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Stu McLamb talks shitty sounds, Bon Iver trumpets and how his old band resembled The Strokes

The Love Language 

Stu McLamb talks shitty sounds, Bon Iver trumpets and how his old band resembled The Strokes

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click to enlarge Stuart McLamb - PHOTO BY BRITTANY ANDERSON
  • Photo by Brittany Anderson
  • Stuart McLamb

"I'm terrible about keeping up with music," Stuart McLamb confesses while reclining in his computer chair, listening to a string of tracks he's heard about but never heard himself. "I don't have an iPod, and my CD player just got fixed, so it's hard," McLamb continues. He points out that Bon Iver's For Emma, Forever Ago and The Beatles' Let It Be...Naked are albums that he's only been able to discover and dissect while touring with his bandmates in The Love Language.

Just after his first practice with The Light Pines—a project of Love Language bassist Josh Pope—and fresh off a two and a half week tour with Cursive, McLamb sat down with us to analyze a handful of songs split between his influences and contemporaries.

DAVID BYRNE AND BRIAN ENO
"One Fine Day"
(from Everything That Happens Will Happen Today, 2008)

Stuart McLamb: I haven't listened to this album yet, but I've heard a lot about it. I haven't listened to a lot of [Byrne's] solo stuff, but his voice sounds strangely younger than it does in the Talking Heads. Maybe it's just that it's more reserved and not as punky.

I like this one a lot. Listening to these songs for the first time, the only thing you can really latch onto is melody. It takes a while to sit with lyrics. This just has one of those classic melodies that seems like it wrote itself. It's very simple but interesting throughout the whole song.

INDEPENDENT WEEKLY: Are you a Talking Heads fan?

SM: Yeah. This sounds closest to something like True Lies, the really poppy stuff. It's great. I don't know which album's my favorite, whether it's More Songs About Buildings and Food or Remain in Light. It's kind of a toss-up. They're really different albums, but I like them both.

THE BEACH BOYS
"Heroes and Villains"
(from Smiley Smile, 1967)

SM: Oh God, yeah. This is my shit. It's just so quirky and imaginative, but the melodies are so good, it's still like a total pop song. I guess this is kind of funny coming from me, the lo-fi junkie, but I've always wished Smiley Smile was just a little higher fidelity, like Pet Sounds. But isn't that the story behind this, that they didn't really finish it? I still would take this over Smile, personally, just because the artist was closer to his initial passion of the music, but I admire [Brian Wilson] for sticking it through and finishing an album thirty years later.

Just how crazy do you consider Brian Wilson?

SM: I don't think he's crazy at all. He probably has it all figured out. I watched a DVD on the making of Pet Sounds, and it just blew my mind with how seemingly unorganized he was with his life but how he's probably the most organized brain I've seen in terms of how to make really ambitious music. He broke it down in these songwriting sessions with Tony Asher where he had everything worked out. He was so particular about every syllable and wanted his melodies to be represented perfectly. He's a workhouse man, it's awesome. Mad respect.

It's crazy to think about the amount of material that bands like The Beach Boys and The Beatles put out in the 60s and still maintain, for the most part, a high level of quality. Nowadays, it sometimes takes bands several years to put out another album.

SM: Oh, I know. I've thought about that, but I think that at that time, it was all that initial excitement of rock 'n' roll happening. When that blew the doors open to all of these possibilities in the '60s, you couldn't help but to be an artist in the middle of that and just be so pumped. Think about how excited we are about music even today, and when that first happened, I think it just floored people, and that's why you had such a fertile artistic community at those times. I think it just makes sense. It won't happen again, I don't think. Maybe on another planet.

THE BEATLES
"Don't Let Me Down"
(from Let It Be ... Naked, 2003)

SM: This song benefits the most from a great lyric that's sung in a very high register. I get knocked on a lot for singing too loud on the record, but this is a great example where the song wouldn't be as awesome if they didn't fuckin' belt it. "Don't let me down"... you've gotta yell about that!

