Laura Stevenson and the Cans Interview - Laura Stevenson | ThePunkSite.com
|Band: Laura Stevenson and the Cans
Don Giovanni Records
The Media Club, Vancouver - BC
March 12th, 2012
Laura Stevenson and the Cans are one of those bands who definitely don't fit under the "punk rock" moniker yet it still makes perfect sense to cover them on a site like this. There's something in their attitude and delivery that endears them to the punk rock crowd - the fact that they feature members of Bomb The Music Industry! and Latterman doesn't hurt either, but that's neither here nor there.
The fact is that Laura Stevenson and the Cans, an indie pop outfit from the heart of New York, have something special about them and we had a chance to sit with Laura Stevenson herself before she took the stage with Andrew Jackson Jihad for their first ever time in Vancouver to figure out what that is. We discussed their tour, their beef with The Menzingers and Cheap Girls, their new album, their rickety old van and why it is that they're so well accepted.
Bobby: You guys have been on tour for almost two weeks now and you joined up with Andrew Jackson Jihad on the eighth. How has the tour been so far?
Laura: Itís been great. The way over was really interesting, we played a lot of schools. It was kind of like a party scene since it was right before spring break happened. Then the trip over the rockies was really pretty and we met up with them in San Francisco and every night has been sold out or almost sold out. So itís been great.
Bobby: I know last night you added a surprise show in Portland Ė howíd that happen?
Laura: I was in contact with this lady named Sue who works at REED and sheís also a student there and she sets up shows and she was trying to get us over there for the longest time. We ended up having a day off after Seattle so we headed back down to Portland and played the school. It was really nice.
Bobby: Todayís your first time in Vancouver right?
Laura: Yeah! Itís really cool.
Bobby: Yeah, I moved here eight months ago. Been a cool city so far.
Laura: Oh cool, whereíd you move from?
Laura: Oh, okay. Iíve been there. Iíve been to Edmonton and Yellowknife but not here. *laughs* Itís really cool though, very metropolitan.
Bobby: I know late last year you guys were having a mini-fight with The Menzingers for stealing your tour manager/merch guy Tony. Did you guys steal him back?
Laura: No, we still have a rivalry and weíve included Cheap Girls in the feud because theyíve stolen Tony now. So now weíre going to start some beef with Cheap Girls as well. The Meninzgers, I guess, are going to be on our side. We might team up against the Cheap Girls. *laughs*
Bobby: Yeah Ė whoever has Tony is the one who ultimately is going to get ganged up on.
Laura:† Kind of a Hatfield-McCoy kind of feud Ė never ending.
Bobby: A month ago you guys posted that you were recording organ tracks for a new demo Ė can you tell us anything about that?
Laura:† We recorded four songs. Weíve been working on our new record and we just kind of wanted an idea of where we wanted to go and what instrumentation we wanted to use and we wanted to have a cleaner version of the songs that we just had practice recordings off. It was good. It really helps you find direction. You can work from the demos and decide what production choices you want to make. Itís important to do demos.
Bobby: So you said you have four songs done Ė whatís the plan for the new album?
Laura: Well, we have most of the record written but those four are just the four that we felt we had the tightest and the time that we wanted to record them. We recorded them with Jeff from Bomb The Music Industry! right before he left for Australia. So we were kind of pressed for time so ďletís just do this.Ē
Bobby: So just do a few songs Ė not all of them.
Laura: Yeah, do the few that we know that we can do in like two takes.
Bobby: So are you going to hook up with Jeff again when you go do the full album?
Laura: For the record? Iím not sure. I donít know how much time he has. We were looking at studios in upstate New York. Just really nice recording spaces that are in a very pastoral setting, kind of away from the city.
Bobby: Speaking about Jeff; of course he does Quote Unquote Records as well which you guys released your first album, A Record, on. Two years later you re-released it on Asian Man and now Sit Resist was just released on Don Giovani in physical format. So which do you prefer Ė the physical or the digital format?
Laura: I think itís really exciting having the physical format because itís like ďoh wow, now itís an object.Ē Itís not just songs, itís like this thing I can hold. But digitallyÖ I mean CDs are just a method of transferring the data from me to the computer; so it just seems like the middle man at this point. So LPs are the things that excite me most. Just because itís a tangible, material thing Ė not just the music. I donít know.
