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Meet Stuart McLamb: The Brains Behind The Love Language
The Love Language (Stuart McLamb is on the far right) I Photo:Michael Triplett
"I was pretty much just writing songs because they had to come out," Stuart McLamb tells me over the phone as he and his band the Love Language desperately try to navigate the back roads of North Carolina somewhere in the vicinity of Raleigh. "A song doesn't really exist until you record it, and I had all of these songs in my head that I had to put out there. Fuck, we've seen that sign before! " A few years ago, Stuart McLamb recorded the Love Language's self titled debut album in his parents' basement. Reeling from a breakup and carrying around a head bursting with songs he sat down, wrote, played, and recorded the entire disk on a $300 recording device. The result was a brilliant body of work with a gritty, lo-fi sound, which has been winning him fans all over the country. He hadn't thought much beyond that until one day Ivan Howard (lead singer for the Rosebuds) gave him a call and asked him to open for them next time they were in town. Panicked, McLamb put together a crew of friends and relations and the Love Language was born.
I caught their first show in LA in April and was blown away. McLamb's early recordings are just the blueprint of what his seven piece band can bring to life. McLamb was kind enough to speak with us about the making of the debut last weekend. Here is some of what was said.
What made you pick up an instrument?
It was Michael Jackson's Thriller. I had that record when I was like five, and I was obsessed with it, especially with "Beat It". That and Van Halen's Jump. I guess I just liked songs with verbs in it. I used to put on "Beat It" on the record player in the living room, line up some pots and pans, and just bang on shit for hours. My parents actually got a little concerned because my school teacher said that I was too obsessed with Michael Jackson. So they hid the records from me for a little while. I didn't actually pick up an instrument until sixth grade. My friend Adam and I thought that Lynyrd Skynyrd was the greatest thing ever at the time, so we started a group called Rebel Deuce. Adam borrowed a guitar from my grandfather and strummed it while I beat on the guitar case. It was really awful. He didn't know any chords or anything. He just strummed the strings. But we recorded an album on my Fisher Price tape recorder. It was great.
What did you sing about?
We had two songs that I can remember, one called "Milk Carton Child" and one called "Georgia Ice Cream" which was about grits. I mean these were classic songs. We made lots of tape cassettes just to hand out to girls in middle school. God knows if they still have them. Rebel Deuce might one day have a reunion tour. (laughs) Probably not.
Photo: Michael Triplett
I heard you recorded the whole Love Language album in your parent's house by yourself. How did that get started?
I was pretty much just writing songs because they had to come out. I hadn't thought too much passed that. The first song that I recorded was "Two Rabbits" which has a lot of piano in it. After I recorded that I thought "Man, I don't want this to be a singer/songwriter thing. I better start playing other instruments." So I convinced myself that I could play drums. Turns out I'm really shitty on the drums and the piano, so I decided to multi-track it. You can hide a lot with multi-tracking. Did you have anyone else play on it?
Well like I said, I hadn't really thought that far ahead. I thought maybe this will just be a couple demo tracks or maybe it'll be a record itself. I wasn't really sure, but five songs in I realized it was going to probably it's own album. I didn't have anyone else play on the album, but I started getting some people to play with me for gigs around town. At the beginning it was just me and Jeff Chapel, who is our other guitarist. For the really early sets it was just two guitars, a bass drum, and a high hat. Really really rough sounding. But then Ivan from the Rosebuds called me one day and said he wanted the Love Language to open for them, which was a big deal. The Rosebuds are a huge in North Carolina.
How did he find out about you?
He heard about us from our mutual friend Roy. He was hanging out in Roy's truck and Roy had our CD in the player. He liked us so much that he called us up and said, "I want y'all to open for us." So I had to find a band fast. I think a lot of bands get started from pressure. I called up Josh and Tom and my brother Jordan and Josh's girlfriend Kate and put that all together.
How did it sound?
