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It's All Happening: An Interview With John Cudlip of LAUNDER

Photo courtesy of Grandstand Media
29 August 2022

Photo by Cameron McCool

Nearly four years since the debut EP Pink Cloud (self-released, 2018), Launder’s first full-length album is Happening. In 2019, Orange County-raised, Los Angeles-based musician John Cudlip signed to Ghostly International to build his recording project, developed out of casual sessions with friends Jackson Phillips (Day Wave), Soko, and Zachary Cole Smith (DIIV). Happening came as a result of Cudlip’s full immersion into writing and arranging an overflow of ideas totaling some sixty demos.

John also embraced sobriety, redirecting his once-destructive addictive tendencies into studio craft — all his thoughts consumed by melody and texture, all his resources lobbed into gear, every buzz, hiss, and hum of this record became his entire world. The resulting set sprawls across a double LP release; it’s a considered beast of a debut and he’s proud of it, living with it, finally. Through its thirteen songs, Happening is timeless, grappling with something bigger than just melody, the cathartic and the tender, indebted to indie rock greats while informed by modern and prudent self-reflection.

To record the album, Cudlip mapped out his dream setup; alternate-tuning a fleet of Fenders to facilitate his left-handed playing, experimenting with different amps (a late ’70s Marshall JMP carried much of the sound), and getting the vocals just right on Smith’s old Neumann U48 microphone and Fairchild compressor. With each nuanced adjustment and improved take, they’d joke, “It’s happening.”

Where debuts often feel full of rough-hewn potential, Launder has crafted a deeply honed collection and process-oriented album, the work of a person surmounting struggle with their art, and a songwriter pushing through their limits with an intense drive over several years to produce an engaging debut.

Huge thanks to Nikolas Soelter at Grandstand for the coordination and to John for the interview.

James Broscheid: Congratulations on the release of your debut LP, Happening! Ghostly International released your digital single Half-Life a couple of years back so it is only natural they would release the album. How did your relationship with that label start in the first place?

John Cudlip: Sam (Valenti IV, Ghostly International founder) actually sent me a message on Facebook. I hardly ever check my inbox there so I’m lucky I caught that one! He asked if I had any demos and I sent him some pretty rough stuff I’d been working on. We kept in touch and when we played the 1st NYC show – I met with the label at Ghostly HQ beforehand and they came to the show. When I landed back in Los Angeles I took my phone off airplane mode and there was an email from Ghostly with a deal attached. Pretty unreal!

JB: How did this project develop initially way back when and how did you settle on LAUNDER to describe it?

JC: It started when I brought some ideas into this studio I was renting in L.A. It quickly fizzled out though then I found out I was paying $350 a day and I didn’t have much to cover it. Luckily I met Jackson Phillips out one night and we linked up the next day to try recording at his home studio. We pretty much wrote and recorded the final version of Wonder the 1st day and we both had a good feeling. Then I’d just have friends like Cole and Soko come over to hang and they would contribute their ideas before we really knew what direction the project was headed. I was thinking about names and looking in the dictionary or something. I saw the name launder which meant “ to wash clean” and it seemed fitting.

JB: As mentioned, your last release was that digital single in 2020 and before that was your exceptional EP Pink Cloud (2018) and the single Powder / Chew (2019). Was the gap in time from then to now intentional or were there other factors?

JC: It wasn’t intentional, I just knew I wanted to make an LP before I even signed to Ghostly and I ended up with a double LP somehow. I was working on it nonstop but I didn’t really feel finished with writing until the pandemic. We wrapped recording in April 2021 and it took over a year to release with the mixing/mastering/vinyl pressing schedule, etc.

JB: Happening maintains the melodic dream pop sensibilities of your previous work but throws in heavy doses of alternative rock and even post-punk that mesh extremely well. Were there any direct influences (music or otherwise) on this body of work when you were writing and recording it?

JC: I was writing it across multiple years and going through a lot of different influences which I think it’s easy for that to bleed through a bit. I feel like it was mostly just my emotional state. I was going through some sad stuff in my life for a bit, there’s not a lot of happy songs on the record for that reason. I feel better now though and I’m grateful for everything and everyone I have in my life now. I hope to get some brighter tracks on the next recordings.

