The Love Language: This was the first cabin record to piss off the neighbors
Maybe it's something in his laid-back Carolina demeanor, but you've gotta give Stu McLamb credit for taking everything in stride. After accidentally stumbling onto lo-fi gold in 2008 with a suite of bedroom-recorded breakup songs that would become his first album as the Love Language, he's weathered trials that would send most of his peers back to their bedroom studios. But after several sometimes painful reformations of his backing band and a nearly endless tour in support of their excellent 2010 album Libraries, which received the support of legendary hometown indie Merge records, even Stu needed a vacation.
Retiring to the semi-idyllic woods of Black Mountain, North Carolina, McLamb dragged producer/engineer/best-buddy BJ Burton along, and the resulting songs on Ruby Red seem imbued with fresh purpose and direction. Adding soaring, anthemic hooks and an extra helping of distortion to his signature garage-pop sound, McLamb outdid himself once again, even if he's too chill to say so.
Gimmie Noise: It's been a little while since we've seen you up here in Minneapolis, and even longer since the release of Libraries. What have you been up to over the last few years?
Stuart McLamb: We pretty much just did a lot of touring on Libraries and when that wound down I moved out to Black Mountain where me and BJ [Burton] got a cabin and started working up some demos that ended up becoming a record. But it just took a little while to get things right on this, and I've definitely learned a lot of lessons, but ultimately the way the record was released and when it came out had to do more with scheduling and stuff.
It sounds like your creative space played a big role in this new record. Could you explain the Ruby Red to us northerners, and how you came to be involved there?
Ruby Red in Uptown is one of the few artistic cooperative warehouse spaces. When you get up to other cities you'll see a lot more of that going on, so it was really cool to be a part of that in Raleigh. It was basically just a big warehouse that a good friend of ours, Tim Lemuel, put a lot of hard work into. He built up these walls and sectioned off different rooms so artists could rent out space for cheap. It just seemed like a really cool thing, so we decided to get in on it and help build it up. We transformed this bottom room of a two-story warehouse into a studio in this huge concrete-walled basement. It worked really nicely for making room sounds with the drums and all that. I'd say a good 90 percent of the new record was done there.
How did working in that space and the cabin affect your songwriting?
Well, it wasn't a totally removed cabin out in the middle of the woods, but we basically were just looking for a place to get away. We'd been touring pretty hard and then getting back to Raleigh and everything just started to feel a little busy, so we tried to kind of get away for a little bit and see what the creative vibe was like. We would just bounce ideas off of each other to get going and that turned into the foundation for what turned into Ruby Red.
The cabin was just a sublease on Craigslist, pretty cheap, and it wasn't a remote thing but it was kind of tucked back in the woods. There was kind of a neighborhood though, and since we weren't making acoustic folk rock there was a couple complaints [laughs]. This was probably the first cabin-inspired record that pissed off the neighbors!
Lyrically, the last two records have been mostly songs of lost and unrequited love, with Libraries expanding that a bit. What kind of inspiration were you drawing from for Ruby?
I've never been too interested in or good at literal songwriting, so it's very rare that I write songs about one particular thing. It's always easier when you just got out from a hard relationship, a lot of artists draw on that, and I think I've had some of my more direct songs come out of situations like that, but with this one I wanted to move away. I just knew that it would be kind of strange to have this perpetual lovesick project. The first record just came out of a real place, but then I found myself struggling with what this project was going to be. I think I might have subconsciously tried to stir up drama, and that's totally the wrong way to go about it. Don't stir up lady problems for your art, it'll get really weird [laughs].
With the new one, the themes are all over the place so it's kind of hard to say. Honestly, I tripped on DMT and it was a really life-altering moment. I started looking at things a little differently. I'm not trying to preach like I'm a fuckin' shaman or anything, but we're on the cusp of some new era, and I think I was trying to scratch the surface of that and find out what it is.