Sensory System

James Mulhern, guitarist/vocalist of What Laura Says Thinks and Feels, speaks of his first concert experience with pride. It was a Bon Jovi show; Mulhern was in the ninth row, and it was "pretty badass."

The rest of the band, meanwhile, has no qualms about listing the "skin flute" as one of the many instruments at which they're proficient.

With that type of candor, it seems the fellas of What Laura Says Thinks and Feels have little to hide.

And yet, for a houseful of 20-something males, their living room is surprisingly tidy. There are no beer cans stuffed with cigarette butts strewn about the coffee table, no nacho cheese stains smeared onto the couch cushions. Not even a trace of body odor, stale booze or pot smoke haunting the air.

What kind of practice space is this? Their four-bedroom house is abuzz with witty banter and laughter about jobs, recent performances and unacceptably short T-shirts.

Tonight is no different from any other Tuesday night for the boys in What Laura Says Thinks and Feels. Someone lights an incense stick as the others assemble their instruments, and it immediately becomes clear: "Laura" is not a simple guitar, bass and drums outfit. The band comprises five multi-instrumentalists who incorporate keyboards, the ukulele, multilayered harmonies and an army of found objects in drummer Jacob Woolsey's percussion station. Likewise, the name What Laura Says Thinks and Feels isn't a simple nod to an ex-girlfriend or some unrequited love or anything like that.

Rather, the band members explain, it's an all-encompassing phrase that is deliberately left open for interpretation. Bassist Mitch Freedom describes Laura as "an ambiguous person. We even refer to our fans as Laura, and we get letters from people writing about her or to her."

Perhaps fittingly, the music the band creates is just as undefined. With each member lending his voice to the harmonies, WLSTaF sometimes sounds like bohemian barbershop quartet. The result is a beautifully orchestrated, multilayered pop sound that recalls The Beatles/Beach Boys arms race of the mid-to-late '60s. This is no coincidence; WLSTaF cites both acts as influences—with a modest Beach Boys lean.

The band's latest (and just-released) album, Thinks and Feels, further signals the band's propensity for harmony-laden oddball indie pop with an air of experimentation. That makes sense: The songs for the record were ready to go last winter; the band just wasn't yet ready to record. Hell, it was still committing to which drum setup it would use. Still is, actually. In the year and a half that Woolsey, the drummer, has played with the band, his kit has gone from a simple bells and tambourine configuration to a one-man jar/coffee can/egg shaker/clave contraption in which no household object is safe. "I used to just gather up anything I could find during practice," Woolsey says. "The whole setup is still an experiment. It has evolved a lot, but it came from nothing."

To an extent, so too has the band; What Laura Says Thinks and Feels has only toured outside of its Tempe, Arizona, home a handful of times—although one of those trips found the band earning praise at South by Southwest in Austin last March. Still, with that in mind, fans heading to the show should take note: Given WLSTaF's propensity for pretty much playing anything its members pick up, this show could find the band jamming away on just about anything they can get their hands on at the show.

Just hopefully not the skin flute.

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Adriane Goetz