Laura Stevenson and her band are the kind of DIY band that were made for the age of Internet sharing. Instantly hummable indie pop hooks galore and an open mind to sharing their music with whoever wants it. They offered their first album, A Record, as a donation-based download and their last album, 2011's Sit/Resist as a free download for a week. It helps the music is also pretty terrific and fans have responded in kind, the band experiencing a growing popularity with each album, aided by word of mouth and easy access to their songs, self-produced pop gems.
But for their new album, Wheel (out now on Don Giovanni), the band brought in Kevin McMahon (Titus Andronicus, Frightened Rabbit) to produce and collaborators Rob Moose (Bon Iver) on strings and Kelly Pratt (Beirut, Arcade Fire) on horns. The results is a more polished album than Sit/Resist but it's no less a charming, wonderful album. The album's centerpiece, "Runner," is a propulsive slice of shimmering pop that explodes into a cascading chorus that seems gleefully at odds with Stevenson's refrain, "This summer hurts." "Triangle" piles some wonderfully grungy guitars on top of Stevenson's vocals and accordion, roughing up the sound just enough to keep it from being overly slick, a hard enough balance to maintain. There are still quieter moments, too, like the acoustic "The Move" and stellar album opener "Renée," but it's on "Runner" and the epic "L-DOPA" where the production shines, illuminating a band unafraid to grow its sound for the better.
The band is in the midst of a tour across the U.S. and the hit Chicago tomorrow night, Saturday May 18, visiting the Beat Kitchen with openers Field Mouse and Warren Franklin & The Founding Fathers. I spoke with lead singer Laura Stevenson and bass player Michael Campbell about how giving away their music, bringing in an outside producer for Wheel, and where they drew inspiration from.
First of all, let's talk about your last album, Sit/Resist, and your decision to offer it for free for a week. What were the results? Was it a positive experience for you
Laura Stevenson: Our first record is still available for free on a download-donation-based label. Before that I was in Bomb The Music Industry and their records were on the same label and the same type of thing. It was very much a community. We came from that and Joe from Don Giovanni [the band's current label] understood that. It was a gesture because we knew a lot of people would be downloading it anyway so it was like "Here, have better quality files and don't get in trouble for it and we're happy to share it with you." It hasn't done anything but exposed us to more people and gotten more people excited about the record and people do buy the vinyl and the CD at shows and say "I just wanted to help you guys out." It's really cool because people are very supportive.
Mike Campbell: Well, for a very specific example, that's how you first heard of us, right? We made it at the point several years ago when we were in sort of a DIY bubble; it opened doors and made it easier for people to hear the record. I feel like at that point, we thought, "Let's make it as easy as possible for as many people as possible to hear the record and it will even out down the line."