Well, we thought it was awesome, but I'm sure it was really, really rough. I needed a big band in order to recreate the recordings as best I could. Like I said, I was never really thinking too far ahead. Missy joined the band a little later. I met her when I was working in Greg Elkins' recording studio. One day I needed another singer to fill in for my brother and play the tambourine, so I called her. It turns out that she could do a whole lot more than just sing harmonies. (laughs) So I convinced her to join the band.
Where did you get the name the Love Language?
Oh, I don't give that away. Some people think this album is about one particular person, but it's about other things too. I mean, there are a lot of songs about our breakup, but not all of them are about her. The name comes from an inside joke we had.
Now that you have a full band, are you going to let them write any of the new songs?
Well, everyone kinda expects that it's my thing. They don't really want to write. I've got half of the next record written already, but if someone came up with a great song I wouldn't be like "Let's not play that." I'd just got to make sure that I would get all the credit. (laughs) I heard Lou Reed used to do that with the Velvet Underground. He would just list all the songs as his own or make sure he always got part of the proceeds. Do you know if that's true?
I don't know if that's true. It could be. Were you ever tempted to re-record your album in a proper studio?
There is something really trashy and something really awesome about how that record sounds. I wanted to keep it the way it was because it was the most pure way for me to enjoy that music. I literally recorded it seconds after it was written. There is something new and fresh about each track. The more you record and rerecord things the less and less there is passion in it. There's an initial kind of spark in the first recording of something. A certain excitement of the creative process that I'd tried to keep as close to the core of it as possible.
Photo courtesy of The Love Language's MySpace page.
Who is your single "Lalita" about?
Nabokov. I was reading Lolita at the time, and I was also dating a girl that was a lot younger than me. Oh God, that's going to make me sound like some pedophile. It wasn't that bad. She was legal. Our age difference just caused a lot of problems. Also you've got a song about "Night Dogs." What is a night dog specifically?
I'm glad you asked this question because it's a deeply philosophical one. Basically there are three types of dudes in the world. There are night dogs, moon dogs, and bitches. The best way to break it down is this. Night dogs are going to go out at night and drink a lot and are really restless, but are generally good dudes. Moon dogs are more spiritual. They'll go out at night, but they're much more mellow and likely to talk philosophy. And bitches are those guys with drinking problems who are huge assholes. Anyhow the song is about night dogs. (laughs) I hope LA gets this type of shit. This is some heavy shit.
Is it hard touring with so many band members?
It's not that bad. We've learned to be organized and be adults. The nice thing is that you can hang out for one bunch of people for a month and when you get sick them you can hangout with the other half. You don't ever hate everyone. (laughs) We really love each other all the time. It's a really good team.
What was the worst show you ever played?
I don't think there is a night when you can play every note perfectly, but I think the worst kind of show is when the audience isn't into it. A live show is like a conversation. You can be saying a bunch of awesome shit, but if the other person isn't responding to it, what's the point?
What is the weirdest thing you've ever seen in the audience?
I once saw this frat boy pumping his fist to a love song that I wrote. That was weird. You would think we were playing "Girls, Girls, Girls" by the way he was going at it.
Do you have a favorite local band at the moment?
There are a lot of good bands in North Carolina right now. Veelee is one of my favorites. They're awesome. They play minimalist, pop music. Oh and Violet Vector and The Lovely Lovelies. They're riot grrl meets sixties pop awesomeness. My girlfriend's in that band.
Doesn't that make you biased?
I wouldn't have gotten with her if her music sucked.
Fair point. Last question if you were booking a gig in Heaven and a gig in Hell who would you have headline?
In Heaven, I would have the Beach Boys play the Pet Soundsalbum. And in Hell? The Stone Temple Pilots and David Lee Roth. (laughs) It'd be called bitch fest.
Good title, I would attend Bitch Fest. Well, thanks for talking with us.
Be sure to catch The Love Language with Fanfarlo at the Troubadour on Tuesday, Sept 15th. Doors are at 8pm. Tickets are $12.
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