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Laura Stevenson & The Cans
evolution of sound (and wardrobe)
by: Devon Antonetti - June 20, 2013


Before finding her voice as an indie-pop songstress, Laura Stevenson had to sift through years of musical transformations and a diverse set of influences to reach her current, delicate signature sound.

The Long Island native boasts an impressive musical lineage, with a grandfather composer most famous for "The Little Drummer Boy" and a grandmother who was a singer for jazz bandleader Benny Goodman. But her time in a few Long Island punk rock acts also played a major role in her evolution, allowing her to charge through her accessible melodies with unrelenting ferocity.

Discussing her beginnings, Stevenson admits her family had a lot to do with her decision to give a career in music a chance. Her dad enrolled his young daughter in music lessons, and on the weekend, he would take her to see live performances, which included greats like Neil Young and Chrissy Hynde.

Fifth grade marked the discovery of "over-driven guitars," an experience that would have a lasting impact on Stevenson: "I probably thoughtit was rebellious, but I'm sure my dad was into it." With a growing taste for the edgier side of music, she took to the notoriously loud Long Island music scene, spending middle school and high school on the local circuit. It was there where she first met the members of Arrogant Sons of Bitches, who were prominent in the area at that time.

Started as a two-piece playing Green Day covers, the Bitches later morphed into a full band and began to write their own ska-punk material. After breaking up in 2004, band member Jeff Rosenstockstarted Bomb the Music Industry! (BtMI!), and turned to Stevenson for keyboards. Laura - who as most rockers wasn't exactly a model student - had just gotten kicked out of school when approached with the offer, so the decision was practically made for her: "It was kind of perfect timing. I picked up and went on my first tour."

Her new found role in the Long Island and national music scenes didn't prevent Laura from feeling curious about the artists that were making waves in the neighboring New York City scene. The über-cool bands of that time, including more notably The Strokes, had a significant impact on the burgeoning songwriter, which is still apparent in her work today.

Stevenson still lists Is This It as one of her favorite albums of all time, even though she found the band's shows a little "strange" because of their overt trend factor. "Coming from someone who went to a lot of ska shows, we did notdress cool," she noted. Though those Long Island bands may not have had the "Downtown New York style," their music had - to Laura's ears - the same edge and alternative aesthetic.

While playing in BtMI! in her early music career, Stevenson started writing her own songs and performing solo in between gigs. Her supporting band grew organically around these shows when she asked a few of her bandmates to start joining her on stage, later dubbing them The Cans. The group was shortly settled with Mike Campbell on bass, Alex Billing on trumpet, Peter Naddeo on guitar, and Dave Garwack on drums.

Her work with The Cans is firmly grounded in rootsy pop territory, from her debut album A Record, to last year's Still Resist, and though her soft, feminine vocals may resonate with a wide audience, her punk cred opens her to more niche listeners, just as much as her personal, remorseless melodies do.

When not working on her own material, Stevenson still spreads herself across her friends' bands, playing with everyone from Andrew Jackson Jihad, to Maps and Atlases, to her continued collaborations with BtMI!

Her rock 'n' roll lifestyle causes her to uproot often, but Stevenson's favorite place to write music is still in her bedroom, wherever that happens to be at the time. The singer even compares her songwriting experience to the intimacy of self-pleasure, saying that getting caught working on music is "worse than getting caught jerking off," a fair description for music so personal and distinct as the woman who writes them.

In between an East Coast tour throughout fall and appearances at various festivals and CMJ showcases, Laura Stevenson and The Cans will be locked away in a barn in upstate New York, working on the band's third full-length album, bound to be released on New Jersey-based Don Giovanni Records, who put out records by The Ergs! and Screaming Females.But for Stevenson, one of the biggest things that she has to look forward to is seeing different bands performing live along the way, and of course, getting to see her favorite bands and friends from the road.

With her perfect mix of fervent, satisfying pop melodies and unpredictable sense of surprise, Laura Stevenson has gone in a few years from NYC scene spectator to NYC scene hero, headlining Bowery Ballroom and other major local venues.

How much this process was triggered by the influence the music of the Big Apple had on her songwriting, or by the fact that her wardrobe has in the meantime gotten more in line to the NYC "standard," is hard to know.

“getting caught working on music is ‘worse than getting caught jerking off’”

Laura Stevenson & The Cans
"Still Resist"

what it is

Rootsy Pop