LASKA on Sand Dune Cults and Summer Spirals

If you’ve ever had to talk yourself down from a bad case of Sunday scaries, LASKA’s “Summer Spiral” may sound familiar. “Get a grip, not too quick, it’s never your fault,” chants singer/violinist Bex Morton just above a whisper, joined in harmonies by her sisters and fellow songwriters Hannah and Mookie. Cricket chirps fill the air and the drum machine keeps a slow, even pace–the kind you can sync your breathing with if you need to. “…Not a dream, you’re just scared, feel the earth, find your peace.”

It’s the first track from their new EP Fader, and it builds on an organic emotional self-awareness the band has grown over years of prodigious collaboration. As a musical trio, they first debuted in 2015 with the EP Neap Tide, billed simply as The Morton Sisters. They formed LASKA the next year, with an expanded lineup that currently includes bassist Robbie Weisshaar and guitarist Evan Middlesworth (who’s been producing the Mortons since Neap Tide).

An album, two EPs, and a whole mess of singles later, they’re still growing. Fader is their poppiest release, their first without live drums, and it comes off as entirely natural; over bare-bones programmed rhythms, the arrangements breathe deeply, the melodies shine, and the anxious lyrics are all too prescient for a summer of uncertainty in a not-quite-post-COVID world.

After the release of Fader, LASKA spoke to The All Scene Eye via Zoom about their kinship as family members and bandmates, plus the EP’s west coast ambience.

First of all, where are we all calling from?

Hannah: I’m in Minnesota. 

Mookie: Me and Bex are in California right now.

Evan: I’m in Eau Claire, Wisconsin.

Robbie: I’m in Minnesota as well.

How has the distance been for the band?

Mookie: Honestly, I feel we’ve done a pretty good job navigating how to make it work.

Hannah: Yeah, we were all kind of in Minnesota-slash-Eau Claire, which is just, like, an hour and a half, and then Bex and Mookie moved to California in October–obviously, there was no music happening. I think it’s lucky that Zoom meetings are so prevalent now because we’ve just been having those and still been releasing stuff. We’re all gonna be together again in July recording some more. I mean, it’s kinda sad ’cause now that shows are coming back, we’re getting asked to play some, and we can’t, but we are playing one show this summer, so that’ll be fun.

Last April you put out an EP called Time It Won’t. What was it like putting out that record so early on in the pandemic?

Hannah: It was weird, man.

Mookie: Yeah, because I feel like we booked so many supportive shows for that, and then they all were pushed back a month, pushed back a month, pushed back a month, and then cancelled. I think none of us were expecting that, really. We didn’t get to play any shows to support that EP, which was interesting.

Hannah: I feel like the title of it was too accurate. [laughs] Last year was so much postponing things to eventual cancellation. It was just like, “Does time even exist?” I feel like last year didn’t even happen.

Mookie: Yeah, me too. What was that, 2021? I don’t even know.

Bex: Now is 2021. 

Mookie: I don’t even know what year it is. [laughs] That’s bad.

How did you feel about the release for that EP, though?

Bex: I think it felt good. We weren’t seeing a lot of people, so it was a cool, intimate way to connect with people during that time.

Evan: It’s been a very interesting time over the last 18 months to put out a record, not just for us, but for friends of ours who are putting records out. Because the creative process hasn’t necessarily been put on hold, and creative growth hasn’t been put on hold, so in some ways, putting out the record a year ago, April, and then this recent one, and kind of following online with other friends of ours, you know, it’s putting stuff out and continuing to move on.

The sisters are still writing songs, and as Hannah mentioned, we’ve got some recording coming up, so the process really hasn’t stopped. It’s just the old model of putting records out and playing shows stopped for the past 18 months. So yeah, it’s been an interesting time to release music for every artist, but you gotta keep doing it.

When did you all start working on the songs for Fader?

Mookie: A lot of those songs were recorded, or at least demoed, what, two years ago? Or a year ago?

Hannah: One of them was, but we worked on them in September of 2020, right?

Evan: Yeah–

Mookie: Those songs have been around for a while. [laughs]

How did the idea of this EP come together? When did you start working on it as a project?

