Laura Stevenson is finally learning not to worry. After more than a year of national and worldwide touring following the release of her critically acclaimed album Wheel, both headlining, and alongside such varied acts as Against Me!, The Go-Go’s, Kevin Devine, Tim Kasher of Cursive, and The Gaslight Anthem, the songwriter made the move from her between-tour home base of Brooklyn, to upstate New York’s Hudson River Valley. There, she rented a nineteenth- century Victorian, a former brothel in a cement-mining town-turned hippie-enclave, and converted the attic into a makeshift studio. It was in this space that she and her band went to work arranging and demoing the eleven songs she had written that would make up Cocksure, Stevenson’s fourth album. The record features musicians Mike Campbell, Alex Billig and Peter Naddeo, who in various incarnations have performed with her for over seven years, as well as newcomer Samantha Niss, a long-time Hudson Valley resident and the veritable go-to drummer of the region.
Where 2013’s Wheel was full of lingering uncertainty, harkening to Stevenson’s folk and country leanings, Cocksure is a straightforward, to the point, emboldened rock and roll album. Although some existential dread still peaks through the cracks, Stevenson treats themes as heavy-hearted as sudden and tragic death, self-imposed exile in small windowless rooms, and that back-of-your- mind anxiety that the road you’re on may not be the right one, as their own signs of life; a life that is brightly colored by those realities.
With influences ranging from The Lemonheads, Liz Phair, and The Replacements, to early Weezer and the Smoking Popes, Cocksure maintains Stevenson’s unique vulnerability, and steadfast devotion to a solid and honest melody. In the writing process, she challenged herself to be true to whatever was going to come out of her, with many of the tracks featuring melodies that were purely stream of consciousness. “I felt like over-working it would suck some of the spirit out of the songs… this record needed that spontaneity. Spending so much time editing and second guessing yourself takes all the life out of it.”
This sense of spontaneity was maintained in the way Cocksure was recorded. In May of 2015, Stevenson and her band traveled city-bound to Room 17, a studio located in her old neighborhood of Bushwick, Brooklyn. “It’s this very positive and amazing space, and Joe Rogers, the engineer, was so enthusiastic about what we were doing. Everyone was comfortable enough to just really play and not get caught up in anything else.” All the main instrumentation on Cocksure was performed live, no clicks/no punches, under the watchful eyes of Rogers and producer Jeff Rosenstock, Stevenson’s long-time friend and collaborator. “Jeff was the perfect person for the job. All of his Bomb The Music Industry! and solo recordings have this energy to them, they’re like living things. I wanted to capture some of the magic he has.” The album was later mixed and mastered by Jack Shirley (Joyce Manor, Deafheaven, Tony Molina) at Atomic Garden Studios in Palo Alto, CA.
Self-assurance is a new hat for Stevenson, and on Cocksure she confronts her usual tendencies toward self-deprecation head-on. “It’s freeing to stop being so hard on yourself, and to quiet down all of the outside noise,” she says. “Once you’re able to do that, you can actually write what you should be writing.”
photo credit: Shervin Lainez
A make-your-own CD recording booth was privy to Rachel Browne’s first recording in 1999, a cover of No Doubt’s “Just a Girl”. It would be another many years before she enrolled at SUNY Purchase, where she majored in music composition and met Andrew Futral, a producer and musician. The two began collaborating musically and in 2010 Field Mouse was officially formed.
If 2014’s ‘Hold Still’ Life was the fruition of Field Mouse’s evolution from a fiery two-piece into a fully-fledged band, then new album Episodic (August 5, Topshelf Records) is the letting go; the abandonment of past persuasions for something altogether more untamed. Where the band’s initial work was self-recorded by founding members Rachel Browne and Andrew Futral, the new record signifies the first time that the quintet has composed an album together from start-to-finish – and the result is a record that feels altogether more defined.
Recorded in Philadelphia with Hop Along’s Joe Reinhart, and written through a twelve month period which delivered sudden family illness and a deteriorating relationship, ‘Episodic’ is fashioned from ten feverish bouts of guitar-pop; led by Browne’s fearsome and fearless vocal and informed by an instrumental backing that underpins the entire record with a vibrant concoction of guitar, drums and keys.
Showcasing the band’s ability to switch between mood and tone, the record shifts from the spiky immediacy of tracks such as “Accessory” and “A Widow with a Terrible Secret”, to the more spacious moments, such as monumental center-piece “Beacon”, without ever losing sight of the scuzzy, melodic pop songs that remain Field Mouse’s distinct forte.
Featuring guest turns from Sadie Dupuis (Speedy Ortiz), Allison Crutchfield (Swearin’/Waxahatchee) and Joseph D’Agostino (Cymbals Eat Guitars), Episodic is the sound of a fully-realized band truly coming in to their own; honest, direct and immensely powerful.