One of my favorite things about The Beatles is that Ringo [Starr] is such a tasteful drummer. So many drummers, like in this song, would just try to come in and play a four-four beat, but he just adds those little decorations with the cymbals. This is one of everybody's favorite bridges too. [Sings the first line of the bridge.]

How do you feel about the Naked version of this record versus the original?

SM: It's funny that you ask that because I listened to a lot of [the Naked version] on this last tour. Jeff [Chapple] was driving and had it on in the van. It was the first time I've really sat and listened to it. It's hard to criticize the original Let It Be, but perhaps some of the strings are a little too intense on the songs. If I had to pick one, I'd pick the original, hands down. But like on "The Long and Winding Road," I remember being a young kid and hearing it on The Blue Album [1967-1970] and loving all these other songs but thinking "That one's so lame! What's with all these strings?" It's a lot cooler song, I think, without them.

FLOATING ACTION
"50 Lashes"
(from Floating Action, 2009)

SM: Seth [Kauffman]! This is my boy. I have a lot in common with him, I think. I've listened to this record a lot and he just likes that trashy sounding record like I do. It sounds like it was recorded inside of a bag of weed. That's the best way to put it. Carter [Gaj] from Max Indian used that line, so I've got to credit him, but that's how it sounds.

"I wish I could tell you why this makes me happy, but it just does. And I'm not stoned."

He records it all by himself, too. It's just a great chorus that creeps up and kind of surprises you with the shortest pre-chorus ever. [Sings pre-chorus.] It's so weird, I love it. The tambourine's hardly there. It sounds like he's banging a chain on a trashcan in the left speaker. This is just a beautiful, stoned mess. I wish I could tell you why this makes me happy, but it just does. And I'm not stoned.

This is an awesomely weird, catchy song. Check out that tom. It sounds like shit. It's so awesome. He sounds almost out of breath when he's singing. He seems very in control of his faults as a singer, and I love singers that are a little off-kilter.

BON IVER
"For Emma"
(from For Emma, Forever Ago, 2008)

SM: We listen to this on the road a lot. I like the drums a lot. I just like when stuff is a little off-kilter. It doesn't sound like a band, it kinda sounds like him adding a snare drum after he recorded the acoustic, which is how he did it. There's something charming about that to me. I guess I'm more into—no matter what kind of genre—when it's like a sound collage. Even if it's a pop song, you're layering stuff on top of each other rather than just playing the song. You kinda get everything in its right place that way.

I love how he doubles his vocals. Some people just really sound good doing that. He's the only guy I know that can sing that falsetto and still sound manly. Not that Prince can't.

Did you ever hear any of the stuff he did in DeYarmond Edison with the guys who are now Megafaun?

"This is 'Listening with Stuart McLamb,' and you can tell I like shitty sounding things."

SM: Yeah, when I was in The Capulets, we actually played a show together. But I think I like this more. I think he's really come into his own. He's found his own artistic vision. It's very realized. He's just found his own unique style. It's an interesting groove. It's really simple, but still refreshing. Just one more rhythm, and it'd be like the Pixies. That's great ... nice out-of-tune trumpet, but in a good way. [Laughs.] This is "Listening with Stuart McLamb," and you can tell I like shitty sounding things.

THE STROKES
"Someday"
(from Is This It, 2001)

SM: Is this The Capulets? [Laughs, sings the opening line of The Capulets' "Summertime"] I used to love this. Yeah, I still like this stuff. When it first came out, it sounded so exuberant to me in a lazy way. They still had that cool to them, but it still sounded so youthful and rock 'n' roll. When I come back to it now, it sounds more stale, but I still like it a lot. I liked it more when I first heard it, though. This is a cool song. It always reminded of Bob Marley the way he sings some phrases. [Imitates Julian Casablancas.] Julian's probably like a frat boy in disguise though.

What do you think about the way the vocals were recorded on this album?

