Stephen of States Wants to Hang Out With You

In all honesty, I’m a very punctual person; if journalism school and countless late-night marathons of Doctor Who have taught me anything, it’s that the issue of time is critical in everything.  When and where you are determines the kind of information you will collect and the type of people you’ll run into. When it comes to meeting someone or conducting an interview, running mere seconds behind can leave you without the most vital piece of information you need. Being on time is important.

However, being late has its advantages. And sometimes, those advantages are worth the two hours of sheer panic you experience while sitting in LA traffic and watching the hands on your watch rollover your interview appointment time. Yes, I was supposed to meet with Stephen Laurenson before he and the rest of the pop-driven band States stepped foot on the stage in Pomona with Circa Survive, but a long stretch of bumper-to-bumper chaos wouldn’t let me. Instead, I arrived almost two hours late with a nearly dead cell phone and feelings of intense dread as I scoured the venue for my interviewee.

What I left with? The best interview I could have asked for. Because I was late, we had a lot more time to chit-chat about States’ new album Room to Run, as well as that one time Stephen got caught with his pants down.

Chelsea Deptula: Just in general, how has your tour been treating you so far?

Stephen Laurenson: It’s been amazing. I mean, it’s States’ first real tour as a band, so I don’t think any of us really knew what to expect. We’ve never played these songs live, you know, we were in previous bands before all of this, and we kind of had our sound and everything, but this is kind of a whole new ballgame all over again. I think we’re all kind of nervous and excited, but it’s been unbelievable, it’s been amazing. The fans have been awesome; Circa Survive’s fans are some of the most welcoming people.

Chelsea: Speaking of which, what’s that like, touring with Circa Survive?

Stephen: It’s pretty freaking awesome. I’m such a huge fan of their last record. Mindy’s [lead singer] loved them forever, and she got me into them a couple years ago.

Chelsea: Isn’t it intimidating opening up for them?

Stephen: Yes and no, we’ve met them before back in the day, and they are all just really down-to-earth, sweet dudes. They are seriously, probably the sweetest dudes I’ve met on tour. They are just really laid back, and I respect their music. They’ve been super welcoming and it’s just been very comfortable from day one.

Chelsea: That sounds really awesome. I apologize, I don’t know off the top of my head, how long have you guys been on tour with them?

Stephen: It’s going on three weeks now, two and a half weeks.

Chelsea: Right on, over that time—well, really over the time that you have been touring in general—has there been any embarrassing moments for you, or any hilarious things that have happened?

Stephen: (laughs) I love that question. On this tour, there actually hasn’t been any, it’s been pretty laid back and cool. Do you want a different embarrassing story from a different tour?

Chelsea: Sure, that’s totally cool, too.

Stephen: We did a few shows when we first started, just like four shows just to play, and [at one of the shows] there was a line of kids. I don’t know what they were doing, but they weren’t in line for the venue, they were just standing outside, and I didn’t see them at all. They were across the street, and I was getting in the van not knowing anyone was behind me and I was changing to get ready to go on stage. So I was just in my boxers and putting on clothes, not really caring, and I turn around and they are all just staring at me. So, that was pretty awkward. I was waiting to find pictures online or something, but thankfully I haven’t.

Chelsea: (laughing) Well that’s good. That’s pretty funny, actually. I mean, it’s probably not that funny for you.

Stephen: (laughs) It’s whatever, you learn to just kind of accept that stuff after touring for a while, it’s inevitable.

Chelsea: Right on. So you said this is your first tour as a band, what did it feel like that first time you guys were all on stage together?

Stephen: Awesome. It was really, really fun.  It’s just so different from our previous bands that we were in, you know. For us [Copeland], we played a lot more mellow, ambient music, which I love, I love doing all that, but this stuff is definitely a lot more upbeat and more guitar-driven, so our first show was just a blast.

Chelsea: Did anyone have any nerve problems?

