The Songs That Bind: Lauren Denitzio of Worriers

Music Features The Songs That Bind
The Songs That Bind: Lauren Denitzio of Worriers

The first time I learned about Worriers was in college, when I was running a vegan/vegetarian co-op kitchen on campus and my co-manager was trying to book Lauren Denitzio to come play an acoustic gig in our space. Our membership numbers had been waning for a while, and we were looking for something—anything—to get people interested in our niche little spot again. From what I remember, we’d gotten close to making it happen—that we’d raised enough funds to have Lauren make the trek out to our small liberal arts college stationed in an Ohio village of, maybe, a thousand people. To prepare for their arrival, I studied the Worriers catalog front to back—getting hip to the deep cuts and the big favorites, like “Future Me” and “They/Them/Theirs.” But, in an instant, all of it fell through—or, maybe it just wasn’t meant to be. Either way, I don’t really know what the motivating force was behind the whole thing getting canned.

That’s why I was so excited to hop on the phone with Lauren earlier this summer. Their latest Worriers album, Trust Your Gut (their second album of 2023, after Warm Blanket), is not their first release since that spring semester five years ago. But, it is their first album release since I took the editor gig at Paste. Given how good the title track was upon its release a few months back, I knew I wanted to make something happen with Lauren in some capacity—and what better way than to have them go in deep on a couple of tracks?

If you caught the first entry in the Songs That Bind series with Dan Campbell, you’re probably already familiar with the process: I call up a musician and have them go on and on about one song written by someone else and one song of their own. I was stoked to hear that Lauren was game to do this, and their picks—Julien Baker’s cover of Frightened Rabbit’s “The Modern Leper” and the Trust Your Gut tune “Back Yard Garden”—are a perfect spectrum of emotions. Many thanks to Lauren for the generosity here, and I hope you all enjoy this latest installment of The Songs That Bind. —Matt Mitchell, Music Editor

Julien Baker: “The Modern Leper” [Frightened Rabbit Cover]

I love Julien’s cover in the way that it so perfectly combines her music with not just that song, but the way that I know that she likes Frightened Rabbit. Pairing those two together so perfectly for a song that gets at a theme that is also present in Julien’s music in general of “I don’t understand why you love me,” this subtle, self-loathing that comes through in both of their catalogs that can just really hit home sometimes. But, not only do I just love her take on it—seeing it through that lens—but, when I had the pleasure of touring with her in 2017, 2018, I wasn’t really familiar with Frightened Rabbit. I wasn’t as familiar with bands like Manchester Orchestra or Mastersystem or, even, Kevin Devine’s music—who I now know much better. I wasn’t as familiar with that family of bands back then. It was through that tour that she would mention bands and I was like “Wait, what? What new record that you love? What is this?” And watching her perform on stage every night, just as a solo person getting these huge sounds to happen, was just both so impressive and influential to me. The way that those bands now influence me are just directly connected to Julien, because she was the one who was like “Wait, you haven’t heard A Black Mile To The Surface? What? You have to listen to all of this.” If it weren’t for that tour, I don’t think that I would have written this record.

The bands you tour with, the friends you make, the people who hand you different records, that all always plays into the writing process. When I think about how much those bands and Frightened Rabbit, specifically, have influenced the way I now think about writing rock music, it really does come back to [Trust Your Gut]. I think, especially because Worriers has really just been my songwriting and, when I think about my songs over that period of time, I just see it as my growing up. I think everyone would love the chance to re-record and re-do a lot of their earlier work. There’s just so much that I would change and re-hash or throw out—just change about things that I wrote when the band was first forming. But I think that, watching that trajectory, it makes me even more proud of Trust Your Gut—and knowing that most people don’t just write their first record and it’s the greatest thing you’ve ever heard and they’re happy with it forever, that it takes practice and learning and touring and playing with different people, all of that comes together into being able to write something that you are truly happy with.

I feel very lucky to have had the time and the opportunity to write both with previous bandmates and the whole history of the band. But then, being able to sit down and say “Okay, after learning all of this, how do I want my music to sound?” And being able to work with Frank [Piegaro] on guitar (who was on my last record, as well) or Atom on drums and Franz [Nicolay] on keys—who I’ve been listening to play keys for, basically, my entire adult life, he helped me write everything for this record—and my friend Allegra on bass, being able to gather those people to best serve my songwriting, it’s just a privilege.

Scott [Hutchison]’s music—as a contemporary rock band—connects with me in a way that I hadn’t experienced before. I think that, just being able to acknowledge his influence and then, also, the influence from that time period of being on tour with Julien and watching her music evolve as well, it’s an interesting confluence of things that has been really significant to me and my songwriting. For a long time, I’d been kind of in denial of Worriers being my songwriting project, that I’d really wanted to have more of a traditional band and the way that that functions as a “writing collective”—or that that was going to sound a certain way, coming from a DIY punk background.

