At 30 years old, San Antonio singer-songwriter, guitarist, and keyboardist Harvey McLaughlin has cut a delightfully odd, slapdash path through the music scene.
After picking up a guitar around age twelve, McLaughlin had his first band at age sixteen and has been playing and writing music ever since.
McLaughlin, who spoke to the Current
last week amid a whirlwind of tour and album release preparations, recalls his first real band, the Space Heaters, with characteristic humor: “It was a weird psychobilly and alternative rock kind of thing—I had no idea what I was doing.”
What he was doing, however, was honing his unique gifts as a songwriter and beginning to figure out his own peculiar sonic palette. Next came The Sandworms, a horror-rock/instrumental surf project that (mostly) allowed him to learn “what to do and what not to do in the music business, what to say yes to and what to say no to, and how to navigate the scene.”
Then, with his more recent projects The Hares as well as Harvey McLaughlin and the Bottomfeeders, not to mention his stints lending support to other bands like Lonely Horse, McLaughlin has explored punk, garage-rock, and the strange blend of pre/early-rock stylings that has become his forte.
Now McLaughlin is set to release his strange, raunchy, and magnificent debut solo album Tabloid News
on February 16 (SA release show on February 24 at Limelight).
The thirteen songs on the album — some culled and cajoled from a cursed list of castouts from other projects, some written for this album which McLaughlin has been loosely planning for years — are funny and dark, preposterous and gritty, pretty and unhinged in turns.
On Tabloid News
, McLaughlin has done what he’s always wanted to do, but never been able to fully realize before: he’s crafted a hot, rollicking, loosely-cohesive set of songs that filter his proclivity for cabaret-tinted pre-rock stylings and filthily askew piano-pop through his lo-fi punk roots. There’s a maniacal crackle to these songs, a full moon delirium, and more fun than your favorite indie rock band could cram into a lifetime of milquetoast mood swings in musical form.
It “all comes from punk,” however. “You could do anything through the punk kaleidoscope,” McLaughlin mused.
Bored by the predictability of “paint by numbers songwriting,” which often regurgitates old subjects, themes, tropes, and even phrases, McLaughlin also takes significant influence from his long obsession with dark comic books, horror and sci-fi movies/books, and, of course, the tabloids.
“These are like the B-movies that I’ll never get to make in real life,” McLaughlin said of the songs on the album.
Of the album’s title and wildly imaginative/unconventional subject matter, McLaughlin explained that “Tabloid News
was a simpler moment when fake news was the tabloids, but they told you it was fake and no one took it seriously.”
“It’s like the difference between a con man and a magician: with a magician you know what’s not real,” he added. And Harvey, folks, is definitely a little bit of both. But, mostly a magician.
With a special knack for not taking himself too seriously, and an uncanny penchant for songcraft in his own distinct mode, McLaughlin has made a very good album that exhibits masterful (and cheeky) storytelling, and musically exists on its own arcane plane.
Our favorite tracks so far include “November 1st,” destined to be the day after Halloween anthem that we never knew we needed, “Mysterioso Blues,” which includes the bonkers representative line “Makin’ love in the mummy’s tomb, I got a crystal ball just to seal my doom,” the title track, a jangly romp through a mad catalog of strange images and half yarns, and “All’s Well in Roswell,” an instrumental number best described as piano-infused garage-rock for folks who live in haunted houses.
Get the album in vinyl, CD, or digital form at saustex.com
. Also: be sure to catch Harvey and company at the local album release show. In the live setting shit’s bound to get even weirder.
Harvey McLaughlin Album Release with Topo Chica, Whatever?
$5-$8, 10pm, Saturday, February 24, Limelight, 2718 N. St. Mary’s St., (210) 735-7775, thelimelightsa.com