Thursday, May 25, 2017

THE LUNAR LAUGH: Introducing The Band

     Like a gentle breeze, Oklahoma’s The Lunar Laugh entered the Power Pop fray in 2015 with their fantastic debut album APOLLO. Then a duo comprised of Jared Lekites and Connor Anderson, The Lunar Laugh’s debut combined the wistfulness of Neil Finn with the cleverness of Harry Nilsson and the melodic flair of Paul McCartney. Not a bad start for a couple of guys who were probably way too young to have enjoyed the Power Pop renaissance in the late ‘70s. The sign of a good musician is his/her ability to reach back into Rock’s rich tapestry and take inspiration from artists past and present –The Lunar Laugh have clearly done just that.
     In 2017, The Lunar Laugh – then a trio with the addition of Campbell Young on bass – wrote and recorded MAMA’S BOY, an even better album that is more lush than their debut without being too soft. An obvious step forward, this sophomore album certainly retains the youthful energy that the debut possessed but adds a lot more emotion into the mix.  This is the sound of a band of brothers growing up and dealing with the world in the most melodic of ways.  Quite a wonderful treat from start to finish, MAMA’S BOY is one of those albums that any lover of melodic Pop – Power or not – will embrace with excitement and wonder.

     Now, it is time for you to get to know The Lunar Laugh – now a quartet with the recent addition of drummer Jimmy Jackson!

STEPHEN SPAZ SCHNEE: Please introduce yourselves!
JARED LEKITES: Hey, I'm Jared and I play guitar and sing, mostly. But I also handle harmonica and percussion.
CONNOR ANDERSON: I am Connor. I play guitar, as well as sing background and sometimes lead vocals.
JIMMY JACKSON: Hello! My name is Jimmy and I am the newest member, and drummer of the group.
CAMPBELL YOUNG: I'm Campbell and I play bass.

SPAZ: Can you fill us in on this new little platter of yours?
CAMPBELL: A Pu-Pu Platter is a tray of American, Chinese, or Hawaiian food usually consisting of an assortment of small meat and seafood appetizers. The Lu-Lu Platter (another name for the Lunar Laugh's new album MAMA'S BOY) is a collection of songs by American power pop band The Lunar Laugh.
CONNOR: We feel like we made a platter we can be proud of.
JARED: MAMA'S BOY came out in March 2017 on vinyl, CD, and download. It's our second album (APOLLO was our first). It's our first album to have outside distribution as it was released by Spanish label You Are The Cosmos.
JIMMY: I actually joined the band after the record came out, so I can’t let you in on any of the fun times recording the record. What I can tell you is that whenever I first heard the record, and started learning the songs for the live shows, I immediately fell in love with the catchy harmonies, and lively instrumentation. I knew this was a band, musically, that I could get along with.

SPAZ: Which song off of the album do you feel best defines the essence of the album and/or what the band is all about, musically?
JIMMY: I think there are a lot of really cool, little moments on the record, but the one song that stands out to me has to be the title track of the album, “Mama’s Boy”. We usually open our sets with that one, and it really sets the tone for the rest of the show.
CONNOR: Being the title track, “Mama’s Boy” captures the tone of the album really well. Harmonies, catchy choruses and guitar is our jam.
CAMPBELL: Personally, I feel like "Doin' Alright" best defines the essence of the band. Really because it's the only song that we all recorded together at the same time (I joined the band halfway through the album). It's also the only song that has just us, and no session musicians, so it encompasses our live shows as well as the chemistry between us as a band.
JARED: I think every song represents a different aspect of what we are about but I feel songs like "Nighthawks and Mona Lisa" and "Doin' Alright" are the songs that really feel like a sort of great band collaboration. It always makes me think of the kids on Captain Planet; he only shows up when they all combine their powers together. Not that the other songs aren't group efforts but those two stick out to me as good examples of what we each contribute to the group. 

SPAZ: In this age of streaming, the concept of the album as an art form seems to have been lost in the digital shuffle. Did you approach this project as a whole piece of work or do you view it more like a collection of individual songs that you felt
worked together well?
JARED: It seems like once we had the title track recorded, we knew it was going to be the first song on the album. I think a lot of the songs reflect a lot on early childhood and how it affects how we turn out as adults. That theme spreads over several songs. But I wouldn't call it a concept album in the traditional sense of the phrase. But I think once we had “Mama's Boy,” it felt like that set the vibe of the rest of the songs more in motion. It somehow gave some of the other songs we already had different meanings. We knew we weren't just slapping a bunch of songs together at that point. Everything seemed to fit.
CAMPBELL: I feel like it was approached like a whole body of work rather than song by song, and you can hear that in the sonic cohesion of the album.
CONNOR: We definitely viewed it as a whole piece. We love the concept of the album. It’s a bummer that the digital age is taking away the value of that
JIMMY: I, again, can’t speak to the recording process since I wasn’t there, but the first time I listened to the album I was really impressed how well the whole thing flowed together. To my knowledge it isn’t a concept album or anything like that, but it does have a natural flow to it.

SPAZ:  When you began the songwriting and recording process, did you already have a fully-formed idea of how you wanted the end product to sound like or did it come together organically?
CAMPBELL: Yes, and by that I mean most of the songs were already written or finished before I joined.
CONNOR: In the early stages, Jared and I would just sit down with our acoustics and kick around ideas. We’d usually start with a guitar riff, and one of us would have a line written down, then we would just build it piece by piece until we had a song out of it. We tend to add pieces musically when we’re recording (extra harmonies, another guitar part, claps, etc).
JARED: I don't like to go in the studio cold. I usually demo everything at home for my own benefit. That way I can live with the songs and think of where we can go with them. We had some groundwork laid on our first album, in terms of the sound we developed for ourselves. We wanted to develop it further. That's why there's horns and strings on a few tracks. Basically we did whatever we thought was best for the songs.

