Laura Stevenson rebuilds her life with self-titled album
Laura Stevenson had prepared for the worst and found herself in the deceptively calm eye of the storm when she wrote the first song on her new record. ‘Children’s National Transfer’ might book her eponymous project, released today (August 6) on Don Giovanni Records, but her heavenly barebones fanned the flames of her creative engine, propelling her onto the rails of self-realization in the midst of so much torment. Ten songs are full of sound and fury, meaning all in her life, a monumental turning point that only now feels healed and fresh on her skin.
Where “the record begins with such a raw and pure expression of rage” with grungy shapeshifter “State”, the closest serves as “little moment where I might be inside a store and no one knows what I’m going through, “she told American Songwriter on a recent phone call.” And I can just go around a convenience store for two seconds. And no one has to know what’s going on in my room. No one feels sorry for me No one feels anything other than I’m a stranger with a soda.
âIt was an interesting way to end. There was no resolution at the time, âshe said. She had spent time as a babysitter – âa resource person, while providing emotional supportâ to a close and dear person in her life. It took its toll on her mind, body, and soul, so it wasn’t until much later, after the promotion and touring cycle of her 2019 studio album, Brain freeze, that she was able to relocate to her own home. That’s when the silence set in, and all she had left was a collection of shards of herself resembling mosaics. Like Humpty Dumpty, she had to pull herself together.
And it took a long time. Lots and lots of time.
âThat’s when I started to fall apart and feel it all and started to write,â she says. ‘Children’s National Transfer’ flowed from her fingertips, and with her windswept, rustic and dirty guitar chords, she presents a ‘poignant and beautiful and sad moment’, as a summary of her entire journey in and out of torrential downpour. âI like that this song doesn’t really explain anything that’s going on, but it describes this moment. There are the moments of chaos, and then there are these little moments in between to try to understand everything and these little moments of humanity.
Writing songs was his balm. She could purge every drop of rage and exhaustion in words of healing, malleable under his powerful touch, but still tender. âIt was really a great way for me to sort of sort of get everything in order. It wasn’t like it was over when I got home; everything was sort of happening. I would go back to where it all happened, you know, intermittently.
But such distance and this forging of boundaries allowed her to begin this much-needed process, but when left to her dreams of misery, there was more to approach and face than she had originally anticipated. . Once she wrote a body of work, shrinking down to a batch of cohesive and structured songs, she then had to create vocal tracks, a step that resulted in a second wave of emotional trauma. âIt was still too raw. I certainly couldn’t have talked about it, especially now that things have largely resolved on their own. I mean, they’re never going to be completely resolved, but things got so much better, âshe says. âNow as far as this situation goes, I think I’m on the other side enough to talk about it in the past tense which makes things a lot easier. Because if this record had been released a year ago, it would still have been too raw to have this kind of conversation. The time was useful for me to answer questions and feel normal.
Stevenson completed work on the case long before her 40s and while she was pregnant with her first child. âIt was a strange chronological journey for this record and the way my life has changed around it,â she says. The wreckage of his heart now serves as a makeshift Stonehenge, markers slowly sinking into the ground, and maybe one day these will crumble to dust and leave a faint imprint. Perhaps.
The pain swells and reddens all the same. With “Mary”, a folkloric and angelic melody, Stevenson seeks advice and assurance from Mother Mary, inspired by her literal journey to the house where the storm was first evoked. Agnostic, the singer-songwriter has certainly âstruggled to swallow religion and fully believe in it. I was just too skeptical and questioning. I wouldn’t say I’m an atheist, âshe said. âIf there was a God, that would be great. But I’m still a little jealous of people who have this blind faith. I’m always looking for something, spiritually, and I feel like we’re all on our way. Especially in times of crisis, where you say to yourself, “I believe if you can make this go away,” you are so open to help with anything and you start to pray. “
It was an explosion of desperation, adorning a waltz-like sparkle that sparkled at the heart of the song. âThat waltz in the middle of the song was his own thing for years. He just never had a hearth and I always played him on the piano,â she recalls. âIt didn’t make sense as much. that song in itself. I never really wrote an instrumental song that was successful. Personally, I never release songs that are only instrumental. There must be a melody here.
