Interview By John Silva
There is a theory that as the universe expands, it will get colder, eventually reaching a point where life is no longer sustainable. This concept is known as The Big Freeze, which also happens to be the title of New York-based singer-songwriter Laura Stevenson’s fifth LP, out March 29 on Don Giovanni Records.
Stevenson started out as a member of the punk ska collective Bomb The Music Industry!, but after over a decade of playing shows with her own band as Laura Stevenson—formerly known as Laura Stevenson And The Cans—she has made a name for herself and has become an important voice in the DIY scene. With her past four records, she amassed a loyal following through her tremendous ability to write both catchy pop songs and raw, emotional ballads. Fans have long been aware of her top-notch vocal talent, but never has that talent shined more than on The Big Freeze, an orchestral record that puts Stevenson’s vocal abilities front and center.
This seems like a softer, more vocal-focused album, which is a big departure from 2015’s Cocksure, one of the poppier releases in your discography. Was that a deliberate decision you made when writing this LP?
Yeah, I mean, some of the songs were already done before Cocksure, and I was gonna put them on a record that was gonna be more like [2011’s] Sit Resist, which is my second one, or [2013’s] Wheel, which is my third one, which is kind of like loud-quiet-loud, and then, I was like, “You know what? I think these songs deserve to be in their own little world.” If it’s just a quiet song on a record, then they’re not gonna matter as much. When I was making Cocksure, I knew my next record was gonna be something more intimate and song-based than all the bells and whistles. Cocksure was super fun to make, and I got to play with my band who I’ve been playing with for years. So, it was a really good time, but this one was more, like, insular and sad. [Laughs]
I’ve read a little bit about the Big Freeze. Why did that concept appeal to you for this album?
Well, kind of the lonely feeling of just drifting forever, which is kind of how I feel sometimes and kind of how I felt when I was working on a lot of the songs. I just really connected to that dark, low expanse, and it’s overwhelming but beautiful, because it’s over.
It kinda matches the sound of the album.
Yeah, and a lot of the themes are about, like, just isolation and that kind of thing.
You recorded this album in your childhood home. How did that affect you as you were making it?
It was both good and bad, but I think both of those feelings served the record being better. There were songs like “The Mystic & the Master,” which didn’t end up making it onto [The Big Freeze]; I ended up releasing it before the record in December for a charity. It was like, “I just wanna put something out and feel positive at the end of this crazy year.” A lot of that shit went down in that house, so it was fucked up to have it right in your face but also really good and cathartic at the same time.
Also, it’s the place I feel most comfortable in the world, even though the guy who was producing it with me, Joe [Rogers], was like, “This is the most haunted house I’ve ever been in.” I was like, “Really?” and he was like, “I especially do not wanna be in that room.” We were upstairs, and I was like, “Oh, that was my childhood bedroom.” He was like, “That’s not an OK room. It feels like a bad place.” I’m like, “Yeah, that was where I slept!”
So, I don’t know. There was a heaviness but also the comfort of being in that space I’m so familiar with that made it so easy for me to emote and evoke what I was singing about in a way that I felt comfortable enough to do it. So, it was a really cool experiment. Maybe I’ll do it again. Who knows? But it was cool.
How are you going to recreate the layering of vocals on this record live?
No idea! My friend Shawn [Alpay] is gonna be playing cello with me. So, a lot of the things that I sing, I hear strings, and I sing for strings. He also layers and can build atmospheric shit with his cello; he’s just really good at it. I think we’re gonna—we need to practice together [laughs], but we’ve already got stuff in the works, and I sent him a GarageBand [file] of me singing, and he’s learning what I want him to play. So, I think a lot of it’s going to try to come in through my voice, my guitar, and his cello. Then, we’re gonna see what are the most important parts to tackle, because there’s a lot of movements coming in and out, so we’re just gonna figure out what is the primary, most important part during each section that will carry the song. So, it’s interesting, ’cause I’m gonna have to break it down and see what is the thing that’s gonna be the most powerful. But that will be a challenge.
A lot of [your songs] are very personal, but you make the details vague enough that they can apply to other people. Do you believe the meaning behind or interpretation of art belongs to the creator or that artists should give that to the listener?
I think it’s a little bit of both, because the creator makes it so that they can feel better, and if they’re making something for someone so that they can feel better, then it’s for them as well. So, the act of making it is for me, but the act of putting it into the world is for other people.
Do you ever edit songs that seem too specific to make them more accessible for other people? Or the other way around?
If something feels like I’m gonna harm a relationship in my life because I’ve been too specific, then I will fuzz it over a little bit, but a lot of me putting a veil on things is so that I also can talk about shit that I’m not ready to talk about. It’s my first step into dealing with shit that maybe, in the real world, I’m not ready to deal with. So, if I’m like, “Oh, OK, I’ll write about it,” then it’s kind of real. Then, when I’m ready to handle this shit, I’ll handle it. [Laughs]
It adds a little bit of distance to it.
Exactly. It makes it safer for me, because then I’m like, “OK, so I don’t have to own this shit,” and then I can just acknowledge it sort of but not really have to fix it. So, that’s just me being emotionally immature, probably. [Laughs]
Many of your fans are people in the punk community, even though your sound is more singer-songwriter. Maybe that’s because of your association with Bomb The Music Industry! Have you branched into a more indie audience over the years?
It’s kind of hard to gauge, but I think because I’ve toured with bands that I’m friends with and I grew up traveling in that DIY circle throughout the United States and the U.K., those are the people who I know, and those are the people who wanna take me out because we come from the same place and we share the same ideals. So, I don’t know. That has been the world that I’ve mostly existed in, which is great.
Sometimes people who just found me on Spotify or whatever, they come to shows, and I’ve toured with or played a couple shows with bands that don’t come from this world that we all are kind of existing in. So, it’s strange. I feel like maybe I am seeing a little bit of a shift, but the people who have been with me the whole time, a lot of them are still with me. That means a lot to me, because I’m making something that they’re growing with, and they’re still standing by me and supporting me. It’s nice.”
There are a lot of bands who people kind of come in and out of liking, but it seems like people stick with you, so that’s gotta be awesome.
Yeah, it’s really nice. I seriously—I don’t like being like, “I have fans,” ’cause I don’t feel like I do. I’m just, like, a person, so the people are just people who came to see me. I don’t see anybody as being fans of anything, but I do think that the people who come to my shows and support me are the nicest people in the world. I really feel very lucky.
It seems like you and Jeff Rosenstock and Chris Farren have a similar fanbase, and it seems like it’s a lot of good people.
Yeah, it’s nice, enthusiastic people who aren’t posturing, or, like, nobody is trying to be cool, because the three of us are not cool. So, it’s kind of more misfits and stuff, and that’s great, because that’s what we are.