I’m sitting on a chair a few feet inside the entryway of The Cannery building. Copeland is scheduled to play at Mercy Lounge tonight, and I’m waiting for long-time guitarist, Bryan Laurenson, to come retrieve me so I can do an interview. In the mean time, I’m eavesdropping on fans in the nearby line who’ve shown up well over an hour before doors are even scheduled to open. There are about thirty or so of them waiting in the cold. They’re gushing about the band, citing specific albums and certain songs that meant everything to them. I smile because it’s something you don’t hear very often in Nashville. People don’t get outwardly excited about artists with the same reckless abandon as they do in places where music is less prevalent. Perhaps we’ve deceived ourselves into thinking it’s some sort of weakness to emote – as if acknowledging another’s talent will make us less talented (a symptom of our own fragile egos), or that “playing it cool” can somehow make us cool.
But these fans don’t care, and they all seem to be a few years younger than me, which makes me think, “When on earth did they start listening to Copeland?” I’m twenty-six now, and I started listening around sixteen, which meant I was already a couple years behind their first release, Beneath The Medicine Tree, which came out in 2003. Is it possible that these shivering early-birds got on board at eleven years old? Later in the night, as 22 year-old Natalie takes a drag of her cigarette after introducing herself to me on the patio, she explains, “I had a cool older brother.”
I didn’t get the confirmation to do the Copeland interview until earlier in the day, which sent me frantically typing notes into my phone trying to decide what questions to ask. Later, I scribbled them onto a piece of notebook paper and gave them a home in my back pocket. I was nervous for two reasons:
- This was the second interview I’d ever done. Both times, I’ve stressed myself out imagining there’s a cool journalist world where everyone has an iPad and wears square-rimmed glasses over a furrowed brow. Here I was, with a folded up piece of paper and an iPhone 4, complete with a shattered screen, which I would use to record the process.
- I fully recognize the inherent value of every human being. I don’t think having more people who know your name results in a more quality existence. But sometimes nostalgia gets the best of you, and although your 26 year-old self understands certain concepts, 16 year-old you only remembers how many life experiences were soundtracked by this band’s music.
It wouldn’t be the first time I’d met Copeland either. When I was eighteen, living in the suburbs of New Jersey, I posted a video online covering one of their songs. A few months later I received a message, probably on Myspace since that’s how long ago it was. A dark-haired guy named Justin Fenske was claiming to be their merch guy. He said that Copeland had seen my video and wanted to invite me to their upcoming show in Philadelphia. I’d seen episodes of To Catch a Predator, so I assumed it was a trap. Nevertheless, I replied, but with lackluster enthusiasm. He quickly proved his credentials and sent me all the info, along with those seven glorious words: “We’ll put you on the guest list.”
I couldn’t really wrap my head around it. Obviously, I was stunned that they’d personally invite me, but I’d never been “guest-listed” before, and I was equally mind-blown that it meant I didn’t have to pay for a ticket.
I invited some friends to come along and we shared lunch with Justin and Stephen Laurenson, Bryan’s younger brother, who had recently joined the band as the second guitarist. Imagine my surprise when I ran into Stephen almost five years later in Nashville at a gathering of mutual friends. I actually tried to hide who I was, assuming he couldn’t possibly recognize me after five years and one lunch, but my cover was quickly blown. He’s easily the nicest person (and I don’t say that flippantly), so all my fears about it being awkward were immediately laid to rest. At that point, Copeland had disbanded and both Stephen and Bryan were working on their new project, States, with Mindy White of Lydia. No one really expected a Copeland reunion, especially since Bryan and frontman, Aaron Marsh, now had wives and little ones at home. Not to mention, Aaron seemed pretty busy with his studio, The Vanguard Room, in Lakeland, FL.
On April 1st of last year, word of a new album started circulating. The irony?:
It was April 1st.
Could Copeland actually be conducting a cruel April-fools joke? Everyone held their breath until the next day confirmed: there would, in fact, be a new record. A handful of months and a very successful pre-sale later, Ixora was released: An exquisitely moving album that lacks nothing in terms of honesty and cohesion. Sometimes you pick up a record and have to listen ten times before each song holds it’s own. Other times, the songs are immediately distinguishable but have trouble coinciding as a whole.
Such is not the case with Ixora. Every song stands on it’s own as a beautiful piece, but the way all ten songs move together, from Have I Always Loved You, to In Her Arms You Will Never Starve, is enough to convince anyone that this album was well worth the wait. It’s easy to love it on the first listen and it’s hard to get tired of. While Copeland’s sound has somewhat mellowed out over the years, it’s just as stirring as it’s always been, and the timbre of Aaron’s voice still represents what so many of us felt as teenagers, whether driving around with friends during summer-break or experiencing our first heart-break.
After a little while, Bryan descends to bring me upstairs. I see Stephen first and excitedly tell him I’m here to interview them. “WHAT! That’s awesome!” he says. My nerves start to dissipate and we spend a few minutes chattering about life and tour and how we both want the luxury of taking naps more often. Aaron makes his way over and I introduce myself as we shake hands. The three of us head to the back room of Mercy Lounge while Bryan finishes up some things at the merch table.
