There are plenty of ways in which L.A.B. have been a phenomenon on the local music front, most evidently their popularity as a live performance act. Having firmly established that reputation the band set themselves a new challenge of trying to record and release three albums in three years, a goal which they have just realised with the release of ‘L.A.B. III’ on December 6. Felicity Farrell talked with charismatic singer Joel Shadbolt about the new album.
The L.A.B. album history began in 2017 with the release of the smartly-titled ‘L.A.B. I’. ‘LAB II’ arrived just over a year later in December 2018, and now, with another December release of ‘L.A.B III’, the band’s three-in-three challenge has been delivered on. The three albums were all recorded in Wellington with Lee Prebble, at his Surgery Studio.
‘L.A.B. II’ saw the five-piece band as finalists in the running for two 2019 NZ Music Awards – Best Roots Artist and Best Group. The timing of the release of ‘L.A.B. III’ just three weeks after that televised ceremony may have been predicated on the hope of them winning a Tui or two, though equally the early summer launch may just be appropriate for one of the country’s most favourite summer-stage live acts.
This third album has their usual distinct Kiwi music flavour to it, an eclectic sound that can’t be pinned to one genre. You are taken on a journey of blues, rock, reggae, roots and dub across the nine tracks, the band having worked hard to capture the energy you would feel at a sweaty summer festival somewhere in an NZ hotspot.
Among the catchy guitar riffs you can’t help but hear the slightly heavier sound influence of the Kora brothers – Brad on drums, and Stu playing guitar and keys. Joel Shadbolt’s vocals alone are reminiscent of road trips, hot sand, and all things NZ summer.
Conveniently the band members are mostly Bay of Plenty-residents. The Kora brothers live in Whakatane, Joel and bassist Ara Adams-Tamatea in Mt. Maunganui, while keyboardist Miharo Gregory is based in Wellington.
While all distinctly from the same band, the three albums each have their own sound. Joel says this third one is more cohesive from start to finish. It brings a more live energy, and most songs were written on the spot in the studio.
“Super fresh, hot off the press, in the moment recording!”
Ahead of their second album, the band had felt some pressure to follow the success of the first, and the intent was there to try a bit more to “write a hit” and push the ‘pop’ boundaries a little. They all agree now that wasn’t really their thing. This third album has come with no expectation to make bangers and L.A.B. just wanted to write music that felt good. This is reflected in the style of recording, doing it in a live manner rather than layering with technology.
There was also less pre-production, the whole process pretty much happening in the moment in the studio. This choice of style also came down to timing, or rather lack of time Joel admits.
“Three albums in three years – we had to write – and the only place we had time to do that was right there!”
With a bit of a back catalogue of leftover tracks from the first two albums, he says the rest of the songs for ‘L.A.B. III’ came quite easily. Joel describes Brad Kora as the band’s songwriting wizard and creative powerhouse. The band, he says, are close and know each other so well, they can bypass all of the creative chaos and get straight to what they know will work.
“Brad is amazing at knowing how to write to our strengths, and he writes in a way that includes us. He can look ahead and see the end product and pull us all together.”
As with previous releases this album inevitably embraces some of the individual members’ influences.
“As a band we love the ‘70s stuff – James Brown to early Sabbath and Iron Maiden… Regardless of the genre there’s a magic and an energy in them which is where we all kind of connect.”
Running has a dark reggae sound, with a strong Kora influence evident. Shoot On You has a real bluesy vibe and rolling rhythm. Just released single In The Air doesn’t have a chorus and isn’t a typical Kora song, or a typical song format.
“We knew there was something about this one,” says Joel. “It has a bit of nostalgia about it. People have become so attached to it.”
The track’s video includes a happy road trip and there’s a heavy touring schedule in store for L.A.B this summer. The band are headlining a few shows along with many of the usual summer staple spot gigs, and are off to Australia to tour early in the new year. Europe is another conversation that’s happening and they also hope to perform with the NZSO.
“We really want to capitalise on this push, and strike while the iron is hot,” Joel enthuses.
Expect to get a mix of tracks from all three albums live, with the new album getting its first few live outings over the new year period. This is where the group really shine, the energy they bring to a live audience makes L.A.B. a must-see this summer.
Asked if they might shoot for four from four, a grinning Joel acknowledges they are going to give it a try. They are booked into the studio with Lee Prebble in April again next year. The idea, for now, is to follow the same formula and play it by ear.
“We might bring in some strings. But we won’t be swayed, it’s the best part of our sound. We want to stay staunch on our NZ vibe.”
Made with the support of NZ On Air