How a lake in Hungary and a cabin in the Poconos inspired Laser Background's new EP

In the summer of 2013, Andy Molholt of Laser Background traveled to Hungary on vacation. He soaked up the scenery around his family’s ancestral home, visited Lake Balaton – the largest freshwater lake in central Europe – and drew sketches of his traveling companion.

A year later, he returned to Lake Balaton and began writing what would be his band’s latest release.

The Kelly Wisdom EP came out on Tuesday via Laser Background’s Bandcamp page, as Molholt prepares to set out on a month-long U.S. tour. Like 2013’s Super Future Montage, the music is poppy yet distressed, with surreal layers of vocals swimming across synthesizer waves as a drum machine pings in the distance. The mood is simultaneously silly and sad.

The opening track, “Raw Animal,” was written and recorded on the shore of Lake Balaton. The ambient sounds at the opening of the track are Hungarian kids off in the distance, playing in the water as Molholt sings “Regardless of your age, when you’re standing by the lake / I see it on your face and I understand your pain.” Molholt tells us this about how the song came to be:

So much changed for me in the year between July 2013 and July 2014. Namely, our close family friend was diagnosed with cancer and that sort of loomed over the entire trip. Also, the girl whom i sketched a year earlier wasn’t able to come on the trip this time around. It was an early, bright morning, and as I sat down at the dock that led into the water, a swan swam up to my feet and we just sort of stared at one another. It was to this swan, both innocent but somehow intimidating, that I sang to while writing “Raw Animal.” Somehow it felt like an apt metaphor for the beauty and the ugliness that can so often co-exist in our lives.

Upon returning home, Molholt found himself in need of alone time. He visited a cabin with a Tascam 388 tape machine and some instruments, and returned home with “Hand-in-hand” and the title track, “Kelly Wisdom.”

“Recording in solitude, away from distraction, has been a romantic idea that I’ve been dreaming of for years,” Molholt says. “My only friends for this session were coffee and weed.”

Taking the surreal tones of Montage as a starting point, Kelly Wisdom finds Molholt going inward and meditating on life, death and ennui; on the title track, he sings “talking and talking / every day, nothing to say / can’t help but carry on.” Though he has Laser Background’s second LP, tentatively titled Correct, recorded and ready to release, and he’s already writing songs for LP3, this tour EP had to come first. “I intentionally wanted it to be short, thematic, succinct.”

As the band takes these new songs to the road on the way down to SXSW and back, it will be interesting to see how they’re presented live. Recorded Laser Background warps and warbles its way down mysterious paths where Molholt’s high-pitched singing comes across like a timid childish whisper; in concert, his voice is more forceful and the drums have a lot more punch. In other words, it tones down the psych and tones up the rock.

“I do enjoy the dichotomy of live vs. recorded,” Molholt says. “I think it’s exciting to have different versions of songs that can co-exist in separate zones. Sometimes I play solo sets and they invariably end up sounding much closer to the recordings. Either way, I love to experiment and take chances with the live show. Keeps it interesting for everyone.”

We can see for ourselves this Saturday night, March 7th, when Laser Background headlines Johnny Brenda’s. Tickets and more information on the show can be found at the XPN Concert Calendar.

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