Laura Stevenson Is Candid And Confessional On Her Self-Titled Sixth Solo Album

Photo Credit: Bon Jane

Laura Stevenson’s new album hums with quiet rage, bristling with the nausea of too much feeling, hairs raised, hypersensitive skin, waiting for the touch that either caresses or wounds. There’s more than a subtle reference to jangly, ‘90s, indie solo acts like Liz Phair in the confessional, matter-of-fact attitude embodied by Stevenson’s catchy, candid melodies and lyrics. On ballad “Moving Cars,” there’s such a sadness and resignation as she sings, “No-one teaches you to breathe, slow and feeble like the people that we said we’d never be…”

Try not to hear this song in your head in the darkness right between wakefulness and lucid dreaming, slowly breathing, feebly feeling.

Stevenson cannot go into the specific details, but in 2018, she flew across the country to help a friend who needed it, and in the frenzy and chaos of the time, she was purely on autopilot. It wasn’t until she returned to her home in upstate New York that she could begin to probe the tender feelings she’d restrained.

“Something really horrible had happened to a person that I love, and I can’t go into it because it’s a delicate situation,” she recalls. “I moved to where all that happened so that I could help that person get through it… I was on tour and I had to fly across the country to go and help. I stayed longer than I thought, then I came home, fell apart and started writing.”

A year later, her fifth album The Big Freeze came out, and she embarked on a touring schedule that enabled her to again put her feelings and memories aside. In Ireland, at the end of the tour, she found she was expecting her first child with husband Mike Campbell, the bass player in her band.

“I did some writing and recording during my pregnancy,” she explains. “I had my daughter right before COVID, just as lockdown was starting in March… It was all a healing process, simultaneously healing and organizing all that had happened, because there was a lot of chaos. When I got home, I was sitting in my studio, looking at the trees and thinking about what had happened. I hadn’t processed anything.”

Her home, where she lives with Campbell, her dog and her 15 month-old daughter, is a sanctuary, two hours from Manhattan and far from the Long Island home where she was raised by her hippie father (a Grateful Dead fan) and her showtunes-loving mother. She is only now able to return to writing, after struggling to do anything apart from sleep for the last year.

“I do have a dedicated space, a studio that’s out behind my garage. That’s been okay during COVID, but the lack of ability to be using my time other than catching sleep has been a big roadblock this entire year, because my daughter had a lot of sleep issues,” Stevenson admits. “I was up four times a night, just not sleeping. It’s made this year so difficult for me, because writing is such a way to process what’s going on. All the COVID fear, new baby fear, all that stuff that’s all very raw and still I need to work out, out there in the studio… It’ll be nice to slow down and just work on songs. It makes me feel whole.”

In the post-COVID19 world, people freely admit to their trauma on social media and openly confess to days of staying in bed, or contemplating going on at all. This tectonic shift, invisible to the naked eye, but felt in all of us, is the perfect environment for Stevenson’s album to land. We are hurt, mostly all of us, to different degrees and in different ways, and if you are like me, there is a hesitancy to listen to anything really dark or painful and confronting, anything that requires the emotional stamina to take on other pain.

But to suggest that Stevenson’s album is all dark is untrue and simplistic. On “Continental Divide,” for example, there’s open car windows, the smell of distant burgers from a remote fuel stop diner, the worn vinyl seats sculpted exactly to your body after hours of road tripping and Tom Petty on cassette. There’s a safety in the combination of Americana, folk, country and blues elements that Stevenson sweeps up and joyfully delivers with her own stylish signature sound. Is she aware, at the time, of the artists influencing her songs?

“I’m usually just in it when I’m writing, then later on…” she trails off. “There’s a song on the record called ‘Wretch’ and later I thought ‘this is such an Elliott Smith song!’ I definitely hear it afterwards, but when I’m making it, I’m completely present with it. Elliott Smith is a huge, huge influence of mine for sure. He’s one of the best songwriters of all time.”

