Interview with Singer/Songwriter Greg Laswell

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Want to see Greg Laswell, Holly Conlan, and Sara Bareilles at the 9:30 Club on October 18? Sorry, pal; that show has long been sold out. But you can read our recent interview with Greg, as he was cool enough to chat with us on a variety of shallow topics including guilty pleasure music and his dog’s many album appearances.

AMERICAN NOISE: Your music has been on just about every hour-long drama that’s currently on the air. How did that facet of your career begin picking up steam?

GREG LASWELL: I didn’t really do anything to get that started. The label sent off a sampler to a bunch of music supervisors for shows back when my first record was released a couple years ago, and for whatever reason, I’ve been really lucky with placements. I think I write from a pretty cinematic place. I think even if you took the lyrics and melody away, the music production I go with kind of effortlessly matches with a dramatic scene. It wasn’t something I ever set out to do, but it started happening on its own and started snowballing. We’ve been on Grey’s Anatomy ten times. I thought it would subside by now (laughs), but it hasn’t.

AN: You’ve got some really musically talented friends who appear on your records. How much do they contribute to the creative process behind the music? Do you all sort of feed off of one another?

GL: Not a whole lot, honestly. I kind of steal away and do everything alone and then ask some friends to hop on parts I feel need a little extra sparkle. This time around it was Cary [Brothers] and Ingrid [Michaelson, Laswell’s fiancée]. Last time I had a girl named Molly Jenson. But [the collaboration] is not so much in the beginning of the creative process; it’s usually toward the tail end of the project that I go that route.

AN: On Take a Bow, “Come Clean” sounds a lot different than the other songs on the record. What’s the story behind that?

GL: I started playing the piano part of that just during soundchecks. I wrote this really weird piano part and was just testing it during soundcheck. Then I was in the studio and was like “Man, maybe I can write something to it.” I couldn’t, because it was just too strange. I didn’t really know where else to go with it, so I put it down, and then I was struggling in the same way with another song—just had the chorus, didn’t know where to go with it—and so I was almost ready to just throw both of them away, and then at the very last minute I thought, “Wait a second. Maybe I can put these two songs that don’t work independently of each other together and see what that sounds like.” Both of ‘em kind of breathed new life into each other and they worked in a really strange way. But yeah, it sounds like two different songs, and it is (laughs). Just two different songs that I kind of glued together.

DN: Sweet! So when you’re not doing things like that, what’s the normal songwriting process like for you, if there is a “normal?”

GL: Usually a song will exist in Musicland for a while, and I won’t get around to the lyrics until I’m actually in the studio. On this record I had all the music essentially done by the time it came to start recording things. A lot of times I’ll finish the entire song—production and everything—from the ground up, and it’ll be completely finished and mixed and I still wouldn’t have any lyrics for it. So that happened a couple times. It lives in Musicland until I figure out what the song’s about.

AN: Your upcoming 9:30 Club show is the last night of the tour with Sara Bareilles. Do you guys have anything cool planned for the show or in general?

GL: I think after a tour it’s kind of anticlimactic; I’m just going to be driving home, back to New York. I think we’re going to have our big end-of-tour shenanigans the night before.

AN: And you’re headlining your own tour pretty soon, right?

GL: I am. That starts eight days later, so that’ll be really fun. I’m looking forward to it.

AN: I hear your dog, Shep, appears on some of your records.

GL: Yeah! He’s on all of them. He was on my first one—I liked the vocal cut I had done so much, but it was the one when he decided to jump off my couch and his dog collar made a jingle. But I liked the vocal take so much I didn’t want to redo it, so I ended up just keeping him on there as part of the track. He’s been on every album since. He barks on Three Flights from Alto Nido, my last record. On this one he is in a song called “Around the Bend,” and there are a few album-only songs on iTunes that he’s on.

AN: Does he get to go on tour with you?

GL: He has in the past, but not on this one. There were a few really, really long drives, and I try to spare him from those.

AN: I bet he has a really demanding, Van Halen-style rider.

GL: Yeah, he wants all the green M&Ms out.

AN: What was the first record you heard that made you want to be a musician?

GL: Hmm, that’s a good question, actually. I remember going to church with my grandma, she would take me to church every once in a while, and there was this quartet there called The Shoremen. That was my first memory of that, you know, “What the hell are they doing up there?” They did four part harmony and it just blew my mind at that age. I was quite taken by what these four guys were able to do harmony-wise. I liked it so much that my grandma bought me one of the cassette tapes they were selling in the church lobby, or the foyer, whatever it’s called. I kept it for a really long time, and always listened to it, even when I got older. I guess there’s probably a cooler answer to that question, but that was my first memory of “Wait a second, I want to do that!”

AN: Jumping off that, what’s your musical guilty pleasure?

GL: Probably Taylor Swift (laughs). Guilty as charged.

AN: Have you pre-ordered her new record?

GL: I haven’t. I should.

AN: Gotta get on that. Wrapping up, if someone has never been to one of your shows before, what can he or she expect at the 9:30 Club on the 18th?

GL: We’re gonna be a full band that night. That’ll be fun; it won’t just be me and my acoustic guitar, it’ll be a pretty big sound. A lot of the songs are on the sad side—I enjoy writing sad songs—but the show itself is not a sad experience. We have a lot of fun up there.

AN: Great! Thanks again for talking to District Noise, Greg. We’re looking forward to the show.

GL: Thank you.

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