"Honest And Transparent" Clash Meets LANY
After six years of singing about young love against the backdrop of pink skies and drunken nights in Malibu trying to numb the pain of heartbreak, Los Angeles-by-way-of-Nashville three-piece LANY (pronounced lay-nee) are officially embracing their Southern roots on their third album ‘mama’s boy’, out October 2nd.
“I just want to give you everything, show you I’m a Southern gentleman,” croons frontman Paul Klein on ‘good guys’, the first single off the forthcoming record. Deviating from their signature dreampop tunes about relationships and the band’s quintessential LA lifestyle, ‘mama’s boy’ is a tender record with a nuanced Americana-pop sound that explores a deeper narrative about parents growing older, love, grappling with religion and the harsh realities of dating when you’re touring.
“This is the first time that we're really lyrically and musically touching on where we're from,” Klein explains. “It's always been California, West Coast, young love, pink skies. It's cool to really reference the things that we know the most and the best...”
LANY’s 2018 tearjerker ‘Malibu Nights’ was meant for one person to listen to, but ‘mama’s boy’ is for everyone. Taking some time to write the album in Nashville where they got their start, ‘mama’s boy’ ushers in a new era for LANY by introducing some more acoustic instrumentalisation to let their introspective poetic lyrics shine. Combining gentle Southern sounds of gospel choirs and the new addition of acoustic guitar with the synth-pop sound fans know and love, the record is an authentic representation of who the band are and how they have evolved since their humble beginnings.
Clash caught up with Klein for a Zoom chat to discuss growing up in “the middle of nowhere”, the importance of having a geographical identity, dating and heartbreak, and being “LA’s little band”.
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Congrats on ‘mama’s boy’! Your previous records have always had sunsets and Los Angeles as a core element of your lyrics and sound, but this album has you embracing your Southern roots. What was it like growing up in Oklahoma?
I mean, I don't have any complaints or anything. It was a good place to grow up and I'm thankful for my upbringing, it clearly got me to this point in life. But it's a real interesting kind of circle. You grow up and you're like, 'OK, I don't want to be here anymore. I want to get out of here. I don't really necessarily fit in and I have these dreams and these aspirations that I'm not sure I can really achieve or realise in this state or in the city. I'm going to get out. I'm gonna go to LA, I'm gonna work really hard. Oh my god, I'm writing some songs, people are starting to listen, this is amazing.
I'm going around the world’ and then I'm like, 'Oh wow, I'm getting a little bit older and I'm realizing I'm not perfect, but I'm proud of some of the life decisions that I've made. And I'm thankful for the way my mom raised me. I'm thankful for my parents and my family [and] friends in my surroundings growing up.' So you see that that full circle and I guess it's part of just growing up.
I'm not trying to go back to Oklahoma by any means. But I do think, you know, Jake [Goss] is from Arkansas, Les [Priest] is from Missouri, that's all just kind of right there. All those states touch. When we talk about bands that we love and respect, bands like U2 and Oasis and The Beatles, they have a geographical identity. You know where they're from.
And yeah, for a while LANY was that kind of West Coast-California-dream pop kind of thing, which we were because we had come to California and seeing this, all of it, for the first time [inspired us] and we were writing songs about it. But really, we're from the middle of nowhere and I think that's really important for the story of this band and for our fans because most of us are from the middle of nowhere. It's cool to just touch on that and to kind of make that cool.
Your music has evolved from, like you said, a dreampop sound that was present on your debut singles like ‘Walk Away’ in 2014 to a more organic sound on this record. What has been the evolution of your music?
When we first started the band, we had a Dell computer and literally a couple of synths and that was it. We let our limitations define our art and that was cool for a time. Now there's this genre called bedroom pop and I'm almost positive we invented that because in 2014 like nobody was doing that. And in fact, so few people were doing that, that the label was like, 'This is your talking point in interviews. Talk about how you make this on a Dell computer in a bedroom or in a kitchen, just the three of you, because nobody's doing that.' And so that's what we did. But we needed to get better and bigger and reach more people.
