Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Recording engineered by Mike Gentry
A goddamn army of June bugs squats in the head of Greg Laswell, singing an infuriating soliloquy through the nights and days, so loud that it hurts. He mentions these insects at one point in "Sing Theresa Says," and though they're really supposed to be metaphorical, they strike you as entirely real and entirely problematic for the singer and songwriter from San Diego, Calif. The June bugs have invited the locusts and the crickets to the penthouse and their main hobby is being the insistent voices, not of reason, but of irksome pessimism. They perch in his belfry as the tiny voices of devilish thoughts, comprising all of the situations with relationships gone stagnant and then gone to seed.
The details that are in those devils, of which they sing stoutly and without tiring, are converted into the softened voices of the empathetic. It must be how it gets transformed inside Laswell's head as those rampaging questions racking up the scar tissue and taking lame all get turned into some touching droplets of pointed memories that have been exterminated of any judgment or malice. There are plenty of derailed relationships - or just one that's made the man very prolific and somewhat miserable - to stoke for material, but they've all been processed and accepted to the point where most people would consider them to be harmless and healthy. It's as if Laswell's taken them through his own personal detoxification and they're popped out on the other side of the plant as new oxygen, not the carbon dioxide that they entered it as. Somehow the tough lumps and the gristle of all that Laswell's narrators have to chew on as they're sorting through their grey clouds all get hammered out, worked over and over until the locusts and the June bugs that pestered to start with are just a light humming choral arrangement that's not all that abrasive.
He's a singer who gives out the melancholy the way that Chris Martin of Coldplay does, with more of a slight smirk and boundless energy than with slumped shoulders and a frozen gaze. It's all about having made the desertion and the isolation something of a positive when it's brought back up in a new conversation or a new line of thinking. He gets on with his life - after enough recovery that will put the pains and open wounds back into the perspective that they need. He lives free of the burden of needing to stay cold and distant, of needing to turn off to cope with a woman packing all of her delicates and personal items and not looking back over her shoulder when she closes the door for the final time. He listens to his grandmother when she suggests to him in a dream one night that she would love it if he sang some happy things for once. It's hard to hear much of the sadness in his voice though, even when sadness is the guest of honor in most of his songs. It's better. It's been worse. All of the unbearable emptiness and the greatest degree of heartache has been worked through and what's left is a man sounding like he's at the beginning of a new day.
*Essay originally published February, 2009