Interview: Laura Stevenson on country influences, higher education, and why band names are weird


[dropcap]W[/dropcap]heel could be called a change in direction for Laura Stevenson, but it probably shouldn’t be. Her tertiary long-player, released in April, isn’t as quirky or capricious as Sit Resist, her inaugural joint on Don Giovanni Records. Instead, Wheel dials up the (mostly) de-twanged elements of majestic folk that appear in smaller doses on most Stevenson songs, dating back to her splendid debut, A Record.

Seeing as how she and the band formerly known as the Cans open for Cursive’s Tim Kasher at Brighton Music Hall on Thursday, we called the one-time Bomb The Music Industry! keyboardist up on a day that just-so-happened to follow Lou Reed’s passing. While she confessed to being more of a Velvet Underground appreciator than a super-fan, the ex-Cans gang had, somewhere between Houston and New Orleans, just listened to Transformer in the van.

Barry Thompson: Can you think of a musician you don’t know personally whose death would freak you out?

Laura Stevenson: Maybe Paul McCartney. That would freak me out, if he died. And he will. So that freaks me out. We were actually talking yesterday; We were like, “What’s going to happen when Keith Richards dies?” That was kind of scary, because he seems invincible and timeless. I hope he lives forever.

My theory is Keith Richards has been dead since the ‘80s and they’ve been dragging his corpse around like in Weekend at Bernie’s.

Yeah, I’ve heard rumors about him having all-new blood circulated into his body once every couple of years. Maybe he just has a strong constitution.

Last time we talked (for a Boston Phoenix article — RIP!), you were working on a master’s in art history…

My thesis has constantly been in the process of being sent to my professor. And then he’s on sabbatical, and then I’m on tour, so it’s kind of been a wild goose chase. But he has my final draft right now, and he seems to be into it. I just need to clean up my footnotes, because my footnotes are a mess.

What use does a full-time musician have for higher education?

Um, I don’t know. I jumped into grad school from getting my bachelor’s just because I knew the program, I didn’t really know what else I was going to do and needed a backup plan. Now I have to get my doctorate if I actually want to use this degree for an occupation. I’m kind of on the fence about whether or not I want to do that, seeing as how it took me so long to get my master’s.

I guess if something horrible happens and you can’t sing anymore, at least you’ll be able to teach…

Yeah, except I probably wouldn’t be able to teach classes, either. I could just do online classes or something…

You guys are “Laura Stevenson” instead of “Laura Stevenson and the Cans” now. Why the name change?

Um, well, it was very wordy, and we were getting a lot of advice from some of our music business-y friends and acquaintances who were like, “Yeah, y’know, it’s closed some doors for you guys. People think it sounds like a little kids’ band, and blah blah blah.” And people were making jokes about my boobs a lot. But now I’m uncomfortable saying “We are Laura Stevenson.” I would like to just take my name out of the mix.

You could start being “The Laura Stevensons” and pluralize it…

Yeah, “Laura Stevens and her Sons.” That could be good. I’m uncomfortable calling it anything, honestly. Band names are weird.

It’s hard to think of a good one that nobody’s using.

Maybe we’ll be “The Beatles” with a backwards L, like KoRn.

I heard you’ve had issues with vertigo. True?

Yeah. It sucks. Actually, I haven’t had a problem with it at all on this tour. It only started happening a couple of years ago, and usually it starts during allergy season if I have a lot of fluid in my ears. My mother gets it. My grandmother used to get it. Her mother used to get it. A poorly-formed inner-ear is basically the culprit, and that’s genetic, unfortunately.

All I know about vertigo I learned from Liza Minnelli on Arrested Development.

Actually, that’s a pretty good portrayal of it. I went to an ear, nose, and throat doctor in Manhattan, and he was like, “I’ll send you to this clinic,” and it’s basically the clinic they sent Lucille 2 to. You can’t be cured of vertigo, which is insane, so instead of going to a clinic and having a doctor jostle my head around and make me really uncomfortable, I’d rather just ride it out myself. It’s usually fine. If I’m in bed and I get a spin, I just have to turn the light on and focus on something stationary. That’s kind of annoying to your partner, when you have to be like, “Turn the light on! Turn the light on!” at four in the morning, but I have a nice boyfriend.

Wheel is a little breezier and folkier than your last two albums. Do you think you’re outgrowing punk?

I don’t think so. It’s just where I’m at; The songs I’m writing. During Wheel, I was listening to a lot of country from the ‘60s and ‘70s, so I guess some of those influences started to fit in there. I guess, during the next thing, I might embrace the punk thing a little bit more. But we listen to pop punk in the van all the time. It’s just something that lives somewhere in your heart. You can’t get rid of it, not that I would want to.

What ‘60s and ‘70s country?

I’m still kind of in this obsession phase, but Gram Parsons is the thing I listened to most while we were working on Wheel. I really, really like him.

I’m convinced that your labelmate Waxahatchee stole the piano melody for “Noccalula” from your song, “Beets Untitled.”

She has a song with the same piano melody? Really?! I haven’t heard it. That’s funny. That melody, the thirds and then down a scale, it’s easy to recreate. I find that the more simple a melody is, the easier it is to hear it in lots of other places. So I definitely think it was accidental.

No way! It’s practically the same friggin’ song! [Okay, “the same song” might be kinda hyperbolic, but still…]

I don’t know if she’s listened to us enough to have heard that first record. I feel like we came into each other’s worlds a little later. It’s probably just a coincidence.

Hm, I’m out of questions. Anything you’d care to add?

We’re just on this tour with Tim Kasher. He is probably my favorite songwriter in the world right now, and we get to hang out with him every day. So if you come to the Boston show, you’ll get to see him be awesome.

LAURA STEVENSON + TIM KASHER + THE FIELD EFFECT :: Thursday, November 7 @ Brighton Music Hall, 158 Brighton Ave., Allston MA :: 9pm, 18-plus $12 :: advance tickets :: facebook event page