LA singer-songwriter Greg Laswell has a rare gift for employing metaphor, mystery and honesty with equal acumen. Indeed, those that have spent time with his music over the years have had the distinct privilege of sharing profoundly personal moments with him – even as he left just enough open to interpretation.
Yet when he reimagined songs by the likes of Kate Bush, Kristin Hersh, and Echo & the Bunnymen for his 2009 album Covers, he revealed something else entirely by means of divulging his own most essential musical influences. A decade later, he is revisiting that undertaking with Covers II – which finds him this time communing with Depeche Mode, PJ Harvey, The Verve, even Peter Gabriel.
Of course, it’s not a secret that a startling number of cover versions seem little more than exercises in redundancy, mimicry and pointlessness. But Laswell approaches each of these songs with an appropriate measure of reverence, yet also with the ultimate intent of claiming every one for his own.
His 2018 album Next Time was arguably his most accomplished to date. But it was 2009’s Covers that still seemed like so much unfinished business. So, Covers II could not be coming at a better time, to reignite the dialogue about those that have influenced him and continue to do so. This collection was released last week on September 13th.
Learn more about Greg Laswell in the following All Access interview:
What does a typical day look like for you? What do you have scheduled the rest of today and this week?
I moved my recording studio out of my house and into an actual space that I rent. My intention was to to create more normal hours for myself. So now, I wake up, get ready and GO to work. The separation has of the two environments has been nice (and interestingly productive). I try to go in from noon to 8pm, even if I am not currently working on something. I bring my dog Joey with me and then we head home for Netflix.
Tomorrow I leave for tour. Next stop is in Los Angeles at the Troubadour. I’ll be gone until early October.
Now that we are in the latter half of the year, how has 2019 treated you? What are some goals that you have had for yourself this year? How close are you to reaching them or did you already? What are you already excited about for 2020?
If I’m perfectly honest, it was awful… like, worst-year-of-my-life awful. I lost my father September 1st one year ago. It has been a struggle, but I have used my sorrow to work extremely hard, perhaps the hardest I’ve ever worked. I’m not sure I should be doing anything else right now. I did manage to set some goals. Within a few short months I finished my EP Covers II, co-wrote and produced a full record for Molly Jenson and started a side project. I’m very excited Covers was released September 13th.
Growing up, how important was music in your life? Can you recall the moment when you decided that you wanted to be in this industry? Was it an easy or difficult choice to make?
I don’t know that there was a single moment. I feel like it was always on my radar, even from a very early age. My mom has pictures of me in elementary school using a broom as a guitar. It wasn’t a difficult choice to make, I never truly had a plan B. I mean, I tried a few things after college trying to fit a mold of some sort… but none of it was ever going to take.
Was there ever a time when you thought about doing something else? If you weren’t a musician today, what else could you see yourself doing? Would you be as fulfilled in life?
Not seriously. Every once in a while, I’ll ponder other possibilities (this business is not easy after all), but I’ll always do this, in one way or another.
What has been the biggest surprise so far about making music your career? What has been an unexpected or welcome challenge to it all? What has been the best part about it all?
Well, whenever I write what I think is a good song or album, I’ll think to myself, “Well, I’ve never be able to do that again.” I kind of think it’s a miracle every time. So overcoming that is its own challenge. I’m an avid golfer. I think the best thing about it is the relationship I’ve been able to build with my fans over the years. I often feel like we’re all kind of going through this heavy life stuff together. I read all comments and messages. I always go out after the shows to talk with them, too. They’ve let me into their lives in a profound way. It’s humbling and is one of the main reasons I keep going.
Let’s talk about your album, “Covers II.” What was it like putting this collection together? Why did you decide to make another collection of covers? How did you go about choosing the songs to re-imagine on this album?
Quite simply, I just enjoy it. Writing, recording and producing my own songs can be an exhausting endeavor emotionally. Doing covers allows me to let go a bit and just simply color something in, much like a coloring book.
My manager Nicole and I compile a running list of possibilities and then start eliminating them one by one. There were a few songs that I had never heard before (Something In My Heart), while others I grew up with (Depeche Mode and Peter Gabriel). I often choose them based on the lyric. When I cover songs, my approach is to shine a bright spotlight on the words. I kind of take the music part completely out of it at first.
What was it like performing, producing and recording the album on your own?
I don’t know. I feel like every time I do it, I think it’s the last time; it’s a LOT of work and can be isolating at times. I used to be good with isolation, but I’m not anymore. My friend Molly Jenson was able to be a part of it towards the very end, which adds an entirely different layer that I think really makes this EP special.
How did you approach the process of this one compared to “Covers I”?
I submerged myself into Covers; I moved my studio to a cabin in Flagstaff, Arizona and kind of shut out the world. With this one, I was able to work on it and then remove myself from it for moments of time. This one is just plain larger, too. Full orchestral parts and large drums. It was fun.
Where can people see you perform next? Do you have any fall tour dates scheduled yet?
I do! They start up again in Los Angeles and continue through the beginning of October. We’re covering a lot of cities.
How do you think you have grown as a musician since you first started making music?
Oh gosh, I don’t know. I think just the practice of doing something over and over naturally makes you more comfortable in your own musical skin.
How do you feel about social media? What has social media done for your career so far?
It’s interesting. I mean, when I started, MySpace was also starting. I didn’t quite grasp the importance social media would end up playing. On some levels, I love it. I like the direct line I get to my listeners and I like their direct line to me (most of the time). Part of me misses the mystery around the artists I liked. There was something enticing about it. Sometimes I think too much is shared. That being said, it has been an incredibly valuable tool these years.
Who are some of your favorite artists or rather, what musicians have continued to inspire you and your music? Who would you absolutely love to work with in the future?
I’m kind of all over the place. On a road trip, I will listen to Chopin, Peter Gabriel, The Cult, Tori Amos, Beach Boys, Slipknot and Katie Perry. So… Yeah. I’m also equally inspired by movie soundtracks… ranging from the old Sergio Leone and Stanley Kubrick films to There Will Be Blood. I respond to musical textures sometimes more than I respond to actual songs.
I’d love to work with Banks.
If you had an unlimited budget and your schedule was free, what would your dream music video look like?
Hmm. That’s an interesting question. Probably an original animation piece, in the vein of the movies from the 50s.
Where would you love to hear a song of yours played?
Any movie or show written by Phoebe Waller-Bridge.
At the end of the day, what do you hope people take away from your music?
I don’t know that it’s my job. I think I try to gently imply the question to the listener, “Is this you, too?” And if their answer is yes, then I think I have succeeded in what I set out to do. It’s more of a dialogue than a statement.