K7s – Mondo Bizarro (Q&A)

On Friday, February 26, Stardumb and Family Spree Recordings will release a new album by Spanish pop-punk “supergroup” K7s. The band consists of Luis Sanchez (Depressing Claim, Heatwaves), Raúl Artana, Jose Andres Albertos and Kurt Baker. They recorded the Ramones classic “Mondo Bizarro” in full glory! 

Sweet Sweet Music spoke to Luis and Kurt about counter melodies with vocals, subtle cool bass lines, and bitchin’ guitar solos, among other things.

How did this record come together?

Luis: It all started while we were quarantined. Here in Spain, we had 3 months of confinement. Seeing what was coming, I started watching tutorials on how to produce a record. I’ve been recording demos at home since 2003 but I never tried to go any further. During the confinement, I had plenty of time to learn. I needed something to practice and the Mondo Bizarro project was something I wanted to do for some time. It was the perfect moment to try.

The task was quite a challenge. Everyone had to record at home and send me their tracks for me to mix. In the end, it was so much fun and it had us occupied during a pretty boring time.

Is recording a record easier than getting it heard nowadays?

Luis: In my opinion, yes, it is. You can go to the studio only to record the drums and do the rest at home with a minimum investment. It can be so much cheaper than it was in the 90s. Then, you don’t even need a record label to get your songs published.

On the other hand, it is so much harder to get it heard ‘cause there are so many records published every year, nowadays. Also, people don’t listen to the same record as much as they used to as they have so many to choose from.

You can’t control the way people ‘hear’ your music. But if you could make them aware of certain aspects, you think, set your songs apart. What would they be?

Kurt: With this type of music, pop-oriented rock or punk I think there is a big focus on the melody. For me, the melody is always the most important thing. Lyrics are really important as well, but personally speaking, I’m always drawn to the main melody of a song, the hook, and then the counter melodies with vocals, subtle cool bass lines, bitchin’ guitar solos… nice synth sounds…stuff like that. So that’s really the most important part that I want listeners to hear. A great hook can keep the listener coming back and hearing the song for days. That’s infectious! It often grinds my gears when critics review an album and all they talk about is the lyrics. Look, lyrics are super important, don’t get me wrong, but if you are only concerned about lyrics and the meaning behind the songs and not the music itself.. you might be happier with a book of poetry. 

When was the last time you thought ‘I just wrote a hit!’?

Kurt: Everyday!

You can pick 3 co-writers to write new songs with. Who? … and Why?

Luis: One would’ve been John Lennon. Oh man, he’s written some of the best songs ever. Another one would be Brian Wilson, for sure. He’s number one in creating melodies. And I also would’ve loved to spend a weekend partying and writing songs with Dee Dee Ramone. That would’ve been so much fun.

Playing music in front of a crowd. What’s all the fun about?

Kurt: There is something special about the energy, the connection really, between you and the audience that is almost hard to put into words. For me, it’s part entertainment, the passion for the music, and then the excitement a kind of urgency that occurs when your playing live. Anything could happen… and for me that’s fun. Also, when you are playing music like pop-punk or power-pop, it’s a lot of fun and it brings joy to the audience. It’s a real pleasure to see how your music can make people smile and be happy. That’s really a great aspect of playing live. That’s one of the reasons I still love playing music. I miss playing gigs so much, but I’m looking forward to doing it again hopefully soon! 

They expect ‘the roaring 20s v2.0’. What kind of party are you looking for?

Kurt: I just wanna drink some champagne in a hot tub and toot on my trombone, that seems fun. I actually don’t really have any access to the three aforementioned things but that’s my “20’s v2.0 life goal.” If anybody can help me out with that, hit me up! 

Ryan Allen – What A Rip (Q&A)

Sweet Sweet Music spoke with Ryan Allen about his beautiful new ‘digital music album’ ‘What a Rip’.

You adjust your style slightly on ‘What a Rip’? Perhaps more than just a little. What caused this change?

I’m constantly searching for inspiration and never want to settle into doing the same thing all the time. All of my bands over the years, at least to my ears, have been different to some degree – with really one thing in common, which is a focus on melody and lyrics above anything else. But there’s a lot of music out there, and if you’re stuck just listening to one type of thing for inspiration, well, you’re not going to evolve much.