Stephen: I have nerve problems every night. Literally, you don’t want to see me five minutes before we go on.

Chelsea: Really? How do you combat those problems?

Stephen: I don’t know, I’ve been touring for like six years now, and you’d think I’d be fine by now. And I am, I’m totally fine, up until like right before we go on, and then all of a sudden I’m nauseous, and I’m like, “I don’t really want to go on, I don’t want to do this, this is freaking me out.” Then the moment we step on stage, I put my guitar on and I’m like, “Yeah, this is sweet, I’m…fine.” It’s really weird.

Chelsea: As a band, do you guys have certain bands that inspire you or that you try to emulate?

Stephen: Sure, I think it’s really interesting because the way I feel like songs kind of start is Bryan or I will write some music and then give it to Mindy, and then Mindy will write some lyrics and melodies on top of it and I think the three of us have pretty different tastes in music. We all like similar stuff, but I think we are still all pretty different. As far as me in particular, I listen to weird stuff.

Chelsea: Like what?

Stephen: I don’t know, I guess it’s not that weird, but I’m obsessed with stuff like the new St. Vincent record and stuff like that, and I can’t stop listening to The National’s last record. I think it’s amazing. Mindy definitely loves more of the pop world, which is cool because I feel like we have a maybe weirder element, but then Mindy kind of brings it back with a little more pop. So it’s cool, I think it works.

Chelsea: What do you guys do to prepare? Describe your warm-ups before you go on.

Stephen: Hmm, warm-ups…it is usually eat as much food as possible, then right afterwards realize that was a really bad mistake, and then feel like I just want to lie down and go to bed. (Laughs) I don’t know, I think we’re all different. We all hang out, like all the time because we are on tour, and then like right before a show we all just kind of go our separate ways and get in to our own head spaces. Then like right before we go on, we do the typical huddle around and try to get each other excited and then we go do it.

Chelsea: For you personally, what do you think is most important to bring to the table as far as being a musician goes? Is it the passion, or is it pure skill?

Stephen: One thing?

Chelsea: Yes.

Stephen: Aw man, that’s really hard…

Chelsea: Okay, okay, I’ll give you two things.

Stephen: Okay two things….I think honesty and passion. I think there’s enough crap out there that is just done over and over again, and I think you can just tell when something is honest and when it’s not. And I’m not saying that, you know, super pop music isn’t honest, but I think you can just tell. Write what’s from the heart, you know, you love that sound, write it until you think it’s right. Don’t conform to what you think is right or wrong, popular or not popular. Just be honest with your music.

Chelsea: Do you guys drive yourselves while on tour?

Stephen: Yeah, right now we are just driving a van and a trailer. The first night, I think I drove until like six in the morning after the show, and then passed out on a bench. We take turns, you just drive until you can’t, take some 5-Hour energy drinks and then start seeing some leprechauns dancing around in the road and then it’s like, “okay I need to go to bed now.”

Chelsea: What’s been your favorite show so far on this tour?

Stephen: Probably tonight. I mean, California shows are always so fun, kids are just always so energetic and just like, I feel excited to be here. There’s a certain vibe that I love, especially in places like San Francisco, San Diego and LA. I love it here.

Chelsea: You can feel that energy even in the lobby, I think.

Stephen: Yeah! Even like tonight, 90% of the kids in there don’t know who the heck we are, yet they are so kind and excited to hear music that we feel like the headliners walking out while they are freaking out and screaming. They are genuinely stoked to hear music, and I think that’s really cool.

Chelsea: How long have you been playing?

Stephen: I’ve been playing 10 years, and I’m still not that good. (Laughs) I played piano for years because my mom wouldn’t let me touch any other instrument. She said if I wanted to be a musician, I had to learn piano first. So I played piano for like five years before she let me pick up a guitar, which I’m thankful of now.

Chelsea: How does your mom feel now?

