Comes and Goes (In Full Circles)

Comes and Goes (In Full Circles)
Image used with permission from Vanguard Records

Singer-songwriter Greg Laswell reminisces about his career’s start in San Diego, reflects on his newest album’s local roots and reveals married life with fellow musician Ingrid Michaelson.

Every time I finish a record, I think, ‘Alright, my next record will [have] upbeat, pop songs.’” Greg Laswell chuckles in self-awareness. “But every time I get a chance, I end up gravitating towards sad stuff.”

The singer-songwriter and producer is notorious for composing melancholy ballads like “Comes and Goes (In Waves)” and “What a Day.” In fact, the musician has a knack for turning your favorite cheery tunes into the gloomiest songs you’ve ever heard: Take his minor-key, acoustic rendition of Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun,” which sparked controversy in 2011 after “Glee” used Laswell’s slowed-down composition without giving him credit.

But moody melody aside, Laswell is getting the last laugh, releasing a whole album’s worth of previously recorded songs all in the same vein of his Lauper rearrangement.
“I kind of covered myself!” Laswell says about his new record “I Was Going To Be an Astronaut.” “I love deconstructing songs and changing them to the point where they’re almost unrecognizable.”

Despite the novel sound of the album’s several tracks, much of it is old news for his listeners.

“Before I started a new record altogether, I kept getting people coming up to me after shows … asking for [recorded] versions that I do of a lot of my songs [when I play live] because they differ quite a bit from [the original] recordings,” Laswell says. “And so it happened enough times to where I thought, ‘A lot of people keep asking for it. I’ll give it a try.’”

But “Astronaut” is more than simply a sampling of fan favorites or a unique spin on a “Best of” album. It’s a purely San Diegan record, charting not only each track’s pre-production sound but also Laswell’s own musical roots.

“I owe San Diego a lot,” Laswell says. “Working on this record made me very nostalgic because I was basically re-recording pieces of the last seven years of my life so it took me back in time.”


Though he grew up in Long Beach, the singer-songwriter graduated from Point Loma Nazarene University and lived in San Diego at the start of his career, forming and fronting alternative rock band Shillglen. But since then, Laswell has flown solo as a musician and a producer, a success he credits to San Diego, although he is currently living in New York City.

“I love San Diego — I miss it,” Laswell said. “I lived in LA for awhile, too, but … I find myself missing San Diego more. That’s where I got my start. … A friend of mine, [fellow San Diegan-based singer-songwriter] Anya Marina, … used to be on the radio [as a deejay] on 94.9. … She heard the record [‘Through Toledo’] and insisted that I look for a manager and hooked me up with my first manager, and really put the idea in my head to see what I get out of this album that I had just finished. So I credit her a lot and also San Diego, too. I got signed while I was in San Diego. It was a great place to learn how to perform and the San Diego Music Awards were always really kind to me. I miss those days. They were really, really like a community. It’s relatively small compared to LA or New York. … But the community that exists there is comforting and encouraging.”

Laswell jokingly confesses that he’s “looking forward to being in San Diego and eating Mexican food!”, but admits that he had weightier reasons for kicking off his tour for “Astronaut” in San Diego.

“I thought it would be fitting to do a full circle,” Laswell says. “I did my very first CD release show for ‘Through Toledo,’ my first record, at Lestat’s. And so now I’m going to do my CD release show of this record at Lestat’s [on Feb. 11]. The only difference is, you know, I think there were twelve people there [at my first gig], and now both shows [for ‘Astronaut’ at Lestat’s] are sold out.”

Since his start in San Diego, the musician has rubbed shoulders with luminaries of both coasts: his close friend Elijah Wood starred in a music video for his hit “How the Day Sounds,” and his last record, 2012’s “Landline,” featured collaborations with his musical peers, Sara Bareilles, Sia, Elizabeth and the Catapult and New York-based singer-songwriter Ingrid Michaelson, whom he tied the knot with two years ago. But even living and occasionally touring with the “Maybe” artist hasn’t changed Laswell’s outlook on music.

“[Michaelson and I] always laugh about it because we imagine that people picture us sitting at our house with guitars, writing and singing and doing music all the time, and they think that it must be this musical house,” Laswell says. “And it’s really not! … I think we just kind of subconsciously made a decision to just keep it separate.”
A purely independent artist, Laswell simply cannot be pinned down to one genre and concedes that he’s not strongly influenced by the music he listens to.

“People are always surprised to hear that I’m a huge metal fan,” Laswell said. “I love hard rock and heavy metal and old country like Johnny Cash … Whenever I do listen to music, it’s at least 20 years old, so I’m hard-pressed to think of anyone that I’m influenced by that is currently doing music. So I think it’s a weird mixture of late ’80s and ’90s Tori Amos mixed with heavy metal.”

With plans to return to the studio to record another album at the end of his tour for “Astronaut,” San Diego’s own singer-songwriter continues to shoot for the stars and promises to keep delivering literate, elegant compositions. Whether Laswell will finally take a jauntier tone with his next record is yet to be seen, but one thing is for sure:
“I can’t do heavy metal [covers],” Laswell says with a laugh. “I think it would confuse other people.”

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