Radio BurgerFuel

Interview: L.A.B

Posted by Lee Densem


The music gods must be smiling somewhat as all that the pandemic has done for L.A.B is light an even bigger fire under them, and sees the band set to deliver album IV on an adoring public. It's hard to imagine things could get much better for this five piece, but then, maybe it was always fated to be like this. Dripping with talent, tunes and a live set to die for, the only downside to 2020 is that they have only continued to conquer Aotearoa, and not the world.

It has been another massive year for the men of L.A.B - a number one single under their belt, picking up a couple of Tuis at the recent Aotearoa Music Awards, and about to head around New Zealand for a stack of summer gigs. Despite the global shitstorm that has been 2020, we could not help thinking that 2020 has probably been good to L.A.B. To find out if this is true, we got frontman Joel Shadbolt on the line before masking up and boarding a plane to Auckland (we are just going to assume they are not on private jets yet!).

“Bro, we’ve had a really good year. Covid, if anything, it’s kind of fuelled the fire for L.A.B, we’ve managed to work around everything and still do shows. We had shows back in July and August which a lot of bands didn’t get to play. I think, we just managed to time everything right.

Despite getting lucky with a lot of the timing, there were still plenty of changes, with the band cancelling shows and postponing a tour to Australia. But Joel says, “if we hadn’t had the lockdown, we probably wouldn’t have finished the fourth album”. So, taking that time away from shows and touring has allowed them to progress the recording process. “It’s been a really productive year in that sense” he says.


Last time we talked to Joel was March 20. L.A.B were riding high with ‘In The Air’ on top of the NZ Singles Chart. It was a day before they were supposed to take the stage at Homegrown in Wellington (the event was cancelled earlier in the week after the NZ government limited gatherings to 500 people). It was also a day before Prime Minister Jacinda Adern announced the Covid Alert Level System. The pandemic was on everyone’s minds, but no-one knew what was to come. In fact, Joel told us he was just enjoying making food with his family while he hunkered down, as the band tried to get to grips with all the cancellations.

He did mention that the free time meant that L.A.B were planning to get back in the studio and at that stage wanted to release it in October. Plans change and ‘L.A.B IV’ is now due out on 18 December “just in time for the Santa sack!”

With three and seven eighths albums under their belts, they have shed the ‘supergroup’ tag that was bestowed upon them when they started. Joel says in the early days before the first album “we were a bit of everything – two Kora members in the band, somebody from Katchafire and some ginger guy out the front.”

He felt the pressures of past success “especially as a front man, filling the boots of people like Laughton and Fran Kora who are incredible singers and musicians.” But after searching for their sound on the first two albums, Joel is happy that they can now stand on their own two feet. “To me album three and four really just define who we are and our sound. We still play multi-genre, but there seems to be a groove and sound that we found, especially in that last album” (2019’s L.A.B III).


It seems the public, industry, and critics alike all agree. A couple of weeks ago at the Aotearoa Music Awards, L.A.B picked up their first couple of Tuis, winning Te Kōwhiri o te Nuinga (People’s Choice Award) and Best Roots Artist (Te Kaipuoro Taketake Toa) for ‘L.A.B III’.

Joel says it was “an honour” to be nominated for People’s Choice, “and then to win that, we were just so taken aback by that. That was just pretty special. I mean, LAB’s a live band first and foremost. We make albums so that we can go out and play live. We thrive on that live thing, playing festivals and big shows, that’s where the magic is. So to get People’s Choice was super special, it just shows we have a really loyal fan base.”

On top of this they pulled off another first for the band with a performance at the ceremony played on live on TV. He says, “there were a lot of nerves with the TV being live and being ‘OK you’re on in three seconds.’ It was pretty full on, but we had a good rehearsal and as long as you can hear each other and you’re playing in time and singing in tune, then you just go and that’s it.”


One of the songs of 2020 is ‘In The Air’, which with its accompanying music video helped it storm to the top of the charts earlier this year. The song, and the visual story they told were reprised in the recently released heart-breaking video for ‘For The Love Of Jane’.

“Once In The Air took off and did it’s thing, we thought ‘well we’ve got something special here with these two actors’ (Paris Evans and Anna Robinson). We wanted to use that again and tell the story that you see now. It wasn’t ‘oh we’ve gotta make a sequel to In The Air’, but we thought man there’s a chemistry between them, so we wanted to capitalise on that. For sure.”

As we talked to Joel, the flight he was waiting to board was bringing the band to Auckland to shoot the video for latest single ‘My Brother’. Having found their sound, we wondered if this first taste is a good example of what fans can expect when they hear the new album?

“Yeah definitely man, we’ve definitely expanded the sound of the band as well. We’re using strings and a three-piece horn section on one of the songs. Just those different elements that we’re trying to add to the band. Especially on a live thing, we really want to make the show bigger and stronger, we now tour with two backing vocalists as well.”

L.A.B IV’ promises to show a lot of new elements, while staying true to the groove and funk that we have become accustomed too. Joel adds “there’s some pretty deep reggae on there as well, which I’m excited about.”

With a summer full of festivals on the way (including our favourite New Years’ haunt Northern Bass), L.A.B have also got their own headlining gigs at New Plymouth’s Bowl of Brooklands and the Outer Fields at Mt Smart Stadium in Tāmaki Makaurau to look forward to in 2021. Joel says “we were lucky to have some of the biggest shows we’ve ever played earlier this year (headlining at Auckland’s Spark Arena and Claudelands Arena in Hamilton) which was a real special thing. This summer we’re going even bigger again and hoping to have 10,000 – 15,000 people there, so it’s going to be epic.”

Most of the forthcoming album is sure to get live airings over summer. But fans will not have to wait that long to get the next L.A.B fix. It is only a few short days until their next single ‘Why Oh Why’ hits the world on December 4. And from the mouth of an excited Joel Shadbolt “it’s a total party banger.” Word.

The new album L.A.B IV will be available from 18 December via Loop Recordings. Catch L.A.B live at Northern Bass and other venues all summer long.​