Hannah: I think actually we were between drummers at the time, so it just happened that we used programmed beats on them. We ended up really liking how it sounded, and we were just like, “We should put these together as a little pop thing.” ‘Cause yeah, those songs are more poppy than what we’ve released before.

Mookie: They’re also the only songs we’ve released that don’t have live drums, right?

Bex: I think that’s true.

Mookie: So yeah, we just grouped ’em all together.

Hannah: And with the girls moving to California–I don’t know, it just felt kinda surfy, and it seemed like a good time to release those ones.

How did shifting to programmed beats change the way you worked on these songs?

Evan: It took on kind of a lo-fi vibe, for me personally. It just seemed a little more chill. There was a west coast laid-backness to it all. Taking a big step back, in August of 2019, the sisters and I took a tour out to the west coast, and one thing too about this band is it seems like we’re always sitting on about 25 songs at any given time. That can be in iPhone demo form or it can be in more fleshed out demo form, or it can be, “We’re pretty close to having this tune done,” so we listened to several of the songs on that trip and started to group them together. 

These songs always just kinda had a thread between them, beyond even just the programmed drums. For me personally, they’ve just always lived together in this little package–it’s not conceptual or anything, but they’ve always played well with each other.

Robbie: One part I liked about the programmed drums is that it made the orchestration and arrangement a lot more simple. It’s kind of repetitive drums going on, and it’s easier to just make it simple and chill, you know?

Hannah: Yeah, I feel like it gave Robbie more space to play some interesting stuff on bass.

Tell me about the production elements that come in when you have that more stripped down space. The first track “Summer Spiral” has all this ambience, and some really neat atmospheric things happening.

Bex: That was a lot of Evan.

Mookie: ‘Cause that song started with Bex on guitar. That’s kind of how all of our songs start; it’s one of us with guitar, or something really simple, and the production escalates from there.

Evan: Now that I’m looking back on it, I think that was the song that started the programmed drums kind of vibe, but the beat on that is actually from an old organ that we have in the studio with its own little rhythm section. I recorded that and made a loop out of it, and that organ’s kind of noisy and grainy, so it gave that song an immediate character. Then we’ve got another little synth called an Organelle that has a–it’s like a Halloween night kind of thing, and it’s a theremin mixed with a buncha crickets in the background, which is kinda strange–

Hannah: It’s called Scary Thery.

Evan: [laughs] Thery Scary, yeah. I don’t even know how we wound up on that, but probably just flipping through stuff and seeing what made sense. That kind of gelled with the song, and I always like it when songs exist in a different world or put you in a different mindset–yeah, I think that’s how it came together. It was ultimately a pretty straightforward little process.

I would never in a million years have guessed that the theremin and the crickets were a package deal. [laughs]

Evan: Yeah, and the nice thing about that is we can do that live. Hannah plays the Organelle live, which has been kinda cool. I mean, we’ve been playing that song as a group for what seems like 15 years now, so I think that it also led to the overall finished product–I don’t remember how many times we redid vocals, but it’s pretty common for us to play songs live for a spell and then come back and re-track vocals because the sisters are singing differently. We might have done that with this one, which leads to Bex’s kind of laid-back vocal.

Yeah, Bex, tell me about when you wrote that song. What do you remember about when you first sat down with your guitar?

Bex: That was in 2018, so that was quite a while ago. I feel like a lot of times with songwriting, for me personally, I’ll sit down and write the whole thing at one time, so I kinda black out, it all happens at once, and then it cannot be revised. Like, I cannot go back and change things, I’m realizing.

But the chorus itself was actually written in the studio. That was an added part, ’cause Evan’s like, “It’s missing something. You need to just sit in the booth and add something.” Kind of locked me in there and was like, “Just ramble.” And I literally ramble in that part–I just kind of vomit a bunch of words [laughs] which worked, I think.

Hannah: Yeah, that’s the funny thing about Bex, she’s like, “I don’t really know what I’m gonna do for the chorus,” and then she went in there and laid it down exactly how it is now, and we were like, “That was perfect. Where did that come from?” [laughs]

Evan: I think it was about ten minutes.

