“Broke our hearts making ‘malibu nights’, broke our backs making ‘mama’s boy’” were the words shared by Lany frontman Paul Klein before they dropped ‘good guys’, the first single from their new album. Just days after finishing the tour for their heartbreak album ‘Malibu Nights’, Klein packed up and headed to Nashville to take on album number three. The alt-pop group has never shied away from honest, literal lyrics and affectionate ballads about their adoptive city of Los Angeles. But now the trio feels the success of the band has turned a corner, and the stars have aligned at the perfect time for them to return to their humble roots.
Barely taking a breath after closing the door on ‘Malibu Nights’, Klein began writing the new album in America’s home of songwriting, joined occasionally by bandmates Jake Goss and Les Priest. ‘Mama’s Boy’ is a love letter to home, heritage and the America that shaped Klein, unapologetically embracing his Oklahoma beginnings for the first time. We talk to him over Zoom about creating the “perfect” album, embracing being a mama’s boy, and his aspirations for Coldplay levels of fame.
You guys wrote a really insightful Instagram post about what this album was going to be, suggesting you had to go on a journey to fully embrace yourselves as a band for the first time. So what allowed you to actually get to this point?
We’re all from very, not cool places, which I feel like a lot of people in the world can sort of relate to. We’re from the middle of nowhere. I’m from Oklahoma, Jake’s from Arkansas, Les is from Missouri. And those typically aren’t places that you want to brag about. And so we all move to LA and pursue this dream. And I think now that we have written some songs and made some albums and been around the world five or six times as a band, you just start thinking about all that you’ve accomplished, where you’ve come from.
We’ve by no means arrived. We’re definitely not the biggest band in the world or anything like that. But we’re kind of in the middle of living our dream. And I think there’s something that switches inside of you where you’re proud of what you’ve accomplished, and someone asks you where you’re from, and you’re like, “You know what man? I’m from Oklahoma. I come from the middle of nowhere. And if I can do it, you can do it”. And that was just like this thing that shifted inside my spirit probably around nine or ten months ago, right before we started writing for the album.
Moving from Oklahoma to LA, did ever you feel like you had to be someone that you weren’t to try and fit into that scene?
Not really, I always was different growing up. I was like the first kid to wear skinny jeans in my high school, got absolutely ridiculed for that. And I’ll always have different coloured hair. I never really fit the aesthetic of Oklahoma, if you will. But it was funny as I still worked on the ranch in high school, so it’s like, I did it, but I didn’t fit in completely. I just always felt like I was out of place a little bit. And so moving to LA really felt more like more freedom I guess.
I’ve never really been too concerned about trying to fit in. I would argue that before Lany I was writing some songs as like a singer-songwriter and I think if I was ever trying to be somebody else it was during that period of my life where I was looking at other singer-songwriters and trying to emulate what they were doing instead of being true to myself. Honestly, when I really break it down I think the reason why Lany worked was just because I just kind of stopped trying to be somebody that I wasn’t and I found a lot of security and safety.
Album three is about home, heritage and family, and there’s that saying that “Nobody comes from Los Angeles. Everybody comes to Los Angeles”. So what’s your favourite home comfort?
My mom’s known for her fried chicken. Every time I come home, she makes fried chicken, my granny taught her how to make it. I also love the lakes in Oklahoma, like I wish I could have spent Fourth of July back home. But in the same breath, I love LA, and I’m glad I’m here. I’m not trying to move back to Oklahoma. It’s more just really appreciating where you came from, and the people who made you who you are.
All of your parents are in the ‘if this is the last time’ video, which is super cute. Are you all real mama’s boys?
Yeah! Which is another thing that’s so interesting. That was such an insult growing up, somebody saying “you’re such a mama’s boy”. And now it’s like “Oh, wait. You love your mom, you respect women. You understand the power of a strong mother,” and it’s funny how things that are meant as insults are now this huge compliment. Jake has literally the word “parents” in a heart with an arrow tattooed on his arm. We’re also very, very lucky that we still have all of our parents around. So that doesn’t escape me how fortunate we are.
This album is your vision, so what is the process like when you get other writers on board to bring it to life?
It’s not easy, but it does come to me naturally. I try to be very diligent in keeping notes in my phone. When we were on tour last year, a lot of song titles or kind of thesis statements for songs would hit me like on a flight or wherever it was, and I would just quickly type them down on my phone. There’s a song called ‘i still talk to jesus’ that is on the album, and I wrote that down in the first week of January 2019, and I didn’t write that song until September or October. So that’s how long a song can just kind of live in the back of your head or in the back of your Notes app.
But obviously when we’re going to Nashville to write an album, I think it’s my artistic responsibility at least, to walk into a room and be like “OK guys, so today, this is kind of the premise, ‘I still talk to Jesus’. I’m thinking like, I do all the things that I’m not supposed to do, drink too much, smoke marijuana,” all these kinds of things. And then we’ve done a song around it.
Do you ever keep in mind the commercial viability of a song especially for an album like this?
