As a teenager, Paul Jason Klein, before he was the front man for the now-powerful rock ‘n’ roll trio, LANY, really wanted a car. He focused just about all his energies and talents towards the aim. He suffered through arduous, laborious piano lessons and the hours of weekly practice they demanded. He worked to get as high a mark as he could on each standardized test. It was all about that damn car. Klein, who’d been thrust into very serious music tutelage beginning at five-years-old, had later made a deal with his parents. If he were to earn a music scholarship from a college or university, then they would have to buy him a car. It was the first major life goal he achieved (earning two scholarships, in the end) but it wouldn’t be the last. And the latest, of course, is LANY’s new LP, Mama’s Boy. The album, released in October, demonstrates the band’s supreme talent for external observation, self-inquisition and hard work.
“If you listen to the songs we were writing four years ago,” Klein says, “if you took those songs and put them against a song like ‘Paper’ on Mama’s Boy, it’s not the same band. The leap we’ve taken sonically, conceptually is astronomical. I’m not tooting my own horn here – clearly, we have so much more work to do. So much room for improvement. But to make a leap like that in four years, the only way you do that is by being brutally honest with yourself and your band mates.”
Often, when songwriting is discussed, ideas of bridges and choruses come to mind. Or perhaps the key signature or beats-per-minute. But another key component is specificity, articulation and diamond-sharp clarity of the ideas expressed. Listening to LANY, it’s clear the band cares about these aspects. Like any good song, there are layers. There’s a clean sheen, a high production value that makes the music immediately palatable to most, but the ideas expressed often become increasingly interesting as you dive in. Songs about living in Los Angeles while your heart is in Oklahoma. Songs about a relationship looking good only on paper but not feeling right. Song’s about telling your mother you’ve done cocaine.
“It was tough to sit my mom down and tell her I’d done coke,” Klein says. “That’s not something a mom wants to hear. But I’m trying to write about things that really mean something.”
These days, Klein says, he’s trying to metaphorically run toward the things that scare him the most. As a young songwriter living in Nashville, he’d rejected the all-too-common local sound, finding monotony where others found comfort. So, he moved to Los Angeles on a whim that felt more and more like a calling. Living in the City of Angeles, though, Klein kept in contact with his friends back home, including musicians Charles “Les” Priest and Jake Clifford Goss. The two are skilled – in fact, too skilled for Klein to ever approach them about co-writing back then.
In L.A., however, Klein watched as Priest and Goss began collaborating together and releasing songs in a new, low-expectations project. Klein loved their music. He’d been too shy to ask the musicians to collaborate in-person, but a boldness took hold of him while in Los Angeles – similar, in fact, to the boldness he once felt online in high school when talking to a pretty girl who might be more difficult to approach in the lunchroom – and Klein eventually asked if he could fly back to Nashville to write with his buddies.
“I boldly called Jake and was like, ‘Can I fly back to Nashville for a week and write some songs with you?’ And he was like, ‘Absolutely!’ So, I flew there for four days and we wrote and recorded our first two songs. We put them on the internet, I think, on April 22nd, 2014. And within a week we got like five emails from different record labels asking us who we were.”
The trio had no idea the response they’d get from the songs they wrote and recorded in a Nashville bedroom together. Klein, who’d had little-to-no success with labels or placement prior, remembers calling the one friend he had in talent and music management. A few emails were forwarded and the friend, seeing they were legitimate offers, flew to London from Sweden the next day to represent the group in important label and business meetings. Not long after, he quit his job and has been managing LANY ever since. And while today bedroom recordings are more and more prominent, back then that wasn’t the case.
“I feel like we invented bedroom pop!” Klein says.
The creative success comes as a far cry from those early years when Klein dreaded his piano lessons. While he loathed them then, Klein says he’s grateful for them now. But while the practice offered a strong musical foundation, it wasn’t until he began writing his own songs that he truly embraced music. Today, Klein can bounce song ideas off well-known artists like friend and mentor, John Mayer, who is one of the most successful and polarizing musicians in recent memory. Being a lightening rod, however, offers a unique perspective. If intelligence is the ability to keep two opposing ideas in your head at once, then polarization can lead to wisdom.
“If you run out of questions, you run out of songs,” Klein says.
Indeed, with so many questions swirling the future of music, touring and, perhaps, civilization, Klein is attempting to turn the stunted COVID-19 era into more music output. In a way, it’s the only real choice he has given the strict limitations on public gatherings (or even on person-to-person contact). Like many, Klein says, he’d never thought he’d be in a band banned from touring. But maybe, in the end, this is all one big lesson to temper hypothetical expectations. Like a New Year’s Eve gathering where no one hopes for the peak night of their life – maybe that’s the only way to treat the future. Maybe it’s simply the act of discovery that should lead the way – one song at a time.
“Music seems like the one thing I think everyone can agree on,” Klein says. “I don’t know if I’ve ever met anybody who isn’t into music. You’re probably a psychopath, if so. And I’ll take that one step further – when you go to other countries and play music not in the native language, you still somehow connect to people’s souls.”