Greg Laswell talks about his songwriting and the turning points of his career.
Greg Laswell doesn't have instant name recognition quite yet, but if you watch certain popular television shows like Grey's Anatomy, True Blood, Friday Night Lights and Dollhouse, you've probably heard his music.
Laswell came up in the independent music scene in San Diego and Los Angeles and played in the band Shillglen before stepping out on his own in 2003 and releasing his first solo effort, Good Movie. His singular talent lies in articulating and exorcising misery and grief in a deeply personal way. His 2006 album, Through Toledo, was a marvel of emotionally charged, quiet intensity. But it was Laswell's equally melancholic Three Flights From Alto Nido that propelled him to the attention of wider audiences.
As a live performer, Laswell's warmth, charisma and humor shine between songs, and his talent for telling a story to lighten the mood after soul baring passages of music is considerable. Much of which is more obvious on Laswell's latest offering, Take A Bow. We spoke with Laswell about his beginnings as a songwriter, as well as his already noteworthy body of work.
Westword: How did you first get involved with writing and performing music?
Greg Laswell: I can't really pinpoint it to one time. I wrote my first song when I was a senior in high school. They ended up asking me to sing it at our graduation ceremony that year. I was quite terrified of the idea of performing that song live, but I did it. The song was about how we were all going to stay friends. I think it was called "Friends For Life" -- it was pretty terrible, if I remember correctly.
When I went to college, I barely passed, because I kept writing songs. When I was supposed to be doing homework, I'd be writing songs. I started a few bands and did that whole thing and found out I was the most serious one in the band, and I decided to go solo.
Did you go to school for recording?
I didn't. I kind of educated myself. When I was still in the band, we kept going to recording studios and spending money and not coming up with anything we liked. So I decided to learn to do it myself. So I started building up a studio slowly and surely, and I subscribed to all the trade magazines like Electronic Musician and EQ Magazine and all that stuff. I obsessed over it and did it by trial and error.
When you were learning to do your own recording, did that help to facilitate your solo career in any way?
I think so. I wouldn't do it any other way. It's like a love hate relationship recording and producing your own record. I'm a control freak, and I end up bringing in musicians better than I am, and after they leave, I end up re-doing their perfect parts and putting my flawed parts back in, because I think it feels better. It's an advantage when things come up last minute, and I need to get a song done for a promotion or a TV show or a B-side for the record.
How autobiographical was Through Toledo, and has your ex-wife commented on what you wrote on that album to you?
It's pretty dead on, man. It's pretty autobiographical for sure. I always felt like -- and I've said this many times before -- it was like being in a classroom passing a note and having the teacher catch me and forcing me to read it out loud. With that record, especially, because it was pretty out there in terms of the stuff I told. We're on good terms now. She still can't wrap her head around it or listen to it. I think the only thing she says about it is that she can't really get beyond anything else.