JB: Speaking of which, Deceiver (Captured Tracks) by DIIV was my album of the year back in 2019 so it was really exciting as a fan to read in the initial press release for Happening in that you collaborated with Zachary Cole Smith! Jackson Phillips and Soko were also mentioned as collaborators. How did those relationships develop for this record and what prompted you to work with those individuals specifically?

JC: All of them have been around since the project began. It just made sense as far as the collaborative side of things go that they would all have some part in the full length. Pink Cloud the 1st EP, was a much more collaborative effort where I felt this led me into a lot more solo writing at home especially with the pandemic situation.

JB: Could you also describe the musicians who played in the recording sessions for the album and what drew you to those players?

JC: Yeah, the band for this record was Chase Meier, Nathan Hawelu, and Bryan DeLeon (Talk In Tongues). I’ve known them all for a long time and respect them all as musicians. The live lineup has changed a lot due to most people playing in their own bands and they have to tour with them. Chase has been in the band since the start, he was one of the first people I met in Los Angeles back in 2013 and I was a fan of his band Golden Sun. He can play bass and sing like he was born to do it. I used to share a rehearsal space with Nathan Hawelu in Huntington Beach for a few months in 2016 and that’s how we met, he is also close with Sonny (Diperri, engineer) and a guitar encyclopedia. He has been one of my favorite guitar players for a while and makes me laugh. He could have $20 in his bank but refuses to sell a 1/5 fuzz pedal he could probably fetch $2,000 for or one of his 1960’s (Fender) Jaguars that would go for much higher. Bryan I met once I moved to L.A. through some mutual friends. He works harder than any drummer I know and practices daily when he’s not touring with another upper echelon band. He’s just a great guy to have around and he always knows the right thing to do without even having to speak about it.

JB: I understand the record was recorded at New Monkey Studio in Van Nuys that was once owned by Elliott Smith which to me is reason enough to record there but, what factors do you weigh when deciding on where to record?

JC: There were basically two studios we were looking at, one being New Monkey. Those were the ones we could afford and that Sonny felt comfortable at. The first one was nice but there was an Oliver Tree platinum record plaque on the wall and I hate Oliver Tree so we decided upon New Monkey.

JB: You mentioned producer/engineer Sonny DiPerri for this record which seems a no-brainer considering his impressive resume working alongside Alan Moulder as well as DIIV, Nine Inch Nails and My Bloody Valentine to name a few. What was it like to work with Sonny?

JC: It took a long time to find Sonny. I worked with a lot of people in Los Angeles before I even met him. He ended up at a Launder show by chance one night and we became friends and stayed in touch. We would just chat on the phone for hours about records and sounds and it was clear that he was the only other person with the same passion and influences I’d encountered. He knew exactly what I was going for. Not only has he made amazing records but he genuinely cares about what he’s working on and pushes you to work your hardest and not cut any corners.

Photo by Cameron McCool
Photo by Cameron McCool

JB: It was startling to read that there were nearly sixty demos in the bag for your first album. It makes sense that your debut record would end up being a double LP! How did you pair it down to the thirteen tracks that ultimately make up the record and was that a painstaking process?

JC: I was just writing for years and stockpiling songs and ideas. When I first started talking to Sonny about making this record he asked me to send him all the demos. We both made a list of our favorites and they were nearly identical. The idea was that we would rehearse then all live before (going into) the studio and maybe cut a few but they all ended up on the record which is how it turned into a double LP.

JB: The press release mentions briefly mentions your sobriety and turning your past addiction into creative energy for this record. How does (or did) being sober inform your work and specifically writing/recording Happening? How does living in Los Angeles help influence your work if at all?

JC: I’ve always had an addictive personality. I find something that makes me feel good or that I enjoy and that’s just all I focus on for a period of time. Growing up I did that with baseball, skateboarding, and surfing. Then as I got older substances took the place in a destructive way. I was playing guitar throughout everything but when I got sober for a second time in 2017 I was able to focus solely on music, and that just turned into an obsession; focusing on progressing as an artist. Being sober just makes it so my life is somewhat manageable. Living in Los Angeles was a blessing coming up as an artist. Everything and everyone comes through there and you can meet a lot of people that have already done what you’re trying to do and learn from them.

