Laura Stevenson’s new, self-titled album, out August 6 on Don Giovanni Records, is the latest milestone for the New York indie/folk hero in an exhausting wave of life-altering, monumental moments.
“It’s been really strange to talk about everything because I wrote this record before my last record even came out,” Stevenson reveals. “I finished [2019’s] The Big Freeze, and a couple of months later, I started writing this record, and I kind of put The Big Freeze on pause for a while because I was dealing with all the shit I was dealing with on this record.”
Stevenson is referring to the harrowing, near-death trauma of a loved one that turned her personal life upside down and prompted her to pour her emotional and creative energy into creating a whole new album from scratch.
“I recorded The Big Freeze, wrote this record, put the The Big Freeze out a year later, was touring on that, then I got pregnant at the end of touring, and then I made this record a couple of months later, before I got too pregnant to do anything,” she says. “Then the pandemic happened, and I was like, ‘Well, I’m not gonna put this out for a while,’ but now it feels like kind of a good time because I might be able to do some shows. So yeah, it’s been a real journey with these songs.”
Write fifth album. Tragedy strikes. Pause album five, and write album six. Give birth. Once-a-century global pandemic strikes. Laura Stevenson’s life has changed several times over in the few short years between albums. It’s fitting that the opening track and first single off her new record, “State,” would be the heaviest, and perhaps most explosive, track of her career.
“That song, it starts the record, and I released it as the first single because it’s the most intense song on the album,” Stevenson shares.
Channeling the mountain of grief and rage that was the impetus for Stevenson’s new album in the first place, “State” is a beautifully pummeling track that culminates in a cascade of drums, wailing guitars, and Stevenson’s immensely earnest voice.
“It always made me feel empowered,” Stevenson says proudly of her catharsis incarnate song. “I hope that they’re not like, ‘Oh the rest of the record is actually pretty mellow,’” she laughs.
Songs like “Don’t Think About Me” and “Continental Divide” boast immaculate guitar tones and ear-worm-caliber hooks, while tracks like “Wretch” and “Mary” slow things down to a somber and hauntingly introspective pace. While lacking the sonic might of the opener, the rest of Laura Stevenson’s self-titled album still packs one hell of an emotional punch.
Recording these songs and getting back into the traumatic headspace they originated from was a little weird for then-pregnant Stevenson.
“Being stressed, there’s, like, research about it being bad for the baby and stuff, so I was trying to be even-keeled and try not to get anxious about things during the pregnancy, which is really hard to do when you’re nervous about bringing a person into the world,” she says. “The last 10 days of my pregnancy were very stressful because that’s when the pandemic started. Writing these songs brought up a lot for me. Recording them brought up a lot for me.
“Especially ‘Continental Divide,’ I changed one of the lyrics at the end on the second chorus. Instead of repeating the first chorus, I made it: ‘What can I do right to keep you safe all of your life,’ because I was wanting to protect this little girl inside of me growing, and I was singing about this thing where somebody was in an unsafe situation, and I was feeling so many different things. So, I swapped the lyric out of there and made it about her a little bit. Then shit hit the fan right before she came out, so I was like, I really got to keep you safe, not even hypothetically safe, it’s like I have to make sure you don’t get this disease.”
If the stars align, Stevenson plans to a play a string of shows celebrating her new record this fall. Performing safely is essential for a new pandemic mother like Stevenson.
“It’s gonna make us obviously more nervous parents, but ultimately better parents,” she says. “Our priorities shifted to just keep her safe and, well, it’s always been to make sure she has the best life ever, but now we feel so guilty because we’re like, ‘Welcome to the world, kid’ [laughs]. So now, we have to make this kid’s life fucking rock.”
Stream Laura Stevenson’s self-titled album here:
Photo courtesy of Laura Stevenson and Bon Jane.