An Evening With Greg Laswell, Lenka

An Evening With Greg Laswell (10:15 PM)

Lenka (9:00 PM)

Wed, April 13, 2011

8:00 pm


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An Evening With Greg Laswell - (Set time: 10:15 PM)
An Evening With Greg Laswell
Take a Bow both closes and opens another chapter in the California native’s life as a songwriter and a man, with songs of loss and hope recorded in a cabin in Arizona. It’s an album that shows a deep understanding of where he’s been personally and unlike a lot of songwriters he’s also able to poke a little fun at himself. Laying himself on the line and taking chances both musically and lyrically, it’s a collection that deserves attention and wide recognition. I sat down with Greg over coffee to dig a little deeper…

NIC You just moved to Brooklyn, why move now and why Brooklyn?
GREG First time I went there was five years ago, it is the only city I am always sad to leave, something just clicked, something in the air.

NIC Define that.
GREG I can’t. That’s what’s cool about it.

NIC You took a break from your own songs with last year’s Covers EP, was that a palate cleanser for you?
GREG It really was actually, it kind of allowed me to dig into music again. I kinda went through a dry spell there for a while with my own writing and so I ended up using a lot of the textures I used on that project on the new album… An icebreaker so to speak.

NIC Nonetheless, you’ve been a busy man these past five years as a songwriter and many of those songs seem to be about an ex who left you devastated. Dude, are you a love addict?
GREG Yes, I don’t know why I keep getting back up and doing it again, but I do and with great ease ironically. I don’t understand it entirely.

NIC Is it writing songs that purges you and leaves you open to something new?
GREG Sometimes I feel like I shoot myself in the foot just so that I can write a song about it. I feel like one begets the other. I’ve gone through two great heartbreaks in my life and said I’d never do it again, but I do.

NIC I’ve spoken to many songwriters through the years who say that their record label A&R guys salivate when they hear of a relationship gone bust, how does the art mix with commerce for you?
GREG It hasn’t really been present with the label I work with but my manager likes the dark songs. There’s actually a few happy songs on this record. A good friend of mine said that my family and friends will be glad, especially about “You, Now” but it’s on the same album as one of the saddest songs I’ve ever written, “Goodbye”. I was terrified to write a song called “Goodbye” because as an artist, it’s dangerous territory; it’s a cliché in and of itself. It took me a while to get around to writing it and I waited a while until I couldn’t help not to. Saying goodbye is more difficult than the actual break up.

NIC When you look at this collection of songs compared with those on your first album Through Toledo, how do you see your evolution as a person and progression as a songwriter?
GREG It’s always difficult for me to talk about progression. On this record, I talked about where I had been as opposed to Through Toledo where I was writing about it as I was going through it. I was still scrambling with that first record to see who I was, now I’m pretty sure about where I want to be and who I am.

NIC How about the process this time, you produced and arranged the tracks yourself?
GREG I did that with the first record and Brandon Walters helped on the second record. With this one, I moved my studio to a cabin in Mountainaire just south of Flagstaff in Arizona, a little town with one restaurant and one convenience store. I wish I could say I went there to find myself creatively, it sounds much cooler but the truth is I wanted to go somewhere pretty. This time I was living and breathing it all day long. With my other two records regular life would intervene, this time it was just me and my dog. It was actually a little maddening; I got a little lonely, but in a good way. It’s like a jog, when you begin it’s a little difficult but by the time you’re reaching the end it feels pretty good.

NIC How did the mixing process affect the finished tracks?
GREG Greg Collins mixed the record and I knew that going into the project and it allowed me to throw the kitchen sink at it by recording lots of tracks for each song and allowing him to deal with it in the mix.

NIC Did you sit in on the mixes?
GREG No, if I was there I would end up wanting to do it myself. And Collins is just a better mixer, plain and simple.

NIC You’ve been very successful with song placements in film and television, what kind of impact do you see from that?
GREG The impact is huge and I’m really grateful. It is rare that I go to a show without several people coming up to me afterwards saying, “I first heard your music on…”

NIC Take us through the songs on Take a Bow, reveal as much or as little as you like…

This is a fun song, one of the first times in my songs I’m poking fun at someone being dishonest. I kinda got a kick out of it. It’s a really tongue in cheek kind of song. I feel unaffected emotionally by the circumstances that led up to it. I picked up a four string Tenor guitar, and this was the first song that I wrote with it. The guitar wrote the song for me.

