John Lawrie & The Welcome Strangers are a band willing to stretch music as far as it can go. A group on the rise, we caught up with the band to chat their ambitious new single Park Bench.
The most exciting bands are those who go against the grain. Although the process may be daunting, what emerges is a fresher, punchier, more intricate sound than we have ever heard before; one that artists will take notes from in years to come. Northern Beaches four-piece John Lawrie & The Welcome Strangers are a band doing just that, exploding genre into a kaleidoscope of colours.
Blending the best parts of blues, alt-rock, and shoegaze into an irresistible harmony, their latest single Park Bench is just further proof of their sonic ingenuity. Yet, there’s still a lot we don’t know about the band. Who are their inspirations? How do they craft their music? Which artists did they “froth” in lockdown? Don’t worry, Happy’s got all your questions covered.
HAPPY: Hey guys, how’s it going? What are you up to at the moment?
JOHN: Hey! You know, the tide is high but we’re holding on. Just using this weird time at the moment to bunker down and write some tunes.
HAPPY: We’re loving the new single Park Bench! How does it feel having it out there in the world?
JOHN: So good to finally have it out there for everyone! We’ve had this song sitting in a DropBox folder for months, waiting for what felt like the right time to release it, so it’s nice to finally let other people hear it.
HAPPY: Could you tell us a bit about the song?
JOHN: The song came from a little moment I had sitting on a park bench once, where I was just kind of hit with how short life is and wanted to drive off into the sunset like I was in a Springsteen song. The song has a wall of ’80s synths and our usual shoegaze-inspired guitars, all over a driving bassline and indie-rock drums that make the song all too danceable. It’s just a good, wholesome, uplifting time with the overall tone of the song one of hope for making the most of the short time we have.
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HAPPY: I’m keen to chat about your INSANE blend of genre on the track. Could you walk us through the process of writing the song?
JOHN: I had the loose idea for that bass line while driving, I think I still even have a voice memo of me singing it to myself… I wrote the basic form of the song in a Logic demo, then added lyrics from “poems” in the notes folder in my phone, that seemed to fit the chorus line I’d come up with. From there, it was just a matter of hashing out the song all together at band practice one arvo and everyone adding their own unique flavours to the song. Usually, I’ll come up with a bass idea and Sean will respond with “that’s cute” and then write a part that’s a million times better, and he definitely did so on this one. A lot of this song’s overall sound is just from us having fun with it and each member throwing their own unique spin on stuff. Andy and I really threw the kitchen sink at it in terms of synth and guitar sounds too, which is where a lot of the ’80s, Cure-ish sounds and those walls of guitar come from.
HAPPY: What’s the catalyst for choosing a stylistic direction for you?
JOHN: Initially with this group, our tunes were just whatever I had written, we would play live. We wound up with a whole mess of genres and no distinct style but started to figure it out together. At the beginning of last year, I started writing a bunch of new songs for an album, so we made a playlist of songs that we loved and reflected the styles that we, as a band, were starting to head towards. So, that kind of focused everything, but we also started just blending all the random mess of genres and styles together for each song. I think working on all the songs at the same time really helped with that too.
HAPPY: What gear is essential for you guys when creating your music?
JOHN: The unsung hero of this band is my ‘70s Hammond “Sounder” organ. I got it for free to stop someone chucking it out and it’s probably the worst instrument Hammond ever made, but it’s terrible in all the best ways. It has a drum machine that’s reminiscent of a CR-78, but crap, and an auto chord on the left hand side that sounds delightful when put through a fuzz. The main sound of the organ is distinctly terrible but, in a way, that doesn’t really sound like anything else, especially after you drench it in delay and reverb, I’m addicted to it. I think I’ve snuck that organ in some way onto every one of our songs because I love it so much.
HAPPY: Were there any particular artists you were all vibing during lockdown?
JOHN: We all frothed over Phoebe Bridgers’ new record! But also, when we couldn’t have band practice, we had a weekly zoom call instead where each of us would recommend an album to the other three and then the next week we’d all return having listened to it and give our reviews of it and what we as a band can steal from it. I think we listened through everything from Sufjan Stevens to Jon Cleary.
HAPPY: What does success look like for you guys?
JOHN: Just to be able to keep making songs together and hopefully have people hear them, really. If we could get to a place where these little tunes that we made in my garage can pay our rent, that’d be amazing. Also, I mean, who wouldn’t want to play a stadium gig at some point?
HAPPY: What’s next for John Lawrie & TWS? Any other exciting plans in the works?
JOHN: The most exciting thing we have coming up is our debut album that’s currently being mixed and mastered! We were hoping to have it out sometime late in this year, but with all the gig restrictions and being unable to tour it, it might have to be put on hold until the world is open again. Other than that, we’re just working on some new fun stuff for the live set in preparation for a few possible shows later in the year.
HAPPY: Cheers for the chat!
JOHN: Thanks so much for having us!
Check out Park Bench below: