The Natural: Laura Stevenson Returns to Houston
Listening to a Laura Stevenson song conjures up words like "natural" and "organic," which may seem at odds with someone so strongly associated with punk music. Still, it came as little surprise when she talked dogs, donkeys, squirrels and other beautiful natural creatures in advance of her show Sunday evening at Fitzgerald's.
Stevenson will share the bill with tourmates Against Me! and Cheap Girls, as well as local openers Dead To The World. The tour is a whirlwind of sorts, nearly two dozen dates over a month's time before she heads to Europe for a spring solo swing. By this time next month, the Long Island-based singer-songwriter will be immersed in a series of UK shows, with France, Germany, Belgium and Switzerland waiting in the wings.
But, first, she'll spend a little time here with us.
"Hmmm, I like Houston very much," she says. "My friends Eric and Val own a printing company called Nightowls and we always stay with them and their dogs at their factory. It's always great and their neighbor has a donkey, which is pretty cool if you like donkeys. I do."
Stevenson is aware there is a strong underground DIY scene in town, the kind that boosted her to greater prominence through her work with her backing group, the Cans, and as part of the influential and recently defunct punk-rock collective, Bomb the Music Industry!
"We've played with local Houston bands that seem like they come from a DIY scene," she says. "I appreciate a strong scene -- having a supportive community of creative people that you can bounce ideas off of and create things with. That's what it's all about. I wouldn't be here without that for sure."
That may be true, but the precursor to trading creative insight with others was finding her own talent. To use a cliche, Stevenson was -- you guessed it -- a natural. Her grandfather, Harry Simeone, was a composer and choral arranger whose best-known works include holiday standards "Do You Hear What I Hear?" and "The Little Drummer Boy." Her grandmother, Margaret McCravy, sang with jazz legend Benny Goodman. Stevenson was playing piano by ear by the age of five.
Her interest in and pursuit of music since has seemingly never waned. She does wish Simeone, who died in 2005, had heard the music she's best known for, the contemplative indie-folk with a punk ethos deeply embedded in it.
"I wish he heard what I do now, with guitar and voice," she admits. "I played him some of my piano compositions a few times. He didn't say too much, just nodded his head. He was a pretty stern guy."
He'd likely highly approve of Wheel, Stevenson's most recent effort. The album has its share of self-reflective songs which literally address the "Bells and Whistles" we use to distract ourselves. It's heady stuff. But is it still punk?
"Is it punk to have an existential crisis? I don't know," she says. "I think it's important to ask questions. Being alive's pretty confusing for everybody."
"I consider how we run our band to be punk still," she continues. "Obviously, the sound isn't what you'd think of when you think of the genre, but that's where we come from, that's how we toured and set up shows. It's just about sharing something positive with like-minded people."
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Recording Wheel was a bit of a departure. She and the band moved from lo-fi to better quality recordings.
"We couldn't shower at the studio while we were staying there, so when it rained we would go outside and rinse off. That's pretty gross, I guess," she says. "Also, there was a tiny little flying squirrel living up in the beams of the barn we recorded in, and it would scurry around and jump and it was pretty much the cutest thing I've ever seen in my life. He was our little buddy."
Squirrels notwithstanding, she's surrounded by buddies on the tour. Foremost, the Cans.
"Yep! They're all here -- Mike, Peter, Alex, and John," she says. "We also brought our buddy Tom, from Broadcaster, to do merch and guitar tech for us. We've got a very good group for this tour."
Also on hand are Michigan-based rockers, Cheap Girls. They -- like Stevenson and Against Me! -- fall into the always-too-crowded company of acts who deserve a broader audience.
"Oh, I love these guys," she says. "I met Ian (Graham) when we were really young, through BTMI and I've watched him become such an amazing songwriter. Adam (Aymor) and Ben (Graham) are the best. It's so fun to watch them play and I'm excited that I get to do it every night for the next month."
I told Stevenson my own kids are out touring their music, too, and shared with her the notion that Bomb the Music Industry! may have played its final show, but the spirit lives on in kids like mine and tons of their musician friends everywhere, who screen their own T-shirts and pass out free CDs at shows in houses, basements and bars.
"That's awesome about your kids," she replied. "When I see bands conducting themselves in that way because they were inspired by Bomb -- that fills my heart with joy. I think that what they did was super important and is living on in other people now, and that's cool as hell and I'm psyched that I got to be a part of that for a bit. The final shows were really beautiful, it was such a celebration of a great idea."
Because she's awesome, I asked Stevenson if she'd consider answering a question or two from some of the Houston fans who plan to catch her show Sunday.
She agreed. Naturally.
Rocks Off reader Kimmie Wolf wanted to know, "How are you so perfect?"
"Thanks, Kimmie, for thinking that, but I'm pretty gross! " she answered.
Another reader simply asked, "Can I hug you?"
"I'm not trying to be a jerk," she said, "but you're an anonymous stranger, so I'm gonna have to say 'probably not.'"
Laura Stevenson performs with Against Me!, Cheap Girls and Dead to the World Sunday at Fitzgerald's, 2706 White Oak. Doors open at 7:30 p.m.
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