Mookie: Yeah, it literally did not take long.

The three of you have been working together for such a long time, and obviously have known each other forever. What has it been like over the years developing this kind of three-headed approach to songwriting?

Hannah: I feel like we’ve all just gotten better at songwriting, and we all write separately, for the most part. I mean, besides when we get into the studio sometimes, like “Summer Spiral.” Evan will be like, “Oh, we need another part here” or something like that, but yeah, we kind of all write separately, bring it to the group, and everybody adds some stuff. We’ve all refined our songwriting over the years and found out what we like and what works for the band.

Do you find that your voices influence each other?

Mookie: For sure. I feel like a lot of us sound the same because–well, obviously because we’re sisters, but also because we’ve been singing together for so long that you kind of subconsciously adapt to who you listen to the most.

Bex: But also, with harmonies and whatnot, when you’re trying to make something blend together, you kind of have to adjust.

Hannah: One of the nice things about the pandemic also is that we’ve all had space to start our own different projects, and I feel like that helps you grow and be like, “Okay, I wrote this song, but where does it fit? Does this fit with LASKA, or is this something I should release with a different project?”

Mookie: It also is really helpful because we all write so often and we have such a surplus amount of music and songs. It makes it kinda fun to–yeah, like you said, filter out what really fits LASKA.

How do you know when you’ve got a LASKA track? What are the qualities?

Mookie: Usually if there’s a good space for harmonies and an interesting amount of production. I feel like sometimes I’ll write a song that I’m like, “Okay, this is just acoustic guitar and one vocal,” and it’s like, “Do I really want that to be an entire LASKA song?” 

Bex: Which sometimes can be cool.

Mookie: It can also be really cool, yeah.

Hannah: I was also gonna say, I feel like LASKA songs usually have a dark element, and I think we try to write songs that have interesting chord progressions, or something that’s not too simple.

Lyrically, that is definitely something that comes up on these songs–I was very interested in “Jane Eyre.” You did little blurbs on your Facebook page about what each song is about–you have the quote from the book, and you talk about identifying with that character. What can you tell me about how that song came to be, and what got you in that Jane Eyre mindset?

Hannah: Well, I feel like I was reading the book, and just the way that she’s fantasizing about being with–I don’t even remember his name right now, but she’s like, “Oh, I’m just making this all up in my head,” and I feel like a lot of times, I do that. Not just with relationships, but I’ll make things up in my head to worry about, and I really liked that quote that inspired the song–it kinda just came out of that. I really find it fun to write about fictional characters because you can jump into a new world for a little bit, take their feelings and emotions, and put it in a song that’s for everybody.

Mookie: I loved that song from the very beginning. [laughs]

Hannah: Yeah, actually, that song was supposed to be for my solo project because it does have really simple chords, and I was like, “I kinda feel like this could be poppy,” but then Mookie was like, “Please make it a LASKA song.”

Mookie: Yeah, I begged her to make it a LASKA song ’cause I loved it so much.

Evan, any memories of this song?

Evan: Well, as a creative partner in this band, but also a fan, when the demos come down my way, it’s sort of the beginning of a whole new journey. I get excited every time a new demo pops up, and I remember liking this one right out of the gate. I think we just kinda threw some stuff at the wall in terms of the production and just kinda went for it, where it wound up. I don’t remember there being too much of a process behind it, unless I’m remembering wrong.

I don’t remember it being too difficult of a journey, but then again, most of these tunes aren’t too difficult. We just jump right into what the demo is, start making decisions, commit to stuff, and then finish it up because there’s other tunes to get to. This is one that we’ve never played live, so that’s one thing I’m really looking forward to, is having an opportunity to play this one live at some point, cause then you can kind of reimagine the song, or at least be reintroduced to it, when you get it under your hands with the full band playing it. I’m glad that this one wound up as a LASKA tune.

Mookie: Yeah, I feel like it did really just fall into place ’cause I don’t remember putting too much work into this one in the studio, necessarily.