Her influences – consciously or not – are familial, too. Stevenson’s grandfather was a composer (“The Little Drummer Boy”) and her grandmother was a jazz singer. When Laura began writing songs and playing guitar post-college, her genetic inheritance for creating and collaboration was wholly natural. She was performing solo, having already penned a bunch of songs, when she joined Bomb the Music Industry! in 2005, and she continued to work on her own music while part of the collective – even recruiting some of the members for her own band.

In 2008, she began working on her debut studio album with a band including Peter Naddeo on guitar, Samantha Niss on drums, Michael Campbell (of punk band Latterman) on bass, and Alex Billig on trumpet and accordion. A Record resulted in 2010, which convinced Don Giovanni Records to sign the band. The year after, with band The Cans, she released Sit Resist, then Wheel in 2013 and Cocksure in 2015. Between each album, Stevenson toured the US and internationally. While her third album had picked up interest by media and she had a solid fan base, it wasn’t until her 2019 album The Big Freeze that she struck chart success (number 11 on Billboard Alternative New Artist Albums, number 41 Billboard Current Alternative Albums). 

Those albums established her as an adept lyricist, with a deft hand for pop-friendly rhythm and melody but a playful rebelliousness – even melancholia – that recalls the best of folk-pop-rock legend Mary Lou Lord with just a dash of Elliott Smith (or both, as in this fantastic duet). She weaves sixties girl group harmonies (“I definitely liked The Ronettes. That music, the wall of sound and beautiful voices, was super inspiring to me”), country-glam (a la Nancy Sinatra), pop-Americana (Sheryl Crow vibes) and the sort of confessional, fierce-but-fragile lyrical honesty that PJ Harvey lured her listeners with.

This album – produced by John Agnello – is a gift, in a sense, to both Stevenson and to listeners.

“Now listening to it, it’s healing,” Stevenson says. “A song like ‘State’ was such an embodiment of the anger and rage I felt. There’s a music video my friends made of them smashing things. It was really good for the people involved to see someone acting out all the rage – it was very cathartic for them.”

Follow Laura Stevenson on Facebook and Instagram for ongoing updates.

Anna Fox Rochinski Champions the Effervescence of Pop Music with Debut Solo Single “Cherry”

Photo Credit: Eleanor Petry

Sometimes things coincide unintentionally to come together in a way that ultimately makes the most sense. Such serendipity is at play with Anna Fox Rochinski’s upcoming solo debut Cherry (out March 26 on Don Giovanni Records), of which she shared the title track and video last week. Rochinski is perhaps best known as a vocalist and guitarist for psych rock four-piece Quilt. Few sonic elements of that band remain on this latest offering, which is a product entirely of Rochinski’s own mind: plucky 70’s art funk shone through the lens of some very specific contemporary pop influences, among them Madonna, Midnite Vultures-era Beck, and Robyn’s 1995 debut.

Although Rochinski acknowledges that “lyrically my record is rather sad,” it doesn’t feel or sound that way. As evidenced by “Cherry,” it’s fun and funky, an amalgamation of futuristic sound effects, wiry guitar riffs, and the fizziness of pop music. “Honestly, pop music is something that I’ve always loved my whole life, and I kind of need it now more than ever, if that makes sense?” she says of this shift. “Pop music is almost medicinal in a way. Maybe not medicinal, but what I need. It’s an effervescence that I have to have right now. And it’s extremely fun. And I just recommitted myself to the pursuit of fun.”

Shooting the video itself became part of the pursuit. Shot in Arizona by director Alex LaLiberte (OTIUM) and styled by Dani Bennett, we’re presented with three different characters. One floats around her house wearing a flowing silk robe (designed and sewn by Bennett herself) and drinking a green juice, perhaps the idyllic version we all wish to embody during this time at home. Another is a business woman presiding over an empty conference room, her turquoise pants, scrunchie, and the furniture all mirroring each other by accident (there’s that serendipity again). The third dances around a semi-abandoned shopping mall in the sun, light and carefree in her yellow pants.

