Perfectionism drives the Love Language toward moodier blues
It’s past nine o’clock in Chapel Hill, N.C., and Stuart McLamb can barely move. He’s just driven back from dinner at his mother’s house, and even though he’s trying to cut back on meat, there was no way he could refuse the beef brisket. If that means he’s a little late getting home, that’s alright. He’s nowhere near as late as the Love Language’s Ruby Red (Merge), which was supposed to be finished more than a year ago.
“I can definitely overthink stuff,” says McLamb, the band’s singer, songwriter, guitarist, bassist and only full-time member. “When we first started to track this album, I had a bunch of demos, and my goal was to finish the record before we left for South By Southwest. We did, but when you’re in the moment, and you’ve got all that forward momentum, it’s hard sometimes to step back and look at everything you’ve done. That’s what happened on the drive to Texas, which is when we all knew things needed to be fixed.”
Over the next year, those fixes grew and grew and grew, until McLamb wound up throwing away some old songs, writing some new ones and recording the whole album all over again, bouncing between 21 musicians and four cities before he and co-producer B.J. Burton decided they were done. (“I’m like the right brain, and he’s more like the left,” says McLamb. “Or maybe it’s the other way around.”)
It was one of those times when recording was harder than writing, but now that it’s all in the past, McLamb describes himself as “genuinely happy. The album is a little dark—well, for us—but dark for us is still pretty upbeat. It’s definitely not cohesive in the sense of having a particular mood or genre, and even before I started the writing process, I knew that’s what I wanted to go for. The first two records had a lot of songs dealing with my relationships, and I wanted to see how I could expand that, to start looking at things outside myself. I wanted to blow up the possibilities for where this band can go.”
Instead of reaching back for ’60s innocence, the production pushes toward ’80s moodiness, reliving its ringing-guitar-and-multilayered-keyboard glory, from the opening, angst-ridden “Calm Down” to the closing “Pilot Light,” with its Beatlesque piano, strings and uplifting harmonies. In between, there are nods to the Church, Cure, Flock Of Seagulls, Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark and countless other bands, as McLamb waxes poetic on love, life and a newly arrived age of enlightenment, right here, right now.
“It’s like we’re in the middle of this crossover, the end of something and the beginning of something else, this new era for humanity,” says McLamb, his voice trailing off and his mind wandering. “It’s been a long year of obsessing over mixes and doing all the things that aren’t fun about making music. And now we get to the fun part of playing this live. Ultimately, you go through everything else because you get goosebumps a few nights of the year playing in front of people. You tap into that transcendence; your soul feels aligned with, I don’t know, some higher power, and that makes it all worth it.”