When Laura Stevenson was making The Big Freeze, her fifth album, in the winter of 2018, the songwriter and Saugerties resident found herself racing against time: Her sister was set to give birth, and she wanted Stevenson in the delivery room. “We were scheduling depending on when we thought she was not gonna give birth,” she confides.
This tension — between the personal and the artistic — has spanned her career.
Stevenson grew up on Long Island and at an early age got involved in the region’s DIY punk scene, playing in bands and slowly, privately building songs of her own, and then watching as they touched fans worldwide. After breaking out with 2013’s Wheel, recorded in Gardiner, she and her band moved up to the Hudson Valley for the quiet and privacy that allowed her to slow down and focus on her music. “It’s such an emotional, intimate, scary experience to even be working,” she says, “that if there’s even the potential that anybody will hear me, then I can’t do it. Having the sonic space is really important.”
Life, however, has not slowed down for her. Since she last released and toured behind 2015’s critically acclaimed Cocksure, Stevenson got married, became a homeowner, and adopted an exasperatingly lovable dog. “I never thought that I’d be one of these people who’s obsessed with their dogs,” she says. “But I guess that’s what’s going on.” Stevenson has watched as the constants of her musical life — writing, recording, performing — have become increasingly separate from the more private aspects with which they were once enmeshed. On tour, she misses home; at home she’s “stir-crazy” until she leaves again. The central tensions of her songwriting remain those of her life.
So she put them all into her new album. Stevenson recorded The Big Freeze with producer Joe Rogers in her mother’s Long Island home, illuminating her skeletal vox-and-guitar tracks with layer after layer of overdubs and accents. Violin, bass, and auxiliary percussion were recorded in Saugerties.
This is an album of isolation, revealing unfathomable depths even as it turns away from the listener. “I am honest,” she avows on the standout “Big Deep,” her voice so multilayered that you can no longer tell by and to whom this is being promised. The relationship between ourselves and the world, home and the road, even life and art: all of these and more are picked up and turned over across 10 astounding songs.
Stevenson hopes The Big Freeze will find those who need it. “I just wanted to make an honest record,” she says. “And if people connect with it and it means something to them, then that’s all that’s important.”