Q&A with Laura Stevenson

by Samantha Stoakes

Q&A with Laura Stevenson

Photo by Kenneth Bachor

“This next song is about death!” At a Laura Stevenson show, this is not an uncommon thing to hear. Her onstage persona is darkly witty, a little self-deprecating, and above all, entirely sincere.

Since the release of her 2010 debut A Record, Laura has built a discography of similarly-minded songs featuring swift guitar playing and painfully honest lyrics about suffering, guilt, and longing. Her most recent record Cocksure, released this past October on Don Giovanni Records, moves away from the folk leanings of past releases in favor of a confident rock-driven sound. For the past month, Laura has taken these energetic new songs on a full-band U.S. tour with shreddy chiptune pop trio Crying and WRBB’s fave punk celebrity, the one and only Chris Farren. Lucky for all of us, this tour will be stopping at Great Scott in Allston this Sunday, May 1st.

I got to chat with Laura about the tour, her approach to songwriting, and what musician she has pictures of all over her apartment.

How is the tour with Chris Farren and Crying going so far?
So far the tour is great! The routing is super easy, everyone is really nice in every city. Chris and Crying are both awesome but also really really different so it’s a fun show.

I noticed that recently you’ve been playing a lot of solo acoustic shows before this tour – how is it playing solo shows vs. with a full band, especially now that you’re touring with songs from Cocksure?
Solo is cool. It’s kind of scary because I can’t hide at ALL – but I can play songs that don’t work full-band. It’s really intimate and it’s definitely helped me grow as a performer to put myself out there like that. Cocksure is a very full-band record, more so than any other record I’ve done, so it has been super fun playing the new songs with Mike, Peter, Alex, and Sammi. It’s exciting to be a part of something that sounds really big. It’s freeing in a different sort of way but, you know, there are more variables, less is in your control so you just have to trust everyone’s instincts. Luckily all my bandmates are awesome, so it works out and we can all just let go and play. It’s nice.

What are your favorite songs to play on this tour?
“Torch Song” and “Tom Sawyer” have been really fun. Also “Out With a Whimper” has been great. All the new ones are fun. We have also been doing a cover, which is always the most fun for me – not sure about the audience though [laughs].

I listened to your Spotify commentary for Cocksure, where you mentioned that Sammi would bring in a great drum part that would influence a song, you would think of a certain bass line with Mike in mind, and so on. I’d love to hear more about what your bandmates bring to the table when recording, performing, etc.
Playing with them for a while has definitely influenced the songs when I’m writing them and thinking about the full-band arrangements, then we do a lot of brainstorming together if it’s more open to interpretation. Each song is different. I want everyone to feel enriched by their experience in the band – not just like they’re playing what someone wrote note for note. It’s more fun and positive when everyone can be creative and feel fulfilled. All my bandmates have great and different taste so they really help to bring the arrangements where they need to go.

You have always been very open in your songs and onstage about your experiences with depression, which I think is absolutely something that resonates deeply with people. What is your mentality towards bravery and honesty in your music?
I think it’s important to be honest with yourself – but that’s hard to do. I struggle with depression every day – right now I’m so lucky to have a pretty good handle on it – but there’s always that hole close by that you have to be careful not to fall into. It’s a day-to-day thing – and meeting other people who experience that definitely gives me strength when I need it. Having the support of friends and fans who go through it has helped me so much. It’s cool, I feel like talking about depression has become way less taboo in the past couple of years and that’s such a good thing. I don’t think I’m being brave talking about it necessarily, I think staying alive when I didn’t want to was me trying to be brave. But it’s hard to say, everything is really different now. All I know is I’m lucky I’m here and that me talking about my shit can sometimes help other people and in turn, they help me so much.

Personal anecdote: I went to your show at Shea Stadium in December where you talked about how much you love Dolly Parton, and you got me listening to her music! Who are some other artists that have influenced you throughout your journey as a musician?
Oh yesssss! She’s everything to me. I have pictures of her all over my apartment, which I’m realizing sounds crazy. She’s just such a great songwriter and singer and performer and such a positive person. She makes me feel happy. Other musicians that have influenced me – there are a lot. Harry Nilsson, Judee Sill… I love songwriters who write and sing with equal sincerity. Townes Van Zandt, Tim Kasher… There are a ton more but those are big ones for me.

Who would be your dream lineup on a Laura Stevenson tour? Any artists/bands at all, regardless of if they’re living/active.
Oh man. The Trio – Emmylou Harris, Linda Ronstadt, and Dolly Parton – would headline. Direct support would be a fantasy band that I just made up: Jeff Tweedy, Neil Young, David Grisman, and bring back Levon Helm and Rick Danko from heaven for the rhythm section. We’d open the show, but no one would be there yet to watch us, but it’s cool.

Are there any current artists/pals/anything in general you’d like to give a shout out to?
My sister, Katie. She’s cool, she loves all types of candy – most of all Twizzlers. Also a shout out to Dr. Campbell, her dentist.

Laura Stevenson will be at Great Scott on Sunday, May 1st with Chris Farren, Crying, and Saccharine. 8:30pm, 18+. $12 at door, tickets available here.