Rochinski acknowledges the difficulty of breaking out of her shell to embody these characters, recounting a dispute with the director over a black blouse she insisted on wearing. “I was like c’mon man! I’m so used to wearing black in New York City. It’s kind of a habit we fall into here,” she says. “He pushed me out of that comfort zone but I’m glad he did. He was like, ‘These are outfits that you aren’t going to wear in your normal life because we are making a music video. Like these are characters.’”

The production itself was the first time Rochinski experienced socializing in any capacity during the pandemic; the crew all got tested upon arrival. Despite the particular accommodations that had to be made in the interest of safety, Rochinski is quick to acknowledge the joy of “collaborating on a creative project in such a normal and free way with people. I had been missing that too. It was just great! But it’s ironic because in the video all you see is me. And like a shadow at times too.” 

But who are these characters, and who is that shadow? She leaves the characters themselves up to interpretation, keeping them abstract if only to say that she’s not really sure if they’re all her or not, or just different versions of the same person. It conveys a certain kind of isolation, the fragments of ourselves we present in different settings and social situations that mask the complete picture of who we are. “It’s kind of like this person at home, and then another version at work, and then another version out in a public space being more carefree, conveying different emotions and different atmospheres of emotion rather than conveying specific people,” she says. All of whom, it’s worth noting, don’t cross paths with a single living person throughout the whole video.

They’re chased only by a faceless shadow, which follows the characters throughout all the settings and portrays the distinct feeling of being watched. But not necessarily by another person, Rochinksi explains, as much as by yourself, the person we often hide from the most. While she says the shadow too is up for interpretation, she does offer some insight. “Maybe it’s something from the past that’s haunting you, but maybe it’s also an opportunity from the future that I’m resisting,” she says. “The song is about this push-and-pull feeling of knowing that you’re emotionally unavailable but being presented with chances to connect, and kind of wanting it but knowing it’s impossible. So you’re haunted by past trouble while trying to move forward into the future, but being stuck in the middle, just preserving yourself, out of the need to protect your heart.”

In other words, there’s a sense of choosing isolation because the possibility of anything else feels too vulnerable – a sentiment that shows itself in the first lines of the track itself: “I’ll never let him in/Because my guard is up for stormy weather.” The shadow, in a way, is that guard.

Rochinski penned Cherry, her first solo effort, after transplanting herself from the Hudson Valley to New York City following a tough break-up of a six-year relationship, starting a new life on her own without a partner or her band. Although she had written and recorded this album pre-COVID, isolation is already a major theme at play, starkly evident in the video itself. But in another example of bittersweet serendipity, our current circumstances offer the album a whole new emotional entry-point for listeners. We’re all alone right now, in some capacity or another. For many, the isolation on display in this video will resonate with the experiences of this past year, the slivers of our identities shaved off once we no longer saw coworkers in person, or that friend you have lunch with maybe once a month, or the barista from the coffeeshop. And for musicians, that extends to the part of their identities lost with the continued cessation of live shows and touring, something they must all contend with.

Rochinski remains optimistic. “I have high hopes for late 2021, but I’m not expecting anything,” she says. “I’m just keeping my ears perked up and planning on rehearsing a band and just basically being ready to play in whatever capacity we can play in, so there can at least be some documentation of live performances of these songs. I feel very excited about that actually. I’m keeping an open mind on how to show the world the performances.” 

In the same way the fun, funky instrumentals of “Cherry” add nuance to the song’s sad lyrics, the point here is to try to make peace with the difficulty of our present circumstances, to bask in the version of yourself living right now, and, lest we forget, to recommit to the pursuit of fun. As Rochinski has shown us with “Cherry,” it’s when you do this that things finally come together in the way that makes the most sense.

Follow Anna Fox Rochinski on Instagram and Twitter for ongoing updates.

Painted Zeros Return With Quarantine-Inspired “Break” Video

Photo Credit: Kenneth Bachor

Painted Zeros, the indie-pop project of Brooklyn-based artist and sound engineer Katie Lau, is known for songs full of witty sarcasm and biting social commentary. “Commuter Rage” rails against men who demand emotional labor from women, while “This American Life” paints a grim picture of the empty-feeling lives many live. One tool much of Lau’s music employs is contrast: between angry lyrics and happy-go-lucky melodies; between wholesome-sounding titles and dark subject matter.