One of the first one’s I started on, I kinda threw it out and then came back to it at the end. I had one of my biggest struggles finishing this song. I kept trying to turn it into something it wasn’t. It’s a song about having no choice about how someone else affects you. It’s a frustrating notion.

This was an instrumental originally. In fact, an intro to another song and it ended up being the first song I finished. It’s about that time in a relationship that you’re kind of using someone to get through a difficult time, but the good kind where you’re using each other, where two lonely people use each other to get through. Sometimes lying is understood, it’s hard to explain… Those kinds of relationships serve a purpose.

This is the first time in a song where I’m pissed off. It felt good. I was also listening to a lot of hard rock during that time, like Slipknot for instance, and I think a little of that snuck in.

It’s an old song that I left off the last record because it wasn’t finished. It felt like it belonged on this record. It’s about that one moment in time before you admit to yourself that it’s completely over.

I wrote this song to myself. I look back on what I’ve been through and there’s a part of me that’s grateful and proud of myself for getting through it. Also it’s for my friends who told me it would get better one day and I didn’t believe them, but they were right.

It’s about falling in love with one of your best friends. Sometimes what you’re looking for is right in front of you.

It’s simple, it’s about missing someone, it’s not about missing someone you broke up with, it’s about missing a friend.

I think it’s the oldest song on the record, it was started about seven years ago and was a little idea that was floating around. It’s about feeling really let down. It’s a bit of pity party, it’s a mystery, it’s about almost being OK with being let down and getting to a place where you’re comfortable with it, being depressed or sad, it’s not good.

This is about taking that last chance on a relationship, on love, even though part of you is pretty convinced it’s gonna fail, but choosing to step out anyway. Falling in love can be quite masochistic. I feel I have no control over it, it’s like running headfirst towards a brick wall, because I think a few of the bricks are loose and maybe. I’ll break through. It’s funny, I thought this record was actually a happy record but now that I’m talking about it, it’s actually not.

It’s about drinking. There’s something really romantic about drinking when you’re heartbroken. It’s your best friend for a little while then it starts telling you things that aren’t true—like, you’re getting better. It has a way of slowing things down. It serves a purpose for a while but then it turns on you.

I think I’m most proud of this song, it culminates the entire record. There’s something very freeing and liberating about the time after it’s done. It’s like moving, you dread everything leading up to it…like cleaning up and throwing things out and it’s miserable until you’re in your new place, then it’s wonderful.
Lenka - (Set time: 9:00 PM)
“My aim with music is to create mood enhancers for people,” says Lenka, whose fourth indie-pop album, The Bright Side, drops on June 16th. “That gives me the most joy, when people say my music makes them feel better.” And the Australian singer-songwriter’s gift for sharing her bliss has served her well.

Whether or not you realize it, her buoyant, wistful songs—most notably “The Show” (off her self-titled debut) and “Everything at Once” (from Two, her follow-up)—have been sound-tracking your life for almost seven years now. She’s lent levity to several commercials including spots from Windows 8, Old Navy, and Coke; charm to dramedies like Grey’s Anatomy and Ugly Betty; and imbued films such as Moneyball with graceful poignancy.

In a music culture that leans heavily on branding, Lenka has stood out for willfully being herself—occupying a spot between the upbeat-ness of Top 40 singles and the thoughtfulness of indie albums. “Music is a wonderfully direct way to enter people’s psyches,” she explains. “Mine is about keeping a sense of wonder about the world.” To that end, since first dropping music seven years ago, Lenka has charted hits everywhere from Germany to China. And her videos, which she art-directs with her artist-husband James Gulliver Hancock, have racked up tens of millions of views.

The Bright Side, about chasing optimism, packs similar appeal. “I’m very happy in life—that is my biggest truth,” she explains. “My previous album, Shadows, was a quiet lullaby album, because I was living a quiet life, having a baby. Now my life is much more energetic: I’ve got a toddler who wants to dance. He doesn’t want to hear slow songs. He wants to hear rhythms.”