SM: They definitely stand out as being distorted, but a lot of their instruments aren't really distorted. They're just not heavily miked. But he's got some definite distortion on his vocal. I always get a lot about how my vocals are distorted on the record and honestly, that wasn't any effect on the vocals. I think that was just me having the mic a little too hot when I was singing loud. But everything's pretty distorted on The Love Language album, too.

I think his vocals are good. I like dirty vocals, like Iggy Pop, but they're a little too distorted, maybe. When the first Strokes album came out, that was a big deal for me. It got me real excited about music.

YEAH YEAH YEAHS
"Maps"
(from Fever to Tell, 2003)

"I want to make music that my 15-year-old self would like."

SM: This is a tremendously good song. I like a lot of this record, but I'm just so happy when there's a band that's cool and doesn't try a lot. Well, we've talked about how there's dudes and there's careerists. You can be a dude and have a career, too, but the careerists are the ones where all they think about is how to make their music a career. That comes first, where they forget about why they like bands. I want to make music that my 15-year-old self would like. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs never struck me as careerists, you know, like someone like Kings of Leon who are thinking "let's get the dollars." Not to say [Kings of Leon] are writing bad songs, they just went that arena rock route.

So it's about whether or not they aimed for that success or just sort of fell into it?

SM: Yeah, exactly. [Kings of Leon] are talking to industry people and seeing what would be successful, and there's levels involved in that, but when that's all you're paying attention to and you're not paying attention to your aesthetic and how you want your music to sound. Yeah Yeah Yeahs didn't compromise on this record and for this to be such a big hit, I'm just so proud of bands when they can have that crossover hit. Nothing's wrong with it. They just finally got through to the public cause it's just that good. I think a lot of people identify with that chorus' lyrics, and I think it's a good line.

LONNIE WALKER
"Back Home Inside with You"
(from These Times, Old Times, 2009)

SM: I love Brian [Corum]'s shit. I love Brian because when you hang out with him, he's a man of few words, and then when he's up there singing, he's spitting out so many words. They're all great. If you go out with me, I'm probably talking too much, and it takes me a month to write one line. He's developed a really awesome Lonnie Walker character. He's frustrated. It's just good rock 'n' roll for getting out some angst, and there's that punk quality to it, but at the same time, it's just really fun. "These Times, Old Times" is one of my favorite songs to come out of anyone around here. Yeah man, this is classic.

SAM COOKE
"(What a) Wonderful World"
(from Sam Cooke, 1959)

SM: This isn't one of my favorite Sam Cooke songs, but I don't mind listening to anything he sang. His major talent was singing soul music where you could understand every lyric. That's a real hard thing to do, you know. Soul's all about the emotion in the music, but his voice is just like silk. It's a very smooth, sexy voice.

"I'm probably saying something that all of y'all should already know out there in the Triangle community."

There's always that argument between Otis [Redding] and [Cooke], and I don't even know how to pick. That's the biggest difference, though: Sam just had such control over his vocals, but I'm probably saying something that all of y'all should already know out there in the Triangle community.

THE ROSEBUDS
"My Downtown Friends"
(from The Rosebuds Make Out, 2003)

SM: I love hearing this stuff because, when we toured with them, they were playing a lot of the newer stuff that's '80s-influenced, like The Cure. It's funny to listen to this because I have a very backwards relationship with their stuff. I like the newer stuff way better, but this is good. I hear a lot of maturing in their later stuff, but that's not saying this is bad because there's something great about a raucous rock song. You can't really write them after you "mature," and I hope I'm not maturing because it's been pretty hard for me to write a good rocker lately.

The Love Language and Lost in the Trees play Wallace Plaza in downtown Chapel Hill on Thursday, Aug. 20. The show is free and starts at 6 p.m., with Magic Mike turning tricks before the music rolls.

  • Stu McLamb talks shitty sounds, Bon Iver trumpets and how his old band resembled The Strokes

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