JB: Finally, would you be willing to give us a track by track rundown including any recollections/assessments/stories behind each track that make up Happening? How each was conceived and created, track sequencing for the record, studio experiences, etc?

JC: Unwound
This was the first demo for the record. I started it with Cole at his old house in Highland Park. I had this chord progression idea and he came up with the verse riff that led to the working title becoming “arena rock”. The demos came really quick but it took me forever to sort out the arrangements. I brought this song to work on whenever I’d work with a new producer or engineer. There’s got to be like five different versions from working with Jackson Phillips and Cole, I also did a few sessions with Chris Taylor from Grizzly Bear and we made a demo of it!

I just remember wanting a more classic Launder style song with the single note guitar interplay when I started this one. I know the working title was called “green thumb”. I wrote this one during the pandemic and it was one of the last demos I wrote. Only song on the record that I used the (Roland) JC-120 amp on.

Blue Collar
This was the last song I wrote for the record and probably the one I’m most proud of. I wrote it when I went to visit my mom during the pandemic at my childhood home. I remember just not leaving the room for hours and going into this weird trance like state where it was almost like a blackout. I was just looping the post chorus and trying to find a good guitar lead and I have no recollection of writing what I did but it’s one of my favorite parts on the record.

On A Wire
This one is in a really weird tuning. It’s funny because I feel like it sounds like the most accessible song on the record. Just a melancholy track for me but I really liked the bridge section and was pretty meticulous about getting everything right … down to the feedback. We played a show in L.A. a few weeks back and I had to bring a different guitar just for this song because of how down tuned it is and that might be the only time I’ll get to play it. It was really special for me.

I initially just had the chord progression with a few lead parts for this one. Soko stopped by one day with her baby Indigo. I remember I was just holding him while she sang the melody with all the lyrics right off the bat. I think it worked out perfectly and having a new vocalist come in for a song near the middle of the record helps keep it fresh for me.

This was another one Cole and I were working on for a long time and we have been playing it live since 2018. It was more of an instrumental kraut rock idea back then but then the same day we recorded Become Soko came up with the lyrics and vocal melody idea for this one. There’s a demo where she sings it. I started singing it during rehearsal and it felt good so we just ran with it. This one is probably my favorite live song to play right now. It was a blast recording in the studio too. The recording on the album is the first take from the studio which I think is special.

Personal favorite at the moment. I started writing this one at 11pm and finished up when the sun was coming up. I was living in this apartment in Silverlake with paper thin walls trying to sing very quietly!

This one was the first track we recorded in the studio. It was pretty intense to hear everything come together with it. This was a song I almost wrote off until Sonny insisted we learn it as a band. I’m really glad he pushed it on me.

This is just an alternate version of the single we put out in 2020 called Half-life. I lost some of the song’s demo essence on the Half-life version and I think this version captures what I was going for with the fuzz guitars. Bryan came up with a new drum beat which really brought this to life for me.

Harbour Mouth
I really feel like I have to put out some demos after listening to these again. My friend Martin played violin on the demo which some of those ideas turned into guitar parts. This song reminds me of Sonny the most, he was really hyped on this one.

I like how this one picks up the tempo at the end of the record. I really took my time on the sequencing of this record. This was a demo that Colin Caulfield from DIIV had and we thought it would work as a Launder song. I wrote some of the lyrics but I feel the least amount of ownership over this one, gotta give most of the credit to Colin here.

This one is funny because I feel like it reminds everyone of a different band. I thought it was kinda an Oasis thing. Cole said it reminded him of Guided By Voices. I really want to play this one live, we all loved rehearsing it.

The only song that could close this record for me. I feel like this one really goes on a ride with a twist at the end. Between all the guitar interplay and the quiet/loud dynamics this one was very indulgent to create and the band brought it to another level.

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