Hannah: I think we in general have a mindset of just throwing whatever onto the song and knowing that we can take stuff off later if we don’t like it. But most of the time, it sticks, and we’re like, “Sweet, yeah.”

Mookie, what was it you heard in this song that made you want it to be a LASKA song?

Mookie: I feel like it was the lyrics. The part where it’s like, [singing] “Doom clouds,” or whatever. I resonated with it so much, I was like, “This is my favorite song to listen to right now, like, out of all songs. I kinda just want this to be a LASKA song so I can sing on it and listen to it all the time.” [laughs]

Bex: I feel like we have to feed into that intuition too, though. If we resonate or connect with something, then we’re like, “This could be a moment to, I don’t know, connect as a band,” so just jumping on that and running with it. It’s not always clear; we just have a feeling, as lame as that sounds.

No, not at all. You put out “Strong Hands” as a single for the EP. To you all, what makes that song the standout?

Robbie: I think that was just a super special song. It was one of those songs, the first time you hear it, you’re like, “Yeah, that’s just a great song.” That’s what I like about it.

Hannah: I feel like the piano part that Robbie laid down–like, immediately when he played it, it punched me in the gut, and every single time I heard it after that, I was just like, “Ah! It’s so emotional!” Just makes me hurt in the best way.

Mookie: I also feel like that song is just super easy to digest. Does that make sense? I felt like it was going to be well-liked–it’s a very well-rounded and easy-to-like song.

Evan: From my perspective, it’s the best kind of song, ’cause from the demo, it’s like, “Yeah, this is great,” and then each move that we made to the track, it just all made sense. There’s points in making songs or producing songs where you feel like you’re fighting the song a little bit, and this one was just like, “Nope, let’s just put this kind of beat behind it. Alright, that works. Let’s put this piano on there. Yep, Robbie, that works.” Everything fell into place really nicely, and I always think that’s a really great indicator of, “For whatever reason, this is a special song, and we shouldn’t necessarily question it. Just kinda let it lead.” In the end, those usually come out as real winners.

This was a fun one for me, ’cause especially during the shutdown last fall, when it was like, “What are we doing?” I would go out to the studio really late at night and play some guitar, play some shakers on this track, and just kinda get lost for way longer than I needed to be. This song in particular and this entire EP really helped get me through the last 18 months. But yeah, this tune is cool. Good job, Bex.

Bex: I love hearing that.

You also recorded a video for “Strong Hands,” which has this very striking Super 8 footage of you on sand dunes. Where did you film that and how did it come together?

Mookie: Hannah flew out to California and we went to Glamis Sand Dunes, which is, like, three hours south of where we’re living right now–three hours south of southern LA. Our friend Keegan [Burckhard] filmed the music video for us, and also our friend Leah [Nasgowitz]. They kind of tag-teamed it, ’cause we had a digital camera and then also the Super 8.

What was it like, all being together in California?

Mookie: It was really nice.

Hannah: Yeah. It was a busy time, for sure. It was just a quick weekend–I took one day off work, I think, and then flew there. We went and filmed the video. We also did a photoshoot for the cover art.

Bex: It was a long day. I think we loaded up the car at, like, six in the morning, and we got back that night at one in the morning, so it was a full day of shooting, but it was great. We got a lot of content. It was a cool day.

Mookie: It was really beautiful there. It was also really windy, and like, we were–[laughs]

Bex: So windy.

Hannah: I had sand in my hair for, like, a week after that.

Mookie: Yeah, it was very brutal, but it was very, very fun.

Hannah: We also almost got hit by some dune buggies. Our first filming location that we found, we were like, “Oh, this is super cool,” ’cause it was at the bottom of a hill. Then all of a sudden all of these dune buggies came up and were parked at the top of the hill like they were just gonna come down at us. This dude got out and was like, “You guys can’t be right there,” and we were like, “Okay, bye.” [laughs]

Mookie: “Sorry we don’t know the dune buggy rules.” [laughs]

Bex: That environment was strange ’cause it was kind of culty. It definitely felt like we were intruders there.

