Greg Laswell

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Greg Laswell

Greg Laswell hates his own kind. Surprisingly, the male singer/songwriter was a point of contention in our conversation, a citizen of a country who doesn’t want to live there. So how does he separate himself? Tell the truth, he says.

Honesty remains Laswell’s best policy and it’s served him well through three label releases — the latest of which is Take A Bow. His previous albums detailed the devastation and recovery from his divorce, and the emotions, drama and vulnerability lent itself to an ever-growing audience. Now, the slow, steady build of Greg Laswell’s career is finally breaking through in a significant way.

Those who’ve been along for the ride knew all along what radio crowds are finally learning about the San Diego native. And as the country continues to wake up to the beauty of Laswell’s music, the greatest hope his fans can have is that he never stops speaking from his heart — lest he become the very thing he hates.

SSv: You’ve been on the solo tour, but these songs seem deserving of the full band treatment. Are you anxious for that coming up?

Greg Laswell: Yeah, I did a full band tour for my last record, Three Flights from Alto Nido, and I always want to take a band out. But the Solo Residency Tour I did along the East Coast was before the record came out and it was just something I wanted to do. I wanted to take the songs out as they exist when I first write them, hit the cities I do really well in and show that side of the songs, which rarely gets heard once I hit the road with a band. Once it came time to hit the road officially for the record, it was a welcome change from the the tour I just finished.

I think there's a lot more subject matter that I'll try to get to on my next record. Up to this point, it's been about my own divorce and heartache. I want to sharpen my pencil to write about other things.

I think there's a lot more subject matter that I'll try to get to on my next record. Up to this point, it's been about my own divorce and heartache. I want to sharpen my pencil to write about other things.

You’re right, these songs are full band songs. This is the biggest I’ve gotten sonically and texture-wise, so yeah, it feels really good to get out there and let it rip, as they say.

SSv: Yes, in particular I was thinking of “Come Clean” or “Around the Bend”…

Greg: Well, “Come Clean,” I never did that song. I think it’s awesome the way it is. It was written obviously as a solo song, but after I’ve heard the final version that I did, it’s so hard to picture it any other way, so I never even tried to do it on that tour. “Around the Bend” I did a couple times, and it works, but it’s definitely a full band song.

SSv: I’m glad you mentioned this being the biggest album ever in terms of expanse of sound, because I would agree. Is the larger sound indicative of feeling more comfortable in your own skin? You’ve come through the well-documented sorrows and frustrations from Through Toledo and even some of that still left on Three Flights From Alto Nido.

Greg: It’s personally where I am at. I didn’t set out to prove that musically, but I think it just happened. I always write closely to what I’m going through at the time and it’s hard for me to write otherwise. There are people that told me in the past that it’s not good to write about what you’re going through while you’re going through it. I disagree with that, because I think it’s the best time to write about things.

But personally, I’ve definitely come out of the woods and the valleys of my life. So, yeah, I think it just happened naturally and crept into my music. I didn’t really realize that it happened until I got feedback from it and people say what you just said.

SSv: But certainly, you have to hear a new energy and intensity when you’re writing some of the songs.

Greg: Well, yeah, to that end I did. I had a feeling that was happening while it was happening. I just mean that I didn’t set out to do it, but that it just happened naturally.

SSv: The last time we spoke, I brought up “Comes and Goes (In Waves)” and said it felt like the cornerstone from Three Flights and you mentioned it was actually the first song written and everything moved out from there. Is there a primary song that did the same on Take A Bow?

Greg: Yeah, there is. It was actually a song I wrote well before the record came out and that was “Off I Go.” I wrote that song and hadn’t really written a lot up to that point. I’d been so busy being on the road. I mean, I had my Covers EP, but I hadn’t started writing anything really. I was just exhausted from my last record. I remember writing that and then thinking, ‘Oh, I guess that’s the feel of my next record.’ I didn’t think of putting it on the record, because I wrote it so long ago, but when it came time to put the songs together for this record, it didn’t feel right to not put it on there. It was the genesis of the songs.

