In the super-charged era of culture in which we now live, 10 years is somehow both a blink of an eye and an eternity. For Laura Stevenson, the last decade has seen her solidify her status as a heartfelt, pithy, and incredibly skilled songwriter, which is why now is the perfect time to revisit one of Stevenson’s most essential early-career highlights. For many, Wheel marked the first time Stevenson’s songwriting entered their orbit, its sweeping poignancy making for the kind of record that burrows its way into the psyche.

Now, Stevenson is set to revisit Wheel with a set of shows that includes a stop at World Cafe Live on April 14. I recently got a chance to talk to Stevenson about, among other things, returning to some of these songs for the first time in a decade and how important it is to be kind to your younger self. Check out our full discussion below and learn more about the show here.

Laura Stevenson - Runner

Sean Fennell: I know you are in the midst of rehearsals, how has it been returning to these songs 10 years later?

Laura Stevenson: It has been really great. At first, I was kind of dreading some of the songs. When the cellist, the violinist and I were doing a practice with just the three of us just to iron out some of the very excruciating details without the rhythm section there, Sean, the cello player, said “okay, let’s do “Every Tense”” and we all just groaned because we thought it was just going to be so hard. Then we played it and it was immediately really good. Everything has been so smooth and wonderful, which is such a relief because I came into this with a bit of a residual cough from my daughter being perpetually sick. I was worried that if we were over-practicing without locking in, I would be using my voice so much and then lose it before the first show. That is always the dread; the over-practicing and then showing up to the actual show sounding awful. Everybody came so prepared. Today is day three of marathon practice and we are already going through the set, so it’s great.

SF: How did you go about assembling the string section and the rest of the band for this set of shows?

LS: We had Shawn Alpay, who has played on a few of my recordings, including my last self-titled record…so Shawn has been in the fold for awhile. He is super capable and truly wonderful and very conscientious. Kayleigh Goldsworthy played in my friend Anika Pyle’s band and she’s played with Kevin Devine and a bunch of other people I am friends with, so we were just rotating around each other and had never really met till we both played that show with Anika last year. So when I was thinking of who might be another string player who could also sing I thought of Kayleigh immediately. I know how incredibly talented and capable she is, so I wasn’t even worried if our voices were going to blend together. Sometimes someone has a really beautiful voice but then when you get together and sing you realize your voices don’t match. But I knew with Kayleigh that she could match and harmonize so well with anybody, so when I found out she was available it was the obvious choice.

SF: Considering that you are playing The Wheel in its entirety, I was curious how many of these songs remained in the live rotation for you in general over the years and which ones you might be playing for the first time in quite a while?

LS: Well, “Bells & Whistles” has never been played as a full band other than when we were in pre-production for the recording of The Wheel and then when we were actually in the studio doing it. After that, never, ever again. So that was one where I thought, uh oh, we might be screwed. But as soon as I was practicing with the rhythm section – Mike Campbell [bass] and Sammi Niss [drums] – we just went through it once and it was perfect. That song felt brand new to me as far as playing with a band and with these members. “L-Dopa”, “Runner,” and “Renee” have always been part of sets. Sometimes “L-Dopa” gets cycled out, but “Renee” and “Runner” have remained pretty constant. “The Move” is one that I play by myself so that doesn’t really change anything. “The Wheel” is another one I usually play by myself and I try to sing the jazzy trumpet part at the end but now we have the two string players playing the dueling horn lines which is really, really beautiful. I am so excited to debut that song at these shows because it has been really special.

Laura Stevenson - The Wheel

SF: In general, was your goal to replicate what’s on the record as much as possible or does this tour kind of allow you to re-imagine the songs and play with them a bit?

LS: It is a little bit of both. I am definitely a more skilled player now, so there are things like syncopations I am messing around with to make things more interesting. But then there are the melody lines within the instrumentation that are very important that have never gotten to shine through because we didn’t have that instrumentation on tour. So that has been really special to be able to go through the records and find the salient points and really try to have those shine through. It was difficult to pick because there is a lot of BS on the record. There is a lot of extra stuff, so it was difficult sometimes to pick what were actually the most important things and what we could scrap, so that was a little bit of a dance.

SF: When you do an exercise like this, I can imagine it brings back some of the feelings you might have had when you put out this record. How has it been looking back to that time in your life and what might have changed in the interim? 

LS: I try to just kind of honor my younger self, or honor who I was when I was there. So it has been interesting to see where I was and give myself the comfort and grace and sit with those memories and feelings from a way more stable place. It has been cool just perspective-wise to see how far I have come from where I was in terms of my cycles of depression, which I can’t say I am free from, but not currently in the throes. So, yeah, it has been intense.

SF: That said, I imagine it is rewarding knowing people are interested in hearing this record 10 years later. 

LS: Totally. I guess because a lot of the songs were so personal and raw, I get a lot of people telling me that this was the one that resonated with them or helped them get through something because they could find somebody with a parallel experience. So that makes these songs really important to me too. The preparation has been special and I am sure the songs and the shows will be really, really special. I will try not to cry.

Laura Stevenson plays The Music Hall at World Cafe Live on Friday, April 14th with Kayleigh Goldsworthy; tickets and more information can be found at WXPN’s Concerts and Events page.