No offense to the artists, but I feel like my one gripe about power pop is that a lot of artists settle into a lane and never veer from it. I love all kinds of music – punk, hardcore, indie rock, power pop, metal, hip-hop, country, electronic, Motown, dub, folk, funk…the list goes on. This time around I felt really compelled to dig into 60s British invasion and classic pop with a bit of garage and psyche thrown in. I was listening to a lot more of that kind of stuff around the time I started writing – Creation, Music Machine, the Byrds, Nazz, Zombies, the Association (along with the standards like the Beatles, Kinks, Stones and Beach Boys) – and this is just kind what came out.

Sometimes all it takes is a little nudge, and in this particular instance, a friend let me borrow a Mellotron guitar pedal, and since nobody is playing gigs right now, I felt like it would be fun to write a song, record it, and try to use the pedal on the recording. So what started as one song (“Feeling You Feeling Me”) quickly multiplied to 10 over the course of a few weeks. It’s funny how it works – I didn’t really plan on making another record (I put out one solo album already in 2020 and have been working on a ton of stuff for future Extra Arms albums as well), but when inspiration comes, you just have to hang on for dear life and ride the wave as long as you can. So that’s what I did and “What A Rip” is the result.

You are incredibly productive and on social media you clearly show that Robert Pollard inspires you. Is there a relationship between that productivity and that inspiration?

I got into GBV at a very formative time in my life when I was really starting to learn how to write songs. I heard “Alien Lanes” when I was 15 years old and it just totally blew my mind. First, I couldn’t get over how terrible it sounded but how simultaneously the songs were so catchy and brilliant. And short! I really gravitated towards Pollard’s ability to cram a ton of hooks into something that was only 1 or 2 minutes long, much in the same way that early Motown songs are only about 2 1/2 minutes.

It really inspired me to follow my gut and not overwork my songs, and it’s something I continue to adhere to this day. In terms of productivity, I mean, Pollard is STILL cranking out music at an alarming rate (the new Cub Scout Bowling Pins EP is amazing!). And it’s shocking to me that the quality never seems to go down – you could make an argument that he may be better than ever, right now, as a 60-something year old guy. It’s just really inspiring to watch somebody continue to do the work, and at such a high hit ratio to boot. I’m not saying I’m trying to emulate him, but I certainly feel like if he can do it, so can I.

Surely there were more sources of inspiration for the adaptation in style? Have you been actively looking or did it come your way?

Like I said – it sort of just happened. I think I’ll always want to make high energy, loud melodic rock. It’s in my blood and it’s what I can basically do in my sleep. But I want to continue to challenge myself, and this time away from shows during the pandemic has at least allowed me to follow whatever muse I’m inspired by. I mean, in the past 11 months I’ve made a shoegaze EP with some friends called Soft Wires, I made a hardcore album about the pandemic called Quaranteen Idles, made a couple of covers albums, a few one-off singles, and a 20-song solo album called “Song Snacks Vol. 1”. To me, “What A Rip” is just another thing I wanted to work on to challenge myself to get better at everything I’m trying to do – be a better songwriter, lyricists, arranger, and even engineer of my own recordings (which is something up until the pandemic I never really cared about).

I heard a podcast recently with Ian McKaye and he basically said he works on whatever is in front of him. He doesn’t think too much about the past, or too much about the future. He just does the work in front of him and it’s very satisfying for him – whether it’s an archive project or new music. I’m really inspired by that idea – just do the work. Keep doing the work. Don’t stop doing the work. And see the work through until it’s done, then do something else. So the work this time around was “What A Rip” – and now it’s done and I’m on to something else!

The quality of the songs is unbelievably high. It has been for years. Do you have a sense for quality control? Or how do you ensure that there are no blanks in between?

Well I really appreciate you saying that. That means what I’m trying to do is what is actually happening, which is encouraging, so thank you. I really just trust my gut most of the time. If something “feels” wrong, I usually move on from it. I feel like I know pretty much right away if something is worth pursuing or not. When I’m working with the band, their intuition and tastes factor in of course as well.