SSv: What does that mean? How does that song inform the others?

Greg: There’s a complacency, a feeling of being unaffected on the record. “Off I Go” definitely touches on that. “Let It Ride” is another song that definitely touches on that. Even the first song…

SSv: “Take Everything?”

Greg: Yeah, it’s not really caring about a whole lot. It’s just very flippant. It’s not a heart-wrenching story like I’ve told on other albums. It’s a feeling of ‘oh, this happened, but it doesn’t bother me.’ It’s a new way of looking at things. But the album does move on from there, I feel, with songs like “My Fight (For You)” and “Right in Front of Me” where it moves to a place of caring again. But I think “Off I Go” has a bit of every song in it in one way or another.

SSv: Plus I like the new treatment it got for the album.

Greg: I do, too. Some people didn’t like it right away, because they were so used to the first one, but I like it a lot more, too. It’s really clear and a little less dark. It brightened it up.

SSv: That emotional spectrum to begin to care again that you mentioned, do fans relate to that? It seems there’s this ability to follow closely the emotions of Greg Laswell.

Greg: Whenever I get to talk to someone after a show or whatever, it’s always nice to hear that they’ve experienced the entire record and that it sums up a chapter of their lives — that there is a soundtrack to the bad five months they’ve been finishing up. It’s cool. There’s never just one song. I’ve been lucky enough to have listeners who go in for the whole thing. They’ll bring up songs that I never play live, so that’s always cool.

SSv: Why the recent move to Brooklyn?

Greg: I’d been living in L.A. for a long while, but I never really fell in love with the place. I fell in love with my friends, but as far as the city, it never really was for me. Same thing with San Diego. It was mostly just my friends and my family that made those cities a place that I like. But take that away, and, well, there’s no real love lost for those cities.

I’ve always wanted to live in New York ever since I came for the first time. It was pretty recent really. It was six years ago that I came for the first time, and it’s always been on my list of things to do. I’d gotten to the point where I could do it the way I want to do it, which is not to live in a small place. So it just lined itself up and I did it.

SSv: So it wasn’t a career move?

Greg: Moving from San Diego to L.A. was a career move. But I’ve gotten to a certain place where I don’t have to be in L.A. I can operate more as a satellite. Once its purpose was served for my career, I didn’t want to stay in L.A. anymore.

SSv: I wanted to ask about the placements you’ve had. Are you ever surprised by what gets picked up?

Greg: Kind of. [Pause] Well, not really. The only time I was surprised — and I should remember the show here, but maybe it was Grey’s Anatomy — but a show picked up “In Spite of Me” which is this obscure little cover I did for my Covers EP. I remember thinking, ‘Oh, wow, I wouldn’t have seen that one coming.’ But other than that, it doesn’t happen on purpose, but I realize my music lends itself to a dramatic side. I think it’s just because I love big strings and big layered sounds and I love melody. I think those things combined make it easy for people to put a picture to.

SSv: Well, that, and it seems that the payoff is a common aspect of Laswell songs. Are you drawn to dramatic music yourself?

Greg: You know what? I’m not, man. To be quite honest, solo male singer/songwriters drive me up a wall. [Laughs] They’re some of the most annoying people I’ve ever known in my life. It’s ironic, then, that I am one of them, because for the most part, they annoy the shit out of me. [Laughs] I don’t like their music either. It’s so funny. Then every once in a while, I’m reminded that I am one of them. I’m just like, ‘Oh, god.’

But I never listen to them. Maybe that’s coming from the point of descent. I listen to a lot of really, really hard rock. I listen to a lot of admittedly terrible country music. [Laughs] So I think people would be a bit surprised what’s on my iPod. Then again, when I’m on the road, I never listen to any music. I listen to books on tape or stand-up comedians.

Lately, I’ve actually burned some movies. In my studio, I put a DVD in a player and take the audio out and record it and then I can burn a CD of just the audio. So I listen to that before I will listen to some singer/songwriter dude. [Laughs]

SSv: Does that dramatic flair come out in film then?

