Zane McLaughlin looks like a cowhand. Their long bobbed hair hangs down around their face, blue jeans hang down around their brown boots.
They make beautiful music. They (McLaughlin uses they/them pronouns) released their first record, an acoustic EP titled Zane, two years ago. All instruments were recorded by McLaughlin on a four-track tape recorder. They describe Zane as “Very acoustic. Early Alex G, Elliot Smith-esque.”
These tunes are pretty and gentle. McLaughlin’s voice dances lightly through warm guitars and drums. The lyrics are plainly tender. I love this verse from Zane’s last song.
I know it's cold for a Florida night
but you have to go back
but don't worry
the power lines will keep you on track
The image of sending someone away from you, kindly, is wonderful. This verse exemplifies my favorite quality of Zane, which is its youthfulness. It feels proud to exist, and hard earned.
They smiled as they told me about playing music as a young child, and how they came to songwriting.
“I started playing drums when I was about two, and I did that for a long long time. I played in school bands and stuff.”
They grew tired of school band, they explained, and it’s limitations.
“So, I started learning guitar cause of Alex G and Duster. I remember, I made a Reddit post, asking ‘Easy Alex G songs to learn?’ and those were the first songs I learned on guitar in highschool.”
“I tried to start bands with my friends but it just never really worked so it was like ‘alright I have to do it now.’ ”
After Zane came Oldstar, the first, self-titled record under McLaughlin’s current moniker. They took the name from a song by Aussie slowcore band Bluetile Lounge.
Oldstar has a consistent, characteristic sound. Electric guitars, slow and steady drumming, gentle bass. McLaughlin’s voice softly strains above the mix. McLaughlin is ambivalent about its merits, though, and feels it betrays inexperience in their songwriting.
“I feel like the first record, I didn’t really know what I was doing. I was new to singing. I purposely took my voice down in the mix.”
They told me they attribute the records quietly electric sound to their interest in slowcore bands.
“That record was me listening to a bunch of slowcore stuff and me trying to make something in that line. I learned from what Duster did, they had their vocals kind of hidden. I feel like the slowcore revival thing, it got really big really quick, and a lot of it was very derivative. Myself included.”
The second Oldstar record, On The Run, released this year. I love it so much. It is, I think, a maturation of McLaughlin’s writing. It has a big, new, country rock sound. McLaughlin told me how the record came to be:
“I wanted to make a more rocking record. A bigger record. More of a cohesive idea.”
They also spoke about the influence of country music on the record.
“These past two years I've gotten super into alt country and 90s punk country. Bands like Lucero and Uncle Tupelo. And then I got a second wind of Neil Young fandom; I loved him so much when I was a kid.”
And, the influence of their parents: “My parents complained too, they were like “We can’t hear your voice.” So I was like ‘Ok, I’ll sing a little louder.’ ”
I’m glad they’re louder, because lyrically, this record is genius. I love it.
On The Run opens with the title track.
I had a dream about us
You drove a Ford Ranger with hunting lights
We got pulled over by the cops
Tryna make it past
Those state lines
I love how clear this scene is. The narrator is a criminal. They’re driving, running away with someone. I’m hooked.
My favorite verse from the tune:
That night you had me waiting
For you to make your move
For you to give me your hand
But you take your time, you’re a patient man
As reeling, cascading guitars come in on the last line, the feeling of wondering what’s gonna happen, whether you’re gonna get together with someone, that yearning, is captured perfectly. Oh, it’s gorgeous.
McLaughlin describes the tune as a gay country song, another reason why I love it. The outlaw theme, the open queerness, and the bombastic music makes it feel splendidly dangerous.
My favorite song from On The Run is She Liked Horses. It’s very very tender, like a kiss on the forehead.
It opens like this:
She liked horses
And I thought that was enough
I guess that shows how dumb I was
She said of course it’s not your fault
I guess that shows how wrong she was
Kindness leaks from this song. It’s beautiful and makes me sad. My favorite line on the whole record is from this tune:
I tried not to force it
But it came back out
The record ends with Plate Numbers. Check out this verse:
Go ahead, take your foot off the gas, it’s time to relax
Take your time too, we’ve got a lot of it to pass
We’ll be riding horses, in case anyone asks
We’ll be riding horses, and we’ll ride em fast
Cause lord knows my Subaru won't take us far enough
I think it’s really beautiful that the record opens with someone and their lover driving a Ford, on the run from the cops, and ends with someone and their lover driving a Subaru, then getting out and riding horses.
Vehicles are important to McLaughlin, as they explained:
“Cars are a big part of my life. I do like cars a lot, but it’s also just cause I do a lot of driving. Where I live is super spread out. I have to drive forty five minutes to work. I have to drive 20 minutes to go see my parents. Driving has been a big part of my life for the past three years.”
They confirmed that they do “Have a subaru. And it’s not that nice of a Subaru.”
Oldstar has gained an online following since the release of their self-titled record. People cover McLaughlin’s songs on YouTube, hype them in their comments section, and buy their tapes from indie labels like Pleasure Tapes, Julia’s War, and Rope Bridge. McLaughlin told me what it’s like to have people express their love for their music:
“It's cool, but it's a little weird. I try not to get too heady about it, cause there's not that many people. But it's still, like, fun, and it makes me real happy that people like my music.”
Specifically, they were happy with the reaction to their sound change in On The Run.
“When I did On The Run, I was kinda scared that everyone would hate it. Especially in indie music, a lot of the time there's an aversion to things that are like country music, or southern rock.”
McLaughlin wrapped up our conversation laughing, recommending that folks read The Stories of Breece D’J Pancake, a favorite writer of theirs and a fellow southerner. They also said:
“Listen to small artists. We’re out here. There’s a whole lot of em.”
They said there is a new Oldstar album in the works. Really, though, they want to become an even better songwriter.
“I want to be able to write a song that can make someone cry.”
Visit Oldstar’s BandCamp to buy their records and merch! Check their instagram @oldst4r for gigs, and see the links to their music on streaming here!
david coppin lanegan
Davidis a musician, journalist, and writer living in rural Washington. You can find him on the corner shooting the breeze, getting home late, or happy in Frenchman’s Coulee.
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