The way that it was able to hit further into my career, when I was on tour with Julien as a solo performer—I had never really done that before, I never toured solo. That period of time was [me] re-evaluating what I wanted to do as a solo artist, both on stage and when writing with other people. I know it took until Warm Blanket and Trust Your Gut to really let go of a lot of the past patterns and habits that I’ve had with writing with other people. To really get past that and be able to focus on what I wanted to sound like as my own songwriter and, with a band like Frightened Rabbit—or whoever it is that paradigm shifts your writing—it’s much harder for that to happen. If you’re a band of four or five people trying to go on that journey together, I think that can really only happen when the person driving the project or driving the vision has that shift. I was lucky enough to be in that position, where I could take a step back and re-evaluate things. I don’t think that could happen if you were talking to a band in full, seven years in.

Worriers: “Back Yard Garden”

“Back Yard Garden” was actually the first song I was working on that struck me as “This is going to be the new record.” I had been writing music, trying to get out of the Worriers box—especially because, this is 2020, 2021, I don’t live in the same city as any of my bandmates. I was really just trying to write music for fun or for something else, not thinking of it as anything that I was necessarily going to bring to my bandmates. I’d been working on this separate project with this cellist and performance artist, Ethan Philbrick, and I was working on “Back Yard Garden” and Atom Willard was working on music with me, just for fun. When we all collectively collaborated on the arrangement for “Back Yard Garden”—once it was finished in that form and it had this much larger, orchestrated arrangement to it than I had been used to with Worriers—it really just hit me that “Oh, I think I unintentionally started writing the next Worriers record.” And that was just really significant to me, in putting this record together and starting the tone with something that was written from not just a really personal place but also arranged in such a more collaborative way—not as the two guitars, bass, drums vibe I’ve been working with for so long.

Warm Blanket was, in my mind, a lot of nice demos of a more indie-chill concept record that I worked on just myself. “Back Yard Garden” and the rest of Trust Your Gut is really being able to write and arrange songs myself with the help of other musicians in this very “sky’s the limit” kind of way that’s not limited to any one arrangement or writing habit. I know people have heard Warm Blanket and are like, “Oh, Trust Your Gut is the second record [of 2023],” but Trust Your Gut is the record that I have been working on as a full band. Trust Your Gut is, really, the new record to me. That is what I’ve been working on since 2020, 2021—and developing and rewriting and rearranging. I think that, even though “Back Yard Garden” isn’t the first track on the record—evolution-wise for the band, if you listened to the last song on You or Someone You Know, then the next song you would listen to would be “Back Yard Garden.”

With Warm Blanket being something that I was working on just by myself, I really feel like it was the way to clean slate things. Trust Your Gut, both the song and the full record was, for me, my way of writing the songs that I’ve always wanted to write—the full capacity of my songwriting at this point—rather than thinking of it in terms of a punk band or a punk project. I don’t see [Worriers] as that anymore. And I’m really excited to be able to write songs where I’m not really pinned in by expectations for what the next Worriers record is supposed to sound like. No, these are songs that are more indicative of my own influences and interests from indie and pop and alternative rock. I think, maybe in the past, it wouldn’t have been so obvious that I also listen to all of this other music. Whereas, with Trust Your Gut, I really wanted it to be something that will be accessible and have more of a range.

I think the way I talk about loss or grief or sadness on Trust Your Gut—I think it’s definitely different than I’ve handled it in the past. I think the song “Trust Your Gut” is, maybe, more like past versions of myself, putting something difficult in a song that sounds very hopeful. Whereas “Back Yard Garden” is more accepting and introspective, in terms of dealing with loss and change—and, in that specific song, divorce. “Back Yard Garden” processes the grief from an emotional language barrier that manifested itself in a number of ways in that particular relationship. Something that, unfortunately, stuck with me is how I found out about Scott’s passing while we were on a very long [Worriers] tour that coincided with my relationship dissolving, and there was a real lack of understanding about why I was upset about the news—since I didn’t know him personally. To identify with how someone processes life and pain and also joy through music is like understanding their language, in a way. Feeling very alone in that moment was striking and definitely an experience I channeled into “Back Yard Garden.”

I think that the way that Scott wrote songs that really are just so gut-wrenching but also so cathartic—I would assume for both him and also for the listener. That is something that I’ve found really inspiring about his work about Julien Baker’s work and a lot of other bands that I’ve started listening to a lot more in the past five, seven years and really embracing. It’s a certain level of honest about how that stuff hits you, and I think I’m still trying to learn how to talk about it—because I think part of my trying to write about those topics on Trust Your Gut is figuring out how to get through it to the other side and not just sitting in the grief itself. What does life look like after that?

I think that Trust Your Gut has me leaning into sharing those experiences a lot more in more of an honest way. I think that listening to these more epic, prestigious indie rock takes on it—what is it about wanting to hear a deeply sad Frightened Rabbit cover that really gets at why I play music in the first place? I think that trying to get at those feelings and that experience—because something that I think has come up in multiple songs is this feeling of somebody else from your life being everywhere. I feel like that is such a universal experience. And not making light of it or turning it into a pop song or a pop punk jam is something that, in this season of my life, it makes a lot more sense to me to lean into these larger, more lush arrangements for things in a way that we haven’t been able to before.

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