Their latest video, for the single “Break,” is no exception, with a series of outdoor images that resemble a nature documentary accompanying lyrics expressing Lau’s feelings of hopelessness in the wake of several breakups.

Lau captured the footage on her iPhone through her window while she was quarantined in her apartment. “Experiencing the natural world primarily through these narrow window-views is a phenomenon particular to NYC and to quarantining, and it can perhaps be seen as an analogue to the kind of introverted depression that inspired the song in the first place,” she says.

Lau started making music using Garage Band when she was a teenager in White Plains, NY. “Growing up in the punk scene was formative for me, and I embraced the ethos of DIY/DIT (do-it-together): the belief in community over corporatism, but also the belief in self-reliance, which was particularly important to me as a queer woman making music,” she says. “I wanted to hear more narratives like my own in an overwhelmingly male-dominated world.”

She became a full-time sound engineer after college, and in 2014, she started Painted Zeros — a name inspired by the Sonic Youth lyric, “He acts the hero / We paint a zero on his hand.” She explains the moniker: “I was attracted to the idea of a painted zero representing defiance, a rejection of power structures.”

“Break” is off Lau’s second full length album, When You Found Forever, out May 29 on Don Giovanni Records. The album also deals with recovery from alcohol and substance abuse, toxic relationships, and self-destructive tendencies. To Lau, the record’s two sides represent the journeys through these difficult times, and ultimately past them. It’s her first full-length since 2015’s Floriography.

When You Found Forever acts in some ways as a document of the past three years of my life,” she explains. “I kind of crashed and burned around the end of 2016/beginning of 2017 and hit this dark rock bottom. Thanks to the help of so many incredible, patient friends and loved ones, I was lucky enough to get into recovery, and through ongoing spiritual and emotional growth, have entered into a period of my life with more hopefulness and love and levity than ever before.”
Lau’s music has historically blurred much of her vocals in the vein of shoegaze and ’90s screamo. “When I mixed Floriography, my first full-length, I thought in particular of one of my favorite bands from when I was a teenager, Saetia, whose music really requires you to read the lyrics to understand what they are saying,” she explains. “Their lyrics were interesting, and it was so surprising to me when I learned what the vocalist was saying — it felt like I had unlocked a second, deeper layer of meaning and engagement with their songs. I don’t think that mix choice was working for my own music, though.” For her new album, she made a conscious effort to make the vocals louder and more audible. “I don’t want to hide my words,” she says. “I want to connect with people.”
Follow Painted Zeros on Facebook for ongoing updates.