So once we put out that debut album we went on a world tour and built the fan base. We were able to then kind of, I mean more or less, afford to go into a studio. We wanted to work with somebody older and wiser and we found an amazing producer, Mike Crossey, who kind of took us under his wing and said, 'Here's the things you're good at, here's the things you're not good at. So we're going to lean into the strengths and then we're going to grow as a band.' And that's what you saw on ‘Malibu Nights’, which was an amazing experience.
Then with ‘mama's boy’, we didn't want to make the same album twice. There's a real obvious instrument that has never been present in the LANY song and it was the acoustic guitar. That's something that Jake had been fighting [to include] for years. You know, 'Let's introduce more guitar.' Finally, the stars aligned and it made sense with the kind of songs that we were writing and it matched the temperature and the mood of everything.
So now we were able to get into the rooms with some of our dream producers or people that we've always wanted to work with and that's what 'mama's boy' is. - We've got a gospel choir, kids choir, a flugelhorn, we have slide guitar, we have an acoustic guitar and those are five huge things that we've never ever had on a LANY song, ever. So it's amazing to just know that nothing is... that whatever we want, we can figure out a way to put it in.
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You make use of these new sounds on ‘you!’ and the track ‘i still talk to jesus’, which includes a gospel choir. How did that come about?
When you have a song like 'i still talk to jesus', it's a very visual song. I mean, if anyone's ever stepped foot into a church, you know choirs are very much associated with church and cathedrals. I touch on stained glass as a lyric in that song, so it just kind of made sense. It was almost like a no-brainer. I was just like, 'I would love to hear a gospel choir sing this with me.' And so we sent the song to this amazing choir in Nashville and they sent us back a video of what they would do and it just kind of blew me away. And so we're like, 'OK just set up the microphones please and please record them.'
You’ve always had a West Coast aesthetic and style as a band, and your press note mentioned a “guise of cool” persona you adapted when you moved to LA. What made you want to write about your hometown this time around?
When I first got to LA, I wasn't necessarily trying to [be] like, 'I'm from Oklahoma! Wow.' That was never really a talking point and that still doesn't necessarily need to be a talking point. This is the first time that we're really lyrically and musically touching on where we're from. It's always been California, West Coast, young love, pink skies. It's cool to really reference the things that we know the most and the best... and it's been really fun. And I think it means a lot to people.
Like I said, most of us aren't from those parts of the country. People can really relate and [I] think that embracing where you're from and knowing that nowhere is perfect, but just loving your roots and where you're from... and that it’s a good thing, that it's a good quality to have and it's a good thing to do.
Did your Southern upbringing influence your previous records like ‘Malibu Nights’ or is it something new you tuned into for ‘mama’s boy’?
You know, I don’t know. I think I am a product today of where I'm from and everything I've said, my mind and my eyes and my ears, you know? Humans are sponges and just kind of absorb all the information and then when we are creative and we make things, it's the combination of everything, all the information turned into inspiration and then turned into an expression, I guess. So I'm sure to a certain degree but not as much I think as this because I was very conscious about it this time around on 'mama's boy' and you hear that.
2018’s ‘Malibu Nights’ was a deeply personal and emotional breakup album that really solidified LANY’s success. Was it difficult going into ‘mama’s boy’ after creating that record and trying to get to that vulnerable place again?
I don't really get into my head that much. The one challenge that I knew is [that] I was very vulnerable on 'Malibu Nights’ — incredibly honest and transparent and I needed to match that same level of transparency. I actually think I maybe went even further. This album is incredibly self-reflective. Oftentimes, there are more songs [where] I'm having a conversation with myself and I'm writing a song to or for or about somebody and so I'm really proud of that. I mean, I think that'll pay dividends in the long run.
On ‘mama’s boy’, you’re focusing on newer themes like family and religion but also return to heartbreak on 'heart won't let me' when you explore the dichotomy between your head and your heart and trying to leave a source of pain. You experienced a difficult breakup that resulted in your creating ‘Malibu Nights'. Are you ever scared to fall in love after that experience?
No, 'cause you know what? 99 out of 100 times, it's not supposed to work. I think that's something that we don't talk about enough. Like, you're supposed to find one person that it really clicks with and that's way more difficult than we often talk about and recognise.
