Flagstaff Live (2011)
"The Spy Who Loved Me"
By Ryan Heinsius
Phoenix neo-garage rockers the Love Me Nots deal with their demons and evolve into one of the Southwest’s finest bands
Live powerhouse: The Love Me Nots rock Paris club La Boule Noire. Photos by Delisée Stéphanie. Front page Love Me Nots full-band photo by Jason Garcia.
It’s been a remarkable and unprecedented year or so for the Love Me Nots. Between a major medical scare within the band, lineup changes and being unexpectedly completely stranded in Europe while on tour, they somehow found time to crank out a superb fourth album called The Demon and the Devotee. Strife really does have a tendency to inspire great art.
Recorded in Detroit last year with renowned producer Jim Diamond—whose pervious work includes the White Stripes’ first two albums as well as being the former bassist for the Dirtbombs—the band’s newest effort transcends their origins by stretching out beyond their core influences.
Formed in 2006 in Phoenix, the Love Me Nots came together as a side project for some already well-entrenched local musicians. Frontwoman Nicole Laurenne had been playing Farfisa organ and singing with Valley band Blue Fur when she and guitarist Michael Johnny Walker concocted the Love Me Nots as a highly stylish ode to the often unsung wave of ’60s garage rock they loved. They were warmly received right out of the gate garnering glowing reviews and admiration in the Phoenix New Times as well appearing on Flag Live’s cover in August of that year. Since then, their Phoenix-area fanbase has grown exponentially and their famously raucous live shows have become a well-honed thing of performance beauty.
Since getting together, the Love Me Nots—which also includes bassist Kyle Rose Stokes and drummer Jay Lien—have hit the road hard nationally and have also gone out on multiple highly successful European tours, capturing the imaginations of audiences there. Music-wise The Demon and the Devotee represents a sizable sonic leap forward for the Love Me Nots, proving their undeniable relevance as a modern band and not just an homage to their underground heroes, most of whom live on in some degree of popular obscurity. The Love Me Nots’ fate in no way seems destined for the same.
Check out the Love Me Nots Fri, May 13 at the Lumberyard Brewing Co., 5 S. San Francisco, with Phoenix’s Sophie O and Flagstaff’s Tonsil Yeti. The show starts at 10 p.m. and is free. For more info, see www.myspace.com/luvmenots or call 779-2739.
Ryan Heinsius: On the new album, I hear the Love Me Nots going some places that haven’t been as central to the band’s sound in the past. For instance, “The End of the Line” features a great marching beat intro that evokes the White Stripes in a very good way, and a simple but very effective fuzz-box-type guitar riff. Did you guys intend to venture into some uncharted territory when you set out to record the new album? Do you view The Demon and the Devotee as a bit of a turning point?
Nicole Laurenne: With every album, we try to go somewhere a little different. The first record was more of a classic ’60s garage sound, the second was darker and grittier, the third was more polished and poppy. We wanted to get away from that polished feel on this record and get back to the raw sounds we like so much. We also found ourselves more influenced by modern bands on this record than ever before. There’s a lot of cool music out there right now and it’s inspiring. The four of us collaborated on writing this album much more than we ever had in the past; everyone had a hand in the lyrics, the arrangements, the production. We even played each other’s instruments at times. It was a really refreshing way to write. We took our time, thought things through, did a lot of rewrites together and scrapped a lot of songs before we headed to Detroit this time. I hope it’s a turning point. I love this record.
RH: The final tune of the album, “The Girl Lights Up,” has a really sweet, upbeat and poppy vibe and is somewhat of a contrast to the rest of the album. What inspired that song and why was it chosen as the album closer?
NL: After most of the tracks had been recorded, Michael got a 12-string for Christmas. He basically opened it up, sat down with it in the living room, and played that riff. I had some lyrics already written, something about trying to be happy with the things you have rather than constantly wishing for things you don’t have. The song was written in about five minutes. The production is totally different than the rest of the tracks on the record because Michael recorded the entire track himself in our rehearsal space—he even played all the instruments on the recording, even the drums. It’s just one of those songs that kind of instantly wrote itself and knew what it wanted to be. It’s one of my favorite songs on the record actually.
RH: It also seems you personally stretched out quite a bit on The Demon and the Devotee. Your singing is especially melodic in a way that shows a real advance in songwriting and performance. Who have you been listening to lately as far as vocalists are concerned?
NL: Thanks, that’s nice of you to say. I did try some new things on this record. It’s always kind of scary to branch out from what you’re used to doing, but my bandmates were really cool, encouraging me to try things and being really supportive while I messed around with the melodies. That helped my confidence a lot. I listen to everything: jazz, old country songs, hip-hop, dance tracks, classic rock, classical, etc. In the course of one Sunday morning we might listen to Edie Gorme, followed by Mark Ronson, followed by Tammy Wynette, followed by King Khan, followed by Ke$ha, followed by Lulu. So it’s pretty hard to nail down where any of my inspiration is coming from! But some of my favorites while we were writing this record were the Black Belles and Blood Red Shoes.
RH: Before the return of drummer Jay Lien, Phoenix recording guru Bob Hoag played with the Love Me Nots for a while. What did Bob bring to the band’s sound and what precipitated Jay returning after an extended absence? How has the band changed since Jay was sitting behind the drum kit?
