As a teenager, show-going Long Island teenager Laura Stevenson befriended Jeff Rosenstock and his circle of NYC punk pals and started playing keyboards with his DIY collective, Bomb the Music Industry! It was around this time that she also started writing and performing her own material, eventually releasing her first record on Rosenstock's donation-based Quote Unquote label. After a series of seven-inches, Stevenson returns with core Cans members Mike Campbell (ex-Latterman) and Alex Billig, along with Peter Naddeo and Chris Parker, on Sit Resist, a bright, bombastic indie pop affair whose fuller sound and bigger arrangements are an obvious result of tour-sharpened senses and a maturing songwriter. Stevenson's voice has always been a standout, but here its range and strength are augmented with a confidence that injects power deep into the veins of the record. From the most effective loud/soft dynamics of "Master of Art" and "8:08" to the dense band tangling in "The Wait" and the banjo-stomp of "Montauk Monster," Stevenson proves an intuitive writer who favours pragmatic over precious and is all the more engaging for it.
You've been touring for a while and have had some revolving musicians. What's the core of the group now?
We added Peter, who plays guitar, over the summer. It's always been Mike and Alex on bass and accordion/trumpet. We're in a transitional state with drummers right now, because it's really hard to keep somebody as a drummer. Our original drummer didn't work out and our second drummer, who played on the last record and toured with us, he's a really talented cinematographer and assistant director, so he's trying to do film stuff. He's careering it, so he can't tour. And our last drummer, John [DeDomenici], from Bomb the Music Industry!, he did the last tour, but he's in BTMI! so he can't be in the band full-time. Now we have this guy Dave [Garwacke], who runs [the website] If You Make It. He's doing the tour that starts today. He's a good dude; it's Mike's old roommate.
You're able to seamlessly work in many different sounds and styles. Do you write with those fully worked out or work them out with the band?
It really depends. The first record I had all the instrumentation figured out in my brain. With this one it was a little bit different. But, I mean, the first record is a lot more subdued and there's a lot less going on, but when we played it live with this rock'n'roll band, we arranged a lot of the songs and added a lot of instrumentation and playing around, because those songs are old. It's nice to have a new take on it. The new record, a lot of the songs I had an idea, but there was a lot of collaboration and a lot of input form the musicians in the band. It was cool; it was the first time I was ever writing with people.
You didn't start writing and playing your own stuff until you started playing in Bomb the Music Industry!, correct?
Kind of around the same time, maybe a little before that I was kind of messing around, but I wasn't ready to show anybody what I was doing. It definitely helped me come out of my shell and I had a group of musicians that I could trust and I could show what I was working on and they could give their input and help me. The first people that backed me up were, like, a friend from high school, who was playing drums, and John from BTMI! was playing bass, and those were the first people that I started playing with. That kind of ended and it kind of branched out from there.
Were you always into punk music before you started playing in that scene?
Yeah, I was really into going to shows in middle school and high school. I was very involved in the ska and punk scene on Long Island, so my Fridays, Saturdays and sometimes Sundays were devoted to going to shows and hanging out with the same group of kids from a bunch of different towns that were weird. We were the weirdoes of Long Island and we all hung out and had patches on our messenger bags.
Are people ever surprised that the style of your music doesn't necessarily sound the same as the punk scene you come from and still play in?
Yeah, like when we did a tour with BTMI!, a full U.S. tour two summers ago, or a year-and-a-half ago, there were some kids that just weren't ready for it [laughs]. Like, "we want to mosh!" And I'm like, "no, here's a song that's sad! Get ready!" It's been a mixed response, but it's been a nice introduction for kids that are really into BTMI! and they feel like, "oh, it's okay to like this because she's associated with that." But otherwise they wouldn't be caught dead listening to something so quiet, slow and emotional. But I think it gives them a good excuse to listen to that kind of music, I guess.
With the difference between your music, which is a little more aligned with indie folk and pop, and the labels and bands you associate with being more punk, do the worlds ever cross?
We did a tour last summer with Maps and Atlases and this band Cults, who are, like, a big, fancy band now, and that was kind of our first introduction to that world. We'd played scattered shows here and there with bands that were more aligned with what we were doing musically, but maybe not so much ethically. That tour was very interesting because people were listening to us from a completely different perspective. That was cool. It's nice to play with bands that make sense with your band sonically, because if people don't know who you are then they'll kind of give you a shot because they're at the show to hear that kind of music. It's a different world; it's not as much fun as it is touring with our buddies, even though Maps and Atlases are really good friends of ours. Mike and I met Dave and Chris from that band when we had met each other, like, four years ago. We were all working at a summer camp together and just remained good friends. It was nice to have an introduction into that kind of world with people that we could commiserate about sad things together with. That's why it's cool being on Don Giovanni, because people are open to them, not just in that small world of DIY punk. That is kind of a confined space and [the label is] more out in the open, so we're getting the best of both worlds with that. We're still doing what we want to be doing and with people that are doing it for the right reasons and with a family of really awesome bands, but then there's also Screaming Females. They have kind of a broader audience and are involved in that indie rock world a little bit more. It was a nice way for us to introduce ourselves to people that aren't in our immediate circle, you know? And still remain protected by buddies.
Could you tell me a bit about recording the album?
Some of the songs were much older. "Halloween," the first song, was on a seven-inch that we put out two years ago, but we wanted to re-invent it, sort of, and repurpose it. It's such a nice introductory song and we'd never really fleshed it out and made it as big as we wanted to, so that was important to us. A couple of the songs we had been playing for a while but had never recorded, so it's a collection of old and new. The second half of the record is pretty much all new stuff. That was kind of interesting because I'd started writing a little differently.
I don't know too many of the production details. Did you work with a producer?
We worked with an engineer, but we produced it ourselves.
Would you want to do a record with an outside producer?
That'd be really fun, yeah: to have someone else's perspective and get completely different ideas coming in about how the recording should sound. I have no idea [if we will], I just know that I like playing the songs live and when I think about immediate instrumentation I don't think of like, weird digital tricks and sample-y things, 'cause that's not what I do. But I always like listening to records that have really weird, George Martin-y kind of bizzaro production. So, yeah, it'd be nice. (Don Giovanni)