By Alec Wooden
Sad songs aren’t for everyone. Some musicians don’t like to write them; some find they simply can’t. Greg Laswell doesn’t fit either description. Laswell, a West Coast-born multi-instrumentalist now based in New York, thrives on them, producing ever-pleasant piano/guitar pop-rock from often dark origins (by the way, don’t make “sad” synonymous with “boring” or “soft.” Any particular Laswell song isn’t necessarily either). You probably know Greg Laswell, even if not by name. His music has been featured in a laundry list of TV shows — “Smallville,” “One Tree Hill,” “CSI: Miami,” “90210,” “Grey’s Anatomy” and “True Blood” to name a few — from the handful of records he’s released since 2003. Halfway through a nation-spanning tour behind the release of his latest record, Take A Bow, Laswell talks about his approach to writing the new record, seeing his songs in on television and the souvenirs he gathers on the road.
Guitar vs. piano: which instrument is the most natural to you? Do you tend to write more on one than the other?
I feel more natural on the the piano and it is my first love, but I think I have written more songs on guitar.
You’ve hugely benefited from TV placement over the years. I know some artists don’t like seeing their work as part of another’s vision, but it’s such an undeniably huge springboard these days. What’s your take on it?
My parents taught me to share. I think artists who don’t like seeing their work as part of another’s vision are silly. Every single one of their listeners is doing just that. I believe that once a song is written, it doesn’t belong to me anymore … like raising a kid the best you can and then sending him/her off to college. I want the best for them and I hope I raised them right, but my job is done. I’d be a bad parent if I tried to control their future. I’d also be an asshole.
What was your goal with Take a Bow as it fits into your discography so far?
I don’t think of it in terms of a goal. I really had no idea where it would end up when I started and I didn’t have any plans. Once one song was written and finished, I started the next one. The only thing that I was conscious of was wanting the sound to be larger than the first two.
Talk about the recording process of the record. How was it different from your previous records?
Well, I was in the woods just south of Flagstaff, Ariz. for one … I moved my dog and recording studio there for almost six months. I wanted to get away from certain influences and the hustle and bustle of Los Angeles … strangely enough, once the record was finished, I never really completely went back to L.A. I think in some small way, I started moving from there once I decided to record my record in another state.
Is there a particular theme that runs through all of your records, either naturally or by choice?
Certainly. I’m drawn to sadness. I’m drawn to seeing pain in other people. Most of my truly good friends have got a little dirt on them from life. It is what inspires me most. So I let others do the happy songs and try to make up for it by not taking myself seriously, even amidst all of these rather heavy songs. I don’t trust overly happy people. They make me nervous. And similarly, I don’t trust overly happy songs either. I understand they have their place in the world … I’m just not the one who writes them.
Has your recording process, or just the mental approach to it, changed as you’ve become more of a veteran in music?
Sure. I look back on my first record and there are a handful of decisions I would have made differently. But I was at a different place then … music is like a photograph … can’t go back in time and change it, you CAN change your outfit for today’s picture though. P.S., why am I using so many metaphors in this interview?
What’s your favorite part of being on the road?
Truck stops and getting home.
Any particular routines/oddities/superstitions that you carry along on tour?
Not really. I like to buy a really nice sweatshirt on each tour — and by really nice, I mean a sweatshirt with an airbrushed horse on the front for $3.99 at a truck stop. I still haven’t found one on this tour.
Which do you like better: performing solo or with a full band?
That is a personal question and I would appreciate some privacy on this matter. No, um … both, actually.
Has relocating to New York changed you at all as a musician?
Not that I can tell. Although I haven’t started my next record yet, so we’ll see I suppose. I haven’t been home that much since I moved — and when I have been, I stayed home a LOT.
What are you listening to right now?
The air-conditioning in the Sprinter van and my friends and band members Brian and Erik talking about how lame PT Cruisers are.
Greg Laswell plays Rock and Roll Hotel in D.C. on May 24…
… and Vinyl in Atlanta on June 1.