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Lawrence Rothman, Fluid in Genre and Gender, Is Reshaping the Americana Sound

Nashville may be the place Lawrence Rothman first cut their teeth as an artist, but it took the ongoing surge in Americana and emo country for them to fall in love with the city.

“I kind of sum up Nashville with all the music that’s happening adjacent to the Americana sound right now — and I’m including Zach Bryan — with the rawness of the songwriting, and the lyrics being first,” Rothman tells Rolling Stone.

“That’s an M.O. for me. Nashville had fallen off my radar until I came back here in 2020 and started getting turned on to a lot of these artists. I realized that this is what I’ve been missing. I’ve been searching for music that puts the lyrics first like this.”

Rothman is speaking broadly, but they are also speaking about The Plow That Broke the Plains, the 13-track studio album they released this spring. At a dive bar in East Nashville, ahead of a mid-May album-release show at the Basement, Rothman is eager to showcase a rekindled love for the independent side of Music City.

Away from the microphone, Rothman holds a steadily growing influence on Americana. They have produced, co-written, or performed with Margo Price, Katie Pruitt, Amanda Shires, and Angel Olsen, among others. At the Basement show, Shires joined Rothman onstage for the opening song, “LAX,” to which Shires also contributed vocals on The Plow That Broke the Plains. Rothman called Shires “my best friend,” at the end of the song. “Yes! I have one!” Shires responded, before stepping off the stage and into the crowd for the rest of the set.

Rothman then launched into “Poster Child,” which they co-wrote with Jason Isbell about a 2004 incident in which Rothman was attacked outside of a Texas club following a performance.

Rothman has identified as gender-fluid most of their life and prefers to perform in makeup and flashy, punk-rock attire. In Texas in the early 2000s, such a show carried a certain amount of risk for artists. 

“This was the height of the Bush presidency,” they say. “Look, I don’t like to get too preachy on stage, but I did have a history — not in Texas — of taking a George Bush photo, and taking a lighter shaped like a gun, and burning it onstage. Now, I did not do it there, but I think word got around that I’d done it before. And they didn’t like the way I was dressed.

“After the show, I was standing in an alley, and three guys jumped me and shot at me, and broke my ribs,” they continue. “It was pretty traumatic. You hear about these assaults happening, but it’s not until it happens to you that you really feel the pain that one goes through.”

Early in the process of writing what became The Plow That Broke the Plains, Isbell hosted Rothman for a songwriting session, and Rothman said they wanted this record to encapsulate the journey of their musical career. Isbell suggested they start from the beginning, and Rothman began telling stories. The second one was about the attack. Both artists played guitar while they turned the frightening tale into a song. Rothman, who started learning guitar at age 8, says they had long-ago fallen out of love with the instrument until that session with Isbell.

“I sort of felt like I was back in my parents’ basement. I had a comfortable feeling, like we were two kids from Middle America, who were now grown up, writing together like we were back in that basement,” they say. ”It just made me want to go there with this song.”

The Plow That Broke the Plains was largely recorded in Nashville at Sound Emporium studios. A pair of songs on the record, “LAX” and “Drug Store Bummin’,” came from an incident near the end of recording in which Rothman took enough over-the-counter pills that they landed in the emergency room. They flew back to Los Angeles to recuperate. “I found myself going to Walgreens a lot, and I bought a bunch of shit I probably didn’t need, and then I started putting that shit in my body,” Rothman told fans during the Basement gig.

After coming up with “LAX” on the flight back to L.A., Rothman decided to add one more track to the album. “R Blood” is an overtly political number calling out “the American dream turned American horror” over a blend of country and R&B melodies. Rothman recruited S.G. Goodman to perform it as a duet for The Plow That Broke the Plains.

“I was reading an article about the storm we’re about to enter, with the election, and it got me thinking,” Rothman says. “I haven’t written a politically-driven song in years, but I came up with this. Then, I went over to Sunset Sound, and I cut it. I thought, ‘Man, if I’m going to do this, I want someone on it with me, who I love, and who has the same ethics as me.’ Well, that’s S.G.”

Rothman, 42, grew up in St. Louis, extremely familiar with the city’s hip-hop scene, but that was far from the only influence. Their father was a rock DJ and a fan of oldies and country music. When a young Rothman discovered MTV during the grunge era, they were hooked: “That’s when I knew it was something I wanted to do.” Their father took them to Nashville at age 14, and Rothman cut their first professional recordings in the city. Despite living in Los Angeles, they say they find solace in Nashville (away from Music Row) working alongside other progressive-minded musicians.

“I think, for a while, that Nashville was very comfortable in its process, and I think there was a laziness to it,” Rothman says. “Then, people like [producer] Dave Cobb and some of these other producers started opening up the door to where we didn’t have to be that comfortable. We could try other avenues. At the same time the Americana scene — the East Nashville scene — has gotten way more welcoming of diversity. That’s key to good music. If it’s all just the same type of person, you’re going to get the same type of sound.”

Their Basement gig was an early one, meaning Rothman had barely an hour to play and clear the stage ahead of the venue’s late show. When the whirlwind of a concert finished, they walked off with a message of appreciation to the local crowd.


“I love every single one of y’all,” Rothman said. “Don’t ever forget that Nashville is the greatest place on earth, and I fucking mean that!”

Josh Crutchmer is a journalist and author whose third book, Red Dirt Unplugged, is set for release on December 13, 2024, via Back Lounge Publishing.

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