Hannah: But I think it was cool because we ended up not getting anybody else in the background of the whole video.

Bex: You would never know there were a lot of people there. [laughs] 

For each of you, what is your favorite part of being in LASKA and working together on projects like this?

Hannah: First of all, everybody’s just so talented.

Mookie: Honestly, LASKA’s actual family, but I feel like we are all a family. Like, such a close kinship that it’s unlike anything I’ve ever been involved in before.

Hannah: I feel like whenever we put demos out, I’m just so excited to see what Evan’s gonna do to it, and he always comes up with something that I was not expecting at all. A lot of the times, it’s just a guitar and vocals when we send a demo over, and then Evan will just do some shit and it is so much cooler automatically.

Evan: Well, as I said earlier, I’m a fan of this band, kind of stepping out of my role in it and looking in. It checks one of the huge boxes of all my favorite bands, which is, every record is different. It’s always trying to evolve creatively. This EP Fader, programmed drums, a little more lo-fi kind of vibe, but what’s awesome about working with the sisters is the whole, like, “This was great. We did this, we did it to the best of our abilities, and it’s our vibe, but let’s keep moving forward. Let’s do things differently for the next one.”

I really respect that, admire that about any artist that takes you on a journey every time you put a new record on. It kind of becomes the rules to the listener, to the world, like, “We’re gonna put stuff out. It’s gonna be different. It’s not gonna be the same kinda cookie-cutter songs as it was the last three records,” and what’s cool about that is you can really see a growth over the entire career of an artist. You can go back and listen to even the very first EP that I worked with with the sisters, when it was just The Morton Sisters, Neap Tide. You listen to that record and you listen to the whole trajectory of creativity over the last however long it’s been, and it’s great. 

It’s such a cool thing to continue to evolve and do, but also to leave behind. You have this literal record of these amazing tunes. And yeah, Robbie is such a genius at music, and one of the chillest dudes you’ll ever meet. And you know, we haven’t done so in the last 18 months, but you gotta be able to load up in a van, go and play shows, you know, get annoyed with each other, but then be laughing hysterically five minutes later.

Mookie: [laughs] So true.

Evan: [laughs] And that builds that kinship that Mookie was saying. It’s classic, you know? Throw your shit in a van and go play some shows, have some fun, know when to go to your corner, but in the end, we’re all in this together.

Hannah: My sisters and I don’t necessarily know things about music theory, so sometimes we just write songs and don’t know what we’re playing. Then we’ll bring it in and be like, “Robbie, what are we playing here?”

[all laugh]

Mookie: Yeah, Robbie is truly a genius.

Hannah: “Here’s the key,” just knows everything about what we did.

Mookie: Also, Robbie plays every instrument. Sometimes I’m still surprised. I’m like, “Wait, you play piano and drums and guitar and everything?” Like, “What?”

Robbie: Shucks, guys. [laughs] My favorite part, I think, is just being able to hear their great songs all the time. It makes being a bass player easy when it’s a great song to begin with, and going off what Evan was saying, I really enjoy just seeing the new things they’re coming up with. It inspires me because they don’t know any of the theory or whatever behind it. It almost makes them more creative because they don’t need to know it. They just do it, so it’s inspiring for me as well.

Hannah: I also feel like there’s some sister telepathy sometimes. Like, when Bex wrote “Summer Spiral,” I had just written a song called “Springtime Spiral,” so I was just like, “Wow, we’re in the same mindset.” And then recently, Mookie wrote a song and sent it over, and I found myself just sitting in those thoughts, and I was like, “This is exactly what I needed to think about right now.”

Bex: There’s an awesome connection and transformation that occurs when we’re all together unlike any other creative outlet I’ve ever experienced, and it does really feel like a family, which is great. A whole, connected family.

You mentioned that you’re recording in July. What’s next for the band?

Hannah: We’ve been talking about a full-length album for a little while, and like, we also had been putting that off because we couldn’t tour it, so I think we’re gonna try to finish that in July.

Mookie: We’re also kind of really tentatively looking at doing some sort of tour–maybe west coast tour, maybe a broken-down version of the band, in November.

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