Artist Interview: Big Eyes

Kaitlyn Eldridge is the ultimate momma bear to the music she’s created her whole teenage and adult life. She was always that cool girl (although she might not think so) that played in adolescent bands, while the rest of us expressed our teenage angst with black jelly bracelets and charcoal eyeliner. After relocating between coasts and changing up band members, Big Eyes is now past the toddler stage and will be releasing its third full-length, Stake My Claim tomorrow, via Don Giovanni Records. Current members include Malcolm Donaldson, Paul Ridenour, and Griffin Harrison.  They’ve also got quite a bit on their plate for these upcoming months. In the meantime, check out Kait’s interview with Audiofemme below. Not only did she tour with Against Me!, but (dare I say it) she hasn’t bought into the PokemonGo hype.
 Audiofemme: What I personally like about you guys (and gal), is that your sound is very punk-y, powerful driven, cool, & unique. The new album IS totally that. I know the fans can’t wait for it’s release on August 19th. “Stake My Claim” is kickass, and rockin’ as usual. What would you say is different on this third album than say… Hard Life?
Kaitlyn Eldridge: On Stake My Claim, I think I’ve grown a lot more confident in my singing and guitar playing. I’ve always been the sole songwriter in Big Eyes, so on our third album I’m finally embracing the fact that the band is and always has been based around been me, instead of continuing to hide behind the dudes in the band. The lyrics are a lot more self reflective. I think the production on each album has been getting better and better as well!
When you relocated to Seattle in those past years, what did you learn about the music culture over there that’s different from here NYC?
KE: The cost of living is more affordable out in Seattle (compared to NYC), so people can work on their bands more full time. That’s why I moved there for a few years. Everyone’s rent in NYC is so damn expensive that sometimes you don’t get to put in as much time as you’d like into your band, since everybody has to work so much! There are also a lot less people in Seattle than in NYC, so you have a lot less options for “scenes.” I felt like we had a harder time finding similar bands to play with, which was both a blessing and a curse. Sometimes it helped us stand out, but most of the time it left me feeling like an outsider.
You’ve had some lineup changes. How did Big Eyes become a 4-piece band?
KE: When I relocated back to NYC, I had to completely start from scratch. I had seen Paul playing bass in a band called Lilith Velkor, and I thought he was a great bass player and had a musical style that would fit well with mine. I met Griffin and Malcolm, who now play drums and bass, respectively, through their previous band Past Life. Their band coincidentally broke up at the same time we were looking for a drummer, and Paul had shown interest in switching over to guitar, so we combined forces, and now I am happier than I have ever been with the sound and “vibe” of Big Eyes!
Tell us about Don Giovanni Records & how it is working with them.
KE: Don Giovanni Records put out our first album Hard Life back in 2011, and very shortly after, we relocated to Seattle. At that point, DG was more of northeast based label, so it didn’t seem like the greatest fit for our second album, Almost Famous (which was released on Grave Mistake Records in May 2013). I moved back to NYC in 2014, and Don Giovanni had expanded so much in the years I was gone, so it really felt like the right move joining back up with them. What I’ve always really liked about Don Giovanni Records, is that they’re a label for “misfit” bands. There aren’t any trend-hopping, flavor of the week, niche bands on this label. It’s all bands that don’t really fit into any other scene, so they somehow all fit together on Don Giovanni. I think there’s a lot of unique personality and sincerity coming from the bands on DG!
 It’s no secret that you’ve opened up for Against Me!. Any awesome memories you can share?
KE: We played at The Rave in Milwaukee, and they have this closed off abandoned swimming pool in the basement that is apparently “haunted.” We went down to check it out with the other opening band, Tony Molina Band, and our friend Shelby (who was Against Me!’s roadie)… I didn’t see anything myself, but a couple people in our group swore they saw a ghost while we were down there!
Kait- tell us about your sweet tattoos! 
KE: My first tattoo was on my right wrist when I was 17. It’s the Descendents Milo drawing. I got Allroy, the ALL cartoon logo, on my other wrist a couple of years after that. I have my high school band’s logo, which is a cartoonish drawing of the world looking sad with a bandage on it’s head, along with “FTW” written above it on the back of my left arm. I have “HARD LIFE,” the title of our first album, written on my right arm. And my last and most recent tattoo is the Ramones pinhead skull on my upper left arm which I got in early 2013. All of my tattoos are black, no colors. 
Does anyone in the band play PokemonGo? If so, what is your strongest Pokemon & are you thrilled to be travelling over the next month… and hopefully catch them all?
KE: I’ve tried it out but it drains my battery too much! We will be playing a lot of Magic The Gathering though.
The band’s Twitter page has a couple published concerns surrounding insects. Who is scared of ants?
KE: I’m not scared of them, I’m just startled very easily!
You play your fair share of shows in Brooklyn. Is the dynamic of the audience different from when you played in Canada?
KE: People seem to let loose a bit more in Canada! Folks in Canada just seem happier…I wish I could move there!
There’s a lot going on for you guys right now. In the upcoming weeks, you’ll be touring while the new record drops. Then you’re off to play NAMF with a bunch of awesome bands. Any plans for the fall & the new year?
KE: We’re playing The Fest in Gainesville, Florida in late October. We’re doing a short tour around it, hitting some east coast cities on the way down and the way back up. I’m really looking forward to spending Halloween in Athens, Georgia with some buddies! Hoping to hit the west coast and Europe sometime next year as well.

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