With a name like The Love Language, it would make sense for the band’s association to fall on both the good and bad sides of love and romance. Nevertheless, frontman Stuart McLamb promises an upbeat Valentine’s Day show for lovers and singles alike at Reggie’s 42nd Street Tavern on February 14. “Even if some of the lyrics are darker, the mood of the music is pretty uplifting,” he observes. “This one will definitely be a party.”
On a scale of “rockin’ dance party” (“Frames”) to “toe-tapping on the back porch” (“Glassy”), McLamb and company will play off their 2018 release “Baby Grand.” Almost five years in the making, the record is a collection of songwriting and music compilations that run the gamut.
“I initially thought I would make a few different albums,” McLamb explains. “One more folky/traditional, one more experimental, but then I decided to just pull from the songs that I was most excited about and that’s how we ended up with ‘Baby Grand.’ I like it reflects so many different influences. In many ways, it resembles a playlist I would make for myself.”
Sure, maybe it’s sacrilege to compare bands, but while listening to “Baby Grand,” it’s almost like Jim James of My Morning Jacket snuck into the studio for a little sit-in. Similarities run aplenty between the two vocal stylings of the frontmen, but MMJ was not a prime influence, according to McLamb. From noise pop/shoegaze (“Frames”) to R&B (“Juiceboxx”), McLamb tapped into a little bit of everything. In its earliest iteration, “New Amsterdam” started as an ‘80s pop homage.
“It almost had a Cindy Lauper vibe,” he notes with a laugh. “Then the rock version was a result of me listening to ‘Unknown Pleasures’ by Joy Division a bunch. [I]t’s hard to see that influence or comparison, but it’s in there for sure!”
As a whole “Baby Grand” is ultimately about moving forward in more ways than one: McLamb moving from North Carolina to Los Angeles, as well as away from a five-year relationship. Yet, McLamb found clarity in L.A. and began exploring uncharted territory in his songwriting and production process. He started to let songs lead the way to soundscapes instead of vice versa.
“I didn’t’ want to be bound to trying to make an album anchored in any genre or mood,” he clarifies. “So you have a song like ‘Glassy’ that really called for more of a breezy, folk-type arrangement (acoustic guitars, minimal percussion, horns and strings), and then you have a song like ‘Shared Spaces,’ which had a very dark but sexy vibe. So it has synth arpeggios and a drum machine, etc.”
McLamb’s songwriting evokes feelings of dissatisfaction with the current state of things and longing for a change in scenery. While some of “Baby Grand” was done in L.A., it was mostly written and pieced together with engineer Kris Hilbert at his Legitimate Business studio in Greensboro. “I put all the pieces together for what would make the album [complete] a few months after I got to L.A.,” McLamb details. “Just being in a new city helped me see things in a new light.”
While there are threaded transitions, the album’s cohesiveness is more or less a happy accident. For example, McLamb’s seamless chord connection with a bell chime in “New Amsterdam” to “Southern Doldrums,” is courtesy of an electronic keyboard called an Optigan.
“Me and Kris both looked at each other like, ‘What the hell is that? It rules!’” he remembers. “At the same time, I did think a lot about the transitions and the sequencing much in the same way a DJ would.”
McLamb hasn’t pieced together a new collection of players out in California yet, and of course, he misses his North Carolina band. The core of The Love Language has always been Autumn Ehinger, Thomas Simpson and Eddie Sanchez. All except Ehinger will play at Reggie’s. McLamb’s brother, Jordan, will play in her stead.
The band just released another single “Bees” on February 7 ahead of their forthcoming tour with Teenage Fanclub. Starting February 22, they’ll be traveling from Seattle, Washington, to Minneapolis, Minnesota, to Boston, Masssachusetts, and back down to Saxaphaw, North Carolina, at the Haw River Ballroom on March 18, with a total of 16 stops from West to East coasts.
“I do miss and love [North Carolina],” McLamb says, “and I think I will return one day, but it’s just been very rewarding to be in a new place the past year and a half. . . . [but] I have been toying with the idea of doing a full on ‘rock’ record recorded mostly live with the band. So that’s something I’ll do back in NC with the band when/if it happens.”