SPAZ:  As a songwriter working in a group with equally talented writers and performers, is there a lot of give and take involved with making an album or were you all on the same wavelength with this batch of songs?
JIMMY: When I first joined the band one of the things that I was really impressed by was how well the other guys got along. They have an incredible amount of friendship between them, as well as musical talent. It is rare to have a band that has both!
CAMPBELL: Having joined halfway through recording, it sort of put me in a weird place because almost all of the songs were already written. But fortunately I was able to co-write "She Gets Stoned" with Jared, and it was surprisingly easy. So yeah, I'd say we're all on the same wavelength.
CONNOR: We all had a pretty good idea of where we wanted to go with it. We listen to each other’s ideas with whatever song we’re working on, so it’s a pretty relaxed environment.
JARED: I don't think we get too caught up in who writes this or who plays that. That can be unhealthy for a band, I think. But we focus more on if the final product represents us well or not. So no matter if we're all playing on a song or if we are using some session guys or if it's a co-write or something one of us wrote alone, we just try to make the finished track be what we want it to be. It's about the band as a whole instead of individuals.

SPAZ: Given the opportunity, an artist could tinker with an album for years before finally releasing it to the world.  Are you happy with the release of the album at the moment or are you still in the ‘I wish I could go back and add this or change that’ stage?
JARED: I think we got it right. There's always that crippling self-doubt that will keep you up at night if you linger on it too long. Nobody has pointed out anything problematic yet so I think it's good as is.
JIMMY: I like the album just how it is.
CAMPBELL: I'm extremely happy with the way it turned out. Every time I hear it, it doesn't sound like anything I've been a part of musically. Everything I've done musically up until this always had a sort of amateurish vibe about it, but this sounds like a real band.
CONNOR: There are a couple of little things on some songs I wish I could add, but I’m pretty happy with what we put out.
SPAZ:  Listening to an album, one can decipher some of the main musical influences that helped shape that artist. However, there can also be some surprising influences as well.  Who would you pick as your chief musical influences on this album?
CONNOR: Paul Simon, John Mayer, Brandon Flowers, The Head and the Heart, Penny and Sparrow, and whoever was shuffling on my Spotify while driving to the studio.
JARED: Too many to mention. I'm always taking things in like a sponge. Most people have picked up on the Nilsson influence after one listen. Obviously The Beatles and The Beach Boys inform what I do as well. There's also elements of bands like Death Cab, The Shins and Rilo Kiley in there. Garth Brooks, too.
CAMPBELL: we're all really big Beatles fans, so that's the obvious one. But also more modern artists like The Head and The Heart, The Shins, and Death Cab for Cutie, too.
 JIMMY: I can’t answer this from the perspective of the album, but for the live shows we are doing I would say that I just try to keep everything nice and
simple like good ol’ Ringo.


SPAZ: Did you have any non-musical influences that inspired you during the making of the album?
JARED: My cats.
CAMPBELL: Macho Man Randy Savage

SPAZ: Was there a particular moment during the writing or recording when you realized that you were definitely making something special?
JARED: I remember hearing the final mix of "The Bedroom Door" with the trumpet and cello on it and getting goosebumps.  I played it on repeat for about two days.
CONNOR: "The Bedroom Door" was the first song Jared and I wrote together, and I knew we were on to something good. Hearing the final mix with cello, trumpet and my friend Sarah Feist on backing vocals was one of my favorite moments
CAMPBELL:  Because some of the parts I recorded were after a good chunk of the song was done, Jared would send me a Pro Tools session of a song he wanted me to play on. Every time I got one of those sessions I'd listen to it and think, "Wow, this sounds like a real band," and I still think that way about the album.

SPAZ: What is next for the band?
CONNOR: We’ve got a lot of shows coming up this summer that we’re excited about. We’re also planning a fall tour. We haven't really played outside of our home state of Oklahoma, so we're excited to bring our music to new places
CAMPBELL: Shows, shows, and more shows.
JARED: We plan on touring a bit and maybe making a live album.
JIMMY: We are going to hopefully continue to hone our craft, and keep making music that people want to hear!

SPAZ: What are you currently spinning on your CD and record players?
JARED: Usually when I drive, I listen to whatever comes on shuffle on my phone. Most of my music library is loaded on my phone's SD card so there's a lot to pick from. Mostly older stuff from the ‘60s and ‘70s but definitely not limited to that. As far as new stuff, Feist just put out a cool album called PLEASURE that was pretty much the soundtrack to my recent honeymoon in Florida. I almost hate to admit it but I am really impressed by Harry Styles' new solo album. I never followed OneDirection closely but I always got the sense that Harry was the one that would be the most musically interesting.
CONNOR: Harry Styles’ new record is playing frequently at the moment.
JIMMY: I listen to a wide variety of things. I also listen to several things at a time. Right now I have been listening a lot to Mac DeMarco’s new album as well as listening to Ben Fold’s album SONGS FOR SILVERMAN. Oh, and Campbell Young’s new album! Everyone go check it out!
CAMPBELL: I was recently gifted (from Jared) the DIRTY DANCING soundtrack for my birthday, and that's been spinning on my record player. As far as CDs it's mostly just what's in my car. WASTOID by Stardeath and White Dwarfs, and DREAMSCAPE by Gil Mantera's Party Dream.

Thanks to Jared, Connor, Campbell and Jimmy.


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