NL: We recorded the third record at Bob’s studio and he sat in on three of the tracks on that record actually. He’s a producer at the studio all day long, so has a deep understanding of song formats and arrangements and tempos—a lot of the brains behind what makes a pop song work. He plays the kit with such intensity and precision, like a motor roaring. He really helped tighten up our live sound tremendously. Jay had moved to New York after we recorded the second album. We didn’t really hear from him much after he moved. But when we toured through Brooklyn last year, Jay just walked in the door of the club and said, “Hey.” I just about fell over. Michael and Jay have been playing together for a long time. I know Michael missed that mind-reading feeling you get when you’ve been performing with someone for years. There’s really no substitute for the confidence that gives you. So when Jay wanted to come back to the band, we were thrilled. Jay is a dynamic, explosive player. He can make the sparse parts of the song interesting and then knock your head off with a huge fill. Jay is also a great writer—he writes screenplays actually. The lyrics to “Cheap Knockoff” are largely based on something he wrote. And he’s always been a riot on stage. You never know when you’ll turn around and Jay will be diving over the kick drum right at you.
RH: Who exactly is the Demon and who exactly is the Devotee?
NL: The demons are the things that hold us back and mess with our heads. Everyone’s got demons that haunt them, whether it’s a bad breakup or alcohol or childhood bullies or whatever. The devotees are ourselves. The demons can only control you if you let them do it, of course. Just about every song on this record is about those demons, in one way or another.
RH: In the summer of 2010, the band had to cancel several shows after you were diagnosed with breast cancer. You’re cancer free now from what I understand, but how did that experience affect your outlook as it relates to the Love Me Nots and music in general?
NL: It sounds like a cliché, but you wake up one day and have no idea that everything is going to look different by the time you go to bed that night. I suddenly wanted to get rid of all the negative things in my life that bothered me and focus on the fun stuff. The clock is ticking, so you better have a good time as much as possible. When we made this record, I kind of felt like “sure, I’ll try anything, what sounds good?” instead of trying to force magic to happen in the first five minutes. The whole hospital experience also brought us all closer together on a personal level too, and I know that spills over into the way we write and the way we perform together. We honestly have a great time with each other.
RH: The band worked on The Demon and the Devotee during that cancer-battling period. Was the album impacted by having the specter of cancer lurking there in the background? Was it talked about a lot within the band? How did you personally cope with the stress of enduring such a scary and unnerving thing?
NL: We had actually written and finished pre-production on about 14 tracks and were about to head to France on tour and then to Detroit to record this album, when I got the news. It was so heartbreaking to cancel all of that and realize I was going to be laid up for awhile instead. None of us really dwelled on the downsides too much though. I think the attitude was always “alright let’s get this taken care of” with guns blazing instead of being depressed about it. My mom came to live with us to help out, and we found ourselves watching a lot of cheesy movies and cracking each other up and eating a lot of home-cooked food while I recovered. Michael and my mom both have a great sense of humor and love to have fun. That really is the best medicine, for me anyway. The unexpected silver lining was that we had a lot of time to listen to the tracks we had been working on, and we ended up scrapping a lot of it and rewriting things together. We didn’t rush anything—and if you knew me before, you know I was always in a rush! So now when I listen to the tracks I hear that guns-blazing kind of raw sound on top of a good solid foundation of songwriting.
RH: Was I hallucinating, or did I see a photo on one of the Love Me Nots Web sites that involved you and Michael getting married in New York? If that’s in fact true, how has the dynamic of playing in a band with your spouse defined the vibe of the band? After all, the two of you have been the only consistent members since the band’s founding. Has it changed anything at all?
NL: You weren’t hallucinating. Michael and I flew to New York—one of our favorite cities in the world—and got married in Central Park a couple of Christmases ago. We have been together since the band got started, so I don’t know that the ceremony changed the band dynamic very much. We came back and went right back to all the writing and touring and recording and working that we did before. At this point, I can’t really imagine making music without Michael’s amp screaming beside me. When you’re creating something with someone you love and trust, I think you honestly do better work. Plus you have a way better time doing it.
RH: The Love Me Nots tour Europe quite a bit and have really established quite a foothold there with fans. What do you see as some major distinctions between music culture there and here in the States? What have been your favorite shows in Europe?
NL: Europeans don’t seem to tie themselves to a specific genre of music as much as Americans seem to. Our shows in Europe are filled with metal fans, reggae fans, old people, young people. Everyone just seems to show up and love listening to good music. Even our label there, Bad Reputation, has a really eclectic roster. But we have also noticed that the European listeners really are listening hard—hey are very tuned in to the musicality of a band and if you don’t blow their minds, they’ll let you know it pretty bluntly. You have to focus hard and not let yourself be lazy about little errors. The sound and lights are always good, the stages are big, they have high expectations of you. My favorite shows to date have been the big motorcycle races we’ve played at in France—and as far as you can see, singing along with me in French accents, performing with the New York Dolls—and at a little club in the red-light district of Paris called La Boule Noire. When we were there last month, every show seemed amazing to me.
RH: Last spring the band became stranded in Europe after the Iceland volcano blew. What did you do with the downtime? Was there ever a point when you felt that the universe was conspiring against you?
NL: Our families here at home were stressing out a little, since we had no idea when we were going to be able to fly home. And it was expensive. That was the downside. The upside was that we were stuck in Paris with nothing to do for days on end with each other. Our label there booked some interviews and photo shoots for us. But other than that we just wandered around the city—something we never ever get to do on tour usually—and saw old churches and catacombs and drank table wine and learned how to use a French laundromat and sat at cafes. It was kind of a once-in-a-lifetime thing the way I saw it.
RH: What’s next for the Love Me Nots? Where do you foresee the band’s sound going and what are the ultimate goals for the four of you career-wise and artistically?
NL: In the spirit of exorcising some old demons, we’re just going to sit back and see where this record takes us, see what kind of opportunities come our way after people hear it, enjoy the ride a little instead of driving the car so intensely. We’re always writing and recording our ideas and working on other kinds of projects once in awhile on the side. The goal—for the first time in this band’s experience—is to not have a goal. So far it feels pretty good.