First published on 26 Jun 2012. Updated on 5 Jul 2012.
Thirty-one-year-old Auckland artist Lawrence Arabia (James to his friends) won a bunch of accolades on the alternative music circuit for his self-titled debut in 2006 and the Taite-prize winning Chant Darling in 2008. This month, Lawrence releases his very suave third album, The Sparrow. “I started to realise I wanted to make a new album when we were touring Chant Darling in 2010,” he explains. “It was very monotonous, so I had a lot of ideas to do with home… nostalgia…”
But if you expect chamber pop star indie buzz to now be basing himself in the cooler corners of London or New York, you’d be wrong.
Lawrence spent part of 2010 living in London with NZ-songwriter brethren Connan Moccasin and Elroy Finn. Yet the allure of Auckland – spacious, and with “freedom to collaboration musically” – eventually drew him back (see leading single ‘Travelling Shoes’, which elegises a ‘town of perfect isolation…’). “A lot of my best friends who are musicians live overseas. But I’m definitely happy to be in New Zealand.”
Friends are an essential part of the equation for Lawrence, who puts enormous faith in his collaborators. He introduced all the songs for The Sparrow to Connan and Elroy in the recording studio, and a mere four days later they had recorded the drums, guitars and pianos for the entire record. “I think there’s a sort of ramshackle-ness to the performance that sits under there. But they’re great musicians so there’s always gonna be elements of awesomeness.”
Far from muddying the waters, the ‘ramshackle’ performances on The Sparrow do a great job of setting off his characteristically irreverent – see ‘Bissexual’ and ‘Early Kneecappings’ – yet considered set of pop songs. Production-wise, the ’60s-evoking pop of the previous two albums remains intact, but by swapping the guitar for the piano in many cases – and adding horns and strings – he has pushed this album in a more swinging, adult direction.
Lawrence admits these songs came partly out of the “inexorable feeling of aging” that seized him on his approach to 30. He found himself writing more slowly, and succumbing to his harsh inner critic. “Everything’s exciting when you’re a young person coming up with songs, but I start to come up with something in more recent years and I’ll be like, ‘I’ve already done something better than that.’”
One of the solutions was to compose songs on the piano, tells Lawrence. “There’s something quite grandiose and pompous about playing the piano, which appeals to me. It was helping me write new types of songs and it’s just a really enjoyable… but I’m a bit of a hack on it, really!”
His intimate shows in Sydney and Melbourne this July, with a four-piece band, should let fans in on the results. “Hopefully it will be energetic… engaging… a kind of miniature of the record.”
For lovers of honest-to-goodness chamber pop, attendance is a must.
Chant Darling is out July 13.