Greg Laswell chats all things music with FAULT Magazine


Greg Laswell X FAULT Magazine

Words by Alex Cooke

Photographs by Andre Niesing

Greg Laswell, who couples his buttery smooth voice and beautiful sense of songwriting with introspective and poetic lyrics, is back with his newest album, “Next Time.” It has his biggest sound yet, and it’s a wonderful sonic journey led by his storytelling and musicianship. FAULT spoke to Laswell recently to find out just what motivates this talented musician and how he crafts his memorable songs.

Can you tell me a bit about how “Next Time” came together and how your sound has evolved?

I had a break, but just kind of kept going, and then, when I came back to start another record, I wanted to make it pretty big sonically and I wanted to sing out more. I went to California for about six weeks and then came back and listened to what I had. And my perspective had changed so much that I had to throw most of it out. Starting over gave me the fortitude to actually do what I really wanted to get done with it. So, shortly thereafter, I wrote a song called “Royal Empress.” That was the first one I finished after I threw a bunch of them out, and that kind of framed the rest of the record. I was like: “this is what I want sonically. I want something as large as this, and so I just kept doing that.”

How do you approach writing lyrics these days?

I was in a hurry, because I burned a couple of months with starting over, and so, I ended up writing and recording at the same time, and it was kind of awesome actually, because usually, I’m constantly writing; the memo app on my phone is just full of ideas, and sometimes, it’s just a line or a thought that I’ll have. This record, I threw away a bunch, and so when I went back, I was recording at the same exact time as I was writing, and it was kind of a new way for me to do things.

How do you approach the process of writing and recording when you’re the one manning all the instruments? I mean obviously, you can’t lay down all the tracks at one time like you would with a band.

I’ll just keep adding kind of thoughtlessly, and then, when it comes time to produce, I’ll kind of chip away at it and take things away in the end. Kind of like how a sculptor takes away — like a painter adds and a sculptor takes away until it’s done, so I kind of throw everything at it, and then I just start taking stuff away, little by little.

I noticed a ton of nuance in the drums on this record. Was that a conscious thought or is that just how they’ve evolved naturally for you?

I mean there’re a lot of sounds on this record that aren’t even drum sounds. For one, I just stood in my bathtub. I pulled my mic, I got a long cable, pulled it through the hallway, put it in the bathroom, and then stomped on the bathtub floor with my heels, and then, that was the kick drum. I had my headphone extension on, and so I was literally in my bathroom a lot! I bet my neighbors thought I was crazy.

That’s kind of a fun process for me to go through and figure out new ways to approach it. I always loved the drum tracks because I feel like the drums kind of help form the song.

“Super Moon,” I have to say, is probably my favorite on the record. Could you tell me more about it?

I always wanted to write a song about the phenomenon of when you take a picture of the moon and when you’re there, you’re looking at it, it’s beautiful and it’s large. So naturally, you take your phone out and you take a picture of it, and the picture always looks like shit, it doesn’t look anything remotely — it couldn’t be more unimpressive, you know what I mean?

And so, I wanted to draw the parallels between that and heartbreak; like it says, there’re parts of heartbreak and significant loss that you just can’t describe to someone who hasn’t gone through it or wasn’t there. You try to take a picture of it, so to speak, and show it to someone, but it’s gonna end up looking like a picture of a super moon. They’re not gonna get it, and I feel like often times, in real significant loss, people won’t truly understand what you’re going through until they’ve gone through it themselves. That’s basically the gist of the entire song.

What’s your favorite song on the record?

I think probably either that one or “Royal Empress” — one of those two.

When you are listening to music, who are you listening to these days?

I’m listening to a lot of stuff without lyrics or words. I love Chopin; I’m listening to a lot of him. My two stations on SiriusXM are classical music and jazz music. And then it’s always just the stuff that I grew up on: Peter Gabriel and early Tori Amos, Tom Petty and always The Beatles; The Beatles are always kind of interwoven into my listening palette.

I went to the music instrument museum in Arizona and they have an exhibit about Chopin, and I got some Chopin socks. They were those art socks, so whenever I wear shorts when I golf, I pull out my Chopin socks.

So besides music, what’s inspiring you these days?

Believe it or not, I’ve always been inspired more by movies. I’m more likely to write a song after I’ve seen a really good film than I am after hearing a really good song. So, I’ve always been inspired by movies, and golf, it’s a new thing for me. I’ve been at it for three years. I found it to be like in the way that a lot of people describe meditation or yoga or whatever. I found that there’s a lot in common for how I golf.

What’s your favorite part of touring?

This last tour, I told the audience that I would wait after the show to take pictures or to sign things or whatever. And I found that it kind of turned into my favorite part of the night, especially at this point in my career, because I got to talk to and meet a lot of people who have been through a lot with me. It’s like they’ve been through a lot in their lives and they’ve got to tell me about it and how my songs played an integral part in certain chapters of their life. And many times, the way they interpreted the songs weren’t anywhere near why I wrote them in the first place, but I love that too. I love it when people take one of my songs and just completely make it their own; that’s my ultimate goal.

Do you have any advice for musicians?

You gotta be able to really want it. It’s kind of a bumper sticker thought that I keep, it’s like my mantra over the years: if you have a plan B, then go ahead and do yourself a favor and get to it. Because if you have a plan B, then part of you is planning to fail; I’ve always believed that. You have to have good friends around you that are honest with you about whether you’re good enough or not. And then you just have to really want to do it.

If you could work with anyone, past or present, who would you want to work with?

I would love to do something with Lana Del Rey, a duet. I love her voice so much. It’s one of my favorites. She’s like the new Nancy Sinatra or something. I could listen to her sing the phone book.

What is your fault?

Gosh, what is my fault? That’s a good question, I mean I have several. I think my fault is that I have to overcome my pessimism, regularly; it’s something that I have to stay on top of, like my natural… what is it, my resting face? When I’m idle, I’m pessimistic. So, I have to constantly be aware of that and find ways to overcome it.

Anything you’d like to add?

There is a happy song on this record! Greg Laswell fans will be surprised at that, I think. (laughs)

Well, I personally loved it.

I think you’ll love “Next Time” as well. It’s available on iTunes, Amazon, Apple Music, Spotify, Tidal, SoundCloud, and YouTube. He’ll be on tour in January 2019; check out the dates here.