Stuart McLamb of the Love Language has written around 100 instrumental tracks over the past few months, but he hasn’t figured out what to do with them just yet.
“It’s funny to have all that material without any lyrics,” he says. “I write all the time, but the words come later in the process. I’m planning on going somewhere to hunker down and do some writing at the end of May. So who knows? Maybe I’ll have an entire album by the end of the month.”
The story behind the Raleigh, N.C.-based band does, in fact, have to do with love. In 2009, McLamb went through a rough break-up, after which he retreated to his bedroom and penned a series of love letters to his ex. He later put those letters to music and released the resulting nine songs under the moniker the Love Language via Bladen County Records, a small Portland, Ore., label. That self-titled album—a lo-fi collection of buzzed-out guitars, layered vocals, and muffled percussion—packed a punch on the college-radio circuit, eventually attracting the interest of indie powerhouse Merge Records.
In the months following the Love Language’s debut, McLamb earned the reputation of being a lovesick troubadour of sorts. The reputation followed him through the creation of the band’s first Merge album, 2011’s Libraries. Recorded in a studio instead of McLamb’s bedroom, Libraries remained loaded with melodic odes to love and loss. But the band’s third release, 2013’s Ruby Red, took a turn with its subject matter.
“I think that love songs come out of a pure place,” McLamb says. “And they definitely did for those first two records. It’s not to say that I’m not in love with people or life or whatever, but I wanted to explore more universal themes. We’re called the Love Language, but I can’t write love songs forever. I listen to a bunch of different styles and I wanted to see what band could get away with.”
Like the subject matter of McLamb’s songs, the Love Language’s roster has evolved over the course of the band’s three albums. For Libraries, McLamb worked with a core group of three musicians, but on Ruby Red the band ballooned up to 20 contributing members. The group’s roster is never set in stone, a fact that has inspired whispers of instability, but McLamb is at peace with the frequent shuffling.
“It’s not that I prefer to do just a touring band, but the way it has worked out is that people come on board for a while and eventually they get jobs or explore their own projects,” he says. “I’ve never fired anyone and there’s never been a bad breakup or anything. The Love Language has always been me doing most of the recordings, so it works out.”
On tape, the Love Language’s music is a poppy blend of delicate shifts in pitch and grand bursts of instrumentation. It’s equal parts unrestrained joy and McLamb’s hushed, melancholy croons. But while the recordings explore a variety of styles, the last thing that anyone would call them is punk. But McLamb says that the Love Language’s current lineup isn’t shy about adopting a more aggressive playing style on the road.
“The band is really rad live,” he says. “We’ve gotten a lot more punk or something. It’s really fun and, to be honest, we sound completely different than on the records.”
The injection of energy has inspired McLamb to take a step back from his solitary style of writing and recording. He’s recently worked with the band’s current drummer, Tom Simpson, on some new tracks, two or three of which they’re playing live.
“He has an amazing ear for things, so it’s been cool coming up with songs together,” McLamb says.
McLamb doesn’t have a shortage of material for the Love Language’s next record. In fact, he’s mostly just trying to flesh out the arrangements he has stored away. And while Ruby Red and the new live sound have been a departure from the band’s first two albums, McLamb isn’t opposed to returning to the muted style he started with.
“I don’t know how it’s going to go in the future,” he says. “I could do another lo-fi record at home again. Either way, we’re in a good place.”