Interview: Laura Stevenson & The Cans

This interview was originally published in Issue #12, May 2010.

In our last issue we dubbed Laura Stevenson and The CansA Record a “masterpiece” and claimed, “if every musician possessed such skills [as Laura has] I’d have no problem selling my soul to ensure the sound’s survival”. To put our money where our mouth is, this issue DrunkenWerewolf’s Chris Holland talks to Laura Stevenson about her band The Cans, her transition from punk to folk, and what influences her song writing.

On A Record some of the songs are stripped back, just you with a guitar, but then others are a traditional guitars/drum/bass arrangement - which do you enjoy playing more and which do you find easiest to write?

Since the band started out with just me and a guitar, the most natural way [for me] to write is simply that, but lately we've been putting our heads together and writing a lot more [as a group], and it's pretty awesome to work that way too. It's also nice to have horns and strings play the little non-vocal melodies that I have swimming around in my head when I'm writing. It feels really incredible for all of that to come to life...It's exciting every time I teach someone a part and it's even more exciting when someone else adds their own melody ideas, and it becomes something way better than I had planned.

With such a variety of sounds, how do audiences respond to your live set? Do you get half the people wanting quieter songs, and the other wanting you to "plug in and play"?

I think that definitely depends on the show - when we went on tour with Bomb the Music Industry we played most of our loud, electric songs because we didn't want to scare anybody with sad, quiet songs. But yeah, sometimes we'll be super loud and energetic and then someone will request a song like “Nervous Rex”, and…the band kind of walks off the stage and it's just me being sad all by myself, which I guess is the way the songs get written, right?

It's fair to say that the Cans sound quite different to Bomb The Music Industry - do you still play in BTMI, and does your time in a punk band affect your song writing?

Yeah, we're totally different but in a good way. I think that tour was a nice mix - ska kids getting emotional, emotional kids circle pitting. I do still play with Bomb, but I miss out on some of their tours because I'm in school, and now Cans are doing more tours so...our paths don't cross quite as much as they used to. I think playing

songs that Jeff wrote has definitely influenced my song writing... it's less the punk thing and more like, trying weird chords and stuff like that.

Again, with this background in punk bands, what would you say your influences are? Have you always wanted to make folk music, or did it just come naturally?

I guess folk music came naturally even though I did grow up listening to a lot of punk bands... but at the root of it, it's all the same. Simple chord progressions with a nice melody can translate into pretty much any genre of music, I just slowed it down and played the few chords that I knew and went from there. Our influences now are bands like The Weakerthans, Built to Spill, Beirut, Archers of Loaf - stuff like that, but when I was 15 it was like, NOFX and The Suicide Machines, so things change, but not that much.

What artists around at the moment do you feel an affinity with, simply because you are stylistically very different to bands who are also on Quote Unquote and most of the Asian Man roster?

Bands that we are buddies with outside of that circle, like Archipelago, Ava Luna, Maps and Atlases, Hard Girls...

In England at the moment, there is a bit of a revival in folk. Do you feel there is a similar resurgence in America?

Recently, on tour in the States we have been playing with more folk bands and it's cool because a lot of younger kids are starting out playing folk music instead of punk or ska. That seems to be something that has started to come about in the past few years. It's pretty exciting to see that happening here and I'm looking forward to hearing it in England this summer!

- Chris Holland


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