As we all sit down, I practically fall into the concave booth. The seats are so deep we look like children sitting across from each other, though Aaron’s height allows him to maintain some semblance of adulthood. I pull out my folded piece of paper and press record on my injured phone while stating, “it’s a very high-tech device.”
The interview begins with a question to help me avoid the mistakes of others, but as you’ll see, I make it anyway.:
LS: What’s the worst question you’ve ever been asked, or the most awkward?
AM: Umm, one time I had this interview… Oh, do you know what it was for? It was for Tiger Beat. (Laughter immediately erupts)
LS: Were you on the cover next to Hanson?
AM: No, I don’t think I ever saw it run or anything. I think the interviewer knew these were stupid questions and felt silly asking them, so prefaced it with things that were interesting, but then the actual question was just…stupid. It was like, “I know you spent 6 weeks making a record and used a lot of orchestral instruments and different instrumentation, so that being said: What’s your favorite pizza topping?” It was stuff like that. I thought I was going to get to talk about something musical.
LS: So your favorite pizza topping is…?
AM: I’m a pineapple guy.
LS: What spurred, after such a long hiatus, you to say, “Ok, we’re going to make a new record and go out on the road.”?
AM: Well, we definitely weren’t thinking of going on the road when we thought of making the record. I kinda always wanted to make another Copeland record. I always felt like I had barely scratched the surface of what our sound could have been. We started off very pop-rock and kind of moved toward a more vibey, atmospheric sound, and I felt like I wanted to continue that and I didn’t feel like I’d reached, you know, the full potential of what we could do on record. So that was always something that I wanted to do. The rest of the guys, after Copeland broke up, started a band called States, and they were working on their second record. They did a crowd-funding campaign and smashed it. It did really well. They raised over their goal and they felt like they had an outpouring of support for their band and also from people who missed Copeland records. So that’s when they kind of brought it up to me like, “Hey, this went really well. We think there’s still an audience that is interested in Copeland. What would you think about maybe doing a record?” And you know, I’ve always wanted to do a record. We weren’t planning on doing any touring at all when we thought of this. We were just like, “We’ll make a record and put it out. We’ll do pre-sales to raise money, make the record that we want to make, and then be done with it”. I think through the process of falling in love with the songs that we were doing and feeling like the fans had invested in us – they had bought the record nine months early – we felt like we kind of owed it to the record and owed it to the fans to do some sort of live thing. So from there it was just, “How much are we gonna do, and how can we make this work with families and businesses?” John (Bucklew) builds handcrafted furniture, I built a recording studio, Bryan mixes records…
SL: I knit.
AM: Check him out on Etsy. Etsy dot com slash Steelaw knits. *Not an actual website. Yet.
LS: I think you could really be successful at that! So, what creative process do you enjoy the most? Do you like the writing, the recording, the touring, etc.?
AM: I’m kind of a recording nut. I like seeing a song start as an idea and blossom.
LS: So touring not so much? Was there a time when you loved it?
AM: When we started I was just a nineteen year old kid with no bills and nowhere to live – just a van and a band. We made a record and we just went for it. So obviously yeah, when I was young it was cool, but then we burnt ourselves out real quickly. We played over 600 shows in two years.
LS: What’s that, like a show a day?
SL: Four shows a day.
AM: Yeah, it was like a show a day with the occasional day off.
LS: What record was that on?
AM: That was Beneath the Medicine Tree. We went just as hard as you can go, and after that it was a job. Of course I love music and I love meeting new people and seeing the country, but it was hard work being gone that much. But it paid off. Doing that pretty much gave me a career. We wouldn’t have done the things we were able to do later if we hadn’t put in those grueling years.
LS: What about you, Stephen?
SL: I’d say recording. I mean, I do enjoy touring. I enjoy traveling and meeting people. Not that I think I’m a bad musician, I just think I’m better at the writing side and creative part of recording moreso than being a live musician. I think I gravitate toward that more.
SL: Yeah, I’m just terrified ALL the time.
LS: Oh ok, well have fun tonight!
I was actually going to ask you about burnout. We were talking a little bit before. Living here specifically – I don’t know how it is in Lakeland – but it’s real easy to get burnt out without doing much. There’s such a dense amount of creative people you can compare yourself to at any given moment. Did you guys ever experience the level of burnout where you’re like, “Done. See ya later!”
AM: Definitely on the touring end. I don’t think I’ve ever gotten there as far as being creative. I don’t really pay attention to who’s around me. I kind of have tunnel vision for my projects and so I don’t really get burnt out in that way. But for sure with the touring. I would say for the last 6 years of touring I was miserable. I did not want to be out on tour. We’d get about 7 days in, 8 days in, and I would clock out emotionally.
LS: Do you think that’s correlated with starting a family?
