Analogue Music | Laura Stevenson

Laura Stevenson

By Matt Conner

The distance between who Laura Stevenson is and who she wants to be is closing fast these days.

For the last decade-plus, Laura Stevenson has been making vulnerable music somewhere under the indie folk/rock umbrella with a string of acclaimed releases. Yet until now, she's never put out a self-titled record. It wasn't that she wasn't interested in utilizing the idea. Rather, the music was never worthy of her artistic signature, as she says it.

Laura Stevenson is both powerful and poignant. It presents an artist laid bare yet beautifully presented. In short, it's an achievement and Stevenson knows it. It's the reason that she's signing her name, so to speak, a proud songwriter who is hitting the stride she's always pictured and yet never fully realized.

We recently caught up with Stevenson to hear more about being a new mom, weathering a pandemic at the same time, and preparing to release an album she believes is her finest work to date.

Analogue: The new album is quite vulnerable, but that’s nothing new for your music. But how raw can things get before they’re uncomfortably so? Or does that not exist?

Laura Stevenson: In the past, I’ve written about vulnerable things without getting vulnerable, if you know what I mean. I would hide it behind a silly song or something like that. So I’m getting closer and closer to the content matching the context that it sits in, which is different. It’s also challenging.

I haven’t gotten to a place where I’m like, ‘Fuck that, I can’t sing that song live. It’s too much.’ It’s a further exploration of what you were exploring when you were writing it. It’s the back half of that catharsis, actually performing it and living it every night and sitting in it because you don’t want to phone it in. You want to be present, and it’s all part of the journey of self-exploration as an artist where you’re like, ‘I have to keep pushing myself, I guess. I didn’t realize that’s where I was going to be going, but you just have to keep pushing yourself.’

I don’t know if it’s because I’m older or more experienced, but I want to keep trying to get that much closer to the truth.

Analogue: Summarily speaking, does that feel descriptive of what you’re trying to do overall?

Laura: Yeah, you don’t feel like it when you’re making each little thing, each little song, each record. But when you stand back and look at what you’ve done, you see the progression of yourself. When you look at your catalog and records lined up next to each other, you see it.

It’s really interesting that on my Patreon, I’ll write out song lyrics for people. They’re all super-fans, so they’re into the deep cuts from way, way back. I’m sitting there writing these lyrics out and it’s so much different than singing them when I’m sitting in my room. They’re songs I never play live anymore, because you wonder if anyone even knows the song. But I’m writing the lyrics out and it’s interesting to see where I was and where I’m going. The trajectory has been interesting.

Analogue: Interesting in a proud way or—

Laura: Yeah, yeah. Also you look at who you were and what you were going through and you just want to take care of the person. It’s like, ‘Oh, I feel so bad for me in 2008. It’s going to be okay!’ So it’s a lot of different feelings, but I’m definitely proud of the way the work has been progressing.

Analogue: What you just mentioned about wanting to take care of your past self… are the songs a way of doing that in the moment for you?

Laura: A way of taking care of who I was or who I am at the time? I’d actually say both. I wrote a song, and it was my only pandemic-era song, and I haven’t released it. I had a baby so I haven’t written anything. But I kept having this dream of myself as a little girl on the beach and me as an adult trying to go to her and protect her. So I definitely feel very protective of this person that I was. I don’t know if it’s good to want to take care of yourself in the past. I should probably take care of myself in the present, but I’m a work in progress, I guess. [Laughs]

Analogue: By the way, were you surprised that you only wrote one song during that time? I mean I have a young kid myself, so I know free time is hard to find.

Laura: I didn’t know what to expect with parenthood, especially parenthood in isolation where you don’t have any help. It’s been interesting. I think I would have expected to have more time to nourish that part of myself, because you lose your sense of self when you’re not doing the shit that makes you who you are. There’s been so much to process this year and I haven’t had that outlet, so it’s definitely different. [Laughs]

But it’s been a challenge and hopefully now that life is opening back up a little bit and we’ve had some grandparents here a couple times… we’ve always had friends who’ve offered to babysit and we’ve said no, but now we’re like, ‘Maybe!’ So hopefully I can get some of those precious hours. Also my daughter just started sleeping a week ago.

"I’m getting so much closer to the kind of songwriter I want to be. I think that’s a really special thing as someone who makes things and cringes when they look at it. I’m not cringing this time and it feels really good."

Analogue: That’s a game-changer!

Laura: Yeah, I didn’t think anything would ever be okay ever again. I was still waking up four or five times a night, so anytime I had during the day that I could have been creating something, I was sleeping. I was just so under slept and starting to get anxious. It was bad. But last Tuesday night was the first time she slept through the night. Not napping during those hours are going to be great.

Analogue: You’ve been at this for a while and this is the self-titled. Typically that comes on the front end, so there’s nothing more to search for on google or something. Does that make this a personal work? Is that a flag planted in that way?

Laura: That’s exactly it. I’ve gotten to a place as a writer where I feel like I can put my name on my work now. An artist signs their painting proudly but I’ve never done that before. I’m always like, ‘This is it. Here you go, I guess?!’ I really got as close as I could to what I really wanted to make.

As a person who is always over-scrutinizing and always self-critical, it was a big milestone in my career as an artist. Hopefully the next one feels even closer and so on and so forth. But yeah, I was so proud. I stood back and thought, ‘This is the self-titled one. This is the time.’

Analogue: Are you able to zero in on what makes you so proud?

Laura: I think it would be the quality of the songwriting. I was just teaching the guitar player how to play one of the songs and I was like, ‘Okay, here the pre-chorus is the chorus.’ He was like, ‘Oh that shit is cool!’ I was like, ‘Yeah, it is, right?’ So yeah, the quality of the songwriting… I think I’m getting so much closer to the kind of songwriter I want to be. I think that’s a really special thing as someone who makes things and cringes when they look at it. I’m not cringing this time and it feels really good.

Analogue: As a listener, there are some vocal moments that felt to me like they could be proud moments for you.

Laura: Well, for sure, I’m singing in a way different register, and it takes an incredible amount of control to sing in a lower range for me. It’s really challenging and I was exploring that a lot on this record. It’s almost to my detriment because we’re playing these songs while we’re practicing and it’s fucking low. [Laughs]

But it was a different part of my range. It feels almost more honest, because my speaking voice is very low. It feels maybe closer to my true voice. I don’t know. When I first started singing, I was trying to sing the way that I thought sounded pretty but that’s not a true expression of who you are. You’re just trying to sound how a pretty voice sounds. Whenever I listen, I think it feels so affected. It feels like I’m wearing a mask when I’m singing like that. Now I’m trying to pull all of that away and just sing straight from my heart and not my mouth. That’s very difficult because that’s a very vulnerable place for me, when you’re not just putting a little gauze over it.

VISIT: Laura Stevenson

Photo: Bon Jane