Music News

In Perfect Harmony

James Mulhern, guitarist/vocalist of local indie band What Laura Says Thinks and Feels, speaks of his first concert experience with pride. It was a Bon Jovi show, Mulhern was in the ninth row, and it was "pretty badass." The rest of the band has no qualms about listing the "skin flute" as one of the many instruments at which they're proficient. With that type of candor, it seems the fellas of What Laura Says Thinks and Feels have little to hide. And with a new management deal, a new album in the works, and a major tour on the horizon, they won't be able to hide if they try. Especially not in the debris-free rehearsal space they're practicing in on a late November night.

For a houseful of twentysomething males, the living room is surprisingly tidy. There are no beer cans stuffed with cigarette butts strewn about the coffee table, no nacho cheese stains smeared onto the couch cushions, and not even a trace of body odor, stale booze, or pot smoke haunting the air. What kind of practice space is this? The four-bedroom Tempe house is abuzz with witty banter and laughter about jobs, recent performances, and unacceptably short T-shirts. Tonight is no different from any other Tuesday night for the boys in What Laura Says Thinks and Feels, who have virtually always had a string of upcoming shows to prepare for since the band's inception three years ago.

Someone lights an incense stick as the others assemble their instruments. "Laura" is not a simple guitar, bass, and drums outfit. She comprises five multi-instrumentalists who incorporate keyboards, the ukulele, multilayered harmonies, and an army of found objects in drummer Jacob Woolsey's percussion station. In the year Woolsey has played with the band, the setup has gone from bells and tambourine to a one-man jar/coffee can/egg shaker/clave contraption in which no household object is safe. "I used to just gather up anything I could find during practice," Woolsey says. "The whole setup is still an experiment. It has evolved a lot, but it came from nothing."

The group's vocals are equally elaborate. With each member lending his voice, they harmonize like a bohemian barbershop quartet. The result is a beautifully orchestrated, multilayered pop sound that recalls the Beatles/Beach Boys arms race of the mid- to late '60s. This is no coincidence, as WLSTaF cites both acts as influences. During this particular practice, the boys run through a bevy of Beatles covers — including "Helter Skelter" and "I Want You (She's So Heavy)" — that they plan to perform, along with their own material, during a three-hour set at an upcoming show.

Though the band is conscious of the Fab Four similarities in its own songs, Mulhern says that Beach Boy Brian Wilson is actually a larger influence on him, in terms of heavy layering and experimental sounds.

As for the comma-less band name, members say What Laura Says Thinks and Feels isn't a simple nod to an ex-girlfriend or some unrequited love, but an all-encompassing term that is deliberately left open for interpretation. Bassist Mitch Freedom describes Laura as "an ambiguous person. We even refer to our fans as Laura, and we get letters from people writing about her or to her." As for the absence of commas, Freedom says, "Let's face it: Commas are cliché."

An independent band struggling to get signed to a label also sounds cliché, but that's part of Laura's story, too. Freedom says they've sent out press kits to record labels, but "the game" of incessant calling, e-mailing, and generally getting nowhere with record companies "isn't really their thing." After hearing about so many of their friends' bands going broke to play a couple of shows in a couple of cities for a couple of people in the audience, touring without a management company's support for booking, publicity, or transportation expenses isn't really their thing, either.

Fortunately, the band recently inked a deal with Kari Dexter, who works for a well-known management firm based out of New York called Esther Creative Group, a company that's worked with Le Tigre, Blonde Redhead, Lou Reed, and most recently, Annuals. Dexter flew out to Phoenix to see the band at Modified Arts on November 16, at a special showcase where WLSTaF was the sole act. "She [Dexter] came to us a fan," Freedom says. "She shares our vision, and we couldn't ask for a better management situation than that."

With new management in place, What Laura Says Thinks and Feels is focusing on two short-term goals: touring and recording. The band is working with Dexter to set up dates and cities for their first major West Coast tour in January. They also have enough new material for a second full-length album, which they have been performing live for the past couple of months (the band's self-titled/self-released debut full-length came out earlier this year).

Before locking themselves in the recording studio, however, WLSTaF still has a number of live performances on the agenda. On Saturday, December 8, the band will co-headline a show with fellow local indie favorites Colorstore. Surprisingly, the two bands have never played a show together, despite the fact that they share local notoriety, a similar fan base, and musical reverence toward one another. Both groups consist of fervent multi-instrumentalists, and Colorstore even plans to haul an upright piano onstage for the gig.

Given WLSTaF's propensity for pretty much playing anything its members pick up, they could jam on just about anything at the show — but hopefully not the skin flute.

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Adriane Goetz