The world is fucked right now. The pandemic continues to devastate every facet of the day-to-day lives we took for granted, a global social revolution seems to have had little impact on those that actually make society’s laws and rules and, in case that wasn’t enough to process, the impending doom of climate change lingers.
That’s a lot to take in, and that doesn’t even begin to include the micro-level misfortunes each of us face in our own lives, outside of a world on metaphorical – oftentimes, literal – fire.
In this new normal, artists have a choice: create work that goes deep on our crises, or work that escapes it.
And what about projects that were created largely before our current turn of events, is it still appropriate or even practical to release those albums now? Alanis Morissette, HAIM, Alicia Keys, The 1975 and CNCO are among many to push back their album releases this year. LANY – a genre-bending three-piece comprised of Paul Klein, Les Priest, and Jake Goss – no doubt faced similar questions ahead of their third album, mama’s boy, due for release on Friday, October 2.
As frontman Paul Klein describes it to MTV Australia, about 75% of the work for their new album was written before the pandemic. The rest was painstakingly put together during lockdown, email by email. "It's hard to [songwrite] via email. It takes forever. You know, when you're in the studio with the person, you’re like, ‘Can I hear that just a little bit louder?’ ‘And what if we did that to that?’, and we quickly do it. And [then] I'm like, ‘That’s the worst idea ever, change it back’. That [back and forth], you know, that takes like four hours on email.”
Logistics aside, 2020 largely didn’t change the nature of LANY’s third album. Paul was already keen to cut back on the sad stuff in favour of something, not exactly lighter – mama’s boy explores existential themes like mortality and faith – but certainly less heartbreaking than Malibu Nights; the group’s second album, borne from Klein’s own heartbreak some years ago. The fact that mama's boy steers away from being too depressing was just a “beautiful coincidence”.
“I think the saddest is a song called 'Paper', which is devastating because the song talks about [how] we look good on paper, but we fall apart later,” Paul tells us. “Like everyone else thinks we've got it all together. But behind closed doors, this thing is a fucking wreck.
“And that's the saddest on the album. If that's the saddest on the album, we're going to be good,” he continues, “because I just think the world doesn't need a single more sad thing, you know?”
Sharing our innermost thoughts and feelings publicly is almost second nature to us now – emotional vulnerability, or at least the appearance of it, is something worn with pride on social media. With songwriting, though, there’s still a clear distinction – after all, LANY’s monthly listener count on Spotify currently sits at 9.5 million. How does it feel to create art from personal, emotional trauma and share it on this magnitude?
“It's a beautiful question. I remember like – I don't know why I hadn't thought it before – but when I was working on Malibu Nights, I did have this moment, I'll never forget it: at the YMCA on a treadmill when I realised that like, whatever I was going through – and it was painful and it was tough for me in that moment in time – it was [for] people's entertainment and pleasure, and it felt weird for a second. And I had to quickly come to grips with that and be okay with that. And I am okay with that.
“It is what it is, but I was really brave and I was really honest on that album and I definitely matched that same vulnerability on mama's boy as well. There's some songs that are scary [to share], you know, but I wrote them,” Klein says.
“Malibu Nights was a breakup album and, and this, I just think, is much bigger than that.”
Besides the obvious thematic differences between the two albums, there's clear technical differences as well. While Malibu Nights came in at just over half an hour in length, mama's boy sits at almost double that. Why?
"We wanted that classic album length, you know, anywhere from like 12 to 14 songs," he explains.
"So we were on the longer side of 14 songs, but we wanted to bring something fresh to the table; something that existed outside of trend and time. This is just my opinion, but a lot of music in 2020, as of right now, just kind of sounds the same and everyone's using the same drum sounds and the same arpeggiated bass. We just wanted to get back to the real basics … [the aim was] A modern classic."
For Malibu Nights, Klein was inspired by his own feelings, offering a deeply personal and intimate record. Now, LANY has evolved into making something that's a little more universally accessible, and unifying in its emotion. Klein says that evolution is a tightrope between his intentions and his subconscious.
Klein looks to gargantuan bands like Coldplay as touchstones for artistic evolution, referencing their relevance for over two decades, and how they continue to pull younger fans – unlike say, The Eagles, in his opinion.
"Those bands never made the same album twice. They always found a way to outdo themselves to push themselves. And I think that's why Coldplay still is relevant. 21 years later … young people still go to their shows. You know what I mean? They're still gaining new fans. It's not like you're going to an Eagles show where everyone there is like 65. They found a real way to just keep going. It's amazing.
"Coldplay's a once-in-a-lifetime band, I feel so silly talking about them as if we're ever gonna reach that sort of level," he says.
"I don't think we're going to be Coldplay, but it's a great benchmark. We don't really have a road map because we're so unique … we're not really pop, we're not really alt, you know what I mean? Like we exist in our own space."
While Klein is adamant that LANY will never reach the level of superstardom that Chris Martin and co. have made for themselves, that doesn't mean that extraterrestrial superstars aren't fans of LANY's work.
