OTwo Interviews: Laura Stevenson

Image Credit: Laura Stevenson

Isabella Ambrosio chats about life, music, and labelling with Long Island singer-songwriter Laura Stevenson.

Sit Resist (Remastered Deluxe Edition) by Laura Stevenson, released in September of 2020, captures everything that would make any listener fall in love with her work. My first exposure to Stevenson was in 2018. Standing in the back room of a local Chicago bar with black x’s drawn across my hands, I watched as she took the stage for the first time with her band. I was completely entranced by Laura Stevenson – her lyrical capabilities, her stunning vocals and her ear for instrumentals that suit her vocals to near perfection.

Her voice is absolutely magical – an instrument I had always thought, and was able to express this to Stevenson during a Skype interview. She sat in her New York home, beginning the interview with easy conversation before we both shared a flow of commentary on the modern political climate, the pandemic, and the state of the world. “There’s a contagious, global nightmare,” she laughed. To lighten up the conversation, she showed me her six-month-old daughter. Her daughter made numerous appearances throughout our interview – once including a little accident where Stevenson then hands the child off to her husband and happily bids her goodbye; “Bye baby!”.

Her most recent work is the rerelease of her 2011 album Sit Resist with demos, live recordings and alternative versions. Her music doesn’t scream any type of genre – Stevenson simply writes, records and puts her music out there. I expressed to Stevenson that I never associate genre with her music, especially this album – she presents music in the way of just bringing something to the table for you to listen to. I asked her if genre played a role in her music, as past interviewers and reviewers seemed to heavily focus on her punk roots and current ‘genre’. “I guess it’s always been so kind of all over the place in terms of my influences from so many different genres that now I’m considered an ‘indie’ artist, and I feel indie just means independent, it means you create the thing yourself. So, it doesn’t make much sense to me as a genre, you know, because it’s just a way of bringing music into the world. But I guess, that’s how punk was also. Punk for me meant DIY, doing it yourself, and whatever. So, I guess genre is tricky… I just am trying to write the song; I’m not really thinking about how you can categorise it – I’m just creating the thing.”

Lyrically, Stevenson has a style akin to poetry – every word counts. Every word has a place, a meaning and a purpose behind its placement, and it’s evident in the way she presents the lyrics. I asked her about the process. “The process is the thing. Sometimes, it depends if I’m singing and playing guitar at the same time. And I’m like, by myself, and I have a lot of sonic space and no one can hear me, so I can just sing, sometimes I make vowel sounds, and some vowels sound nice in this melodic section. And with those sounds, I can find words that kind of wrap around those sounds, and then kind of puzzle-piece them together and make it make sense and make it fit. That’s one way of doing it. Other times I’ll have a melody or I’ll have a chord structure that I like and I’m kind of working a little melody and then I’ll grab a notebook that has a bunch of shit I had written, and I’ll leaf through it and pick out words and pick out sections and change things and do it that way. It really, honestly depends.” 

Sit Resist is a beautiful example of Stevenson’s ability to create melodies and write lyrics, and structure so much around these lyrics and her own vocals. Her band and other instruments are structured around what she has created: “Because vocals are first, always, always. The vocals and my guitar, everything needs to be built around it. They’re all in service of that. All of the arrangement is in service of the crux of the song, which is the vocals.” In particular, strings are incredibly important to Stevenson: “A lot of times, especially for strings, I sing the string parts to the string players so those I have a very clear idea of the tambour of the string and what I want.” Stevenson’s passion and eye for detail is prevalent in her music, as each part of the song, whether it’s lyrics, her vocals or the instrumentals, are able to be heard throughout the length of the song. It’s a meticulous presentation of music.

Her layered vocals and harmonies are intentionally used by Stevenson, “When I want to create an atmosphere, I will keep layering vocals on.” The way she constructs her lyrics is very precise: she chooses which words to use, where, and fits them together like puzzle pieces. Her instrumentals are placed in front of the listener in a simple, but effective way. Laura Stevenson’s Sit Resist is a beautiful showcase of her talents as a singer and songwriter, and the magic she creates with the music she brings to the table.