The Love Language to play Monstercade
Stuart McLamb had been thinking about a change of scenery. The singer, songwriter, and frontman of the band the Love Language operated out of North Carolina for years, making connections for his band in the Triangle area, and existing in a universe that kept him cycling between Raleigh and Chapel Hill and touring the country. The songs on the band’s new record, Baby Grand, took shape as McLamb ruminated over the idea of pulling up roots and heading someplace new. The album was just released, on Durham’s Merge Records, at the start of this month, and McLamb and his bandmates will play Monstercade in Winston-Salem on Aug. 11. I spoke with McLamb by phone last week as the band traveled from Asheville to Charlotte on the first of a string of dates to mark the release of the new album.
McLamb recorded the core of many of the songs on Baby Grand while he was staying with his brother in Roanoke, Virginia, just before making the leap and moving to Los Angeles in the middle of last year. The move Westward was prompted, in part, by a late-night alcohol-fueled conversation with his girlfriend in Roanoke. The next morning she said he seemed pretty amped-up about the possibility of relocating, and that set everything in motion.
“It was like this thing bubbling up — to do this move out to Los Angeles — that I didn’t think I really knew I wanted to do until I almost heard myself say it,” McLamb said.
If you look at the songs, most of which were written before McLamb outwardly decided to make the move. So, you can see the theme of dislocation, dreams of new places, and the promise of invigorating locales threading through the material.
“Southern Doldrums,” off the new record, has the lines: “Redwoods, a bayou, we can live anywhere that we want to.”
Another track, “Paraty,” is a dreamy, atmospheric hymn-like love letter to a city in Brazil, a place that McLamb has never visited but was inspired to write about after hearing a friend describe a trip there.
“New Amsterdam,” the second track on the album, has lines about lucid dreams, wanting to forget, and longing to move to the Netherlands.
If the songs themselves sometimes seem to be about imagining different places, the sound of the songs moves through different regions and zones of feeling.
The music, as with previous Love Language albums, mixes dreamy classic pop sensibilities with shoegaze-y washes of sound, pulsing krautrock-tinged beats, and layered vocal harmonies. It’s emotional, with an overcast atmosphere, but not without bright flashes. It’s not often that a band can make you think of My Bloody Valentine one minute and Bread the next. Fans of the National, the Walkmen and Merge labelmates the Rosebuds or Arcade Fire will find points of connection with the Love Language. There’s a gravity to the music, but the weight is lightened by McLamb’s occasional airy falsetto, like on the bubbly, vaguely yacht-rocky “Juiceboxx.”
As McLamb describes it, initial work on the songs felt like a variety of different material, songs that might end up fitting on different projects with distinct vibes.
There were bits of synth pop, folky stuff, noisy stuff, and more. However, avoiding the need for an assertively unified feel, created its own kind of logic.
“I just decided to cherry-pick my favorite songs from each of those baskets for this record,” McLamb said. “We knew that we were making a record that was not cohesive at all. We knew that from the beginning, so we embraced that.”
McLamb may have written the songs on Baby Grand with the idea of leaving the East Coast nudging him away, but work on the record brought McLamb back to North Carolina, to Greensboro, and Legitimate Business Studios where he worked closely with producer Kris Hilbert. McLamb said that Hilbert’s assistance with the record went beyond the simply musical or technical aspect of assembling sounds to bring the songs to life. A producer’s role can be a mysterious and complex one — almost like that of a basketball coach or a therapist — coaxing the best performances out of a session, encouraging the most fruitful ideas, and steering clear of dead-ends that might eat up valuable time, seeing the big picture and not letting minor hiccups sidetrack the overall progress. McLamb said that Hilbert’s input was almost like that of a life coach in that regard.
The creative process is fraught. One needs a healthy self-regard and a degree of confidence to attempt to write and perform music. However, if one’s sensitivity is the asset that allows for the realization of an artistic vision, it can also hobble the execution.
“It’s almost like ego can destroy you,” McLamb said.
Lots of bands write music about the blur of being on the road, but McLamb has done the interesting trick of making songs about finding home in the act of moving away from the familiar.
John Adamian lives in Winston-Salem, and his writing has appeared in Wired, The Believer, Relix, Arthur, Modern Farmer, the Hartford Courant and numerous other publications.
See the Love Language at Monstercade, 204 W. Acadia Ave., Winston-Salem, on Saturday, Aug. 11.