“Think Baxter Dury’s warped kid brother.” The Times
"Full of great poignant, funny and sad songs that display the man’s great writing talents. ” Louder Than War
"A master storyteller." Tom Robinson
"Sounds like an updated version of something that Stiff Records would have released in the 70s" Steve Lamacq
"The very finest example of an up & coming singer-songwriter making music today." Dangerous Minds
Scott Lavene - Bio - Written by Stevie Chick (MOJO / Guardian) - March 2021
“But then the world moved…” - Scott Lavene, ‘Worms’
Have we ever needed great storytellers so badly? Voices to snap us out of our collective grey funk, to pull us out of our narrow, hemmed-in worlds and to lighten our days and enlighten us with their perspectives, Immersing us in their worldview and history. People who can make us laugh, cry, gasp or nod sagely, to see our world anew and not feel so alone. We need stories, vignettes, new windows to look out of, and narrators to help those new visions make sense.
In short, we need Scott Lavene. Born and raised in Essex, but a man of the world who has wandered far and wide, Lavene’s a storyteller who can capture all the madness, joy and frustration of life while singing about worms writhing in the ground. Lavene’s been in bands since his teens, but only really located the voice that makes his new album Milk City Sweethearts so remarkable – that combination of wry observation, humble wisdom, unguarded vulnerability and unpredictable humour – in a music workshop for alcoholics and addicts, long after he’d bid farewell to childhood dreams of pop stardom, and the ghosts and demons that accompany those dreams.
“I hadn’t spent a day without drugs since I was 16,” he remembers. “But now that was gone, I felt like a teenager again. I mean, I was working fitting fireplaces, I was the wrong side of 30, I didn’t harbour any dreams of being signed anymore. But I started writing songs again, because I was enjoying it. Before, I was always trying to be cool, trying to write like other people. And after I came out the other side of addiction, with a little clarity and a lot of distance, I realised a lot of funny stuff had happened to me, and I could write about it. It’s been a long journey…”
Lavene started as a singer when he was 16, “because I could sing like Jim Morrison,” he grins. “I sung someone else’s songs for five years, because my songs weren’t as good as his. I was always just a busker, really. I was an obsessive record-collector and reader of books from a young age, and I wanted to get away from Romford as soon as I could, really. There was no one there for me. I stuck out like a sore thumb.”
In Essex, he says, you either “become a plumber or get a job in the city. I was raised by a stepdad who said, ‘Get a trade – you can’t do music.’” Instead, armed with a guitar and the knowledge that, at a push, he could sing and play some Beatles songs, he escaped to France, where he roamed around and lived in a tent, before returning to the UK and finding a home in Canterbury among a coterie of stoners and musicians. He met fellow misfits, artists, people making music for the sake of it, and realised he wanted in.
He traced a new path, one that brought him to London, where he lived on a houseboat, and tried to write songs that sounded like other people’s songs, and started a band who sounded like “Chas’n’Dave meets Queens Of The Stone Age, basically”, and stirred up interest from music industry managers and A&R men. His granddad had been a famous trad-jazz musician decades before. His dad was a “failed” musician who died surrounded by empty booze bottles and opiates. Charting a trajectory between those two poles soon became tightrope act, and with each footstep the high-wire grew only more torturous.
“I was just not well,” he remembers. “The madder I got, the more inclined I was to write about going mad. And then my mental health hit a point where I just stopped everything. I stopped playing music for seven years. My life was just solitude, self harm and mental institutions.”
But from this bleak moment, Lavene began to rebuild his life. He started working for a charity for addicts and alcoholics, helping run a music workshop for people in the same spot as him. And as he helped these people write songs of their own, he began to weave his own stories into music. “These new songs, they were different,” he remembers. He was no longer trying to write as somebody else – he was now singing in his own voice, and penning songs drawn from his experiences, the good and the bad. Not all the songs were autobiography but, as he says, while “the facts aren’t important, the emotions have to be honest.”
He released an album as Big Top Heartbreak, 2016’s Deadbeat Ballads, and followed it with his first album under his own name, 2019’s droll and marvellous Broke. “I was signed to a little label in Bristol, but then they went skint,” he remembers. This time, however, the disappointment didn’t shake his confidence or his resolve. “I started writing prose, like ‘flash fiction’, and I’ve begun a novel,” he says. “And I’ve started some creative writing workshops for people who’ve come out of my situation.”
Amid all this activity, the songs that became Milk City Sweethearts began to take shape. Lavene noticed the border between his prose and his songwriting beginning to become porous, and the album feels like a clutch of excellent short stories set to music. Without a label, he recorded the album at home, and assembled it in a week in his mum’s garage during lockdown’s heavy manners. It’s a warm, witty, charismatic record with a dark heart at the centre, Lavene sounding dislocated and therefore able to write his everyday stories with a left-handed brilliance and blunt honesty that keeps them so fresh, like classic Kinks, or David Bowie if he’d never had to go to space to feel otherworldly. His songs are talking blues, set to loose and minimal and excellent art-rock with a pop sensibility, the honk of Roxy sax and the guttural weird-funk of Ian Dury’s Blockheads haunting their grooves.
Across these tracks, he sings with couplets that are instantly memorable and invite endless decoding, like the moment in Toffee Tickler where he sings “Gravity had got us by the elbows, by the back of the knees”, or the moment in his Prince-like love song ‘You + Me’ when he pulls back the curtain on the magic and menace of the everyday, declaring “There’s spit upon the pavement / There’s secrets in the gutter”. It’s an album where one minute he’s indulging in hilarious dark comedy, holding up a funhouse mirror to our modern day freakshows (‘Roll Up’), and the next he’s breaking hearts with the luminous memories of young love in ‘Amphetamines’ (“We kissed on the bus, our brains fizzing with youth”) and all the ways in which that young love can so quickly be destroyed.
And when he stands gazing at worms writhing in the mud, he sees the maddening, contradictory entirety of himself, and all of us. “I have an extreme personality,” he says. “I can entertain a roomful of people, but what I mainly want to do is be alone. It’s an honest and poignant song, but it’s still really funny. I know I’m not the only person who feels that way. I’ve had people tell me my gigs made them laugh, and then moments later they wanted to cry. In the end, people want to feel things, don’t they?”
With his stories, Lavene makes us all feel a little less alone – he’s that voice in our ear who always has a tale more weird, more tragic, more funny than our own, but in whose experiences we can see our own. Laughter, tears, madness and redemption reside within this magical songs, the full spectrum of existence. You’d be a fool to miss out.