I catch up with Stu Larsen as he’s in town to launch his new album Vagabond at London’s St Pancras Old Church. An intimate venue serves for tonight, But Stu is just as likely to playing a much bigger stage sometime soon. The headline for the album could easily be that it was produced by his good friend Passenger, but there’s more to that story than is immediately apparent. Still the two friends have toured together and just as Mike Rosenberg (a.k.a. Passenger) has benefitted from his friendship with Ed Sheeran, so the gift is being passed on. But just as Passenger has taken the opportunity on his own terms, so Stu is also worthy of the attention that his friendship with the multi-million seller naturally brings and Vagabond is the proof.
One the defining things about Stu Larsen is his website, which reads like a travelogue. He’s on his travels again and I ask him where the latest leg of his adventure has taken him and he tells me, “I’ve mostly been over this way for the last month or so, around Europe doing festivals and some smaller gigs. I’ve had the odd day off to take a detour here and there.” It seems obvious from his website that the sightseeing is an important part of the deal for Stu, but he qualifies this, “I try to. When it’s a full on tour, it’s much harder as you have a lot of travel days built into the schedule, but with festivals, there are more opportunities.” He smiles and admits, “I often enjoy these days more than the actual gigs,” we share a laugh over this and he continues, “I just like to see something that I’ve never seen before, have a walk around and take my camera with me.”
His website is packed full of pictures and I ask Stu if this latest European adventure has taken him anywhere special. He pauses for a moment and then says, “There’s so much, so much. Yes, I’ve spent some time in Italy and I’ve never really played there before, but did a couple of little shows in April. On my days off I wanted to go back there and I visited Rome for the first time.” I remind him it’s known as the eternal city and he smiles confirming, “It’s really beautiful, an amazing place, obviously you read and hear so much about it, but to be there amongst it all was a very special feeling and that really stood out for me.”
I wonder if Stu can identify where this wanderlust has come from. He looks quizzical for a second and reveals, “I don’t really know. I grew up in a small town and thought I’d live there my whole life. That was certainly my attitude as I went through school. Then I got a job in another town, which was my first move outside of normality and might have been the first spark of it, when I realised that the place I spent my life so far wasn’t the whole world.” He smiles as he recalls, “I guess I started to make more family trips. Then after a while I also realised I could travel with music and make money with it on the go. Eventually it just made sense to quit the job and then once I got on the road full time, I got more and more into it. It’s addictive.”
I ask Stu about his own music making and when he started to write. He tells me, “I guess I started to write songs that I would be happy to sing in public when I was 23 or 24. Up until that time I’d written little songs that would never make it out of the bedroom, but I didn’t really start performing until I was 26 or 27.” I ask Stu about writing on the road and he admits it’s difficult, “Hmmm. It’s one thing that I thought when I started travelling that I’d start writing so may more songs. But for me to write, I really need to take a couple of weeks off, turn off my phone and my laptop. After a couple of days all of the memories and inspirations come flooding in and I start to write, but that doesn’t happen very often. I just don’t get much time off very often.”
He might lack for time, but he doesn’t want for inspiration as he tells me, “I know that when I slow down that inspiration will come. When I’m writing for my next album I’ll just take some time out and I know the songs will come. There are so many things that have happened over the last three or four of years that the concepts are all there already.”
I suggest to Stu that it sounds very much like he and his travels are centre stage amongst the songs on the album and he agrees, “Spot on. There are some songs on there that are pretty emotional and can be hard to sing. There are a couple of songs that I’m playing tonight that I’ve only performed once or twice before because of that. There’s a lot of me on the album and it’s very personal, but I don’t think I could do it any other way. I want to feel attached to the songs I’m singing and I think other people connect with that as well.” I suggest it simply sounds honest, and he agrees.
I ask him about meeting up with Mike Rosenburg and he explains, “Actually it was quite random chance. Some friends of mine in Australia were starting up a band and didn’t have much money. I had lots of time on my hands as I’d just quit my job, so I agreed to drive their tour bus, tune their guitars and sell CDs at the shows. On one of their tours, they had Mike as the support act and I didn’t really have much to do with him on that tour as I was focussed on my friends’ band. But I did get to know him a little and then one day he just said we should go on the road together. I didn’t know whether I wanted to or not, but eventually I thought why not give it a go see what happens.”
