Laura Stevenson recently played Riot Fest Chicago and we caught up with her shortly after her set for a quick interview. We discussed her most recent album, Cocksure, which was released last year on Don Giovanni Records. We talked about the record’s style, its title, what it was like working with producer Jeff Rosenstock and more. Additionally, we conversed about her plans for the future, which include putting the finishing touches on a new album that’s already nearly completed. Lastly, be sure to check out a video for her song “Jellyfish” after the interview.
Bill – Your latest album features a lot of full-band arrangements. Was that something you initially intended to do or did it just occur organically?
Laura – Yeah, there were like rippers and then there were quiet songs, and then I kind of just scratched all the quiet ones and just decided to make a fun record. I had my really good friend produce it, who’s been recording me since I started. He was the first person to ever record vocals for me, so I was super comfortable with him and he’s one of my best friends. So we just kind of took the songs and had fun with them. They were super loose arrangements and everybody got kind of creative with it. It was nice.
Bill – By all accounts, this record sounds very confident. Where would you say those sentiments come from and how do they relate to the album’s title?
Laura – Well, my buddy Ian, who plays in the band Cheap Girls, he came up with the record title. He’s always busting my balls a little bit, but it actually ended up being a really good record title. So I was like, “I will take it. Thank you very much.” In terms of confidence, that’s not like a natural feeling for me, but I just decided to stop being so self-critical and editing myself so much. I thought I was stepping on ideas by not nurturing them. A lot of the melodies are just free association. I wrote some in like voice memos on my phone and they ended up being songs. I didn’t have the lyrics, but I kept all the melodies. I wanted to see where it would go if I kind of just let go.
Bill – You touched on this earlier, but you recorded the album with your close friend and former bandmate, Jeff Rosenstock. What was that experience like?
Laura – It was awesome. I’m not great at the guitar, theory-wise. I can’t really play solos, that’s my secret, so I would sing parts to him and he would just play them. And I love the way he plays guitar. He plays it kind of fucked up sounding, but it just works. I mean he’s a brilliant guitar player, but he definitely has a fairly rough playing style that I like. He’s just like super-energetic and he’s such a positive person. He’s one of my all-time greatest friends and mentors in my life.
Bill – What do you like best about how the recording turned out?
Laura – I think I can hear how happy we all were when we were making it, and that’s what I like best about it. On other records, I can hear how I’m singing and I was so worried what the producer was thinking about how I was singing. Whenever I try and sing in a powerful way I kind of sound bratty, and I hate that. I don’t have a gruff voice, I have more of a nasally voice. So trying to sing with power just kind of makes me sound petulant, (laughs). But I was just like “fuck it, whatever” and I went for it and just felt like everyone around me was super positive.
Bill – Your lyrics have always been fairly personal and honest, and I feel that’s definitely true of the songs on Cocksure. Is it difficult to be so open with your songwriting?
Laura – Yeah, I mean at times. I’m worried that I’m going to hurt people in my life. Like my mom does not know that any songs are about her. She’s always like, “When are you gonna write a song about me?” I’m like, “There are so many songs about you.” I just try to hide it a little bit, just because a mother-daughter relationship is always a tough one, especially if you’re an artist and your mother’s not super psyched on what you’re doing with your life. So there were some struggles and that’s in there. She doesn’t know, apparently, (laughs). She has one of our songs on her SwiMP3 player, which she doesn’t know how to put songs on it. There’s like one song of mine and an Etta James song and that’s it. She likes that song, (laughs).
Bill – Is there a particular song on the record that’s most meaningful to you?
Laura – I think the first one, “Out With a Whimper,” just because I’m in this place every two weeks where I’m like, “Am I doing this? Am I still doing this? What am I doing this for? Am I gonna keep doing this?” I just wanted to write about it and maybe try and better deal with it if it’s a thing I can hear and listen to. But I’m still dealing with it. Every day it’s a struggle, (laughs).
Bill – On a lighter note, tell me about your song on the recent Asian Man Records compilation. How exactly did you get involved in the project and what made you want to cover the Smoking Popes?
Laura – Well, I love the Smoking Popes. I love the vocals and I was excited about that band for many, many years, so that was the first thing that popped in my head. Even though I don’t even know them, and so many of my friends’ bands are on Asian Man that I could have done something for them and it would have been really sentimental, but I just love the Smoking Popes. Mike Park, (label owner) is the best guy in the world. He’s coming to my wedding and I’m very excited about that.
Bill – What were some of the highlights from your set at Riot Fest today?
Laura – I hit my tooth on the microphone and I chipped it a little bit. For one whole song I was running my tongue over my tooth trying to figure out what I did. Otherwise I just had fun. I could see my friends’ faces in the crowd and that’s always nice. I hope that people liked it, but if they didn’t I had fun.
Bill – What do you have planned for the remainder of the year and beyond?
Laura – I have a record written and I’m getting married in two weeks. After that I’m going to be working more on the record, then Christmas and then I don’t know. Hope I’m still alive by then, (laughs). I’d say the new record is about 85% written. There are no arrangements yet, just vocals, melodies and chords, more like skeletons of songs. I don’t want it to go a specific way, you know? I’ve just got to figure out who the right person is to work with on it, but I’m excited.