“The last few years were kind of rough on me, I’m getting it together; 27 has been good so far, I’m hoping next year’s better,” muses Laureate’s Giancarlo Talarico on ‘Come Around’, one of the strongest cuts off the Montreal quartet’s debut full-length. It’s a sturdy piece of positive reinforcement for everyone who found the mid-20s a difficult period.
Yet such sentiments seem to be prevalent in punk music in 2017. From the Menzingers’ take on turning 30 and reflecting back on a demanding decade to Dead Bars’ positivity about living your dreams as “ageing rockers”, artists are writing about life experiences that go far beyond the trying adolescent years.
As someone who found the teenage years rather easy, but then struggled to adapt to life as a fully-functioning adult, such albums are instantly relatable. After a whirlwind early 20s, by the age of 25 I was ready to see the back of London, my relationship had broken down and I was in a job that was damaging my mental health. I wanted – and needed – a fresh start.
And I think it is this experience that makes both the Menzingers’ ‘After The Party’ and Dead Bars ‘Dream Gig’ so relatable. It’s also what makes Laureate’s debut full-length, ‘Landmarks’, hit home so hard. It’s certainly left enough of a mark that I’m on the phone to bassist/vocalist Erin Power and guitarist/vocalist Giancarlo, the songwriting brains behind the Montreal indie-rock/emo/pop-punkers, at midnight on a balmy weekday night to get the lowdown on the group’s excellent full-length debut.
“It’s not always easy to convey a feeling,” says Giancarlo. “I don’t consider myself to be the best lyricist in the world, but what we’re singing is heartfelt at least, and definitely the hardest period of my life was around 25/26 where I was just feeling lost.
“I wasn’t really angered as such, just not sure where to commit. And when you’re not sure what you want to commit to, there’s no energy because you’re not committed and it just all combines into feeling aimless. So all those songs are really about trying to figure out what you’re looking for when nothing’s really wrong, but nothing feels quite right.”
Like me, Laureate are in their mid-30s, and they’ve used ‘‘Landmarks’’ as a way of sweeping the decks clear of all of those difficult hang-ups. The result is an album that feels like a breath of fresh air; an ultimately positive and infectious experience that is one of 2017’s unheralded gems. Growing up on a diet of bands such as Knapsack, Samiam, Superchunk and the Get Up Kids, Laureate touch bases with many on the poppier side of the emo/indie-rock spectrum. Consequently, ‘Landmarks’ is filled with duelling vocals, killer melodies, buzzsaw guitars and some enormous pop hooks. Fans of the former acts – as well as more modern day punk rock bands like the Menzingers, Super American or Save Ends – won’t be disappointed.
Essentially a “passion project” – a term Erin and Giancarlo will use frequently during our hour-long chat – Laureate (completed by guitarist/vocalist Matt Garies and drummer Mike Thomassin) is the creative outlet for two accountants, a videographer and a steel industry worker. Four normal people doing normal jobs, but who get together a couple of times a week to make music and occasionally hit the road for some weekend shows. Like the subject matter of ‘Landmarks’, it’s this dedication to creating something despite all of the real world pressures of jobs and rent and commutes that makes Laureate so likeable.
“Some months we will practice 3 times a week, some months we won’t talk to each other, it really depends on what we have going on in our lives.” says Giancarlo. “But, I also think that’s why we’ve been able to do this for so long, because if it was something that stopped being just for the pleasure of doing it, then you get to the question of ‘what’s the point’?
Talking to Erin and Giancarlo, it’s clear there are no big egos on display, or a desire to make this passion project something it’s not. With initial plans to self-release ‘Landmarks’, it wasn’t until they spoke to Jump Start Records that they decided to go with a label.
“Basically they are on the same page as us, especially as far as touring goes,” says Erin. “A lot of labels won’t take to you on unless you’re gonna tour as much as Pup or the Flatliners – I mean, those guys, they’ll be on the road 8-10 months of the year – but it’s tough and we’ve all got other commitments. As much as I would just love to get in the van and run around the world, it’s not a realistic option at my age. We’re all in our mid-30s, so it’s just not going to happen.