I do feel like I know what they like and try to write to our strengths as a unit, so Extra Arms music comes out a certain way because of that. When I’m working on solo material I can be a little more…experimental I guess? But either way, I work very much on feeling. If it sucks, I can feel it in my bones. If it’s good, I get a rush. So I try not to waste too much time on the things that feel wrong, and spend time on what feels right.

 Ryan Allen

Album: What A Rip

Label: Dad Pop Records

Release Date: 2/5/2021

Read the wonderful review Richard Rossi wrote, here!

The Airport 77s – Rotation (Q&A)

For the Airport 77s, music is about attitude — and altitude. Grounded in the timeless tenets of power pop, the Maryland trio assembles a sturdy airframe of killer hooks, catchy beats and sneaky Zevonesque wordplay, then applies enough energy to take flight. If you find yourself dancing, well, that’s the entire point.

Based in Silver Spring, Maryland, bassist Chuck Dolan, drummer John Kelly, and guitarist Andy Sullivan came together over a shared love of obscure 1970s nuggets like “Back of My Hand (I’ve Got Your Number)” by the Jags and “Nuclear Boy” by 20/20. Over the subsequent five years, they forged their sound in bars, VFW’s, front porches and Fourth of July floats across the Washington region.

Sweet Sweet Music spoke to Chuck, Andy, and John about irrational confidence, doing eight songs in two days, the flight crew look and playing Cheap Trick’s “Surrender” and Tom Petty’s “American Girl” on Independence Day.

When was the last time you thought ‘I just wrote a hit!’?

Andy: The last time I thought that was two days ago, when I finished a new song. That does not necessarily mean that the song is any good. Irrational confidence is a requirement for songwriters, just as it is for civil engineers, entrepreneurs and anybody else who launches a project that probably is going to end in failure. For every song I’ve completed, there are probably five that are lying in pieces on the floor. With that caveat, I knew “James McAvoy” was headed straight to Number One on the Adult Contemporary Modern Urban Power Pop chart as soon as I came up with the dinner-date concept. 

How did this record come together?

Andy: In the Before Times, we gigged steadily as a cover band, working the occasional original song into our set. When live music was shut down, we used our rehearsal time to hone our original material, selecting seven of our best songs, along with a lesser-known power pop nugget, “Girl of My Dreams,” that was a staple of our shows. We had our arrangments down cold by the time we headed to Inner Ear Studio in Arlington, Virgina. We recorded the material over two long, grueling days, and mixed it about a month later. 

Is recording a record easier than getting it heard nowadays?

John: There are some great studios around Washington, where a lot of music that we like was recorded. We went to Inner Ear in Arlington, Va., to work with Don Zientara who engineered a lot of Dischord stuff. Don likes recording the bass and drums on tape, then dumping that to digital. He made it easy to record. We did eight songs in two days, then went back a month later and spent two days mixing them. As for getting it heard, it’s a DIY world. We’re just trying to contact as many people as we can online to get our music to their ears.

(Read John’s column ‘With no gigs on the horizon, my band decides to go into the recording studio.’, for The Washington Post here.)

As an artist, you chose to show your emotions to the world. Is it always comfortable to do so?

Chuck: John and I had played in a new wave/power pop band prior to working with Andy so we knew how the cover songs would go over with our local crowd – there was safety built into the initial set list. Still there are gigs, especially playing a venue for the first time, when I can tell we’re going to need to win the crowd over and that can work against the loose feel you need to play your best. I knew from the earlier band that dressing sharp buys some goodwill – the ’77s put the flight crew look together pretty much on a whim but I quickly sensed a kind of benefit of the doubt from people who hadn’t seen us before and that knocks down one of the barriers to getting a good show rolling. There’s always a risk involved with stepping up on stage but there are things you can do to stack the deck in your favor. Turns out showbiz gimmicks are there for a reason.

You can’t control the way people ‘hear’ your music. But if you could make them aware of certain aspects, you think, set your songs apart. What would they be?

