Sound: Prolific – Laurie Shaw


Posted 1 month ago in Sound

Releasing his seventh album this year is just par for the bountiful course Laurie Shaw finds himself on.

Laurie Shaw is well aware how mind-bogglingly bountiful his discography appears to others. His latest record, Sceptre, is his seventh such release this calendar year. A Bandcamp page reveals he has recorded over 100 albums to date, all available via request. The singer-songwriter, producer and even sometimes animator, often finds the word prolific “bandied around” to describe his output. Shaw eschews the more typical model of attempting to garner as much press for single releases every couple years.

He prefers to look at the big picture, and believes his hefty back catalogue is in part due to a wider appreciation for discographies and collections. “In other art forms like painting, I don’t think it’s really thought about in the same way,” he argues. “People don’t go ‘oh you’re putting out too many paintings’”. The lockdowns certainly played their part too; there was an element this year of making up for lost time.

Many might hear these numbers and be fearful of quantity trumping quality. Fret not, one only has to listen to Captain’s Log, the lead single from the forthcoming LP, to have their anxieties quelled. The track, which recalls the unpolished freneticism of Twin Peaks (the band) and the humorous existentialism of Harry Nilsson, is a swashbuckling jaunt. The dreamy, maritime imagery of the lyrics seem to paint a picture of a doomed romance, but it’s also winkingly opaque.

I suggest to him the lead refrain of, “I spend every morning with the hair of the dog / writing in my captain’s log,” could be a metaphor for the isolated songwriter, whose creativity might sometimes be fuelled by liquid courage. It’s not something he was conscious of, but following a bout of reflection he tends to agree. “Yeah, records are diary entries,” he concludes. “The way I enjoy taking everyday things, going a bit dreamlike with them, or making them more abstract is not unlike writing in a captain’s log while having a few drinks!”

Abstract is the key word, and Shaw is undoubtedly someone who thinks in that way. He’s extremely polite, well-spoken, and when answering questions he appears eager to make sure he’s effectively articulating concepts which may be hard to pin down. Sceptre is described as a Honky Tonk album in a droll press release. Shaw admits however, he is not really aiming for any sort of genre but more of a vibe: ”I was trying to capture that word in a way. It’s like a guy on piano, turn-of-the-century,” he says. “I was looking for that textured thing as well a dark wood feeling, maybe a little bit of dampness too.

It’s true, you wouldn’t mistake Sceptre for a retro, ragtime record or a revisit to the country music of the 1950s. There is nonetheless a buoyant, rhythmic quality, coupled with a hint of devilry that makes Shaw’s definition of the music a fitting one. This interesting dichotomy is captured in the visual for Captain’s Log, animated by Shaw himself, which looks like an intro to a children’s TV show which was warmly received in its day but now has a slightly unsettling, uncanny quality to it.

Born in Wirral, England, Shaw has lived much of his life since in Cork and then Kerry. That Hiberno-English upbringing has influenced him both musically and personally. He knows his accent can make him a bit of an ‘outsider’ but he’s lived most of his life here and Irish locations and landscapes appear throughout his past albums. “A lot of my stuff does relate to the culture of both countries. I know a lot about old English TV so that tends to crop up a lot,” he says.  “Hopefully I’m finding a nice balance between the two.”

At the moment it’s his current hometown of Kenmare and its surroundings which are leaving the biggest mark. It’s where he went to school and the duality of the sunny, tourist-reliant town of summer and the less inhabited, slightly lonelier area of the winter months is there in his songs he thinks. “In that world, there are endless possibilities to tell stories within it. That sort of duality,” he contends. “It’s the landscape, and the sense of community which I really like.

One of his songs even centres around one of the country’s most famous-and infamous-political dynasties. Perhaps nothing proves his Kerry credentials more than having a track called Healy Rae Country. While the title may imply a scathing, satirical polemic aimed at some of Ireland’s most controversial politicians, his take sounds more nuanced. “It’s a celebration of the area I live in, but with a very abstract twist,” he says. “It’s maybe a bit of an ‘us and them’ song but it’s slightly ironic as it’s coming from me who is clearly an outsider to that world by the way I talk.” It’s that relationship between his own partially overseas upbringing and issues with local governance that he finds strange and “something interesting to explore.”

 

Shaw didn’t just turn to music as inspiration for this record either. In trying to get in the correct frame of mind for the rawer, more tactile sound he was going for, he even grew a beard and changed his style. “I was wearing clothes that I wouldn’t usually wear,” he says with a smirk. “With the beard I looked like I had been marooned on some sort of Island. In a weird way that fed into the whole album.”

Another non-musical inspiration for Sceptre was the occult, or more specifically The Premonitions Bureau, a 2022 non-fiction book by Sam Knight. In it, Knight details strange coincidences – or genuine premonitions depending on your outlook – of times when people appeared to accurately predict disastrous events that would befall them. One famous example is of a child who reportedly dreamt that “something black” had come down all over their school the night before the Aberfan disaster. The incident gets referenced on the album.

Shaw admits, however, when it comes to the supernatural he doesn’t “go in for all that” but rather used it as a songwriting exercise. He wrote these songs as if from the perspective of a believer. “I tried to write stuff where I allowed myself to let that in,” he says. “In records you are the creator of that, you can control if stuff like that actually happens. So they are real in this world that I built. That’s what I was getting at,” he explains.

Elsewhere on the record, he sings about King Arthur and in the past he’s sung about Thomas Edison. I’m curious about what draws him to figures such as these. Edison too, had a famously rigorous work ethic–and a mean streak, which I must add Shaw does not. For him though, he simply believes there is “something really daft about taking something which is historically accurate and fictionalizing it and bending it to your will.” In both of these songs, the narrator is envious of the main subject. With seven albums this year, it seems hard to believe that Shaw would be envious of anyone’s output. Then again, maybe that’s why he’s able to bend them to his will.

Sceptre is out now and available to buy via laurieshawofficial.bandcamp.com.

Words: Mark Conroy
Photo: Kim Crowley

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