Laura Stevenson and the Cans will bring their female fronted indie rock to the Black Cat on May 26. The band features Stevenson’s distinct vocals that supplement her sweet lyrics in an unmistakable way. In the style of other female band leaders such as Grace Potter and Ingrid Michaelson, Stevenson is able to lead a dynamic band through songs ranging from ballads to groove-based indie rock hits. Stevenson has a real admiration for and love of music, which shine through on her latest album, Sit Resist, and in her live performances. I spoke with Laura Stevenson about her songwriting and current tour.
Where did your band name come from?
Well the first two guys that ever played with me were two of my oldest friends. The first night that we ever played together, the name kind of stuck. Even though people started making jokes about it, it really stuck. I hated it for a really long time, though.
How did you develop your unique vocal style?
I used to sing in a cappella groups and I was never really encouraged to explore what I could do with my voice. I didn’t know that I had the range I had because I was an alto. I was suppressed by school singing and I was never able to understand my voice and how I could communicate how I felt through my voice. When I started writing, I started messing around and found my voice.
Your grandfather was the composer of “Little Drummer Boy” and your grandmother was a singer with the Benny Goodman Orchestra. What influence did your grandparents have on your interest in music or on your songwriting?
I know that I get my singing from my grandma because she was a singer. She’s always been such a musical person, so I was surrounded by music, but I was never encouraged to create- I was more encouraged to play it. They were gone before they could know that I inherited their gift of writing also. Its unfortunate, but maybe they know somewhere.
What is your inspiration for writing a song?
It really depends, it really varies. Someone once told me that they started with the title, but I thought that you can’t name something that you haven’t created yet, but then I tried it last week and it worked well. Usually, I’m constantly writing little phrases and things that I’m feeling. I don’t really have a diary, but I have a bunch of pieces of paper and sometimes two things develop simultaneously. Its kind of this organic, non-formulaic thing.
Who are your influences?
I grew up listening to a lot of Neil Young, with the very Americana way of writing, and a very traditional way of putting melodies to work. When I started getting into my own, I started getting into Leonard Cohen.. My influences are things I grew up with mixed with things I introduced myself to later.
“Red Clay Roots” sounds like an Alison Krauss-esque hymn. Can you talk about how you wrote that song?
I was at home at my mother’s house and I was looking for documents of mine and I found my grandmother before she died had these manuscripts. She was writing up her memoirs, but she never finished it. Her childhood was pretty sad. Her brothers were famous gospel singers in South Carolina and they all drank themselves to death and her mother was a prohibitionist bottle smasher. Its a short song, so I’m not really sure I did her justice.
What do you love about touring and performing?
Touring- we get to see new cities all the time and I love that. You get to see the entire country, and that’s my favorite part. Performing- its really fun to see people’s reactions and see people singing along in places you’ve never been before. It makes me feel like what you’re doing is important and that it matters to people.
Do you vary your set list every night or do you keep it consistent?
Sometimes I change it depending on the way the crowd is. If they’re just very loud, then we’ll not play the quiet songs, songs I play by myself. Its really hard for me to play and sing by myself when people aren’t listening. Because we have so many drummers playing with us, a bunch of friends that are filling in constantly, we have to keep it semi-consistent, the songs that that particular drummer knows how to play.
What covers do you enjoy playing and how do you adapt them to make them your own?
There’s a song that I’ve been playing called Juanita by Graham Parsons, well really the Flying Burrito Brothers. I’ve been playing that pretty consistently because the song is really, really beautiful. He plays a country song but there’s a swinging beat thats very constant…its a low, quiet song, but because I think the song is so beautiful, I think it needs to be vamped on with a pretty arrangement.
If you could open for anyone right now, who would it be?
Built to Spill is one of my favorite bands of right now.