Andy: We don’t want to waste listeners’ time, so we try to hit as many pleasure points as possible in three minutes. Songs are kept short and packed full of hooks. We’re not a ‘joke band,’ but there’s a lot of humor in the lyrics. We use unusual rhyme schemes, key changes and other technical tricks to keep things fresh, but we don’t let those seams show. 

What’s the gig you will always remember? And why?

John: There’s a funky little suburb of Washington called Takoma Park, Md. It’s a leftie enclave full of creative people who are proud of their community — and their country. Takoma Park has a funky Fourth of July parade every year. Our first time playing the parade we set up in the back of a pick-up truck with a little generator running the amps and PA. Our “float” was sponsored by the Silver Spring Yacht Club. There are no yachts in Silver Spring, Md. — there’s no water. It’s basically a drinking club. We played a few land-based gigs for them. So there we were: dressed in sailor suits, being borne slowly through the streets of Takoma Park, Boy Scouts in front of us, a Caribbean steel band behind us. It was a blast to play Cheap Trick’s “Surrender” and Tom Petty’s “American Girl” on Independence Day. Of course, it was hot as hell. We almost lost Chuck, the bass player, to heat stroke, but we revived him to play again.

(Read John’s column ‘Forget Carnegie Hall. Nothing beats a pickup truck for a true concert experience.’, for The Washington Post here.)

Chuck: One that sticks out to me was our set to open up the Adams Morgan Porchfest in 2019 – before moving our gear to our assigned porch we played one set at a busy corner plaza on a gorgeous fall day. The setup was a little strange – we were on an elevated walkway, set up back from the edge so we couldn’t really see the crowd – but the sound system was top-notch and we could hear the cheering even though we couldn’t see anybody. On video it looks like we were playing to an abandoned Sears parking lot but we knocked out one of our best sets to date. The DC summer haze had finally cleared and I made a point of taking a mental picture of the deep October sky over the old townhouses along 18th street.

That plaza is slated for demolition now.

The Krayolas – Savage Young Krayolas

Sweet Sweet Music spoke to The Krayolas’ Hector Saldana about wearing lime-green spacesuits, aiming really high, causing a near-riot at the old Goree Unit women’s prison and, of course, about the great new record “Savage Young Krayolas”.

The band is known as the Tex-Mex Beatles. The Chicano garage rockers have garnered flattering comparisons to the Fab Four, Bob Dylan, the Who, Nick Lowe, and Warren Zevon.

What was the moment you knew you were on to something?

When I told the guys back in 1975 that we were going to be called The Krayolas. And they were, like, ugh. No way. Their reaction was so visceral. I thought Krayolas sounded like a band. I figured people would either love it or hate it but that they would never forget it. I was 18 and probably out-voted. But the name stuck.

How did this record come together?

“Savage Young Krayolas” began in Fall 2019 with the death of Barry Smith, one of our core members who played electric bass, organ, sang, and wrote songs. It was unexpected and Mighty Manfred of the Woggles paid tribute to him on his show on “Little Steven’s Underground Garage” on Sirius XM.

I was looking for photos for the memorial and came across a two-inch analog multi-track tape that The Krayolas has recorded at Trinity University in San Antonio in February 1980. It was for a TV show and never officially released. It reminded me that for a brief window the Krayolas were a powerpop/garage rock trio and we would perform in these custom-made, lime-green spacesuits.

It struck me that Trinity means three; and also that the unreleased spacesuit sessions are the only straight-up guitar-bass-and-drums recording that captured that youthful period. The first four songs are from those sessions. I’m 22 on Side 1; 19 and 20 mostly on Side 2. That’s Barry on the album cover.

The meaning of success has changed over the years. What would success look like for the new record?

I would love it if a whole new generation of powerpop and rock fans would discover it. But in truth, the success is really in making it available for discovery — to give it new life — and for the audio to sound balanced, fresh, and really rock like it sounded when we played it. There”s a whole lotta love on that record.

As an artist, you chose to show your emotions to the world. Is it always comfortable to do so?

