INTERVIEW: Laura Cortese & The Dance Cards

Hi Laura, welcome to VENTS! How have you been?

Well, my schedule is looking a bit empty at the moment. I’m trying to fill my days with things that take my full focus like overly elaborate dinners that use every pan and dish we have or spending three days making croissants from scratch. Anything that demands my attention, so I don’t have to face the existential crisis of our lives on COVID.

Can you talk to us more about your latest single “From The Ashes”? Did any event in particular inspire you to write this song?

I’m better at facing the emotional impact of things in retrospect. I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area so in the last few years with the fall wildfire season I tend to know many people who have to evacuate. “From the Ashes” came from me thinking about all the ways things are torn down and rebuilt, including ourselves, in a lifetime. In fall 2017, we toured through California weeks after the Tubbs fire that combined with high winds burned more than 36,810 acres of Coast Miwok, Lake Miwok, and Wappo territory and destroyed over 5,643 structures, including four friend’s homes. It was a stark reminder of the danger of over 100 years of fire suppression. When I talked to those friends, who I am sure had their bad moments, they always seemed to have their sites set on rebuilding and being grateful that they survived. Their perspective got me thinking about events in any lifetime that feel catastrophic and how we tap into resilience. We are currently living through one of those moments. And we all have days when we can’t see the end of the tunnel. Somehow we have to keep finding joy and gratitude for our health and the health of our loved ones.

Any plans to release any sort of video for the track?

Well actually 😉

The single comes off your new album Bitter Better – what’s the story behind the title?

The first track off the album and our first single is called “Treat You Better.” BITTER BETTER is the wordplay running through that song. While that song is about the complexities of long-term love, obligation, healthy, and unhealthy dynamics, the album, as a whole, deals with transformation, resilience, rebuilding, and many types of contrasting emotions that live side by side.

How was the recording and writing process? What was it like to work with Sam Kassirer and how did that relationship develop? How much did he get to influence the album?

I’ve known Sam Kassirer from the Boston Music scene for a long time. When the Dance Cards set out to record our first album, California Calling,  also on Compass Records, we made a giant playlist of tracks that we liked and their producers. I set out to contact our favorites, and the conversation with Sam felt the most natural. We decided to do a trial two-song recording session to see how the collaboration would feel and loved the result. He has a way of harnessing the best in everyone and always keeping the process fun. California Calling was more about capturing the music that the band was already playing together. When it came time to make our next album, I explored the idea of working with a lot of other producers but kept coming back to the feeling that Sam and I had more we could create together.

BITTER BETTER began with the idea that I wanted to make an album that could lyrically explore serious or charged issues but always with a sense of relief in the music. The process was very collaborative. I sent Sam full songs and parts of songs, and he sent back ideas, loops, and riffs. I ended up opening some of the smaller snippets of songs to the band to co-write. Three of the band members and Sam flew to Belgium, where I live now, to play the songs and arrangements that Sam and I had been discussing in one room together.

I was studying Dutch at the time and had class every day from 9 am to noon. I would arrive home with pastries just as everyone was getting up a bit jet-lagged and ready for coffee. I bought one of those 12-cup Bialetti’s, and we would go through two every day. We recorded the rehearsals, and when everyone went home, Sam and I continued to develop the ideas. I kept writing until a few weeks before the whole band, Sam and the engineer D. James Goodwin came to Belgium in April to record.

We recorded at Motor Music in Mechelen Belgium, which had a third-floor kitchen and dining space with a big wooden table, exposed beams, and a chandelier that looked out over a grassy courtyard. Daily pastries and coffee featured heavily in the recording process as did good cheese, bakery-fresh bread, and wine. Everyone had their zone in the Studio. D. James Goodwin, the engineer, and drummer on the album, would sketch out his drum parts before the rest of us woke up in the morning. We would spend days building up from core instruments like bass (Zoe Guigueno, fiddle (Jenna Moynihan, Sumaia Jackson, and myself), cello (Valerie Thompson),  banjo to adding more lush strings and gang vocals (Jeni Magana and the whole team).

For the last three days of the session, we moved from their most spacious studio to a smaller space to finish up lead and harmony vocals as well as Sam playing a few keytar parts. One of my favorite songs on the album, “Dreaming,” was the last song I brought to the table. We managed to record the skeleton, lead vocal of that track, as well as all the other songs before our ten days at MotorMusic were up. We met up again in early July at Sam’s studio, Great North Sound Society, in Parsonsfield Maine to put the finishing touches on the album. Sam and  D. James Goodwin fleshed out the synth and drum ideas they had sketched in Belgium, and soon we had BITTER BETTER.

What role does NYC play in your music?

I lived in Boston for 18 years, so New York was always nearby. I’ve had some great nights and adventures there, including concerts and collaborations with friends from the Miles of Music Camp Community.

How has Prince and Robyn influenced your writing?

Well, doesn’t everyone wish they could’ve written Raspberry Beret? I may or may not have had my fair share of solo dance parties to “Call Your Girlfriend.”

What aspect of your own personal life did you get to explore on this record?

Making a record isn’t the cheapest of therapy, but it is highly pleasurable. Most of the songs have a root in very personal experience, but I try to focus on details that paint a picture or give a feeling rather than sound confessional.

Where else did you find the inspiration for the songs and lyrics?

While prompts from friends initiated some songs like “Typhoon,” the prompt was natural disasters, you always end up connecting it to your personal experience. Sometimes you aren’t even sure how you’ve connected it till much later. As I said, it’s therapy. With “Typhoon,” I felt like my life was the natural disaster. When I realized that, I added a self-soothing chorus.

Any plans to hit the road?

As you can imagine, we had a pretty heavy touring schedule planned around the release of the album, including headline dates in the UK, as well as support dates for Mary Chapin Carpenter and the Mountain Goats in the US, which are all now in flux. As soon as it is safe for venues to open and for bands to travel, we will be back on the road ready to play these songs live in a room standing way too close to one another.

What else is happening next in Laura Cortese & The Dance Cards’ world?

Between now and July 17, 2020, when BITTER BETTER will be released, we have a few live broadcasts in the works. Plus, we have many music videos waiting to be released. One may even include the band showing off their sweet, sweet dance moves. Stay tuned to our socials for more info.

About RJ Frometa

Head Honcho, Editor in Chief and writer here on VENTS. I don't like walking on the beach, but I love playing the guitar and geeking out about music. I am also a movie maniac and 6 hours sleeper.

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