Advanced linguistics

Thing called love: With his third album (currently in production), The Love Language’s Stuart McLamb is actually writing less about the tender emotion and more “about death and rebirth.” Photo by Cheater Slicks

Like pillow talk, sweet nothings and other murmurs that constitute love language (the communique), The Love Language (the Raleigh-based indie-rock band) exists in a realm that is largely untethered and ungoverned. Musician/songwriter Stuart McLamb, who fronts this band that was never intended to be a band, says that he currently doesn't really have a home (though he does have a supportive girlfriend) and the new, just-recorded and as-yet-to-be-released album doesn't have a theme so much as an anti-theme.

It's less about love songs because, says McLamb, "It's kind of a bummer if you put yourself in a place where you can only write about sad love situations." So, for the group's sophomore effort on the Merge label (and third album if you count self-titled 2009 debut on Bladen County Records), "There's more universal stuff," says McLamb. Songs are about "existence and the current state of the world and where are we going to go in the next couple of years. A lot of it's about death and rebirth."

And the new record is less about what McLamb describes as a '60s sound. Libraries, from 2010, was "a breezier, chill in your beach chair vibe," he says. "It was like '60s music, but you could tell it was stretching like it wanted to not totally be that. So, on this one, we went all out."

With something like 40 half-written demos, McLamb and producer BJ Burton (who also worked on Libraries) went into the studio on Feb. 1, completing the project on Feb. 29. "We lucked out that it was a leap year, I guess," McLamb jokes. "It was a super-fast process but I think that's an important way to make a record. There's a nice quality to how quickly everything was done."

Speed is a theme on this non-thematic record: McLamb says that where Libraries was about kicking back, the new LP is "a drive-in-your-car-really-fast kind of record." That, and it hops genres and decades, its 10 tracks ranging from early '80s to Brit-pop. "One is lo-fi garage, one is classic Love Language slow style," says McLamb. “Some have metal guitars going on. We did a lot of different stuff, but it sounds like us."

Honestly, “a lot of different stuff” sounds potentially scary, and without the final product to listen to, it's hard to say if the band succeeded. But McLamb, who (rather famously) launched the Love Language from the wreckage of his own broken heart, has a proven knack for fashioning hooky, mellifluous songs of unstudied cool and undeniable charm. When McLamb sings, on "Heart to Tell," "I'm no sailor, I want to rock the boat," who doesn't want to board whatever skiff he's captaining?

The answer: pretty much no one. The Love Language played South By Southwest and Coachella; "Heart to Tell," bounced in the background while McLamb was interviewed on ABC's Amplified with Dan Harris. And then… sort of nothing. A year passed without a next release. The band continued to play shows. McLamb penned those 40 drafts. In an interview from Coachella he mentioned that he might have to relocate in order to write his next album. To Xpress he says, "I definitely kept moving."

Songs were written in Wilmington, Carrboro, Raleigh and a subleased cabin in Black Mountain. But, despite any industry pressure to get new material out to hungry fans, the most important thing "is to make music when it comes to you," says McLamb. "However long it takes to make a good record is worth it."

He adds, "I think the worst thing to do would be to make a record you weren't happy with, just to have something out. Then you'd have to do interviews about something you don't like, and tour and play it."

Two days after he came out of the studio, McLamb was dropping hints: "There's one song, 'High Life,' that's like Fleetwood Mac crossed with a '70s soap opera. It's definitely a pop album," he says. And, "Not to brag, but I don't think it sounds like a record that was done in a month. There are strings, horns, angels’ bells and choirs." He says the Love Language will play new material at its Emerald Lounge show this week and is trying to figure out what songs can be performed as a five-piece and what will require additional musicians for tour.

"The arrangements are very put together on this one," he says. "But I'm sure some things will evolve as we play live." Which makes sense for a band in the throes of its own sonic evolution.

Artists in any medium can get tired of what they're doing, says McLamb. "We want to change and grow. We're pretty consciously trying to break the mold or conception of what the Love Language is."

— Alli Marshall can be reached at

who: The Love Language
where: Emerald Lounge
when: Thursday, March 22 (10 p.m., $7.

About Alli Marshall
Alli Marshall is the arts section editor at Mountain Xpress. She's lived in Asheville for more than 20 years and loves live music, visual art, fiction and friendly dogs. Alli is the winner of the 2016 Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize and the author of the novel "How to Talk to Rockstars," published by Logosophia Books. Follow me @alli_marshall

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