Greg: Yeah, I think that’s where it comes from, because I enjoy movies much more than I enjoy music. So that must be a part of where that comes from. There’s usually an arc in all of my songs, even if it’s a small one, there’s a definite arc. I like to have a pretty obvious within the albums as well, and I think that’s definitely from film. I often say that if I wasn’t doing this, I’d like to be a director. But I don’t know how to do that at all, so I’ll just stick with music.

SSv: Going back to the songwriter thing, how do you keep from becoming what you loathe?

Greg: Tell the truth. That’s difficult to do sometimes, but I can usually tell when people are lying. It happens a lot and I try my best not to do the same.

SSv: So the insinuation is that the company you categorically keep end up lying a lot?

Greg: Some of the more popular ones do for sure. There’s something in this that lends itself to the male ego. Female songwriters I love, like Patty Griffin and Maria McKee and Maria Taylor and those sorts. But they seemingly tell the truth easier. There’s something in the male songwriter that’s hard to describe. I also realize that I’m entirely capable of being wrong about this. It could be my skewed bitterness. [Laughs]

SSv: The early response to Take A Bow — has it been what you wanted?

Greg: Yeah, people are liking this one even more than my first two. A lot of that is because of everything leading it up to, so it’s not that the album is out there by itself. But we’ve had a great success at AAA radio with “Take Everything.” That’s the first attention that radio has ever given me, so with that has come a lot of new listeners. Obviously they start with the new record they heard that song from, so it feels really good. It’s been a slow and steady build since I started this whole thing. But the tour I just finished a week ago has been the best tour by far.

SSv: Attendance or response or both?

Greg: Both.

SSv: That has to bolster the confidence.

Greg: It does. Then as soon as you start feeling good about yourself, you go to a city you’ve never been to and there’s only 90 people there, so you can’t really cling to anything too tightly. But parts of it have been great. And there have been some shows where everyone is singing and they’re singing loudly. It started a bit on the last record, but this last tour where it was really, really noticeable. That’s so bizarre to me. But I’ve been at it for a while now, so it feels good.

SSv: So what’s left to be afraid of?

Greg: There’s always something to be afraid of. [Laughs] I’m already afraid of my fourth record, to be honest. I was afraid of this record. Sometimes you can outgrow your records really quickly, but I was still really proud of Three Flights from Alto Nido and I wasn’t really sure that I could top it within my own expectations that I place upon myself. Even halfway through this record, I still was dealing with it. But I had to take myself out of it and treat this thing as its own and not as a competition between my own records.

But yeah, I’ll always be on the edge of thinking of what to do next. I think there’s a lot more subject matter that I’ll try to get to on my next record. Up to this point, it’s been about my own divorce and heartache. I want to sharpen my pencil to write about other things.

SSv: Where do you go from here, looking forward to this fall? Any interest in tackling Europe?

Greg: Yeah, we’re actually looking to release this in Europe in September and we’re trying to finalize that currently. So there’s nothing to report as of yet. That’s the next step. Then we’re already thinking about the tour in the fall and then another one after that before we break for the holidays. But I think we’ll let this record tell us what to do. The first single is still climbing and we’re going to take it to Hot AC next. So I think we’ll just follow the record at this point. Shortly we’re going to put out the next single…

SSv: Which is?

Greg: Currently, there’s dissension in the ranks. A lot of people want “Marquee” to be the next one. Some people want “In Front Of Me” to be the next one. I think I want “Marquee” to be the next one. They’re afraid of no drums in the first 30 seconds.

SSv: But that’s got such a great build.

Greg: Yeah, I’m still pushing for it, but the radio people don’t think like I do sometimes.

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  1. Jonathan Sanders says:

    Radio people DON’T think . . . these days they just take bribes from dying record labels and stifle creativity throughout the musical ranks. Hope Greg gets his way on this one, “Marquee” is a keeper . . .

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