“But we get out as much as we can, like on weekends, and they [Jump Start] are very understanding and supportive of that. They basically let us do ‘us’ the way we do ‘us’. It’s not very eloquent I guess, but they understand the situation, they believe in the music, and they think they can do a good job with it,” concludes Erin.
“Also, for us, we’ve always been happy to be the local opener for a band we’ve admired,” says Giancarlo. “All of us in the band, our favourite thing is playing shows. We write the songs so we can play shows, which maybe a little backward, but Erin and I, we’ve known each other for ages and we’ve both come out of that DIY scene where everyone’s in a band, or booking shows, or doing posters – and that’s your social scene when you’re going out on a Friday night. So for us, our social scene was being in a band and making music and it was like, these are the shows we want to go to anyway, let’s put a band together and play them.”
It means there’s an underdog-does-good quality about Laureate and that comes across effortlessly as they talk and reminisce. “We had to send a record to Dubai this one time,” Erin remembers. “I had to spend 45 minutes on my lunchbreak buying a box, going to the post office, sorting it out, shipping it. We’d have made a dollar profit, if that. It’s not about the money,” laughs Giancarlo.
Indeed, Laureate seem a band that takes everything – and every day – as it comes, not putting any pressure on themselves to meet targets or play 150 shows a year. This even translates to their output. ‘Landmarks’ is their debut full-length, and follows on from the ‘Leave a Light On’ EP, which was recorded in 2011 and released in 2013. It means some of the songs on ‘Landmarks’ have been around for years.
The feeling of seeing them finally out in the wider world is something both Erin and Giancarlo find hugely exciting:
“You know, you play them so many times, and you record them and you listen to the mixes, you always have that moment where you try to distance yourself from your creation at some point as soon as it’s finished – and to have other people bring back the enthusiasm for the songs that we thought were really good when we first wrote them – that’s pretty cool,” says Giancarlo.
“But it’s also a bit like ‘man, but we have NEW STUFF NOW! We don’t want the old songs,’ even though the record has literally just come out,” he laughs.
“It’s cool though, we’ll just put out another EP in another 4 years,” jokes Erin.
Yet such a delay has served as a good education for the self-styled ‘Weekend Warriors’, not least of all in understanding how to get the most out of their band given their limited time and resources:
“I think, because we took so long between the EP and the LP, we lost some momentum,” says Giancarlo. “I don’t think we want to do that again. A lot of the publicity we’ve had lately has been because we have a new product, and we can play shows because we’re pushing something.
“There’s also much more interest from promoters, who are much more interested in booking a band who seems to be investing in the scene and their music. You kinda get out what you put in, and I think, for us, we kinda learnt that lesson the hard way.”
Yet, for all this, there’s a real sense that Laureate are a product of the local community and their DIY ethics. Only truly forming after Giancarlo relocated from Boston to Montreal (“We’d played in some other projects together and it was always sporadic, here and there, and when he moved to Montreal permanently, it was like ‘OK, we need to start a band’,” says Erin), Laureate exist in a scene where trading shows and doing short runs on the road has enabled them to grow organically, but network ferociously, even when the momentum wasn’t there.
“There’s a lot of trade-offs,” says Erin. “It’s give and take. You help people out, and they reciprocate. I’ve had multiple bands sleep on my floor, and someone helped me out with a show shortly after, and that’s really nice. Those networks are pretty solid, and they’ve remained pretty solid.”
“I also like to believe that we have a reputation for being a band that shows up on time, and we have our own gear, we know what we’re doing and we’re on and off stage in the allotted time, and our music is not offensive,” continues Giancarlo “So you know, we get some invitations to do some really cool stuff and that’s because of the work we’ve done is as professional as possible.”
“Professional rockstars!” laughs Erin.
It seems a rather description for a band that’s released a pop-punk gem on their own terms, uncompromising in standards and quality, but played with honesty, passion and integrity. It’s one of 2017’s standout moments, and a landmark you don’t want to miss.
‘Landmarks’ by Laureate is out now on Jump Start Records.
Words by Rob Mair @BobNightMair)