Sweet Sweet Music spoke to John Lathrop about the “signature sound” of The Stan Laurels, being extremely personal and honest. And much more …
There Is No Light Without The Dark will be released January 23, 2021, on Big Stir Records.
How did this record come together?
I was extremely surprised and humbled by the way people had responded to my last album, Maybe (2018). I was floored by all the airplay, great reviews, and even an Independent Music Award nomination. Normally, because of the way life gets in the way of music sometimes, I go long stretches between albums. But with Maybe, thanks to the wonderful reception, I felt like I had to follow up the record with something really strong and – more importantly – do it fairly quickly. So, soon after Maybe came out, I was already actively writing again. I came up with “Lost & Found” fairly quickly and released it as a single to get something out there fast.
To my delight, people seemed to be digging it just as much, if not more! I focused my efforts on writing a song with big hooks, lots of dynamics, and some unexpected turns. The way people responded to it was amazing, but perhaps what was even more significant to me was that I felt like with that song, I really unlocked something in my songwriting … and I felt like I kind of discovered the “signature sound” of The Stan Laurels. Not that my other stuff is so different, but there was a sort of new spark and energy with this song that gave me a sense of confidence I did not necessarily have before. And it was this that inspired me to set out to write an entire record incorporating the same elements of hooks/dynamics/surprises. And when you have a full album to do this, you can really explore a lot. Which is what I tried to do in writing, arranging, and recording There is No Light Without the Dark.
As an artist, you chose to show your emotions to the world. Is it always comfortable to do so?
Oh, god no, haha! It’s very uncomfortable for me especially. But what I have found is that the more honest you are with your creative endeavors, the more authentic they are and the more people tend to appreciate that honesty and enjoy the work. I think I’ve always had a fairly original sound, but if I’m being 100% honest, in my first record I was trying to do my version of The Beatles meets The Zombies; my second was a film soundtrack, so I was doing some brand of acoustic indie-folk that the director wanted; on my third album, I was definitely trying to write a Cars-meets-Cheap Trick-meets-early Weezer record … but with the new one, I wasn’t trying to be anyone but myself. It’s the most purely Laurels and most purely “me” album I have done in terms of the sound. And that applies lyrically as well; there are songs about having anxiety, very personal songs about my family, songs where I delve into the socio-political realm, and songs where I am attempting to self-motivate to be the way I want to be, the way I sometimes am, but wish I was all the time. And lastly, there are songs where I lament about the flaws I have that seem to never go away no matter how much I try to grow and mature as a person.
The majority of the lyrics are extremely personal and honest. But the cool thing is I think this is what people relate to. No one is perfect, everyone is growing and trying to improve, and no one ever really reaches self-actualization … but I think we can all relate to trying to be better humans.
Is recording a record easier than getting it heard nowadays?
Unfortunately, yes. Recording an album is a tremendous undertaking for me, as I do everything myself and I’m in no way any sort of virtuoso musician – quite the opposite. I certainly enjoy it, but it is very difficult for me and a TON of work. But it is still easier than getting it heard. One might think there are so many ways to get your music out there nowadays that it can’t be that hard. But that’s exactly WHY it’s that hard. There are a zillion dudes playing in their garages who think they are the next Creed or Slipknot or whatever.
When’s the last time a new rock band became widely popular, anyway? Back in the day, there were a few radio stations, and then a little after that there was MTV. And everyone got their music from these same places. That’s how bands became huge – there was a big funnel and everyone was listening. Nowadays, there is no one funnel for people to get their music. There are billions of funnels, all going into billions of tweens’ earpods through billions of different streaming services. It’s damn-near impossible to get through the saturation. But I do it because I love it. And because the small handful of people who have heard my music have been extremely complimentary, so it motivates me to keep going.
You can’t control the way people ‘hear’ your music. But if you could make them aware of certain aspects, you think, set your songs apart. What would they be?
This kind of goes back to the first question, when I mentioned big hooks/dynamics/surprises, which are the main three things I try to include in as many songs as I can. I have a strong dedication to melody and it’s the most important factor to me, but I think it’s fair to say many artists have this. One thing that sets my songs apart, I feel, is the element of surprise. When a song is going one way and then suddenly veers far off course, but still manages to keep the listener intrigued and not jarred, doing this successfully is my general challenge to myself in my music, and was particularly so in writing and arranging There is No Light Without the Dark. But this isn’t new for me either – going all the way back to my first album, there are many examples of this; the most stark might be my song “Samaanya,” a bouncy piano jaunt that gives way to a Bach-like classical-inspired piano interlude smack-dab in the middle of the song. Which leads me to another element that I think helps set me apart just a bit: I stray fairly far from basic pop/rock song structure – certainly not always, but often – and this keeps the music fresh and vibrant, at least I hope.
The big difference in the new album was that I am now a lot more aware of these elements and more purposeful in my arranging, whereas in the past some of these things happened more by “happy accident.” Aside from that, I think what makes my music its own thing is a unique combination of strong, thick beats and basslines along with guitars that constantly fluctuate between varying degrees of jangle and crunch, combined with a wide variety of synth sounds, all fused with mellow but confident vocals that include lots of doubling and harmonies. That, in a nutshell, is The Stan Laurels.
Recording music. What’s all the fun about?
Oh, man, what a question! I don’t know about fate and destiny and all that, but I think there are some people who are made to do certain things. And I just feel like I am here to create music. I’m sure every songwriter feels this way, so it’s nothing revolutionary. There’s probably only one thing more magical to me than the spark that happens when I create a melody that works well over a chord progression, and that is the love I feel for my wife and children. That kind of tells you how great the creation of music feels. And when recording, there are so many different avenues you can travel down. It’s a daunting premise, and choosing those paths is kind of like putting a puzzle together … but since there is no “right” or “wrong” way, it makes the puzzle even more difficult to complete. You have to be decisive when arranging and recording; sure, you can try different variations – and I do – but I do not have unlimited hours to try every possible combination or arrangement. So making those choices becomes an epic quest. And it can be overwhelming and it can be frustrating, but all in all, it’s one of the best things in life when I am on to something that sounds like it’s going to work, and then I kind of make it happen, building it bit by bit, piece by piece in the studio. I make music for myself, music that I like to listen to because I can’t cater to the world and wouldn’t want to try.
Hell, I don’t know what anyone else likes or wants to hear – all I know is what sounds good to me. But when others hear my music and like it, that’s the real reward. That’s when the quest is completed successfully.
Cassettes are back. Which 5 five songs would definitely make your first mixtape?
I have a lot of “go-to” songs that are just standards for me, songs that I can play anytime and they still give me goosebumps and still sound perfect. These are songs that I can sometimes listen to 20 times in a row or so (and have, and they never got old). That’s how you know a song is magic.
So in no particular order, five of those songs would be “No One in the World” by The Apples in Stereo, “Do You Love Me Now?” by The Breeders, “The Mandolin Man and His Secret” by Donovan, “Dennis” by Badfinger, and of course, “I’m Only Sleeping” by The Beatles.