Ahead of the debut album under the moniker La Bonte, Don’t Let This Define Me, comes a single of the same name from the Southern Californian troubadour Garrett La Bonte, and it’s out today. For all of the sunshine of California, there’s something of the grey about the song, beautifully melancholy in a sort of Scottish indie band sort of way, with dashes of David Bazan, Songs: Ohia for good measure. Maybe its the slow pace, or those chiming guitars, but it feels like someone pulling at your heartstrings, such is it’s emotional brevity.
Check it out, and read our interview with Garrett to find out a little more about him
Give us a potted history of La Bonte
La Bonte has had a few different forms over the years. It first started in 2012 as my attempt at making ambient/sample collage music. I recorded everything into a sampler and then tried to piece together songs that way. After a while, I felt a change was necessary in order to actually play live. Most of my favorite music sits either in the agressive, post-punk/post-hardcore world, or its been in the quieter, slower world of indie and more folky music. After years of playing in aggressive bands, I decided to take La Bonte in the more personal, vulnerable route of songwriting. It proved hard to keep the same lineup every show, so I decided to write as much of the music as I could on my own so that whoever could play with me at the time could fill in the gaps that I couldn’t do myself. I recorded my first full-band EP in 2016, released it later that year, and then moved to Seattle where I played solo mostly. I wrote songs on and off in the project until 2019, where I found myself starting from square one with many aspects of my life. I had moved back to California and was between places, so I was temporarily staying by myself at a house rented by a family friend in the suburbs of Orange County. I recorded a short EP myself in that house, played a short tour in support of it, and then immediately started writing Don’t Let This Define Me. I wrote the entire record on my own, and then I worked with Colin Knight at Paradise Records and many other amazing friends to help it come to life. It was my first time ever having to decide every aspect of the music, so it was both nerve wracking and exciting. I’m currently living in the Frogtown neighborhood of Los Angeles, and I’m piecing together a new band to play these new songs (many I have never played live).
Who inspired you to start making music?
Though I have been surrounded by music lovers for most of my life, I attribute my deep love of music to my brother Ryan. He is eight years older than me, so I was introduced to so many things as a kid that I wasn’t quite old enough to fully appreciate at the time, but as I’ve gotten older I realize more and more how he helped lay an early foundation that I would build upon both creatively and just as a fan of music for my entire life. He is an amazing visual artist, and he has alway was been my biggest supporter when it comes to creating and loving art. The person who introduced the idea of actually playing and making music was my good friend Mike Rushforth (currently plays under the name Senahu). He’s a bit older than me, but even though we met when I was 13, he has always treated me like an equal. I looked up to him a lot as a musician, and he showed me that learning an instrument and writing music wasn’t as impossible of an idea as my younger self made it out to be.
And the one (or maybe two) records that inspired you artistically?
I would say that two of the biggest influences on this current form of La Bonte is Song: Ohia’s Magnolia Electric Co. and Kepler’s Missionless Days. From my first listen as a 17 year old to now, anything Jason Molina made resonates with me more than most music out there. Upon every listen of Magnolia Electric Co., I seem to learn more about myself, music, and the human experience. Kepler was a more recent find for me, but this album combined elements of sparse music, country instrumentation, and a heartfelt spirit that I hadn’t heard before. Missionless Days helped me open my eyes more to what was possible sonically within the tradional indie rock band project.
If you’re trying to explain who you sound like to someone that’s never heard you, what do you say?
“A slow and quiet rock band.”
Tell us about your new track,
The album’s first single “Don’t Let This Define” is the title track from the record. This song, for me at least, covers quite a bit of ground in the lyrics. It made sense to name the album after it, as it captures the spirit that weaves through the rest of the songs. I was born into and raised in Mormonism, a religion that puts so much weight and emphasis on the traditional nuclear family. My family were devout Mormons, but the dynamic became much more complicated when my parents divorced and the supposed righteousness we had in the eyes of our god felt like it was bleeding out. What was happening in my life felt like the antithesis of what the religion had taught me, and as a 10 year old I was trying to make sense of how this could be so. As many children in that headspace tend to do, I blamed myself for not being able to do something to keep my family together. It wasn’t until the last couple years that I started to realize that my lifelong battle with severe depression and self hate started in these early moments. Being a child of divorce and attempting to please a god that I didn’t want to disappoint wreaked havoc on my mind. The song “Don’t Let This Define Me” is both from the perspective of that 10 year old me in those dark moments and the perspective of me now reaching out to that child in the past, saying the things I wish he could’ve known back then. Eric Shevrin of Young Jesus played piano and my amazing friend Janey Riech sang with me on this song. This track would not have been half as good as it is now if it weren’t for these two. I’m very grateful for the amazing and talented friends that said yes to participating on this record.
Where can we get hold of it?
The single “Don’t Let This Define Me” will be on all streaming platforms, as well as my Bandcamp.
How do you write?
I have mostly played guitar in the bands I’ve been in, so when starting to write more song-based material for La Bonte, I wanted to change my formula. I ended up building a bass from parts, and started using the bass as my main songwriting tool. I wanted to try simplifying a song down to essential parts: melody, bass, and rhythm either in the form of a drum machine or a very stripped down kit. 95% of the songs I’ve written in La Bonte all started with just bass and vocals, and then I’d branch out with adding drums, guitar, synths, and other instruments and vocal harmonies. It’s a much more modular way of songwriting than I was used to. In loud, more abrasive bands I’ve been in, it was all centered around riffs and the song would take shape while playing it over and over in a practice space with the rest of the band. This more building block, almost scientific way of plugging things in and out has been a very transformative experience for me. Instead of regular rock band songwriting, it feels more like using different types of paints and textures to create a piece became more than just the sum of its parts. Most of my lyrics in the past have been more vague and ambiguous, whereas the lyrics on Don’t Let This Define Me come from a very personal place. Writers like Townes Van Zandt and Damien Jurado inspired me to follow more of a storytelling and confessional style of writing. I tried to let my self-judging filter down a bit and let the words come a little more naturally. Ultimately, I wanted to write something genuine and authentic to me and my experience.
Tell us about your live show? How much have you been missing it?
Most of the early La Bonte shows were either by myself or with a very stripped-down band setup. I played many shows with only a bass and drum machine, which made it very easy to tour and travel around with that setup. In the last couple years, my more consistent setup was composed of a drummer who played a 3-piece kit (kick, snare, and ride) and sometimes one other member to cover guitar and synth duties. Since the record is a “full band” record, I am in the process of shifting to that setup, and it’ll be really exciting to see how these songs come together live. A good amount of them have never been played live. It feels like forever since I’ve played live, but I’m very excited at the prospect of playing again. I recently tried to write down all of the shows La Bonte played, and it helped me realize how much I was playing right before everything shut down last year. I definitely have mixed feelings about playing soon, but in the end I’m really looking forward to sharing these songs with the world in a special and safe experience.
What can we expect from you in the near future?
The album Don’t Let This Define Me comes out on 8/27 on Anxiety Blanket Records, right before we take the dive into the fall months. I am still working out some sort of record release show here in LA, but it will happen. Future dates are still up in the air, but hopefully those will come together soon!
What has been rocking your lockdown stereo over the last few months?
Here are some of my favourite discoveries of the last year:
– acts of rebellion by Ela Minus- Pale Wall by Sean Pratt & The Sweats
– Ask The Ages by Sonny Sharrock- The Country Way by Charley Pride- The Expanding Universe by Laurie Spiegel