Before dashing off to band practice last week with Eston and the Outs, Stuart McLamb—the sonic genius behind the mod-’60s and ‘50s pop of The Love Language—recounted a few beginnings of his adoration for music. Though a banjo out of rubberbands, hub caps and other trinkets at a young age top the list, Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” stands out as a moment of transfromation to McLamb’s 2-year-old ears. “I still remember being so moved by that music,” he states. “It was really just the culmination of all the music I had heard and loved my whole life.”
Today, the sounds of Earth records from the ‘90s, Hawkwind, and a new band in NYC called IYEZ are getting his attention. He’s also digging on Beyoncé. “I’ve been really getting into extremely flashy pop production,” McLamb states. “The new Beyoncé is so amazing. It sounds like God mixed it.”
But those are not necessarily as influential to The Love Language as the pop sounds of the mid 20th-century. “They were just such perfectly written songs,” McLamb indicates. “And so innocent. Coupled with the production and instrumentation, there was something awesomely magical about those (‘50s-’60s) recordings.”
McLamb’s rise to music-making very well may have began while watching “Mr. Wizard’s World.” He witnessed someone constructing a guitar out of a rubber band.
“I don’t think the guitar really made any nice sounds,” he jokes. “I started writing when I discovered my grandfather’s old guitar in the guest bedroom closet when I was 13 or 14. I do remember jamming with my brother Jordan when he was on a very makeshift drum set. The hubcap banjo was the peak of my experience as a luthier.”
Still, throughout his upbringing, music played an indelible role. Whether hearing “Rock of Ages” at his church (“I remember getting goosebumps as a kid when the congregation sang”) or finding creative exploration in the Smashing Pumpkins’ “Siamese Dream,” destiny was carving out treble-clef compositions left and right. Eventually, he began playing in Electric Penguin Acid Test with a group of buddies in high school. “It was like Spinal Tap,” McLamb notes, “but way more intense. Those early songs were really bad, but you gotta start somewhere.”
In 2007 McLamb founded The Love Language, and by the same caliber of writing heard from those early Motown girl groups, he released his self-titled debut in 2009 based on his own breakup. Produced in his parent’s house, and with liquid courage, McLamb played all the instruments himself to create stargazing pop, with jaunty rhythms and echoing, static-y vocals. He multi-tracked everything—drums, guitar, piano, tambourine, etc.—and released it on Bladen County Records. The lo-fi debut originally was meant as a healing process for McLamb only to hear, along with his ex-girlfriend and maybe some close friends. What followed was a critically acclaimed catalog of music, hailed by music magazines and critics alike.
At the time McLamb lived in Wilmington but moved to Chapel Hill. He was asked by the Triangle’s indie-rock darlings The Rosebuds to open for them on tour. So, he cobbled together a seven-piece band, which included his brother, Jordan, on drums and Miss Thangs on keyboard. “We started playing shows,” he says,
“and momentum started to build, and more shows were booked naturally.” Thus began the rotating members the band has become known for; McLamb remains the only continual force of its existence.
“People have just come and gone for their own reasons and personal interests, and I can’t blame them for that one bit,” he says. “I have been extremely fortunate in having the people that have been involved in all the different incarnations of the band. Somehow, I’ve avoided being on the road with just ‘session’ players, and I’ve made some really close and valuable friendships along the way. . . . I probably should have just named the band ‘Stuart McLamb,’ but I didn’t want to be viewed as a singer-songwriter. I wanted it to be something bigger.”
By the time The Love Language’s second album, “Libraries,” came out McLamb already switched members three or four times. “Libraries” was made in a traditional studio setting and produced by BJ Burton, who played guitar alongside Missy and Jordan, as well as Justin Rodermond on bass. McLamb also found a home on the Durham, NC, label Merge Records (Arcade Fire—with whom The Love Language opened for in 2011—Superchunk, M. Ward, Conor Oberst) during his sophomore followup.
“It’s never been a personal decision for me to go through so many [band] changes,” McLamb continues. “Really, it’s just out of necessity—and believe me, it’s more work on me.”
Since, McLamb’s come to embrace the collaborative nature that The Love Language affords to musicians. His friend, Jon Kirby, coined it an “introverted community art project” while prefacing the release of the band’s record, “Ruby Red,” from Merge in July 2013. Over 20 musicians make an appearance on the recording, showcasing everything from brass to strings to percussion and beyond.
“I was at the helm of the songwriting and arrangements on [‘Ruby Red’],” McLamb says, “but I decided to let a lot more people play their own parts and bring in guest musicians to add more personality and color to the sessions. I love collaboration when it works, and some of my favorite works of art, most notably music and film, have been the results of a huge team of collaborators.”
The sounds form a familiar ‘80s vibe on “Ruby Red.” Still, they maintain a retro, vintage mien McLamb so clearly loves. And he does not abandon the pop. “It’s the most fun,” he claims. “There’s a time and place for spaced-out ambient jams and fusion cuisine, but, at the end of the day, I just want to eat a cheeseburger and listen to ‘Be My Baby.’”
Though two years elapsed between his first and second record, and three years between his second and third, McLamb admits to already having another project underway. The band will be working it in between a few shows booked throughout the summer. Though he already has an idea of who he wants to record it, McLamb remains mum on those details.
“I have hundreds of demos but probably only 20 of those will turn into songs,” he admits. “I just have to feel it all the way to complete a song. They’re tricky little bastards.”
He already has compiled 30 of his favorite demos to share with his current lineup, which for Wilmington’s July 19th show will consist of McLamb, Tom Simpson (drums), Autumn Ehinger (keys) and Mark Connor (bass).
“[It’s a] solid crew right now,” he praises. “Unless they read this interview and realize how much of a prick I am [laughs]. We’re going to start exploring the [demos] in rehearsals, and we’ve already started on a few. Once they feel tight, I want to bang out the basic tracks in a studio and then add the decorations later. That’s when I’ll go crazy and probably spend the next five years mixing.”
While the music comes easiest to the former visual art and graphic design major, lyrics are another beast altogether. He doesn’t focus on myth or fiction. “The best lyrics come from real-life situations,” McLamb says. “All my writing is a big blend of many emotions.”
The Love Language
Encore’s Dirty Thirty Party, a fundraiser for Downtown Business Alliance’s downtown beautification projects
Ziggy’s by the Sea
July 19th, 6:30 p.m.
VIP: $35 • Tickets: $15-$20