SCOTT LAVENE

Photography by Outsider Artists

A born storyteller, through his records and his writing Scott Lavene has long been populating a hallucinogenic world of his own creation with ne’er do wells, ragamuffins and eccentrics. With his exceptional third album Disneyland In Dagenham set for release this May via Nothing Fancy, Lavene heads out on the road again, having just done a circuit of the UK in support of The Hold Steady’s Craig Finn.

In the 1980s the Walt Disney Company were considering building their first European theme park not on the outskirts of Paris, but in Dagenham, Essex. In his youth, Scott Lavene used to pick up drugs from a dodgy flat overlooking the proposed site. Disney and Dagenham were never a good fit, he thought, as he stood on the balcony one evening as the sun set, awaiting an overdue hash delivery.  It never happened of course – perhaps the multinational corporation were put off by the sewage works and car factories that Mickey Mouse and Goofy would have counted as their neighbours.

So he recalls on the title track of his exceptional third album Disneyland In Dagenham, monologuing in warm deadpan over a wandering acoustic guitar. It encapsulates his conflicted feelings about the county he was raised. “A cowboy kind of place, a bit rough around the edges,” as he puts it. “A lot of funny stuff happened that you’d tell to normal people who’d be like, ‘What the fuck?!’” It’s changed a lot since then. Filming the video for the song, he and his sister took a drive around their old haunts along the A13. “The sewage works don’t smell anymore and they’re now calling Rainham ‘East London’, which is hilarious. It made me grateful for my past, for the shit we could get away with back then.”

A born storyteller, through his records and his writing ­– he sends out monthly short stories under the title ‘Bits & Bobs’ via his mailing list and is currently working on his first novel – Lavene has long been populating a hallucinogenic world of his own creation with ne’er do wells, ragamuffins and eccentrics. From a man draining the blood of property agents in the aid of local businesses (‘Keeping It Local’) to a talking horse who travels Europe selling hash, gambling and performing covers of Talking Heads, Disneyland In Dagenham is no exception. It’s a record that tumbles together the autobiographical and the imagined, the heart-breaking and the preposterous; the tale of that itinerant drug-dealing horse, for instance is also a genuinely touching allegory for the way friendships can slip through one’s fingers.

For all the surrealism, it also explores the magic of the banal. When he first started writing it, Lavene says, “I was a bit sick of writing stories about the past.” He’s led a more eventful life than most. Lavene’s 20s took him from sleeping in a tent as he roamed around France with his guitar to flirting with the music industry proper while living on a London houseboat, and then to a period of serious mental collapse that saw him withdraw completely from music for seven years, “but I’m not that man any more,” he says. “These days I’m a dad of three. So initially I just wanted to make an album about living in the suburbs and raising kids.” ‘Custard’ is a song about his drinking a pint of custard straight from the carton, and his five-year-old daughter nagging him to get a dog. ‘Rats’ concerns the rodents that were there to greet the Lavene family when they moved into a new house. When the past does rear its head, it’s often through a haze of melancholy. “I’m nostalgic by nature,” Lavene says. “I think I have a really good memory for emotion. I think it’s because I’m riddled with self-pity!”

Before long, of course, Lavene realised his storytelling couldn’t be contained by so simple a brief. ‘Debbie’, for example is a bizarre and semi-fictional song about fading love, based around a transfixingly woozy guitar line. “It’s a fucking weird song, but also my favourite thing I’ve ever done. So how could I not include it?” Lavene says. “The album is really about saying fuck the rules, write whatever you like.” Whether lyrically, or through music that leaps from spiky psychedelia to flute-driven crooning, driving wah-wah rock n roll to a sleazy Serge Gainsbourg-esque shuffle, Disneyland In Dagenham is therefore a record that’s frankly bonkers in its scope. For the first time he’s completely abandoned any pretence of coolness. “I was not afraid to include everything that I like, whether or not it’s really eccentric. I wasn’t afraid of just making the record that I wanted.”

He made it at swift pace Benjamin Woods of The Golden Dregs, after Lavene sold a guitar to pay for a week at Greenwich’s Vacant TV studios. It was a cold December and they were limited for both time and gear so they recorded quickly in hats and coats, Woods adding drums and occasional guitar and synth. It was fleshed out later with some further home recordings and friends’ contributions on saxophone, flutes and percussion. It’s Lavene’s third since getting sober, and with each album he’s got closer to the point at which he now stands, a moment of total self-assurance. ‘Sadly I’m not Steve McQueen’ contrasts the dreary romance of his Essex upbringing with his dreams of international stardom – a Malibu mansion next door to Keith Moon’s and a bright red open-topped sports car, but today such validation no longer matters. “It would be nice to make £150,000 a year from tours and sell 20,000 records, don’t get me wrong, but I don’t really care about that any more. Lavene’s got something worth more than any of that – a fanbase for many of whom his music means absolutely everything.

“My music’s a bit marmitey,” he says, but for those who love it it’s a love that runs deep – a recent crowdfunding campaign for Lavene to set up his own home studio, for instance, rapidly outstripped its target, setting the stage for “the grotty Essex Neil Young album” he’s already got in the pipeline. “There aren’t any songs of mine that are specifically about mental problems, but the amount of people that have come up to me and said that my music has got them through a really tough time. One guy said that he had tried to kill himself the year before and found my music when he was in hospital. He was like, ‘You made me want to stay alive’. That is really, really special.” An audience that’s both smaller and more dedicated can mean a type of connection more worthwhile than any arena show, he says. “That guy’s come to three or four gigs since then, and to meet the guy is just so fucking beautiful. Music’s given me a lot over the years, and I find it bizarre and wonderful that mine can give that to people too.”

That’s not to say Lavene’s short of recent achievements. He was invited by The Hold Steady’s frontman Craig Finn to tour with him last year, which went down so well that they’ll hit the road together once more in February. After a triumphant set at End Of The Road Festival, he then capped 2023 opening for The Hold Steady proper at the band’s legendary annual New York residency. Finn is among the many converted to Lavene’s work, and he appears on Disneyland In Dagenham opener ‘Paper Roses’. Finn had Tweeted about his enjoyment of Lavene’s music while he was in the studio with Benjamin Woods. “I’m not very good at self-promotion but I was with someone who was. Benjamin was like, ‘Fucking tweet him back! Get him on the album! We went for a coffee and he asked me to go on tour with him, it’s a relationship of mutual admiration really. And what a bloody gift he’s given me – I’ve definitely stolen quite a lot of Hold Steady fans.”

It’s not hard to see why. Though in person he’s thoughtful and softly-spoken, onstage Lavene is a born entertainer; a comedian, raconteur and storyteller as much as a musician. “I’m like a Butlins Redcoat,” he jokes. It doesn’t matter if it’s 10 people or 1,000, I can entertain a crowd with a drum machine and a guitar. I like when people say that they can be laughing, then crying literally five seconds later within the same song.” It’s a safe bet, then, that in the wake of Disneyland In Dagenham there’ll be plenty more converts to follow. After all, Lavene jokes, “I’m like The Beatles, but a little bit Tom Waits, a little bit Whitesnake, a little bit Chas & Dave, and a little bit power ballads.” All worthy comparisons, but ultimately Scott Lavene is the kind of artist that can be compared only to himself.

Territory : EU & UK 


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