Yeah, good question. I think even more recently, I’ve realised that I will never please everyone. I’ve spent my whole life trying to do that and I’m so exhausted it’s not doing me any favours. So really, the only question that it comes down to is: “Can I please myself? Am I proud of this? Do I think this is awesome?” In the same breath, there are things that you know kind of play into what people should like. Not that music is scientific, but there is some sort of science and formula to the fact that, “if I stick around these two notes, that is more singable”, and it’s more attractive to the average person’s ear. And of course, we want to be the biggest band in the world. We’re not putting out, like, Radiohead album cuts. We’re putting out like, what we kind of think is our version of pop music.
You said you want the album to be as close to perfect as possible. So how close to perfect is it where it stands?
I guess to be really, really transparent, I remember putting out our debut album and feeling like, “I don’t think it’s perfect”. I didn’t like that feeling that much. I think we were progressing and growing and evolving as a band so quickly that we were writing songs and then a couple months later be like “wow, we’re so much better than we were a couple months ago”. And I do think that we’re growing that way now. But I just remember kind of promising myself, I would never let myself feel that ever again. And obviously there’s no such thing as perfection but you know, you try your absolute hardest to get it as perfect as possible and I felt that way about ‘Malibu Nights’ and I certainly feel that way about ‘Mama’s Boy’.
You guys have said you’re still not where you want to be in terms of popularity and you’re still chasing bigger success. At what point will you feel like Lany has “made it”?
The quick answer is: we’ll never make it. You have so many metrics these days to kind of like gauge or measure your success, like how many monthly listeners on Spotify? How many Instagram followers now? How many views do you have on TikTok? I think the only true metric that I can use is how many butts can we put in seats, which is kind of an interesting thing because we can’t put any butts in seats right now.
And so eventually, when we can go back and play shows, we just want to play for as many people as possible and be in as big rooms as you can possibly get into. Coldplay is obviously the benchmark for us. We are huge fans and we love them and everything that they’ve done in their career and how they’ve reinvented themselves with every album and can basically go to any country in the world and play a stadium, so that’s insane. And I’m not sure we’ll ever get there, but it’s a good kind of benchmark to work towards.
How are you going to keep interacting with your loyal fans now that you can’t do live shows?
I’ve always taken a very personal approach with this band. I still run our Twitter and our Instagram and everything from my phone. If you follow Lany and you’re a fan of Lany, you know that I’m talking to you. So many artists are willing to just pass them off to somebody else. And I’ve gone above and beyond to try to deepen and further that relationship with our fans. I’ll send out very personal newsletters that are like “Hey, what’s up? I’m thinking about ya, here’s our new song. This is how I wrote it. This is what I was thinking”. We’ve always just put the fans first. Obviously they’re such a big part of who we are and why we are who we are. To answer your question, I don’t know how much we can do to keep fostering that in times like this.
What I think is really interesting is that at the top of lockdown, did you notice how everyone was going live on Instagram? And then how quickly that ended? Because I think people realised that as much as it’s cool to see your face and do this, I think it would be so much better in real life. And I think if anything, what we’ve learned the most through quarantine is that, we don’t really care if you go live on Instagram. There’s absolutely no substitute for a live show and a live experience. I want to see you live on the stage. I want to feel the heat and feel that emotion that just doesn’t translate onto screen. I think that’s one thing that I’m holding on to, that the second we are allowed to go back out, I think we’ll see more people at shows than ever before.
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What was it you were looking for in your collaborations with Julia Michaels and Lauv, and who would you be looking to collab with next?
I’m down to collab with anyone honestly. I guess I just have to believe in the song. For me, Julia is just literally, objectively one of the greatest songwriters on the planet. At that time, it was 2019, you can do whatever you want. There are no rules if you want to drop one song or 100 songs overnight. Everyone’s cool with it. So we put out ‘okay’ with Julia.
And then while I was on tour in Asia, Lauv sent me ‘Mean It’, but it was in the embryonic stages. I didn’t even know why he was sending it to me at first. He just sent it to me, I was like: “Yo, I love this. What’s up?” He’s like, “Well will you help me make it better and finish it?” So I rewrote the second verse in the shower in Indonesia. And then I sang it to him in a voice note, and then I wrote the bridge. And then I flew home from tour and we just got in the studio later and made it. He’s just a dear friend and an incredible songwriter as well. So that made sense. I’d love to work with Taylor Swift. I think she’s a monster, an incredible artist.
How happy have you been with the reception of the songs that you’ve released so far from ‘Mama’s Boy’?
It’s been amazing. When ‘good guys’ came out, it broke all of our first week release records. And then now ‘if this is the last time’ is just really connecting with people. I knew that song was meaningful, I knew it was special, but I didn’t realise how much it was going to mean to people in so many different ways. And it’s been really amazing and actually also really beautiful to see so many people share such vulnerable stories. If you go to our YouTube comments section people are just like sharing “hey I lost my mom to cancer”. Or like last week I saw one guy say “my dad took his own life on the day y’all dropped this song”. The vulnerability has been insane, something I didn’t really anticipate but it’s so beautiful.
Like I said earlier, when you play shows and you see so many people come together for one specific reason and come together in such unity, that reminds you what you’re doing matters and it means something to people, and this is worth your time. I don’t have that right now because I can’t play a show. But when I see stuff like that, that there’s still an appetite in culture for like meaningful art, because we can write about a bunch of trivial stuff like “this girl’s hot and that guy’s hot”, but to write a real meaningful track like that and see it resonate with so many people, is very encouraging to me.
Mama’s Boy is due to be released later this year.