Lenka first conceived the tune to “Blue Skies,” The Bright Side’s first single, as way to entertain her son in the car. “A storm was passing, and I looked at the sky,” she remembers. “I just started singing that hook. “Blue skies/For you and I…” She recorded that melody on her phone and a week later, laid down some chords on a keyboard to give the bluesy-sounding song a more new-wave filmic vibe.

Much of The Bright Side was written and recorded this way: on the fly, over one-and-a-half years, whenever Lenka got a free moment. (She worked on the album in-person in Los Angeles and New York City, and remotely, from Sydney.) “I haven’t written about being a mum, but it infiltrates my songs: hopes for the future, dreams, trying to have a good life,” she says. “I’ve also been thinking about my fans: They’re often young women around the world. These are messages that I want to give them, about attacking their lives with love and fervor.”

Passion is something Lenka has always been able to tap into. “I was quite a forthright child, confident, and definitely an entertainer,” she says. Her father, a jazz musician, put her in piano and trumpet lessons when she was 6. Still, Lenka wanted to be a professional ballerina. Then in her teens, she got into acting. Later, she went to art school. And again, in her early 20s, she fatefully returned to theater. “I had an epiphany while acting in a play where I had to sing alone,” she says. “That was a beautiful experience. I suddenly realized my gifts lay there.” So she immediately enrolled in a music conservatory. Says Lenka: “I hated it as a child, but I’m so glad now that I learned the piano.”

She’s symbolically returning that favor to her dad with “My Love,” one of The Bright Side’s most sentimental tracks. “I actually wrote it with my dad,” she says. “He sent over a few ideas and I really wanted to fit those ideas into the song. But it took me about five go’s of trying to write it—it was challenging, but I was determined to make this work! It feels so good to have a song on here with my dad.”

The earthy, ambling “The Long Way Home” is another homage to fathers and daughters. Lenka was commissioned to create a song to open Believe, a TV series co-produced by Oscar-winning director Alfonso Cuarón. “He was in a car with his daughter, and she was singing one of my songs. So he asked me to write something.” Lenka frequently gets asked to pen songs for various projects, and sometimes, she says, “I decide I love those songs so much that I want to use them”—which is how “The Long Way Home” made it onto The Bright Side.

In other cases, songs such as the nimble, carefree “Unique” end up taking on a life of their own. That track started out as a concept, until Lenka realized, “It’s actually hard to write a whole song about being unique!” Vigilant, she reached out to Jason Reeves, who co-wrote “The Show.” “I went out to Malibu, and we sat on the sand with a guitar. He started smashing out some chords,” she says. “We did the song together, and I went back to Australia and finessed it.”

In fact, much of the album’s writing process was creatively challenging for Lenka. “Unique was out of my comfort zone lyrically,” she explains. “‘Blue Skies’ was out of my comfort zone stylistically, because I don’t normally write electronic music.” She also worked on “Blue Skies” remotely—something she’s not accustomed to—with Canadian producer Damian Taylor (Björk, The Killers). They sent recordings back and forth between Sydney and Montreal until they’d perfected “Blue Skies.”

“I was a bit scared it would go off in a weird direction,” she says. For The Bright Side, Lenka likewise worked with writer-producers Chris Braide (Sia, Lana Del Rey), Tim “One Love” Sommers (B.o.B., Eminem), and Dan Romer (Ingrid Michaelson, Greg Laswell)—sometimes over Skype. Why? “It’s a paradox for an artist: You want to experiment and stretch your creative limbs. But at the same time, you really want to make sure you sound like yourself.”

If “Blue Skies” is her sweet ode to optimism, “The Long Way Home” is her rally to embrace change. “It’s about how if you step outside of the box, take the long way home, you’ll have more of an adventure,” she says. And that is the power of The Bright Side: “Explore a little bit. Get lost in the world,” she says. “See what happens.”
Venue Information:
9081 Santa Monica Blvd
Los Angeles, CA, 90069

All lineups and times subject to change