Bobby: Iím still a CD guy. I like LPs but theyíre a lot more time consuming which I guess is a pro and con as it does take more time to set it up and listen to it. CDs I still like, digital seem to get lost in the shuffle. With so much out there Ė you kind of forget you have it without the physical thing.
Laura: Right Ė and you can listen to it in your car and youíre not scrambling through your iPod like ďwhat am I listening to? What am I listening to?Ē You have a stack of CDs, so you just put them in. We still very much appreciate the CD in our van; now that we have a van with a CD player. Thatís very exciting for us. Our old van didnít even have a tape deck.
Bobby: The big yellow one?
Laura: Yeah. Itís gone now. Thatís our new van *she points at their new van*. Itís much better, much safer. *laughs*
Bobby: A bit more reliable.
Laura: Yeah, the other one we were just kind of always wondering when the next time it was going to break down was going to be. But with this one, Iím still in the mindset of having the old one. So I just think that with every little noise somethingís wrong. Iím paranoid, nervous. Like I just gave birth and I have this infant child I need to take care off.† But I think that itís pretty self-sufficient.
Bobby: Thatís good. I remember reading a bunch of interviews that you did right before Sit Resist came out and you just started touring and you had all these van problems. You lost your guitar, then your amp broke just to kick start the tour.
Laura: It was awful. It was so awful but I have the same guitar Ė thank goodness. That van Ė we never died in it and we never missed a show. So who knows? I mean, tomorrow weíre driving through the rockies in the snow with this new van which I donít wanna say weíre not going to die doing that. So who knows? *laughs*
Bobby: One topic Iíve had a lot of conversations with a variety of people recently is the whole concept of what punk is in the 21st century. And of course,† Laura Stevenson and the Cans isnít necessarily a punk band in any shape or form and yet youíve been very well accepted and invited into the punk clan per say. Why do you think that is?
Laura: Just because where we come from. Yeah, we might not be making the music that we used to make in the bands that weíve played in but weíre still doing it in the same way. With the same spirit I guess. And all our friends, itís just like a big circle of friends Ė friends that are in bands all over the country. Except the Menzingers. *laughs*
Bobby: And Cheap Girls.
Laura: And Cheap Girls now.
Bobby: I always find it interesting how you have bands like Reverend Peyton, Tegan & Sara or Lemuria Ė bands who arenít punk yet are very well respected and part of the punk scene.
Laura: Yeah. Itís the circles you travel in and the reasons why you play and you do the things you do. Itís not necessarily the actual quality of the sound youíre producing.
Bobby: Itís more of the mentality I guess?
Laura: Yeah, I think so.
Bobby: Of course, punk is far from the only thing you have in your musical heritage. I know you have a long history of music in your family. Your grandfather was a composer, your grandmother a jazz singer. I read an interview where you said you used to have fights with your grandfather over who was better Ė Bach or Chopin. How did all these influences come in and affect the Laura Stevenson and the Cans sound?
Laura: I donít know. I was never formerly trained in music theory of anything to do with composition.† I was just raised amongst many different genres of music. My father was a big hippy and he would take me to Grateful Dead shows and he would always have Neil Young playing in the house of The Beatles† or whatever. Just really good melodies. So I learned from everything, the importance of melody above all else. So I think thatís the most important thing.
Bobby: Iím also assuming youíve got a lot of influences from the art world because you were writing your masterís thesis on art. Howís that going?
Laura:† Itís going. Iím like a third done. SoÖ itís a slow go but Iím almost done.
Bobby: Youíve got the start done; thatís sometimes the hardest part.
Laura: Yeah, it really is. Iíve gotten through the research and the actual starting of the writing. You donít want to start until you feel like you know everything. Youíre never going to know everything. You just have to start. My friend took me aside Ė heís writing his dissertation so heís like way, way more ahead than I am Ė but he was like ďjust starting writing. Do yourself a favour, donít drive yourself crazy. Start and you wonít be able to stop and youíre going to have so much material.Ē And he was right. So it was a really good thing. *laughs*
Bobby: Sometimes that is the hardest thing, just to begin. You become so good at procrastination.
Laura: Totally, totally.
Bobby: †With writing your thesis, Iím assuming that had an impact on your video for Master of Art Ė which you shot in an art gallery Ė how much of an influence did you have on that video with all the unique paintings?