When I was young, I was very shy about it. I still remember writing “Rhymes of Tomorrow” in my high school notebook but not feeling I could show anybody. I’ve written some songs — even happy ones — in absolute tears. “Sunny Day,” “Alex,” “Christmas With My Dad,” and “Times Together” were like that. But emotion is a two-way street and it’s amazing what some fans have told me about my songs, hidden meanings, and inspiration. It’s really about joy and honesty and emotional and physical release.

When was the last time you thought ‘I just wrote a hit!’?

Songwriters are pretty cocky. But a little over a year ago with “Christmas With My Dad” and the super powerpop “Baby I Was Wrong.” Those felt like hits. There’s an energy to a true hit like “Catherine” and “Fruteria (The Fruit Cup Song),” “We the People” “Cry Cry, Laugh Laugh” and “Corrido Twelve Heads in a Bag.” But it’s unpredictable. I may not be the best judge. I thought “The Murder at the Taco Land” could be a hit. But my tastes run from downer to cheeky.

Recording music. What’s all the fun about?

Probably getting into a bloody argument with my brother. It can get pretty volatile. Trying to harness that energy is pretty fun.

What’s the gig you will always remember? And why?

There are a couple. Causing a near riot at the old Goree Unit women’s prison in Huntsville when we jumped off the stage to do the gator dance comes to mind. We were swarmed and the power was cut off. There’s also the time we played with Rockpile at legendary Cain’s Ballroom in Tulsa before Dave Edmunds and Nick Lowe and Billy and Terry were using the name. We performed in caveman outfits and Dave Edmunds showed me how to play “Yesterday” the way that Paul McCartney taught him to play it. I’ll also never forget singing the Kinks song “Who’ll Be the Next in Line” at the Doug Sahm tribute concert at the Paramount Theater in Austin on the big closing all-star night of SXSW 2015.

You can’t control the way people ‘hear’ your music. But if you could make them aware of certain aspects, you think, set your songs apart. What would they be?

Only that those early records were made really fast and pure. We were complete novices, albeit with confidence. Everything was a couple of takes, max. We were aiming really high and wanted to make records like our heroes. And we were always disappointed that we could only sound like The Krayolas. But that’s OK. We still make our records fast. I like to sing and play at the same time. In the early days, it was joyous mayhem done on a wing and a prayer.

You can pick 3 co-writers to write new songs with. Who? … and Why?

I’m the chief songwriter for the Krayolas but it would be fun to collaborate with Megan Thee Stallion and Taylor Swift, to see how those young artists do it. That’s a different stratosphere. It would be a dream to collaborate with Iggy Pop, Elvis Costello, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Fiona Apple, or Brian Wilson. It’s like “Wayne’s World.” I’m not worthy.

They expect ‘the roaring 20s v2.0’. What kind of party are you looking for?

After the pandemic, it’s going to be the Roaring ’20s. We’ll be playing “Savage Young Krayolas” songs and “Happy Go Lucky” songs for that pent-up audience.

Here’s a classic performance.

Dolour – Televangelist

Sweet Sweet Music spoke to Shane Tutmarc about Televangelist, Dolour’s (soon to be released) new record.

Televangelist was written, produced, engineered, and mixed by Shane, who also played all the instruments and vocals.

The title track was released as a single on 12.12.2020.

Pre-order (vinyl, CD, digital) starts February 5th via Bandcamp – with an April 2nd release date. The instant download tracks are “Televangelist” (with a different mix than the single) and “Baby You’re A Faker.”

For quite a few years you have not released music as Dolour and now 2 records in 2 years?

Yeah, it’s been a long journey over the last 15 years since I originally closed the door on Dolour. I never stopped making music, but my music took me everywhere from blues and gospel to country, soul, and hip-hop-influenced electronic pop – before I found myself back at home with Dolour.

Recently, Kool Kat Musik gathered a bunch of songs from the various projects of the last decade on their September 2020 release, “Written & Produced by Shane Tutmarc.”

There’s a song on this new album called “The Scenic Route” that kind of touches on this journey. I guess I took the “scenic route” back home.

What can we expect?

For folks that discovered Dolour through last year’s The Royal We, I think they’ll find this album filled with a lot more energy. The Royal We had a real laid back feel to it, but this album feels more amped-up to me.

