you’ve toured more?

LS: I think it’s getting a little easier. I’ve never been good at speaking in front of people… at school it terrified me. It’s kind of crazy how I can sing in front of people now. I used to only sing by myself because it was such a personal experience. I also couldn’t sing without crying… but I got over that too thank god.

ELM:”Red Clay Roots” is a particularly interesting song. Can you tell me more about that?

LS: I was at my mother’s house the night I wrote that song. I was looking for my birth certificate and I found my grandma’s manuscripts. She was working on her life story before she died and she never got to
finish it. That night I read the whole thing and when I was done I wrote “Red Clay Roots” which was what she was going to call her book. Her brothers were The McCravy Brothers, pretty famous gospel singers at the time and I had been listening to some of their songs so, I think you can hear some of that in the way it was written.

ELM: There’s some big band flavor on Sit Resist. How did you decide to incorporate that?

LS: You’re probably talking about “Barnacles.” When I was writing that song it just sounded like there should be a swinging brass section. I would love to play it live and get all the horn-players together. That would be so much fun.

ELM: Who would you most like to cover your songs, and what song would you choose?

LS: That’s a really good question. I would say Dolly Parton singing “Montauk Monster.” That would probably make my head explode.

ELM: What’s been the most memorable show you’ve played live, and why?

LS: The most memorable would probably be the Don Giovanni showcase we did this past winter. That was the biggest show we’d ever played which was kind of scary. I’d never stood backstage waiting to go on with those sorts of butterflies before.

ELM: Are you a prolific songwriter?

LS: Not at all. I don’t finish a lot of what I start. I’m really picky about melodies. I don’t finish songs that I’m not 100% in love with… so it takes a while to get there but hopefully that means I won’t put out any crap.

ELM:The strings on Sit Resist are lovely. Who did the arrangements?

LS: Thank you! I arranged them with the string players giving their input as well. We had Aidan Koehler on violin and Michelle Young on cello. They both play so beautifully it makes my heart melt.

ELM: What was the recording process like? Did you have to do a lot of takes of the songs?

LS: Actually, we did the majority of it in like, 3 or 4 days, then after that the auxiliary instruments and vocals and then mixing. It was all really quick. We had rehearsed everything before-hand and picked out the right tempos and discussed things we would experiment with so we only needed a few extra takes if any. We had never had actual big-kid studio time before so we were afraid of running out of money, but the engineer was the best guy ever and it all went really smoothly. I couldn’t have asked for a better experience.

ELM: How did you come up with the album title?

LS: I was laying down in the van and kind of half-dreaming when all of that was happening. We were not really thinking about names for too long… it kind of just happened. Which is good because I wouldn’t want to sit around in a circle pitching album names to one another…that seems like a scene from Some Kind of Monster.

ELM: Who are your favorite writers?

LS: I’d say Neil Young, Jeff Mangum, and Leonard Cohen. Those would be my top.

ELM:If you could raise awareness of one societal cause, what would it be?

LS: I’d say helping to eliminate the back-log of untested rape kits.

Laura Stevenson and the Cans Homepage

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