Interview: Laura Stevenson

This summer, I saw singer-songwriter Laura Stevenson, who is touring with Jeff Rosenstock, play four times in various cities. After the third show, at the Zarfest Fairgrounds here in Vegas, I was able to get her away from tourmates and adoring fans for a quick interview.

Oh man… Jeez, sorry my voice is like, ridiculous (I’d lost my voice from a week of shows and drinking. You know, living that Punk Rock Lifestyle). First question… How were you gifted with the voice of an actual angel, and how do I get one?

Aw, that’s so nice. Um, I don’t know, I don’t sing properly.

Have you ever had any formal training or anything? Or you kind of just went for it?

I was in choirs and stuff, so I learned how to do vocal warm-ups at the beginning of class, you know? But I never sat with a teacher one-on-one. I’ve never been analyzed. And then I’ve damaged my voice. So I don’t really sing like an angel. *laughs* I sing like a bad… child that should be doing it right.

Better than the rest of us! … Something that was of personal interest to me was: what illness are you talking about in “The Healthy One?”

Oh, it’s a family that, um, so like three of the kids are HIV-positive, and one of them was skipped, so you know, their younger sibling and their older sibling had HIV and they were skipped. Which can happen, you know? So it’s just about dealing with the gift of…

Of not having it.

Of not being sick.

I was just wondering, because my dad’s from that area, well more like New Jersey [than New York], so I was like, “Is it about polio? What’s going on here?”

*laughs* Oh, no.

How did you end up on the Smith Street Band record [More Scared of You Than You Are of Me]? I saw that you were on one of their songs [“Run Into the World”].

Oh, yeah, I was friends with them.

I figured that was part of it.

I actually became friends with them through Jeff [Rosenstock]. But Jeff was doing their record, and then they needed… they needed me.

That’s such a coincidence!

And then they had called, and I had met them before, and then after that I went on tour with them, and it was really nice.

Aw! Did you record [in Australia], or ?

No, no, in New Jersey. In Jersey City.

Oh, okay.

It was really cool. It was really nice.

I wasn’t kidding. (Right before the interview, I’d been joking with Laura about Kevin Higuchi and John DeDominici being her backing band. They also play for Jeff- Kevin on drums, John on bass). How come your backup members are part of Jeff’s band? I know you’ve toured with other people as your band- was it just easier [to have Kevin and John as your backup band] or something else?

A little bit of both. I mean, people’s lives and schedules are changing. Like, not everyone can do it anymore. So, it kind of just worked out. And John and Kevin are both so good.

Mhm. And you’ve known them. Do you consider yourself more of a solo artist now?

I mean, I’ve always kind of been a solo artist, and like, I tour solo all the time. Then when I do have full bands, that’s cool, but I can do both, you know? But I like changing it up. And playing things that are bigger-sounding. You know, I can’t play [with a band] some of the songs that I play solo. Some of the full band stuff I can’t play solo.

It’s just not the same, yeah.

It’s like, boring. And I’ve always liked big rock songs.

That’s really cool. That makes sense.

I try to do both, but I don’t know. We’ll see. *laughs*

I saw that you released, I think, one or two records with Asian Man Records and then you moved to Don Giovanni. So… why? I don’t know a lot about Giovanni, so… What caused that?

Oh, yeah. Don Giovanni. I have one on Asian Man, and then three on Don Giovanni. Mike Park released my first record, and I didn’t realize that… This was my bad, but like, I didn’t realize that once you’re on a label, it’s kind of an unspoken thing that you release through them

Yeah, you’re stuck.

And I just had no idea, and so like Joe from Don Giovanni was like, “Can I put out your second record?” and I was like, “Sure! Whatever!” and I was so lax about it. And then Mike Park was like, “Wait…”

Oh noooo!

And I was like, “Oh my god, I didn’t mean to be an asshole!”

Friendship terminated!

We’re still super close.

That’s good. I remember. (Mike had gone on a little spiel about how much he loved Laura when she and Jeff played at Bottom of the Hill a week prior).

He knows I’m an idiot. But yeah, I just had no idea. I didn’t know about the etiquette, or about how things worked. I just like… First of all, I was new to it, and I didn’t really think I was going to be putting out a second record. So when Joe was like, “You have a bunch of new songs! Why don’t you just record ‘em and I’ll give em out?” I was like, “Okay!”

“Sure! Why not?”

Yeah, and so Mike understands I’m dumb. *laughs* And Joe is awesome. I’ve just only worked with friends.

That’s really good.

It’s nice.

That’s what I really like about the DIY scene. Like in San Francisco [at the aforementioned show], you guys all knew each other, and that was really cool seeing that.

Yeah, that was a fun show.

I’m not super knowledgeable on music, but I feel like it’s obvious that the instrumentals and melodies [of your songs] are happy and bouncy and upbeat, but then there’s that juxtaposition with the lyrical content. How do you find the right balance?

