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Scott Lavene

Scott Lavene: “I’m good at making light of dark issues”

Culture

Scott Lavene is a funny, droll, melancholic, eccentric, prolific, loveable musician, and his songs may just be the tonic you need.

Fans of Baxter Dury and Sleaford Mods are going to love Scott Lavene. His excellent single ‘Sorry I’m not Steve McQueen’ was the first one to prick up our ears, with its deadpan wit, and his new album Disneyland in Dagenham is his second – after 2021’s Milk City Sweethearts – and is a joy. Named after a track which recalls real-life plans that Walt Disney once had to build a theme park in Dagenham, on a site near a flat where Lavene used to buy drugs, it sets the tone for this unique songwriter, who combines humour, melancholy, Essex eccentricity and a kind of battered glam that is instantly appealing. The man is a natural born storyteller.

“I’m quite nostalgic by nature,” he tells us over Zoom, wearing a rather fetching Wham! t-shirt, “And quite lot of the songs on the album are more about Essex. My and my sister did the video for Disneyland in Dagenham by driving around Essex with a 90s camcorder. But none of this was my intention. I wanted to write about my current life but you can’t force it.”

In fact, turning his attention to that particularly odd bit of Essex history did come from his current life, now settled down with a family.

“I was talking to a parent from school and they were talking about going to Disneyland Paris, and I was like, I’m sure they nearly built it in Essex. I’d forgotten they nearly did. My mum and stepdad worked in a factory in Rainham, and Dagenham was always a big part of my life. I can’t remember exactly when they were going to build it but I think it was just before I started buying drugs. I was 12 or something like that. It was the early Nineties. So I was just thinking about that place, which is such a shithole and actually smells like one, because of the sewage farm. And I just thought how bizarre that they nearly built Disneyland here. Mind you, I’ve never been to the one in Paris, maybe they built it on a shithole there.”

The song itself is not simply a downbeat sneer, but has a romanticism of a certain kind; no straightforward sober remorse over early drug use, but a more truthful approach. “The main part is about buying speed from this guy on a high rise, which was a good memory actually, a good time in my life. I remember that particular day when the sun was setting and I was waiting for drugs, and I think I had taken half an acid just before I left because I knew I could get to my mate’s house before it kicked in, and I was probably listening to Santana or something. I had long hair and velvet flares and even though it was Romford in the 90’s, it felt like I was in the 60’s.”

The music on the album is quite hard to define. A kind of electronic folk punk-poetry, the tracks feel able to develop on their own unique path, such as the Fellini-esque fantasy ‘The Horse and I’ (“It’s quite odd, there’s no chorus, it’s just a weird story about having a horse as a friend, and I’m happy with that.”), the droll kitchen sink hilarity of ‘Debbie’ (“I think that’s the pinnacle, I don’t think I can beat that, it’s so odd. No one really likes it. Well, actually they played it on 6music.”) or the Scott Walker expansiveness of ‘Little Bird’ (“I was named after Scott Walker. My dad loved him. I always make ballads. I try to make ballads that aren’t too cheesy and shit. But this one I wanted to write something that wasn’t a smutty story or really odd. I wanted to write something quite innocent and I really like it.”).

Essentially his ability to shift around and follow stray thoughts makes for a captivating approach, resulting in a song like ‘Custard’ which is about his daughter wanting a dog. When the world is filled with clamouring TikTok careerist pop psychopaths, bred in Spotify labs to churn out samey background music, Scott instead takes a step back and meanders off down his own path.

“On my last album there were so many radio friendly tunes on it, but no one gave a shit. So for this one I thought, I just want to make what I want. I don’t care if its five weird stories and three ballads. I suppose someone sensible would try to tap into this post-punk thing a bit more or something else trendy. I just want to make stuff that interests me. Like, I’ve played ‘Debbie’ a couple of times at gigs and to get an audience to sing, ‘Take the bread out of that/It’s not a toaster,’ is more of an achievement than most things.”

He clearly loves what he does, and his a prolific writer, with the next couple of albums already in the works in his home studio, it’s just a appears to have a perspective on things after going through difficulties in his life, which means he can do his own thing and be happy with that, rather than judge himself against whatever ‘success’ might conventionally mean.

“I’m a sober man, I’ve been in recovery for 11 years,” he says when I ask him about mental health, “But it doesn’t mean I don’t suffer. I’ve got a mind that is against me a lot, and there’s probably no end to that. I just have to be honest about that. I have a natural self-hatred which comes from childhood, I think. I still have suicidal thoughts. But I’ve had loads of counselling over the years and I’ve just accepted I’ll probably always be like that. And that’s alright. I just try and talk about it, and go swimming a lot, and I write a lot and try to be good to others and not to dwell on my stuff, you know?”

And while Scott’s songs don’t tend to explicitly dwell on his difficulties, it’s there in the songs: “I’m quite good at making light of quite deep, dark issues.” And this is the reason why he is emerging as a cult artist, the type of musician people really connect with. “One guy came up to me at a show and said he’d try to kill himself the year before, and that my music helped him get through the recovery from that, it gave him a bit of a laugh, you know?”

Things are happening for Scott Lavene, but he isn’t going to force it, he’s going to do his thing and see what happens. Happily, his thing is hugely appealing and plenty will happen. The most important element though, is that he is alive, working and making progress.

“It feels kind of old school, my career, if you can call it that. And I’m quite happy with that, because I thought I would never play music again at one point. Music is everything to me, as I know it is to a lot of people. And if I have the ability to give it to other people, then I have to do that. I feel like my music does give, like, a small amount of people a bit of freedom from normal life, so I’m well chuffed.”

‘Disneyland in Dagenham’ is out now. 

Follow Scott on Instagram: 

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