âI had this little piece of music, and then I started writing the other parts of the song,â she adds. The pieces flooded in, and soon everything locked into place. âIt’s a puzzle. There are all the pieces of the puzzle and you have to be patient. At some point in your life they will find their way and they will fit together.
âMoving Carsâ is another devastating gem, the culmination of the initial downfall she suffered there at the end of it all. No one teaches you to breathe / Slow and weak like the people we said we would never be, she sings through a breathless soundscape.
With the help of cellist Sean Alpay, stringwork contrasts with the primordial thirst for cleaning, as Stevenson finds himself playing with burning his life entirely and rebuilding it from scratch. âWell, I can’t do that now,â she laughs. âI’m married. I wasn’t pregnant at the time, but I thought maybe my life would end up having some kind of trajectory. So that was just one of those times that I struggled with this instinct to burn everything.
âSean liked to build these layered worlds with loose strings. He knew the ins and outs of these new songs because I sent them to him, âshe continues. “And he also knew me so well, musically, playing with me.” He’s a really intuitive person. He played with such emotion. He was right there for the ride. He was one of the people in my life at the time, and I really leaned on him. So he knew it all, and he got down to it, emotionally.
“Sandstone” deceives you with its playful and bright musicality, cemented even by Stevenson’s wonderfully intelligent and cheeky vocal inflection. “The lyrics were so heavy I was like, ‘This is going to be a fun song,'” she laughs. With essential lyrics, for example (lay me down on the relentless ground / and let the sandstone cover me), she needed a striking distraction, musically, so she tapped into the powerpop sensibilities of artists like The Cars and Tom Petty.
“It’s something that I did a lot in my previous albums, where I had heavy songs that were kind of rippers or punk songs. It was definitely a nod to the way I ‘used to make records. I’ve leaned less into that lately because I feel more comfortable exposing everything and letting it open up to judgment. This song is vulnerable, and she seems vulnerable.
Naturally, a strong self-loathing starts to take hold of the fabric of the album, as underlined by âSky Blue, Bad Newsâ, an independent guitar moment with its own kind of groove. âIt’s so crazy to realize that this is what you are doing,â she said, âto come out of a situation and say, ‘Wait, I literally have nothing to do with this. I’m just a spectator in this fucking nightmare. I was trying to find a reason why it was my fault. It was, for me, maybe the default thing to do, just to hate myself about something. It’s easy for a lot of people to do it.
âIt’s so easy to give yourself a hard time over something that’s completely out of your control. I think it maybe helps to feel like you have more control over a situation, âshe adds.
From his chair, life is very different from what it was 12 months ago. She gained greater clarity, not only in her personal life, but also in the writing of her songs. âEven though I put a little veil on it so people don’t know exactly what I’m talking about, I don’t rely too much on flowery words,â she reflects. âIt’s more conversational in a way that makes me feel more honest. I’m not trying to make things look good. If they end up looking good that’s great, but it just comes out of my brain and it comes out.
âI’m excited about some of the things I’ve discovered about writing songs on this record,â she continues, pointing to âContinental Divideâ and its change in pre-chorus. âThe pre-choir could be its own choir. The second time the choir performs I swap them, so the pre-choir actually becomes the choir. It’s almost like math problems for me to figure out.
âLife has changed a lot for me over the past two years, and it has definitely changed me as a person. It has made me stronger. I feel like I can handle more than before, maybe. It just made me see life differently. It made me appreciate things more. My job was gone for a very long time. Everything changed in this crazy way, but I feel like that I can still find those beautiful little moments: holding my baby with my dog ââat my feet.It’s a moment of pure, calm, even if in front of my door, it’s fucking crazy.