For long-time Dolour fans, I feel like this new album would sit nicely between Suburbiac (2002) and New Old Friends (2004), but there are also some threads of my non-Dolour solo work throughout the album as well. Maybe a little folk-rock and straight-up rock n roll paired with more orchestrated pop and flourishes of psychedelia.

How did this record come together?

I didn’t plan to go right into making another record after finishing The Royal We, but that’s pretty much what happened. With the pandemic raging, and lockdowns and quarantine happening – no options to tour – songs just kept coming out of me, and it’s one of the main things that kept me sane through the summer and fall. Thankfully over the last few years I’ve put together a pretty decent home studio, so I was able to do everything myself from the safety of my home – which is how I’ve been working for the last 3 or 4 years now with all my projects.

When will the record be released?

The album will be out April 2nd! The title-track, “Televangelist,” is out now – available everywhere you can stream music.

Is it possible to pre-order the record already?

Pre-orders for vinyl, CD, and digital downloads will begin on February 5th via Bandcamp! The title track along with the next single “Baby You’re A Faker” will be instant gratification downloads for those that pre-order!

The Stan Laurels – There Is No Light Without The Dark (Q&A)

Sweet Sweet Music spoke to John Lathrop about the “signature sound” of The Stan Laurels, being extremely personal and honest. And much more …

There Is No Light Without The Dark  will be released January 23, 2021, on Big Stir Records.

How did this record come together?  

I was extremely surprised and humbled by the way people had responded to my last album, Maybe (2018). I was floored by all the airplay, great reviews, and even an Independent Music Award nomination. Normally, because of the way life gets in the way of music sometimes, I go long stretches between albums. But with Maybe, thanks to the wonderful reception, I felt like I had to follow up the record with something really strong and – more importantly – do it fairly quickly. So, soon after Maybe came out, I was already actively writing again. I came up with “Lost & Found” fairly quickly and released it as a single to get something out there fast.

To my delight, people seemed to be digging it just as much, if not more! I focused my efforts on writing a song with big hooks, lots of dynamics, and some unexpected turns. The way people responded to it was amazing, but perhaps what was even more significant to me was that I felt like with that song, I really unlocked something in my songwriting … and I felt like I kind of discovered the “signature sound” of The Stan Laurels. Not that my other stuff is so different, but there was a sort of new spark and energy with this song that gave me a sense of confidence I did not necessarily have before. And it was this that inspired me to set out to write an entire record incorporating the same elements of hooks/dynamics/surprises. And when you have a full album to do this, you can really explore a lot. Which is what I tried to do in writing, arranging, and recording There is No Light Without the Dark.

As an artist, you chose to show your emotions to the world. Is it always comfortable to do so?  

Oh, god no, haha! It’s very uncomfortable for me especially. But what I have found is that the more honest you are with your creative endeavors, the more authentic they are and the more people tend to appreciate that honesty and enjoy the work. I think I’ve always had a fairly original sound, but if I’m being 100% honest, in my first record I was trying to do my version of The Beatles meets The Zombies; my second was a film soundtrack, so I was doing some brand of acoustic indie-folk that the director wanted; on my third album, I was definitely trying to write a Cars-meets-Cheap Trick-meets-early Weezer record … but with the new one, I wasn’t trying to be anyone but myself. It’s the most purely Laurels and most purely “me” album I have done in terms of the sound. And that applies lyrically as well; there are songs about having anxiety, very personal songs about my family, songs where I delve into the socio-political realm, and songs where I am attempting to self-motivate to be the way I want to be, the way I sometimes am, but wish I was all the time. And lastly, there are songs where I lament about the flaws I have that seem to never go away no matter how much I try to grow and mature as a person.

The majority of the lyrics are extremely personal and honest. But the cool thing is I think this is what people relate to. No one is perfect, everyone is growing and trying to improve, and no one ever really reaches self-actualization … but I think we can all relate to trying to be better humans.

Is recording a record easier than getting it heard nowadays?

