Orange County-raised, Los Angeles-based artist John Cudlip recorded his first EP under the moniker Launder, Pink Cloud, with friends Jackson Phillips of Day Wave, Soko, and DIIV’s Zachary Cole Smith. Following the project’s inception in 2018, Cudlip focused on honing his skills as a songwriter and musician, his process becoming more solitary as both his sound and catalog of demos expanded. After signing with Ghostly International in 2019, Cudlip began fleshing out and narrowing down the material for his debut album, Happening, which arrived last Friday and clocks in at a full hour. Joined by co-producer Sonny DiPerri – who has worked with the likes of My Bloody Valentine, DIIV, and Animal Collective – at New Monkey Studio (once owned by Elliott Smith) and a backing band featuring lead guitarist Nathan Hawelu, bassist Chase Meier, and drummer Bryan DeLeon, the 13-track LP is ambitious and effortlessly immersive, utilizing classic shoegaze tropes – ethereal vocals, sprawling textures, transcendent hooks – with an added emphasis on dynamics. Where others would try to emulate the style out of aesthetic nostalgia, Cudlip seems more fascinated by its potential for catharsis, the constant search for clarity in a wash of noise.
We caught up with Launder for this edition of our Artist Spotlight interview series to talk about the origins of the project, his creative process, the making of his debut album, and more.
Take me back to when the initial sessions for the project started around 2018. Did you have a distinct vision for it at the time?
Not at all. When I started it, I wanted to make a record, but it was nowhere near what it ended up becoming. I don’t know if I could have even seen it that far ahead; I think I had like two songs already that came out around the same time, as a single, the ‘Powder’ seven-inch, I was already starting to work on a record, and I was kind of just learning how to get better at recording and demoing at home. It’s funny, because I was actually just going through and listening to some of the early demos that I started on it and then listened to the ones that I had towards the end, and I can really hear a progression, sonically, how much it changed and developed. I don’t think there was a lot of early ones that made the cut. But the first track on the album, ‘Unwound’, I think, was one of the first ones I demoed with Cole over at his house. It just took a while, I think the quarantine kind of helped a little bit too and I had nothing but time to really focus on the songwriting. That’s when it really started to turn into what it became, was about a year of quarantine.
Would you say that Launder began more as a collaborative effort and then it became more insular? Was that trajectory informed by quarantine as well?
Yeah, I think so. Cole was involved, and Jackson from Day Wave was heavily involved and he was helping to produce and engineer a lot of it, and then obviously Soko sang on a couple of songs. I just had all my friends helping me out. We’re just hanging out and kind of started an idea and making stuff for fun. And then as far as the live band, I had my friend Lukas [Frank] who’s got a band called Storefront Church, he was drumming, and then my bass player, Chase, has project called Goldensuns. And everyone in the band was a lead singer of their own band. And when we made the EP, it was sort of a good time where everyone wasn’t too busy.
I had to learn how to basically just do everything myself after, because I couldn’t really – I just wanted to become more self-reliant, to be able to do everything on my own if I had to, because I think that’s the best way to go. And it’s weird because I look at the record, and there were collaborations on it, but at the same time, it felt like I was doing a lot more stuff myself for this one. I was in charge of a majority of the songwriting and coming up with all the ideas, and if I was hanging out with a friend where they’d come over, we’d maybe work on something here and there, but it was definitely less of a collaborative effort.
Could you talk more about why it was important for you to become more self-reliant as a songwriter?
It was tough because like I said, at the beginning it was all for fun, there’s no pressure on it really. I think I put some pressure on myself to get the songs together, and I just wanted it to move forward. And then a lot of people got really busy with touring and stuff like that, and I didn’t really want to wait around for my friends to get back in town, so I just kind of had to learn how to do everything myself or else I don’t think anything would have got done. And I feel it made the record more personal, because some of the songs, I’d have an idea, like, late at night and I would just start recording the song. I would record it all through the night, which, if I didn’t know how to demo anything out or play bass that good or whatever, I wouldn’t be able to get the idea across as well. The better I got at it, the more fun it was to be able to express myself – just to be able to be isolated and still get all the ideas out there.
How do you tend to approach songwriting? Is it usually ideas for melodies, sounds and textures that come first, or do you often have a theme or lyrics in mind?
For this record, it’s mostly – I’ll just be sitting down, playing guitar for a while, and maybe I’ll tune to some different tuning I haven’t played in before. And I’ll find a chord progression that I like, I’ll try to find an A and B section, a verse and a chorus sort of idea. And then if I can find a melody that I think is good on top of it, I’ll usually sit down with it and start recording it from there. I find it easier to build out that way. So, yeah, I’ll usually come up with the chords and I’ll find a vocal melody, and then I’ll do some lyrics after that, arrange the song a little bit.
