Rock

Lawrence Rothman Talks Gender & Their Nine Identities, Shares 'Stand By' Video

Aleister
Floria Sigismondi

Aleister

It’s not every day someone is described as the Cindy Sherman of music. But then again, it’s not every day someone like Lawrence Rothman comes along. Back in 2013, Rothman made a memorable debut dressing up as Elizabeth Taylor and exploring the haunts of Hollywood in their debut single “Montauk Fling.” Since then, Rothman has been perfecting their debut album The Book Of Law, which came out in Oct. In their first full-length, Rothman explores being genderfluid through their nine identities, or “alters,” as Rothman calls them. Since childhood, Rothman has embraced different parts of themself and experimented with how they look and act.

The Book Of Law is the result of Rothman working for two years with producer Justin Raisen and immersing themself in Tupac and Leonard Cohen. For each song on the record, there’s an artful video directed by self-proclaimed “creative soulmate” Floria Sigismondi that captures the exploration of identity and their Cohen-tinged vocals. Helping to tell Rothman’s story are Angel Olsen, Marissa Nadler, Kristin Kontrol, SOKO and more.

Premiering below is Rothman’s latest video for “Stand By,” which was shot in the Mojave Desert in an airplane graveyard. The song came to Rothman when they were in an airport traveling to their childhood home to explain their gender fluidity to their father. After Rothman’s flight was delayed, they were put on stand by but eventually left the airport because of their flying phobia. Alongside the powerful visual for “Stand By,” we caught up with Rothman about the catastrophic record-making process, being their most authentic self and helping others with gender identity.

How did you conceptualize The Book Of Law?

My project is based upon nine alter-egos of myself and they’re all authentic versions of me. I’m this mothership and these nine alters are my vessels. What I wanted to explore in the record are the truest and most embarrassing stories and thoughts I could present in the form of as song and not hide from it even if it maybe created some enemies in family members or friends. I wanted to be as honest as possible with these songs. I write every day regardless of whether or not they’re random thoughts or short stories. One day I want to publish fiction, so I’m always writing. It’s my form of therapy to keep me grounded. When I hooked up with the producer Justin Raisen who produced the record with me, he was like why don’t you bring over all of your writing journals and tear out the pages of your most interesting thoughts and situations you’ve gone through. So I start tearing out pages and creating that narrative while we’re recording. It was this running joke that everyone calls me Law as my nickname, so we were like, “We’re making The Book of Law.” We recorded over 100 songs and wrote over 100 songs. At one point it felt like a novel because we needed to divide up the songs into chapters to keep track of it all. The amount of material was like a book and the story was very personal and the creation of the record was a hellish, dramatic experience.

How so?

It was one disaster after another. I produced the record with Justin [Raisen] who I didn’t know before, but he’s become my best friend and he brought in another producer called Sad Pony to help on a few tracks. Then I brought in my brother Yves on a few tracks. We all became close, and because of that, we all went through our own personal hells. The four of us were going through a similar emotional and personal breakdown. We all had these major issues that hit us at once but we were working on this record together. It was quite a bizarre alignment that I ended up in a room with three other guys who all had stuff go down in their lives dramatically and me too all at the same time. It was some strange thing in the stars.

How did you come out the other side?

It all started out happy and fun. I had an inclination it was going to go downhill one month into it. We did a recording session at East West Studios and when we recorded the last song “Ain’t Afraid Of Dying” and last take, two of the musicians, who are very respected musicians in L.A., got in a massive fistfight with bloody noses and went to town on each other. The police were called and we got kicked out. It felt like it started some chaotic unraveling. Anyway at least it’s done now.

You said the record is based on nine alter egos. What does that mean?

To be clear, through my art and music, I call them alters, but I’ve always lived with these nine versions of myself since I’m a child. My mother sort of nurtured it. I would dress differently all the time and act different. My mother was supportive of it. When I got to my teen years, people were like, “what the fuck is going on?” School counselors thought it was a problem. For a while I covered it up: I thought "if I’m going to put out my own music, I need to be as honest as possible." I’m all over the place with the way I look, the way I dress and the way I act. I decided I needed to be the most authentic version of myself and present myself in the way I’ve been hiding for years to the outside world. Then it’s just easier to exist and live. My family has always been supportive of this. Everybody that I’ve come across relates to this. Obviously I take this to a heightened level in performance and music. I feel more comfortable now being open with who I am.

What made you feel comfortable with your identity? Do you feel comfortable with your identity now?

I think it happened at 19 when I fell in with a group of people who were a lot older than me who were genderfluid, but also very all over the place with their identities. They were constantly changing. I was in this period where I had these people who came into my life and I was open with who I was and I was older, wiser and they gave me that confidence to be more open and free with it. I was never public with it in the way I am now. What triggered it was [my identity] being such a part of my inner life.

How did you go about collaborating with the folks you brought onto the record?

When I started the record, Justin was like, “It’d be great if you had some female background vocals.” It’s a classic combination to have a male voice with a female vocal behind it. He told me, “Make a dream list of singers and musicians.” I’m a solo artist, and I was hell-bent with recording with artists all playing at once. I just wanted the energy and basic tracking to be a lot of artists playing at once. One by one, he reached out to these different people we didn’t know and they got involved. It was a blessing in disguise because I was a huge fan of Angel Olsen and Carla Azar. I ended up working on Angel [Olsen]’s My Woman with additional production. It was great because you’re in the room with these musicians. Duff McKagan from Guns N' Roses, I had him play on a track that had Dennis Hamm and Jim Keltner who is this very revered drummer from the ‘60s. I put those three together, and then I had Marissa Nadler sing on it. It was an odd combination of musicians playing together. I’m a big fan of hip-hop and of how Kanye West or Kendrick Lamar nail that idea of bringing together all walks of life onto a song. I was really fortunate that it worked out.

By opening up about your gender identity and your sexuality, how do you want to impact people and influence their lives?

I would hope that even when I’m out playing shows, I come across a lot of people of different ages. Me being one of many [people] emerging and being open about gender fluidity, I hope it helps others identify, like, “hey I feel this way. I don’t need to feel depressed about this. It’s okay to be open about this and live life.” For years, I was severely depressed and didn’t know how to describe what I was going through. I would look at boxes on a test that say male or female and I would think I wanted to color in both. Being super young, that scared the crap out of me. I didn’t have an outlet to talk about it at nine or 10. Now it’s starting to open up more. I hope to be one of many that are opening up about it.