AM: No, I mean, that was before I had a family. I just didn’t enjoy the grind or riding in the van. I wanted to have roots. I wanted to not live in a suitcase. I wanted to have a dresser that I put my clothes into – do my laundry and put them back into the dresser. When we stopped touring was the first time I got a dresser. I was like, “Woah, a dresser, this is crazy”.
LS: If you were to be in a field other than music, is there anything else you could ever see yourself doing?
AM: I would be an architect. I’ve thought about it many times – just start doing that and try to go back to school. I’d love to.
SL: If I wasn’t doing music, I’d probably go back to school. When I was younger I really wanted to get into psychology. I really loved psychology and I still do, but now I think if I wasn’t doing music I’d probably go back to school for aeronautical engineering – building planes. That’s what my stepfather does and over the years I’ve sort of fallen in love with watching him do his craft.
LS: So build stuff. Basically you guys just want to build stuff.
SL: Pretty much just play with legos all day long.
LS: Which makes sense if recording is your thing. You’re essentially building a building out of sounds.
AM: It’s definitely the same part of the brain.
LS: What do you listen to in the van? Give me three things.
AM: Let’s see. My favorite band is Radiohead, so that always gets some spins. There’s a Swedish artist named Stina Nordenstam. That’s one of my faves. And then I like The Sundays.
SL: Recently I’ve been into the new D’Angelo record a lot. I think it’s really interesting. I haven’t heard a record quite like it. The new Bjork record, which is awesome. Really, really, really into that one. And this girl I just found, Marika Hackman.
LS: What inspires songs for you. It’s a really loaded question, I know. But is it other artists, taking a walk…what’s your thing?
AM: Taking a walk’ll do it. I love taking a walk. I think I don’t really find myself pulling musical inspiration from other music. I feel like I’m more myself when I pull from other media forms like film or sculpture or architecture. So writing a song inspired by a painting is much more interesting to me than writing a song inspired by Radiohead or the Beatles just because I feel like I connect with myself as an artist more when I jump mediums like that. Then of course, just the world around me. There’s a lot of inspiration to take from everyday stuff. And my family. I love writing love songs for my boys and my wife. It’s cool. When I was a young person I would just write about young person drama, and now I feel like I have something next-level inspiring in my family.
SL: I’m definitely influenced by music, but I think a lot of it is experiences and conversations. Traveling does a lot of good because a lot of times I have ideas while on the road. Or more recently things I’ve been writing have been on a plane. I don’t know why. I kind of zone out in an airport which doesn’t seem like a super creative place. Cinematic stuff is a big one for me. Watching movies is a big part, which I think I picked up from you (speaking to Aaron), and learning how your love for certain movies can influence the creative side of music.
LS: Okay last question. If you had to pick a song off Ixora, which one do you connect with most deeply or have a little soft-spot for?
AM: I think from a songwriting standpoint I’m most proud of the first track, Have I Always Loved You. It’s kind of no-frills. It’s a really simple song and I feel like a lot of times I overlook the song for the frills because I enjoy the recording process and I enjoy arranging and coming up with crazy instruments to play various parts. So I think that one, more than any of the other ones, started just with a good song and I didn’t go there. I didn’t explode the arrangement, we just kept it as a good song. I felt like that was one of the first happy songs I’ve written in years. I didn’t try to tie any heart wrenching stuff in there. It’s just a beautiful, happy song, and that’s how we left it. It’s kind of different for me.
SL: I’d either say track four, Erase, or track seven, Like a Lie. I think with Erase, the whole time tracking that song and every time I’d listen to it, it felt accessible, not in terms of “mainstream”, but I feel like I could show it to a 16 year-old or I could show it to my Grandpa and they might both like it. I think it’s just a great song. And Like A Lie was some of the most fun I ever had tracking a song. Just trying some different things and being on the creative side of trying new sounds in recording. That was a fun song.
LS: I feel like it’s super cohesive all the way through, but it’s really dynamic too. I really enjoyed it.
AM: I appreciate that.
SL: Yeah, thank you.
We sit for a few more moments and despite my own inhibitions, I tell Aaron the story of being invited to their show at eighteen, with Stephen filling in some of the details. “That’s really cool”, he says genuinely, whether he actually remembers it or not. I thank them for the interview and for being so hospitable to me as a stranger years beforehand. An hour or so later, I watch them execute a live set incorporating each of their albums, beginning with a song off Ixora that’s become a personal favorite, titled: I Can Make You Feel Young Again. Despite expressing concerns that his voice would give out, Aaron more than held it together, from gentle falsetto parts to belting the final notes of You Have My Attention, which closed out the night. My friend Abby put it well when she turned and said, “My face hurts from smiling.”
Much like my personal interactions with Copeland, the band itself has come full circle. It seems that reuniting and releasing Ixora managed to fulfill a longing, not only in their fans, but in the individual members as well. They’ll be touring with Paramore this May and have nothing officially scheduled for afterwards. But who knows what could happen in another six years? Let’s just hope, whatever it is, it gets announced on Valentine’s day, or even Groundhog day this time.
– Christiana B.