He continues, “The first tour we did together was in Australia and I was the tour manager. When the tour came to an end, he wanted it to carry on, but I decided to tell him I needed to be making my own music and playing my own shows. I thought that would be it, but then he offered to make me tour manager and support act as well. That was about three years ago and when it all started to really make sense. Since then we’ve travelled across the world, been to some amazing places, played some big shows and some little shows and had some phenomenal adventures that will stick in my mind forever.”
I suggest to Stu that Mike has kept his faith with him in producing Vagabond. Stu admits, “Yeas I feel very lucky that he wanted to be involved. It wouldn’t have happened without him, he did so much, not just producing but helping me to get to the right place mentally to make it all happen. He did a huge job.”
I ask about the recording process and Stu explains, “I’d previously recorded with just me and one other guy doing everything else, which ended up being the demo version of the album. Mike suggested we record it at Linear Recording Studio’s in Sydney. We had a limited window of time and I didn’t have enough friends or people that I knew around in town at the time, so we ended up using people that Mike knew, some of whom I’d met when Passenger was recording.”
I ask about the other musicians and Stu tells me, There were some amazing players. Pete Marin is a drummer form the Australian group Gossling and lots of other acts, the there was Alex Boneham, he’s actually a jazz bassist, he travels the world and I was so lucky that he agreed to be part of my little project. They were the backbone of the sessions and put so much into it. Then I have a friend called Tim Hart who’s in a band called Boy And Bear and he played banjo and did some backing vocals. Then of course Mike played guitar and sang on the record. Then we had Scott Alpin come in at the last minute and play keyboards and he turned out to be a genius. There are some great keys moments on the album, organ and piano. He would listen through to a song and just nail his part in one take. That tuned out to be the icing on the cake for me.”
I suggest it sounds like a lot of the arrangements came together in the studio. Stu looks thoughtful and pause for a moment, “Yes I guess so. The bigger picture is that my dad passed away during the recording, so a lot of things were up in the air for me and we had to reschedule and work on the fly. Again, Mike was holding that together. It would not have happened without him.” He smiles and tells me, “I don’t know how we did it, but I’m immensely proud of the result.”
Having touched on the death of his father I ask whether the gospel flavoured closing track I Will Wait No More is a tribute, but I’m wide of the mark. He tells me, “No actually that was written some time before, but King Street that’s about my father and of course my mother too. In fact she’s just turned up today. She’s never been out of Australia before and amazed me by rocking up today and is coming to the show tonight, which is crazy.”
I ask Stu where his travels will take him next and he reveals, “The next few weeks I’m playing more festivals in Europe and then I’m going to tour the States with Mike for six weeks. That will be insane with some really big shows, I’m nervous about that, but also looking forward to hanging out for six weeks. Then I try to tour the States myself and come back here again, keep lapping the world and take Vagabond with me. I just want to keep touring and see as much as I can.”
I ask if Stu still retains his sense of home and he confides, “I do still think of Australia and where I come form as home. My mum still lives in the same town and I visit here when I can, but it is like I’m visiting my mum rather than returning to my own house. I get the feeling that when I do finally settle down I will stay put for some time and that might be back in Australia or it might be somewhere else, there are so many amazing places to choose from.”
There a glint in his eye and a smile on his face, which suggest a degree of contentment. For the time being the itinerant life will suit Stu just fine with his excellent Vagabond as his calling card, the worlds festivals, clubs, concert halls and probably arenas await. The launch gig to come later is a sell out, which suggests he’s starting to make some strides on his own merits, but the faith shown in him by Passenger is clearly something that he will be forever grateful for. The passing on of the baton from Ed to Mike to Stu is surely one of the best stories to come out of the rapacious music industry ever. There’s no weight of expectation just friendship, opportunity and just desserts taken. As a result Stu is on an amazing journey, when he does eventually settle, you wish him the peace and happiness that he also deserves.
Interview by: Simon Holland
Vagabond is Out Now
Order via: Amazon
Make sure you follow Stu’s travels via his website and Instagram: http://instagram.com/stularsen
Photo Credit: JARRAD SENG