It is nice to know that Greg Laswell has a sense of humor. When asked how his latest album, Take a Bow, compares to his previous albums, he deadpans, “I use different song titles and lyrics and melodies.”
Moments like this are proof that Laswell is in a good place, both personally and musically. For someone who has made a name for himself in the indie music scene with his prowess as a songwriter and his ability to create cathartic experiences by writing about sadness and heartbreak, it is nice to see that he is anything but a rain cloud these days.
“My first two records were written and recorded while I was still in the middle of heartache,” he says. “This record was written and recorded as I was coming out of the woods, so to speak. It allowed me to touch some of the same subject matter as my first two records, but from a more objective and even sarcastic side.”
The sarcasm is evident on the album’s first single, “Take Everything,” an acoustic pop gem that has Laswell almost gleefully telling a former lover to just take everything from him because he swears he is OK with it. And while the video for this single is not sarcastic in and of itself, it allows him to present the song’s content in an unexpected way. In the video — which was filmed entirely in reverse — as Laswell walks through streets, buildings and set pieces, everything that has been destroyed around him is recreated, and everything that was removed from his person is given back to him.
“The chorus says, ‘Go on and take everything from me.’ We thought it would be cool to show the opposite of that,” he says.
But while Take a Bow does contain a somewhat lighter tone than his previous releases, there is still a fair amount of weight and gravity, too. One such track is the sweeping, epic drama “Around the Bend,” which focuses on one of life’s less-pleasant subjects: breaking up.
“[It] is about missing someone that doesn’t deserve to be missed. Some relationships just linger on you like cigarette smoke on your clothes, and you just have to put in your time and wait for the smell to dissipate. It’s also about that little tiny part of you that keeps it going longer than it should — like breaking up with the break-up.”
On this record, Laswell demonstrates that he is clearly not afraid of diving into all aspects of life, be it the incredible ups, catastrophic downs or sticky inbetweens that we often wish we could skip over. The authenticity of his lyrics comes as a result of having such a deep connection with whatever he writes about.
“Every time I release something, there is part of me asking the question, ‘You too?’ If the answer is ‘Yes,’ then I have succeeded in what I set out to do.”
But Laswell is serious when he says he is in a better place these days. Tracks like the winning jaunt “Off I Go” — which has Laswell stepping into an uncertain future with calm fearlessness — are autobiographical in a way. The song speaks very simply of the fact that wherever we go is where we land, and Laswell took a similar approach by choosing to record Take a Bow in a remote cabin in Arizona.
“Some friends of mine own a cabin seven miles south of Flagstaff in a little town called Mountainaire. I stayed there for one of my days off during a tour last year and fell in love with it. I remember getting up to get something out of the kitchen and on my way back saying out loud to myself, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if I could move my studio and record my next record here?’ Six weeks later I was doing just that. I took my dog and essentially moved there for almost five months.”
On this album and in person, Laswell shows the complexity of his thoughts, emotions and experiences. From one song to the next he is angry, happy, sarcastic or serious, and when asked why he makes music, he says it is a way for him to process life and face things. But he preceded this comment with a much different response.
“I have to. Just kidding. What a stupid answer that is. If anyone ever answers that question with an ‘I don’t know, I just have to, you know?’ I want to say, ‘No, I don’t know. But by all means, come down here and join us on Earth.’” Thank God for humor.
On the Bill
Greg Laswell plays the Walnut Room on Tuesday, May 11. Doors at 7 p.m. Must be 21 to enter. Tickets are $14. 3131 Walnut St., Denver, 303-292-1700.