So you know, that's the chance that you take when you date or you let your heart kind of fall into a relationship is like, there's a really good chance that this isn't gonna work out... we're going to try and we're going to, you know, I'm going to do my part and I'm gonna do everything I can and be sacrificial, try to be selfless and try understanding operate from a position of forgiveness. But most times, people don't do that and that's not reciprocated. And that's the chance you take, right? With great risk comes great reward. Breaking up is the worst thing in the world.
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You wrote ‘Malibu Nights’ in a crazy short time, 40-days or so. On Instagram, you mentioned that during the album process for ‘mama’s boy’ you sometimes wanted to quit music. How difficult was it to get to that deep place of self-reflection?
Writing [‘if this is the last time’] about 'Hey, mom and dad, I love you. You're getting older and you know, the truth is one day I'm not going to have you anymore.' Those are hard songs to write, [like] 'Hey I grew up in church, but sometimes I do things that I'm not supposed to do and you might not believe it but I still talk to Jesus because I'm still like...'
These are tough songs to write. [Like] 'bad news’ [is] like, 'Hey, I'm on tour all the time and don't fall in love with me because unfortunately, even if I wanted this to work out, I'm going to be home like six days this year.' And 'when you're drunk' [is about how] it really sucks when you realise that somebody doesn't actually like you, they just get kind of tipsy and loose and lead you on. So they're tough songs — they're tough songs to write. But that's why I said I thought about quitting music because sometimes you write really bad songs.
We were in Nashville for two weeks and [we were] trying to write a song every single day. When we were in Nashville we wrote 'if this is the last time', ‘good guys’, 'when you’re drunk', 'anything 4 u', ‘i still talk to jesus' and 'sad'. That's six songs. Now that's pretty prolific writing that made the album. But of course, there were the four other days where we wrote some terrible songs and you just are like... that's the worst feeling at the end of the day [when] you write a song and you're just like 'God, what were we thinking?' But that's part of the creative process.
You were a solo artist under your own name before you reached out to Jake and Les and started LANY. Was your solo music anything similar to what you’re creating as a band now?
No, I don't think so. I mean, songwriting is hard and you have to write a lot of really bad songs in the beginning. A lot of it is trial and error. And I started writing songs at like 15 or something like that and my first EP when I was 18 and they're not good songs. They're just not. I mean, I'm not embarrassed by them. Maybe I am a little bit but it'd be really weird if I was looking back like 'Wow, I used to be really good, what happened?' Those were not great songs and no one was listening to them except for my mom and my dad. And maybe my sister. Maybe. I just kept at it.
I started going, 'OK, what's not working here? Why are these not good songs?' I moved to Nashville, which is a big songwriting, songwriter town, songwriting community. There were some singer-songwriters that were having some like a certain level of success. And I was trying to do whatever they were doing and it wasn't working out. I mean, I was like, 'You know what? I just think to be true to myself'. I found a lot of that freedom with Jake and Les. They really, really... they really encouraged me to be myself.
'Cause every time I'd go into a room with other producers or whatever [they’d go], 'Ah no we can't do that, we can't do that. We need this kind of instrumentalisation and blah blah blah.' And Jake and Les were like, 'We don't know anything, let's just turn the computer on and try.’ You know, we just operated from our instincts and for the first time, I was just allowed to be completely me and just run with whatever ideas I had...
When you look back at the band’s start, do you still think that the band was ‘Made In Hollywood’?
[LANY started when] we put our first two songs on the Internet. I was living in LA, Jake and Les were still in Nashville, so I'd fly there. When we put those first two songs out ['Hot Lights' and 'Walk Away'], they kind of blow up on a very small scale within the industry and everyone's like, 'What else do you have?' We didn't have anything else. And that's when I flew back and I wrote 'I Love You So Bad' [‘ILYSB’] in Nashville along with 'BRB'. And I actually wrote 'Made in Hollywood' in Nashville. The band got to become a thing so much that Jake literally sold the house that he was living in, in Nashville, and Les and Jake just very early on, just packed up their stuff and said, 'Yo, we're going to come to LA because this is actually a real thing that's really happened.'
I think we needed to be here, all three of us. I think us sharing a one-bedroom apartment and making music in that apartment and sleeping on the floor and playing shows and taking meetings here [was important]. There are a lot of things in this city that really shaped who we are today as a band.