Last year, Taylor Swift added the band's 2017 track, "Pancakes", to her playlist on Apple Music, a tick of approval that exposes your music to millions of people with a single notification. Naturally, Paul was stoked; though this wasn't the first time he had entered Taylor's orbit.
Klein details an awkward story of the one and only time he met Swift. It was pre-LANY, while he was waiting tables at a Nashville restaurant.
"I lived in Nashville right after college and I was writing songs in Nashville, but I was wiping tables at a restaurant to make money and she had come in and she had writing all over her arms," he says.
"I think she used to write her lyrics on her arms when she'd play shows, or something. I don't know. But she came up and of course I was super nervous, but I tried to make a joke, like, 'Oh my God, I love your new tattoo'. She didn't laugh at all. I was like, 'Okay, right. Just follow me here. We'll just go right to the table.' But it was funny, I don't know. That's just my funny Taylor Swift story."
Another superstar LANY can call a fan is BLACKPINK's Rosé, who, as luck would have it, are releasing their debut album the same day as mama's boy.
"I got to meet them!" Klein says excitedly of BLACKPINK. "I think last year they invited me to come back and just soundcheck ... They're a massive band and people really, really love them and it's just so cool that they even know that we exist.
"Anytime somebody at that kind of level with that kind of platform reaches down and goes, 'This is like my favorite little band'. That's like such a nice thing to say about somebody."
Despite the two acts inevitably sharing the charts with the same release week, Klein says that he hopes they get the top spot.
"I'm sure they're going to get like a number one … So I'm going to hope they do and they probably will."
Regardless of how big the band becomes, Klein's songwriting remains anchored in stories he shares with those around him, especially – in the case of mama's boy – with his family.
Describing the delicate and orchestral "if this is the last time", Klein says that his parents cried when he first played it for them.
"I think it's probably the best gift I could have ever given them," he says.
"My mum worked a corporate job every year raising me, but somehow found a way to take me to piano lessons every week and paid for those lessons. My mum and my dad just invested so much time into me and my sister. To turn around and write them a song, I think it's probably a beautiful gift. If my kid ever wrote something like that, I'd be so touched.
"My relationship with my mother is very complex," he explains, "but you know, it felt amazing to write that kind of a song like, 'Despite all of our differences and despite everything that's happened in the past, I love you so much.'"
Klein claims he's less ambitious than he used to be – "There's been a little shift in my heart like the last year" – but he's still got multiple cogs turning. Right now it's all about the band and mama's boy, but there are other creative avenues he's keen to explore at some point.
In an exclusive reveal to MTV Australia, Klein confirms the long-held fan theory that @blueberrytaylor – an Instagram account discovered by fans with a bio that reads "by paul klein" – is set to serve as an umbrella where he can explore his creativity and release projects that aren't LANY exclusives.
"I make everything for LANY, but there are things that I enjoy or enjoy making that live and have a space outside of LANY," he says.
"I do have a few things up my sleeve that I'm excited about … I guess this is the first time ever talking about this ever really. I think of [Blueberry Taylor] as more of my creative umbrella, you know, for anything that I like or want to make."
He gives examples of things he might want to make under the name – home goods; whiskey, perhaps – and even teases the possibility of releasing his own solo music under the name as well.
While Blueberry Taylor products are yet to come to fruition, LANY are set to expand their creative empire beyond music in a forthcoming collab with Levi's.
"Nobody knows this yet, but we have a LANY Levi's collab [coming]." Mid-description, Klein jumps up to go get the piece to show us – "Let me grab this real quick, one sec" – coming back brandishing what he calls a "tour jacket". It's a dark denim oversized trucker, with the text LANY boldly embroidered on the back. It's vintage-inspired and cool: just the kind of piece you'd expect from a band fronted by a man with several Instagram accounts dedicated to his enviable style.
Klein goes into detail describing the LANY patches – using the iconography of mama's boy, like a cow girl and a bald eagle – that fans can put on the jacket. He also says that they're planning to release patches based on individual years that fans can wear, as Klein describes it, like a badge of honour.
"If you've been a fan since 2014.. you can [wear] 2014. And 2015, 2016.." he explains. "It'd be so cool to see the fans come to a LANY show wearing a LANY jacket and all [their] patches and it's kind of customized to what [they] like.
"I've worked really hard on [the collab] ... And I want to put it out [to] get people excited about the tour and the world opening up again."
There's a generosity to Paul Klein – from his dedication to his fans, to his admiration of other artists, and the emotional depths he's willing to explore in his work – that makes it so easy to root for LANY. Not that they need it.
In a year as turbulent as this, bands like LANY have the potential to offer an emotional buoy; tiding us through the clusterfuck. Thankfully, with the release of mama's boy – and the imminent arrival of various other Klein-driven spin-offs – LANY are on track to do just that.
"The most rewarding part of all of this is seeing how the music connects with people on a personal level in real life. There's no better feeling."
LANY's new album, mama's boy, is released on Friday October 2. Pre-order the album here.
Editor's Note: An earlier version of this article mistakenly referred to Paul Klein's quote on The Eagles as relating to The Beatles. (We blame a bad Zoom connection.) This has since been rectified.
All image credits: Universal Music