I think that each song is its own thing, so I have songs that are heavy, and sound heavy, like a song on my second record [Sit Resist], “I See Dark,” that’s the last track. That song’s like, super overwrought and super heavy and sad the whole way through and the lyrics are really sad. But then I have songs like… I can’t think of any off the top of my head… I mean, “The Healthy One,” obviously, is a happy-sounding song. But I mean, they’re all sad. So it’s like, if I feel like writing a happy song, it’s still going to be sad.

Is it weird seeing people, like, scream and dance to these sad songs?

No, it’s cool! Because if they connect to it, and I keep it vague enough, where people aren’t like, “Oh, that’s too specific for me to be able to…”

Yeah, it’s easy to connect to a lot of your music.

Also, that’s protecting me and the people in my life that I don’t want to out. *laughs* The ones that I’m writing about. So it works out. But yeah.

Now I’m gonna get super personal, so if it’s too much, let me know, but… You know, as someone who’s been, I’m assuming, on both the “sick” and the “normal” side of mental health divide, what have you found to be the best ways to reconcile [romantic relationships and mental illness]? You’re married, you’ve been in a long-term relationship- how do you reconcile that with, you know, those days that you don’t want to get out of bed, you don’t want to do anything? But also on the flipside, what are the best ways to support… Sorry, this is a big question. I wanted to ask you questions besides, “What’s your next record?” you know?

No, no, no! You’ve given me really thoughtful questions that are really nice. It means a lot that you care and you know so much.

I’ve… I don’t know, I’ve… Not to get too emo, but there are a couple songs that, like, get me, so… (Here is where I almost confess to Laura that I’ve cried to some of her songs, but I was already emotional enough after her and No Red Alice’s sets, so I had to hold myself back).

Aw. Hell yes. Thank you.

No, thank you for writing [those songs] and coming out here. But yeah, I’ll let you answer that.

Thank you for having me! What was the second part of it?

What’s the best way to support a partner who has mental illness?

Who’s going through it? Usually, it’s the flip, like I have been the one that has to hold the other person up, but it’s usually me that’s the greedy one who needs [support]. But yeah, I’ve been trying to not isolate, because I have a partner, and that’s hard because I have a tendency to… Like before, when I was in a relationship, I would just not answer my phone, I wouldn’t leave my house, I wouldn’t do anything. But now, I may have those urges, but I have to step back from it, and kind of look at what I have and what I don’t want to fuck up. But I mean, I get those urges all the time, because that’s the easiest thing to do- just tuck away. And it’s not easy, because you’re going through hell, but like… Just keep your heart open and understand the other person’s pain. It’s frustrating to see them and you can’t help.

Exactly. It’s hard.

So I see how he feels when he can’t help me and how it breaks his heart. So I try to remember… Because I can be selfish and be like, “Come on! You’re fine! We can be okay! We’re okay!” And then I’m like, “I’m an asshole. You’re always there for me when I’m a mess.” So yeah, it’s an eye-opener, and it’s constant work. But it’s good.

Oh, man. That’s one way to put it. Just “work.” That pretty much answers it.

It’s rewarding. It’s good. And I hope I don’t fuck it up.

Yeah, I guess that’s the big be-all, end-all to tell yourself: Don’t mess it up!

“Don’t fuck this up!”

“I’ve worked so hard for this!”

“This is too good!” But yeah, I fuck it up every once in a while, but we fix it.

That’s nice to hear.

I haven’t fucked it up THAT bad… yet.

That’s good! I’m rooting for you guys.

Thanks!

Last question. It’s kind of overdone, and you’ve probably heard it like a million times, but, you know, being in the punk scene, I’ve pretty much only interviewed men [with a few exceptions], so I was very excited to interview you. What’s it like being in a scene that’s predominantly male, but also, there’s definitely a dynamic that’s moving towards more women. You know, bands like Diet Cig, like Cayetana, there’s so many more girl bands. What’s it like being there for the transition?

It’s really cool! It’s so cool to not be, like, the novelty act.

Like, *gruff man voice*  “Oh, it’s a girl!”

Yeah, like *gruff man voice* “Oh, whoa!” Now it’s becoming normalized and people are not like, “Oh, you’re good for a girl.”

Aw, jeez.

You know? It’s just like, you’re good because you’re a person who plays an instrument and you’ve been playing for 10 years, you know what I mean? So I’m seeing [this scene] shift and it’s awesome, and there’s so many creative people I’m getting to meet in this scene. There were always amazing women in this scene, but now there’s a whole new crop of people and it’s really cool.

Yeah, it’s so exciting! Do you have any specific hopes for that? Besides just seeing more, you know, women in DIY punk or music in general?

Seeing more, seeing an open-minded community, seeing people from all walks of life that can use their voice and can be heard. I think it’s really fucking cool. And seeing other types and genres of music working their way into the punk community. Cuz it’s more of a personal ethos in politics than it is in the music, and I feel like there’s so much more that we can embrace in the culture than just rock bands with guitars and drums. You know what I mean?

Exactly, I totally get it. That’s awesome.

It’s cool, and I’m looking forward to it and seeing [the DIY punk scene] evolve. I’m excited.

-Jazmin Boulton

Photos by Aaron Mattern

About the author  ⁄ Jazmin Boulton

Just a broke college kid with an affinity for ska/punk and writing. @alaSKApunk

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