Yes, we are from Oklahoma, Arkansas and Missouri, but I will tell you, nobody shows up to LANY shows like Los Angeles. It has been amazing... I feel like we're kind of LA's little band. People really take total ownership of us here and I can't tell you how thankful I am for that. There are so many times people ask me, 'What's your favourite place to play in the world?' And I feel pressured to say something outside of where I live but ultimately, this [LA] is my favourite place to play a LANY show.
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When you first moved to LA you had a university degree but couldn’t get a job bagging groceries. How does it feel to look back at those formative years in LA now that you’ve made it?
I remember moving here, the band wasn't a thing. I just took a total... I don't know what it was, I just knew something inside my spirit, I knew that I was supposed to move to LA. And then once I did, like the heavens opened up and things just started falling into my lap. I can't explain it, but it was just clearly where I was supposed to be.
My first month here was pretty tough because I didn't have a job and I was applying to bag groceries at Trader Joe's and wash dishes in the back at Whole Foods. I even applied to be a bank teller at Chase Bank. But I think during that time in California, no one was really trying to hire someone part-time. They wanted a full-time employee, 40 hours a week. That's not why I moved to California to be a bank teller for 40 hours a week at Chase Bank. I eventually found ways to make money and it feels good. I mean, I don't know. I guess if I can do it, anyone can do it.
Touring is a huge part of your job — you played 120-something shows last year — and your shows are a therapeutic experience for fans. Do you have anything planned to promote the release of ‘mama’s boy’?
I mean, we have a very grandiose idea, I think we're working like almost around the clock trying to materialise [it] - no promises. This has been a crazy year and like you said, we play a lot of shows and we take our shows very seriously and we miss it a lot. We're trying to come up with the way that we can provide that same spiritual experience through the Internet, on YouTube, which is super tough. But ultimately we're just excited and hopeful for the future to get back out there and play some shows.
Last year you spent only six nights or so in your own bed because of touring. How was lockdown for you? Was it nice to recharge?
It was cute for like the first couple of weeks, ‘this is nice being home and all that’. I miss being on stage, being a real musician because it's going to be tough. 'mama's boy' comes out October 2nd and normally, you'd go and tour the hell out of that album. You'd go all around the world and you would see how the songs are connecting with people in their life and that brings such a sense of validation. It makes you realise why you do it and brings a lot of meaning to it and you feel like, 'OK what you're doing is worth it. It's really, truly connecting with people'. And I don't have that anymore, for the time being, so it's going to be bizarre. I guess, we're just going to start working on an album four.
Aesthetics are a huge part of LANY’s identity — roses for 2017’s self-titled album and moons for ‘Malibu Nights’ — and for ‘mama’s boy’ you’ve created a ton of limited edition merch of cowgirls and trucks for your fans. Did lockdown give you time to focus on building the visual side of ‘mama’s boy’?
I guess that is one thing that was kind of fun and the more positive side of quarantine was that it gave me some time to really build the visual side of the album out, which is something I've always done and always been passionate about, but oftentimes didn't have, like, I didn't have a ton of time to do it. And it's been really cool.
Like, obviously, we're just dropping so much merch, but that's because it's fun and we like it and it's fun to draw up different pieces that reflect different songs and different moods of the album. I've always taken the visual side very seriously. I think anyone who's a LANY fan knows that and appreciates that and it's something that we'll always keep as a part of our DNA of the band.
Lastly, in the spirit of ‘mama's boy’, do you have any advice for your younger self?
My mom didn't really give me a choice when it came to piano. It was not up for discussion, it was like, 'You will do this.' Because I was gonna say, just keep practising piano, that's gonna pay off. So I don't know. I guess like, I probably spent some years of my life trying to be somebody that I wasn't. I spent some years in my life stressing the small stuff, wondering if I'd ever get here. And maybe that stress is what compelled me to work hard. I really don't know.
We're not the biggest band in the world but I am really proud of where we're at and how far we've come and I want to continue forward. Just practice piano, keep working hard, stay diligent and I guess don't give up. You know, I could have given up a long time and I'm glad I didn't.
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LANY will release 'mama's boy' on October 2nd.
Words: Caroline Edwards
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