Unfortunately, yes. Recording an album is a tremendous undertaking for me, as I do everything myself and I’m in no way any sort of virtuoso musician – quite the opposite. I certainly enjoy it, but it is very difficult for me and a TON of work. But it is still easier than getting it heard. One might think there are so many ways to get your music out there nowadays that it can’t be that hard. But that’s exactly WHY it’s that hard. There are a zillion dudes playing in their garages who think they are the next Creed or Slipknot or whatever.

When’s the last time a new rock band became widely popular, anyway? Back in the day, there were a few radio stations, and then a little after that there was MTV. And everyone got their music from these same places. That’s how bands became huge – there was a big funnel and everyone was listening. Nowadays, there is no one funnel for people to get their music. There are billions of funnels, all going into billions of tweens’ earpods through billions of different streaming services. It’s damn-near impossible to get through the saturation. But I do it because I love it. And because the small handful of people who have heard my music have been extremely complimentary, so it motivates me to keep going.

You can’t control the way people ‘hear’ your music. But if you could make them aware of certain aspects, you think, set your songs apart. What would they be?

This kind of goes back to the first question, when I mentioned big hooks/dynamics/surprises, which are the main three things I try to include in as many songs as I can. I have a strong dedication to melody and it’s the most important factor to me, but I think it’s fair to say many artists have this. One thing that sets my songs apart, I feel, is the element of surprise. When a song is going one way and then suddenly veers far off course, but still manages to keep the listener intrigued and not jarred, doing this successfully is my general challenge to myself in my music, and was particularly so in writing and arranging There is No Light Without the Dark. But this isn’t new for me either – going all the way back to my first album, there are many examples of this; the most stark might be my song “Samaanya,” a bouncy piano jaunt that gives way to a Bach-like classical-inspired piano interlude smack-dab in the middle of the song. Which leads me to another element that I think helps set me apart just a bit: I stray fairly far from basic pop/rock song structure – certainly not always, but often – and this keeps the music fresh and vibrant, at least I hope.

The big difference in the new album was that I am now a lot more aware of these elements and more purposeful in my arranging, whereas in the past some of these things happened more by “happy accident.” Aside from that, I think what makes my music its own thing is a unique combination of strong, thick beats and basslines along with guitars that constantly fluctuate between varying degrees of jangle and crunch, combined with a wide variety of synth sounds, all fused with mellow but confident vocals that include lots of doubling and harmonies. That, in a nutshell, is The Stan Laurels.

Recording music. What’s all the fun about?

Oh, man, what a question! I don’t know about fate and destiny and all that, but I think there are some people who are made to do certain things. And I just feel like I am here to create music. I’m sure every songwriter feels this way, so it’s nothing revolutionary. There’s probably only one thing more magical to me than the spark that happens when I create a melody that works well over a chord progression, and that is the love I feel for my wife and children. That kind of tells you how great the creation of music feels. And when recording, there are so many different avenues you can travel down. It’s a daunting premise, and choosing those paths is kind of like putting a puzzle together … but since there is no “right” or “wrong” way, it makes the puzzle even more difficult to complete. You have to be decisive when arranging and recording; sure, you can try different variations – and I do – but I do not have unlimited hours to try every possible combination or arrangement. So making those choices becomes an epic quest. And it can be overwhelming and it can be frustrating, but all in all, it’s one of the best things in life when I am on to something that sounds like it’s going to work, and then I kind of make it happen, building it bit by bit, piece by piece in the studio. I make music for myself, music that I like to listen to because I can’t cater to the world and wouldn’t want to try.

Hell, I don’t know what anyone else likes or wants to hear – all I know is what sounds good to me. But when others hear my music and like it, that’s the real reward. That’s when the quest is completed successfully.

Cassettes are back. Which 5 five songs would definitely make your first mixtape?

I have a lot of “go-to” songs that are just standards for me, songs that I can play anytime and they still give me goosebumps and still sound perfect. These are songs that I can sometimes listen to 20 times in a row or so (and have, and they never got old). That’s how you know a song is magic.

So in no particular order, five of those songs would be “No One in the World” by The Apples in Stereo, “Do You Love Me Now?” by The Breeders, “The Mandolin Man and His Secret” by Donovan, “Dennis” by Badfinger, and of course, “I’m Only Sleeping” by The Beatles.