Laura: I was interested in a really bright pallet. I was just like ďletís just go bright Ė reds, yellows, oranges.Ē I gave them a bunch of paintings to look at but really Sarah Crow was the director. She was a film student and she just kind of took it and ran with it. It was really her vision. I was just like ďthese coloursĒ and then she just went. So sheís the mastermind. I was just like ďwhatever you want to do, Iíll help you do. Iíll help you build things.Ē So we built so much stuff and it was really fun. It was really hands on for everybody. It was cool.
Bobby: Now you also filmed a video for The Healthy Ones which was one take with extremely slowed down music and everyone else just walked at normal speed. How weird was it singing at such a slowed down tempo?
Laura: It was crazy because I didnít realize how much my voice vibratos. When it got slowed down Ė the pitch didnít get shifted down, thankfully because it wouldíve been so doomy and wouldíve sounded like the devil Ė but it was just my voice really slow. And during the vibratos, itís really interesting to hear what notes youíre actually hitting when youíre fluttering around a note. I could hear them and itís crazy. It was really distracting like ďreally? Do I sing like that?Ē I guess so, thatís the science of it. I donít know.† That was the weirdest part.
Also trying not to laugh was hard.
Bobby: Were you able to get it done in one take or did you have a few tries?
Laura: We had one kind of rehearsal take like ďokay, during this part Iím going to do this and then at the end I guess weíre going to push her face into a whip cream pie.Ē So there was some minor staging things that went on but then it was just one take with all the eating. *laughs* With all the eating and the drinking.
Bobby: How much did you slow it down?
Laura: I donít even know. Dave, the drummer, would be able to tell you that because he was the scientist behind it but I have zero idea. But somehow we got to match it up, so it worked out.
Bobby: Going slightly off topic. I donít know if youíve read these or not, but do you know the blog ďI Live Sweat?Ē
Laura: It sounds familiar.
Bobby: Last year they started releasing a bunch of interesting guest blogs about sexism and minorities and homophobia in the punk scene with like Lauren from the Measure, Lisa from Kind of Like Records, Katie from P.S. Eliot who all wrote these really interesting pieces about homophobia or women in punk. Were you able to read any of those?
Laura: I read Laurenís because it was on PunkNews and it was really interesting to read. It was unfortunate with the responses. There was a lot of negativity going her way after that. I thought it was really unfair for someone to be brave enough to say something that a lot of people want to say but may not feel like their opinion is going to even be heard at all. So I thought it took a lot of courage for her to do it. I think sheís awesome.
Bobby:† There was a lot of negative bounce back.
Laura: And I guess in those situations you have to expect that, and thatís whatís so shitty. Its like ďIím going to do this and people are going to rip me apart.Ē So knowing that going into it, thatís like the biggest thing.
Bobby: It did start a debate which was good. I know when I read it and read some of the subsequent articles, it made me rethink some of my own actions that I donít really consider or think about. So it was interesting to start that discussion to see something that I, and other people, take for granted.
Laura: Exactly. You have to start the conversation. It has to be a living thing because thatís really the only way people are going toÖ even if they arenít, at the end of the day, going to agree with you Ė theyíre going to think about it. At least a little bit, and thatís important.
Bobby: Have you ever encountered any of those problems?
Laura: I have. Not with people in other bands and not with people in my band, certainly not. But some fans, some fans are younger and they may not be as open minded or havenít really thought about the world other than a small little part that they live in. So itís important to call someone out if they make a comment about you sexually because they donít know how to tell you that they like your music, they have to put it in a sexual context. And thatís very demeaning and they donít even realize sometime. You have to be like ďletís not do that. Letís just say you admire me as a person and youíre into what I do. Not like youíre into me.Ē It just makes me feel like ďwhat am I doing?Ē You know what I mean? So itís good to have that conversation. And also to put it out there in a way where itís not just ďIím cutting you off at the knees.Ē I want you to think about it, I donít want to push you away. Itís hard.
Bobby: †Itís tough. Lauren brought up an interesting argument† where she said that if you say a sexist comment you canít just shrug it off and say ďwell, I obviously didnít mean it that way. Iím a punk fan, I think of freedom for everybody.Ē Thatís not really an excuse.
Laura: Definitely, definitely.† You have to be conscious of your choices. Language especially and how it effects other people. So I think that introducing that idea to people is important.
Bobby: I guess thatís about it. Thanks a lot. Do you have any final thoughts youíd like to add?
Laura: UmmÖ no. I hope you like the show though! *laughs*
Bobby: Iím looking forward to it.
Laura: I think itís going to be good.