Analogue Music | Greg Laswell

Greg Laswell

By Matt Conner

The first musical statement that came to Greg Laswell was actually a question.

"What Do I Know?", the first single (and completed track) on Greg Laswell's eighth album, is indicative of Laswell's own headspace when writing and recording Next Time. It's an admission that earlier songs and statements—clever ones, insightful ones, declarative ones—have given way to a new season filled with mostly questions. It's also a juncture at which the songwriter admits he felt smaller than ever, so he wrote a record to reflect his reality.

Creative control was his only control.

For the listener, Laswell's vulnerability in dealing so openly with dashed expectations and personal tragedy—which includes his father's battle with Alzheimer's—is a musical gift, perhaps even a companion for a listener in a similar moment. Easily his best work in years, Next Time is marked by a larger-than-life sound (his very aim) with the thunderous "Royal Empress," the build of "Super Moon," the haunting refrain of "I Will Not Resign."

We recently spent a few minutes with Laswell to hear more about the songwriting process on an album that lingers far after the last note has finished.

Analogue: From the outset with "Royal Empress" or even "Super Moon" just a couple songs later, I'm listening to this new record thinking how much larger everything sounds. Was that intentional to inhabit more space?

Greg Laswell: Yeah, I think so. I didn't really realize it was intentional until I finished "Royal Empress," the second song that I finished for the record. That song gave way for the rest of the record. A lot of times one song will tell me what kind of record I'm going to make, and "Royal Empress" was that. I made it so big that I had to keep the rest of the record as large just so it would all fit together.

This was also the first record I made that I wanted to feel small as I listened to it—my voice and a sense that I'm the smallest component within it. That kind of mirrors where I'm at in life as well. So yeah, that was definitely purposeful for sure.

Analogue: What informs the impulse to want to sound small?

Greg: I think I wanted the record to sound larger than my life. My last record was very specific in subject matter, but it wasn't very large. It was very dark but it wasn't very large.

Next Time
Next Time

I had a bunch of songs and the record was done the way it was laid out. I came back from Christmas last year and I'd been away from my house for about six weeks. I came back and listened to the records I had at that point. Listening back I was like, 'Oh crap, this isn't my record. I'm not going to finish these.' I ended up throwing out a good seven or eight songs and started all over.

For lack of a better word, it sounded like I was phoning it in. It sounded like just another Greg Laswell record, so I threw it all out. I remember calling my manager and saying, 'Uh, hey I have some interesting news for you.' [Laughs] We had a due date and all that laid out already. Things were just about to get in motion on it all, but then I had to call with this news. I said that I was going to start this whole thing over and she said, 'O-kay.' So I wanted something that still sounded like something I would do but I wanted it to be different and larger.

Analogue: When you have to make that call and you know it's going to cost you 7 or 8 songs and even 7 or 8 months, whatever it is, is that a tough call to make or is that very easy because it didn't feel right?

Greg: Oh, it's easy. It would have been more difficult to put it out and then have to promote it and not be into it. It was an easy call to make. I was bummed when I figured out that's what I had to do because that meant a whole lot more work, obviously, but it was a good thing to do for sure.

I also wanted to appear to be in control of the songs, just because I'm not in control of anything else right now.

Analogue: I want to jump back to earlier because you said that this music being larger than you reflected the real world or your real life. What did you mean there?

Greg: In my personal life, I feel like I'm the smallest I've ever been. I'm the least in control I've ever been of circumstances. I've been going through some stuff with my family and my dad is suffering from Alzheimer's. I touch on that on a few songs on this record, but for the first time in my life... I've been through heartbreak before, but it's not a sense of that as much as it is knowing that I'm tiny, I'm helpless. There's nothing I can really do about what's going on right now. I feel pretty small and I wanted to make a record that made the listener feel small by comparison. I also wanted to appear to be in control of the songs, just because I'm not in control of anything else right now.

Analogue: You've certainly leaned on music as a throughway ever since the beginning as you've documented divorce or loss or other things.

Greg: It's always served a cathartic purpose for me. It's my way of coping. My mom makes a joke, 'If I ever want to know how you're doing, I'll just listen to your songs.' [Laughs]

I was in counseling months ago now, but my counselor was like, 'You keep mentioning you're a songwriter. Would you feel comfortable bringing in the lyrics to something you're working on?' I brought in lyrics from my last session and she said, 'I wish all my clients did this, because you're actually doing a lot of the work on your own.' [Laughs] So music has always done that for me. I've always gone to it like a warm bed. It's the one area of my life I feel completely free to tell the actual and whole truth.

Analogue: That cathartic feeling or outlet, does it change with this album at all given the difference you mentioned earlier between heartbreak and feeling small?

Greg: It feels the same. "Super Moon" felt really good to try to put that into words and express it. I'm usually very hesitant to tell people what my songs are specifically about. I like what happens when they interpret it and make it their own, because it's often far from what I intended. I like that part of the whole process. But with this record, there are definite songs about my dad and "Super Moon" is one of them. It feels good to get that out. Obviously it doesn't fix a fucking thing but it helps me. I also started talking about it on stage on the last tour. I started opening up about what some of the songs were about.

Analogue: Could you tell a difference in your relationship with the audience when you started to open up?

Greg: I think so. The audience is as much a part of the show as the performer, so when you break down those walls and get a little more vulnerable with them, they're willing to go further with you. That's a cool thing. I've always had that approach in my live shows. If I have a really close friend in the audience, I want them to be able to recognize me up there. I don't want them to see me put on a front but say, 'Hey that's who he really is.'

Analogue: Greg, I'd love to give you a chance to tell us all that's coming up for you. It starts with some immediate tour dates, right?

Greg: Yeah I'm going out on the road for a short run—like three weeks long. Then I'll come back and do a covers EP, which will be Volume 2. I'll start working on that and then I'm getting a side project off the ground with a buddy of mine, Dan Ballard. He's played guitar for me on tour and he's been a friend for years. Then I'll circle back around and see if we need to go back out on the road before 2019, then we will. If not, we'll go out shortly after the new year.