When you knew you were working on a full-length album, did you also have a theme or concept that you wanted to focus on? Or did you just build it out song by song?
It wasn’t like a concept album really, in any way. I think it took the most shape when I sent it over to Sonny, who co-produced and engineered and mixed the record, and I sent him like 50 songs or something like that. And he was like, “Make a list of the songs you think should be on the record, or you want to finish out at least, then I’ll send you my list too.” And he sent me his list, and we both had almost all the same songs on it. It was just a cool thing, to have someone that takes the time, first of all, to listen to all of them, and then is also on the same page as you. I just feel like it fell into place naturally at that point. I just wanted to get the best demos I had onto the record. I didn’t really think too much about making a concept record or some grandiose idea behind it.
What was it like recording with a full band at New Monkey Studio? Was there some aspect of the record that you feel really came to light during that time?
Yeah, definitely. It was just a crazy chain of events. There was definitely a time where things just weren’t working out, and I was going through some personal stuff. I was just struggling – I had all these demos, and they weren’t done and I was just hitting a roadblock, getting the record done. I wasn’t sure if I was actually going to be able to pull it off and have the record I wanted. But I think it all started to fall into place when I met Sonny. I’m just really grateful for him because he was able to solve all the problems that I couldn’t seem to sort out in my head. It changed really fast when Sonny stepped in.
We started rehearsing for the record, and even after rehearsing for like a week, I still wasn’t sure it was going to work till we really got in the studio that first day. I think we played the song ‘Beggar’, and we did one take, and it just felt really good. We went back intothe room and listened to it, and I was like, “Oh shit, this is what I was trying to do for three years.” It was crazy to hear everything together. And then we played that song like three more times, and none of them felt as good. That was when I started to really be like, “Okay, I think this is actually going to work.”
On ‘Become’, it’s Soko who sings, “Become anything that you know you were meant to be.” Why was it important for you to have a different yet familiar voice repeating those words halfway through the album?
I think at the time it was just a spontaneous thing where I had this demo that was just an instrumental, and Soko came over and she was like, “What are you guys working on?” I was working with Jackson at the time, and I didn’t have any idea for the vocal. I hadn’t even dived that deep into the song. And she just put down this idea and sang all the lyrics and melody on the first take on that one, too. And as far as getting it on the record, I’m just a big fan of her, and I think her voice sounded really good. I think it’s a good spot in the record to add a little different dynamic there.
The closing track, ‘Lantern’, with a line like “I get myself all tangled too, it’s the start of something new,” feels very intentional, both ambivalent and cathartic. How did you know it was done?
Yeah, that one was funny. It kind of just started, I had this chord progression idea, and I think it was a little later at night. I just wanted to make something a little slower and mellower, and I kept having more ideas on it. I don’t know, I just didn’t really want to stop. It just kept getting longer and longer. The end of the song, it turns into something so much different than any of the other songs that we’ve made before that are on the record, but I felt like it worked. I think it’s a dynamic one, I really enjoyed making that song. I mean, we’ll see what happens. It was fun to do something a little heavier at the end. And yeah, “The start of something new,” like, I don’t know where the next thing’s gonna go. Maybe that’s sort of the start of whatever is coming next. [laughs] Maybe I’ll make an acoustic record, I don’t know.
Given what you said before about the record being more personal, does that make it more vulnerable releasing the songs?
Yeah, it is more vulnerable to put out something that you kind of just made all by yourself. Because if someone were to try to rip apart a song that I made all by myself, it’s only reflecting upon me. Not that I even really care about that anymore. But it’s also better, in a way. I feel like I’ve got the most response from the songs that I’ve written more just by myself. Which is weird, because sometimes you work with someone who’s a good musician and you can make something really cool, but it does feel more fulfilling when you make a song that write the whole demo or whatever by yourself. Because when people say they really liked the song, it kind of means a little more to you. I don’t know, no one’s really coming at me saying they don’t like it or whatever. I haven’t gotten that yet. But it’s weird too, because there’s songs that I’ve worked on with people that you listen to later down the line, and you’re like, I probably could have done this and that and whatever. I do enjoy the more personal songs that I’ve been working on alone recently.
Is that something you’re looking to explore more going forwards?
Yeah, I’ve been definitely thinking about different possible directions that I could go in the future. Overall, I’m just trying to have fun right now and keep making stuff that I think is cool. I haven’t been writing a new record or anything like that. I think this took so much out of me and, I had to put so much into it that I kind of just needed a year to, like, live my life. And just keep playing music for fun and take some time to figure out what the next direction is going to be. But I honestly couldn’t tell you right now. I have a few different ideas that I want to start working on pretty soon, actually.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.