Panics frontman Jae Laffer is touring in support of his debut solo album, When The Iron Glows Red, hitting Mojos on Thursday, October 24, and the Astor Upstairs on Friday, October 25. BOB GORDON checks in with the singer/songwriter.
While he’s both at home and in the driver’s seat as singer/songwriter for The Panics, Jae Laffer arrived at the decision to do a solo album as not only a step forward for himself, but for his much-beloved band.
“I just thought in my head if anything ever comes up where I feel like I need to do anything to reinvigorate my situation in any way it’s nice that I’ve got it there,” he reflects. “When you’re in a band for a long time you meet so many people along the way, who might go, ‘we should write a song together’ or they might want to play some music with you. So it’s also just a nice excuse to bring some friends together that I’ve wanted to work with.
“But it was more a reaction for me. Our last record, it took a while to put together and I struggled through some of it. I think I really just wanted to make that decision about what the future holds for me musically and I got very scared of the idea that it would ever start cruising along or just reach a healthy plateau and that was it. For me it was like, ‘what do I do to stir the pot up again?’
“It was first and foremost from a creative angle, proving to myself if you take all the music business stuff out of it can I sit in a room and test myself by writing a whole bunch of songs real quick? Can I make it without compromising with anyone, play a whole heap of the stuff and produce it myself and all of that kind of thing?”
Taking note of songwriting heroes such as Bob Dylan, Paul Kelly, Bruce Springsteen and John Lennon, Laffer decided to back himself and record what has become When The Iron Glows Red. The songs themselves dictated, in part, the solo route. Panics bassist Paul Otway joins in and elsewhere there are contributions from Angie Hart (co-vocals on To Mention Her) and The Eurythmics’ Dave Stewart, who lent ideas and encouragement to Leaving On Time.
“As soon as I had a couple songs written I knew that I should probably do it myself,” Laffer says. “I think because if it was a Panics record I could already tell how it was gonna go, what the process would be and what everyone would add. It’s not a million miles away from Panics-style stuff, so part of me was like, ‘I don’t really need to take these in for the treatment the boys will give them’ it’d be nice of the band do something completely different next time and I’ll take these – it’s a personal kind of record anyway – and deal with it myself.
“I felt that early on and like anything in life time’s short and I just felt excited by the prospect. And when you get that shiver up your spine you got to think that’s healthy for all involved. My band and anyone around me are only going to be thankful if I’m giving off a good energy, so it felt good.
“I’m also really aware that it’s not like a ground-breaking record, it feels quite traditional, but a part of me felt like it was something I could do for myself. I just felt like backing myself and being in a studio and making all the decisions. Sometimes you’ve got to stand back like a painter would and do something from start to finish on your own. It’s very good for your soul to know that you can do that. . It’s energising, that’s how I know it’s the right decision. I feel like I could do it again next week.”
As Laffer says, the album isn’t a million miles away from The Panics, which in itself shows an artist who is confident to be himself without the need to showboat. He’s comfortable in his shoes, but is just, for now, trying on a different pair.
“It’s a hard one to explain because obviously you just kind of follow your nose and do what you do and you’re happy to get a song at all,” he says. “I guess once it felt that there was still that Panics flavour in there rather than avoiding that, it felt good to me to just kind of claim it. It’s always going to be like that and you realise you’re proud of the sound you’ve created anyway.
“It’s an accurate description of me; what I’m about, the kind of subjects in the songs, the way I’ve done it. It kind of feels good to go, ‘I’ve done it all’, really. You’re really laying your heart on the line.”