Words by Keane Fletcher
It doesn't take much for genre-bending band John Lawrie & The Welcome Strangers to feel inspired. In fact, when filtered through their unique blend of shoegaze, blues, indie rock and bristling 80's synth, even the most unlikely of subjects can become the building blocks for for a beloved song.
Take their latest hit, 'Park Bench' for instance.
'I wrote Park Bench’s lyrics while I was on a lunch break from my old job doing the filing at a nursing home,' says lead singer, John Lawrie. '...names would come and go in the files, and was sitting on a park bench, reminded of how as a kid I used to think the ones with names on them were basically headstones...That was all kind of morbid though so I decided to chuck it all over a synth-bass line I’d written and the song went from feeling trapped by life’s shortness to feeling inspired by it.'
Clock that? Nursing homes, park benches, and the futility of existence? Who would have thought that from such humble beginnings a bone-fide-banger would be born. Actually, and I mean this in the best way possible, with its mix of existential thought and catchy New Wave guitar, it wouldn't be remiss of us to think that 'Park Bench' had been lifted straight from the soundtrack to the latest Sophia Coppola movie. Makes us want to stare pensively towards a cityscape while contemplating the meaning of life. So a typical Friday then.
We recently sat down with John Lawrie & The Welcome Strangers to talk all things music, inspo, and why we should 'enjoy every sandwich'. Check it out below!
1- Where are you guys based at the moment?
At the moment we’re all spread out across Sydney, but in our hearts and minds we’re still in my parent’s dingy garage in the Northern Beaches.
2- How would you describe your sound? Who are your musical influences?
We semi-jokingly call it “bluegaze” - like a mix of shoegaze and the blues, but really it sounds like if you put Springsteen, The Cure and My Bloody Valentine in a blender. Lots of synths and driving beats, walls of noise, and introspective lyrics delivered in a bass-baritone voice. I guess we just sound like whatever happens when you take the songs I write on a guitar and put the four of us in a room together to play them loud.
3- I have to admit, I’d somehow never stumbled across the term ‘shoegaze’ before. I was embarrassed to discover it’s actually a genre that I’ve loved for years without actually knowing the term for it. Do you find genre labels useful or restrictive when it comes to writing a song? What’s your usual process for developing material?
Genre’s a funny thing! For us we mostly see it as a way of marketing music, and giving people a shorthand for what we sound like before they listen to us to help frame the experience they’re going to have. When writing and arranging stuff though, I mostly try to keep open to whatever the song coming out seems to want to be, knowing that with my voice and with the shared sound of the band, any song I write will wind up sounding like us anyways. Usually I’ll write a tune and have a really bare bones demo I’ll mock up in Logic with the basic structure and maybe a few specific sounds I had in mind, then we’ll work on it at rehearsal before trying it live to see what works and refining it from there.
4- Your latest single ‘Park Bench’ is a punching, synth-heavy piece of 80’s-inspired existential-rock. Can you tell us a bit about the story behind it?
I wrote Park Bench’s lyrics while I was on a lunch break from my old job doing the filing at a nursing home. I was being constantly confronted by the shortness of existence as names would come and go in the files, and was sitting on a park bench, reminded of how as a kid I used to think the ones with names on them were basically headstones and the people were buried under it. That was all kind of morbid though so I decided to chuck it all over a synth-bass line I’d written and the song went from feeling trapped by life’s shortness to feeling inspired by it.
5- A lot of artists are suffering at the moment due to the COVID-19 pandemic and its ramifications. How has it affected you and your creativity? Has the band enjoyed having more time to create, or are you all dying to get back in front of a live audience?
Our main focus, strength and love as a band is definitely our live shows and we’re all missing it way too much, but we’ve had fun being able to come to a rehearsal with the freedom to just have fun with the songs without the pressure of preparing for a show, so we’ve been using this time to really develop our sound and some more improvisational parts of our lives act. Overall though, I think we’re just bored and rearing to go play shows again!
6- Life’s short right? What’s on John Lawrie & The Welcome Strangers’ bucket list? Where do you hope to see yourselves in five years from now?
It’d be amazing to be able to get back out there and tour across the world a little bit whenever it’s safe again to do so, and I mean, who doesn’t want to play a stadium or two? Mostly though, we just want to keep making the songs and sounds we love and hope other people can connect with it while we do.
7- What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given, music-related or otherwise?
The best piece of musical advice is definitely to always serve the song first before your own ego or anything else. The best advice just in general is was from my dad who quoted Warren Zevon saying, “Enjoy every sandwich.” Words to live by.
8- Last but not least, when’s the album coming out?!
Hopefully soon!! Trying to strategise, plan, and all the other smart stuff I hate doing, but we’re excited for people to hear it!
Thanks for stopping by Hipland!