Rob Laufer Contemplates Love Across "Space and Time" (premiere + interview)
Rob Laufer's first album in almost a decade proves worth the wait. Smart pop sensibilities abound as evidenced by his latest song "Space and Time".
Rob Laufer issues his first album in nearly a decade, The Floating World, on 23 August. The longtime musical director of the Wild Honey Orchestra, a sprawling assemblage that unites in the Los Angeles area for all-star benefit concerts, Laufer has just issued a video for the track, "Space and Time".
"It's a kind of sideways love song," he says. "It's like, 'Thanks, universe!' for putting us together, what an awesome fluke that we're here at all, let alone that there is a hereat all. It's kind of tongue-in-cheek and dopey, which suits me. And it was a perfect vehicle for a down and dirty video. There are so many insane clips out there that just nailed the goofy cosmic vibe, and I found this great public domain Japanese sci-fi film from the early 1960s that was a gold mine. So I diced it all up into a very loose narrative in iMovie. It was a blast to make, and it's really fun to watch."
Undeniably infectious and tinted with Beatles-esque passages while maintaining a thoroughly contemporary sound, it demonstrates Laufer's mastery over the pop song form. In a class of writers that includes Peter Case and Michael Penn, Laufer restores our faith in smart, infectious songs that can make us raise our eyebrows and shed a tear.
How long has this new album been percolating?
It's been percolating for many years because I forgot how to write a song and I forgot how to finish a song. So I wrote a lot of half songs for a long time. Something snapped last year. I was listening to Bon Iver. I thought, "This guy knows how to finish a song and it almost doesn't matter what he has to say." When Tom Petty died, I realized that he wrote so many songs and they were so simple and that also inspired me to finish songs I'd started.
I don't write from experience. I don't write from ideas. I write totally stream-of-consciousness. You see if it makes sense and then sometimes it doesn't make any sense and that's fine.
So, I wrote a bunch of songs and was so excited that I wanted to record demos of them, thinking that later I would get people to play on them. But there was so much enthusiasm in my playing as I started to demo, that I ended up keeping almost all the instruments.
Do you think that that inability to finish songs stemmed from being too analytical?
Self-judgement was more the enemy than too much analysis. I realized, over time, and I don't think this is because of age, that I have no retentive memory. I have some but not for stories and details. I think Ray Davies said, "There's no such thing as writer's block. You just forgot about form, and you have to remind yourself." I think that's what happened to me. I started to say, "I'm going to write great songs without even trying." For years that didn't work.
When I started to really listen to Tom Petty and Bon Iver, I embraced that idea of form. You don't have to say a whole lot, but you have to have a verse and another verse and a chorus. Make form of it.
Do you remember the first one you wrote for the album that made you go, "Ah, this is going to set the pace for everything."
It wasn't a pace-setter, but I do remember meditating and coming out of the meditation with a line in my head. It was stupid: He was a teenage acidhead. I guess I was just in the mood to write a song because normally that wouldn't suggest anything. But I thought about Tom Petty and said, "He'd write a song out of that."
Is that where the song "Avalanche" comes from? Because it seems to lend itself to this kind of outpouring.
[Laughs.] I wouldn't know. That song came on really strong, but I don't remember thinking when I wrote that song. It was more, like, "What's going to sound cool." When I looked at it later, I thought, "This is really beautiful." I forget what it actually means, but I was happy about it.
For me, the album was impossible to stop listening to. I listened to it for an entire weekend, and I think one of the reasons is the sequencing. It flows so seamlessly from end to end that I had to go back and marvel at how you did it. Do you spend a lot of time thinking about that?
I wanted the songs to flow into each other in a pleasing way. It seems like people don't really listen to records like that anymore, but I was imagining that somebody might. Old habits die hard and, for me, a full-length album is one of those.