Stephen: She loves it, she’s so supportive and she’s so happy we are doing this, which without my parents I don’t know how I could do this.

Chelsea: Do you get to see your parents very often?

Stephen: That’s the one bummer about touring, not seeing family, friends, girlfriends, wives, whatever. That’s definitely one of the most taxing things I feel about tours. You’re so removed from a normal reality, you know, even staying in contact is really hard. You’re sleeping, and then you wake up and you drive to the venue, and then you sound check and then you do interviews or whatever, you play, you sell merch and then you go to bed and wake up to do it all over again.

Chelsea: Well yeah, and I imagine the time difference must be awful.

Stephen: Yeah, you don’t get to see your loved ones for a month or two. I remember when I was touring with Copeland, we were on tour 10 months out of the first year that I joined them. I was 17, and it was just a slap in the face. I mean it was awesome, and I was freaking out, but at the same time I was like, “Man, I miss my mom. I just want to go home and see her.” But then the pros are you have a month or two off, so I can go fly to see them sometimes. Usually the holidays are the best parts.

Chelsea: Let’s talk about your new album that’s coming out in a couple days. For that album, what was the hardest part about putting that together?

Stephen: I think it was hard just because it was our first record and I feel like we had a lot to prove—to the band and to ourselves—just because we had a lot of fans from our previous work that I think were interested to hear what we were going to do. I think a lot of them just wanted to hear our old bands, but we didn’t want to make the same music, we wanted to try something new. We didn’t want to lose sight of who we are and what we did do, and we tried to barf it into something new and it was hard. We had like less than a month, which for us is a really short span of time. We usually have a couple months, but I’m really happy with the way it came out.

Chelsea: If you could describe your sound in one word…

Stephen: (laughs) Oh no, that question. Oh no!

Chelsea: (laughs) Okay, give me the simplest explanation for how you view your sound.

Stephen: I’d have to say fun, feel good music. I think we want to connect with people and give them something to think about or a way to connect. Just something to enjoy, there’s enough depressing things out there right now. We just want to give you that escape.

Chelsea: So one of your big goals is to connect the audience and the artist?

Stephen: Yeah, I think that’s always been 50% of this for all of us. We are given the chance to meet so many people and talk to so many kids, and for some weird reason or another some of them look up to us. I think that’s a big weight, but I think it’s a gift, too. If you’re smart with it, you can hopefully help people. Any kind of connection with people, it’s so huge.

Chelsea: Honestly, that’s really great that the “connection” is part of what you guys want to do.

Stephen: Yeah! Seriously, the adrenaline rush I get on stage is unlike anything I’ve ever had, but—and I know this probably sounds cheesy— what is almost as great is just being out at the merch stand every night, just hanging out with kids, getting to talk about their music or whatever art they are doing, and just being around fans.

Chelsea: Wow, that is really inspiring! I like that. I feel like so many artists just want to put themselves out there to the point where it’s like narcissism, narcissism, narcissism.

Stephen: That’s the thing, we’re all in this together; we wouldn’t be doing this if people weren’t listening to us, you know? I think it’s kind of a funny thing when people are up in their own business. It’s like dude, if those people weren’t in front of you, you wouldn’t be doing this, you know? You realize how much they are listening to you and the things you are saying. Sometimes, you’ve got to be careful. You really don’t know the way people are going to take things. Why wouldn’t you want to do good with what you have?

Chelsea: Is there anything else you want your fans or potential readers to know about you guys?

Stephen: Come to shows and hang out with us!

Chelsea: One more question. Because I know how much you like crashing after your shows, can you tell me the top five songs you listen to go to sleep?

Emiliana Torrini “Snow
The Beach Boys “God Only Knows
The National “London
Ultra Orange and Emmanuelle “Don’t Kiss Me Goodbye
Jon Brion: “Strings that Tie to You

Interviewed by: Chelsea Deptula

Originally published on Oct 10, 2011

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