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L.A.B Took Their Time with Their Sixth Album. The Results Speak for Themselves

L.A.B lead singer Joel Shadbolt tells Rolling Stone AU/NZ about the making of the band’s new album


L.A.B’s sixth album was done. Streaming platforms had the final mastered recording; vinyl was being prepared. As far as the band – and their label – was concerned, L.A.B VI was complete. 

Enter AJA: bringing in the Māori singer for a live session as a backing vocalist, L.A.B quickly realised their song, “I Believe”, could be even better than the version that was set to be released.

AJA’s soulful tones transformed “I Believe”, creating majestic harmonies with Joel Shadbolt’s voice which transformed the track to something just shy of a duet.

Realising its new power, a feeling grew within Shadbolt and his bandmates that AJA’s collaboration needed to feature on the album – but as the finished works were already submitted, it was a mad dash to halt the production of physical copies and swap out the track on streaming platforms. 

“AJA jumped in at the 11th hour,” Shadbolt recalls on a video call to Rolling Stone AU/NZ“The songs were all ingested into Spotify and everything, the album was on the way out. Then we went and did these live sessions. It was so damn good, we were like, ‘Man, we gotta put her on the studio version.'”

Change begets change, and one tweak suddenly wasn’t enough for L.A.B’s album: the same thing happened with the single “Ocean Demon” once they heard the track with horns in it. Again they pleaded for a big change to be made and worked hard to convince their team to swap the original with the enhanced version. 

“Thank god it was the digital age and we could quite easily reverse it – but the first 500 vinyls don’t have those versions so the fans that have got those are lucky I suppose – or unlucky, depends how you look at it,” Shadbolt laughs. “If it was 2004, we would have been cooked.” 

After knocking out an album every year five times between 2017 and 2021, Shadbolt felt like it was time to slow down with their sixth album.

“We want the quality of the product to be good so we’ll take as long as we need, but I feel like we were getting to a point where it was getting harder to be in that creative space,” he explains. 

“Writing is a mindset that is different to being on the road and touring – you have to get into that frame of mind of creativity and being in the studio and producing music. When you’re on the road, you’re out of that frame of mind because it’s a whole different beast. 

“I would say this time around it was fun. It was fun creating this album, more so than the last couple [with] regards to taking that pressure off the band, giving ourselves a bit more freedom and time to work on this project.”

Shadbolt and co. certainly deserve more creative freedom at this stage of their career. They boast just under 1.5 million monthly listeners on Spotify alone; their fan favourite hit, “In the Air”, stayed in the top 10 of the charts for an astounding 73 weeks after its release in 2020; other tracks like “Why Oh Why”, ‘Controller’, and “Rocketship” have cemented their signature reggae-rock sound and made them one of the biggest bands of their generation in Aotearoa.

For their sixth album, they allowed two years to get it to what they wanted it to be, trusting their fervent fanbase would be patient. The extra consideration paid off: L.A.B VI jumped to #1 on the New Zealand Album Charts in the first week of its release, becoming their third consecutive #1 album in their home country.

“I think the body of work feels strong because we really honed in on each track and made sure we got the best potential out of each song on the album,” Shadbolt says. “It was necessary to give ourselves that time with the schedules we were having with touring.” 

Image: Joel Shadbolt Credit: Phillip Mountfort

According to the singer, this album is their most polished work yet.

“I would say songs just got the time of day to get that extra little bit of juice added [to them]. [On] the production side, that’s definitely one place where if you rush something you go, ‘Yup, that will do, sweet, close the lid, next song,’ but we really got to hone in on the style and the sound of each song.

“Everything from ‘I Believe’, which is that really ballad style, to Kora’s influence on ‘Crazy Dream’ – that really flexes that quirkiness of the [bandmates Brad and Stuart] Kora boys. It was just so much fun making this album, [we] really enjoyed the process.” 

With the band living across different parts of the country, including Whakatane and Papamoa, they all came together at a studio in Wellington to give the album the time and love it needed.

“We seem to be the most productive when we do it that way. We have tried at times to change that up, but it seems that being together in a room away from home is the most productive we can be,” Shadbolt insists. “I think that’s essential to the L.A.B formula – not changing certain things like that, because it could mess with the chemistry of the band.” 

New Zealand has been conquered, clearly, but what about the rest of the world? According to Shadbolt, the band have been laying the groundwork to achieve success overseas.

Later this year, L.A.B will embark on a US tour, including an appearance at a festival in Las Vegas. It’s nothing short of a dream come true for Shadbolt.

“I never saw it happening like this. When I was a kid I studied music in the States, I went and did a summer program in Los Angeles,” he reveals. “I had this dream at that stage – I was 15 – of becoming a session musician and playing for other artists, not being the artist or being the band, and that’s what’s happened. It’s just kind of crazy to think how things have changed and where I’ve got to with music and it means everything.

“To be able to go to a different country in front of people that aren’t from where you’re from and they’re listening to your music and singing your songs back to you, if that’s all we get from this then I’m happy. I see the potential moving forward.” 

L.A.B’s L.A.B VI is out now.