Cranston resident Dave Laros has a lot going on with music.
He’s the frontman and pianist for the Providence post-apocalyptic rock act Blackletter. He performs all over the Northeast and sometimes beyond as part of various dueling pianos gigs. He also teaches music independently with a handful of students.
Laros is an example of someone following their passions in life and excelling at them. We recently had a talk about all of this and more as he gears up for the early days of the new year.
ROB DUGUAY: Who would you say was your biggest inspiration to start playing the piano?
DAVE LAROS: It was Ray Charles. When I first heard him play “Georgia On My Mind” at a young age, I thought it was the most beautiful thing that I ever heard. Then I went the route of getting into Billy Joel, Elton John and all that stuff, but Ray Charles is where it started.
RD: Is “Georgia On My Mind” your favorite Ray Charles song?
DL: Actually, I would say “What’d I Say” is my favorite. It’s got the energy and it kind of kicked off ’50s rock and it influenced The Beatles and all those bands. It has that beat and that loose groove to it, which is amazing.
RD: Now with Blackletter, it’s a very unique band that combines a post-apocalyptic storyline akin to what you’d read about in a graphic novel with a bombastic arena rock sound. What made you come up with the idea for this kind of project?
DL: Before I met Vic Foley, who plays guitar in the band, I was writing these songs like “Deep Dark Night.” There’s always been this rock ‘n’ roll side of me, but I was listening to a lot of Nick Cave, and after listening to him I became really influenced by what his lyrics were about. It was dark, it was about redemption and it was about all that subject matter. I started writing “Hell Hath Fury,” and the way Blackletter happened was my wife Erica got me a copy of Dante’s “Inferno” during our first Christmas together. After reading that book, I came up with a whole bunch of lyrics and if you listen to “Hell Hath Fury” there are lyrics that are very telling of that.
When Vic heard me and I met him, he said to Erica, “If you want to do this, have me jump on board and let me work with him. We’re going to do something amazing.” The musical relationship that I have with Vic as far as songwriting and camaraderie goes is like nothing else I’ve experienced. With myself, Vic, Robbie Shaggs on bass and Derek Malone on drums, we’re a cohesive unit and that’s what gives Blackletter its sound.
RD: You also do dueling pianos, so how difficult can be getting into that gig with all the songs you have to learn?
DL: When I started doing it, I got a job playing a piano lounge. It was a similar setting to what they had for the music video to Billy Joel’s “Piano Man,” with people smoking and the bar was around the piano. There was a bunch of down-and-outers, and I got into doing these shows from being able to listen to a song and just kind of absorb it. Someone would request something, I’d give it a listen and I could kind of play it, especially when I’ve heard it before. These gigs started happening, and I started learning a lot of songs. It’s a great way to make money, and the other aspect is if you’re entertaining people it can be a really joyous time.
This past weekend I was at a saloon in Vermont and people were requesting songs all night and it was a blast. That’s why I love doing it and people love hearing it.
RD: Along with being in a band and performing dueling pianos, you also teach music. What do you enjoy the most when it comes to working with a student?
DL: I started grooming a piano player and I watched her blossom into becoming a star. She went on to win competitions and she’s just fantastic. Then I started teaching and I’ve been teaching a group of students for about five years, and to watch them from when they couldn’t even play to now where they’re playing Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata” and they’re only 14 – it’s a truly remarkable thing, and the way that I teach is that I don’t do one method. I’ll look at the student and we might be able to do something outside the box, but we’ll also focus on which song they want to learn.
If they want to know a lot of songs then I’ll make it fun for them. I’ll have them learn an Ed Sheeran song or something and that method really works. I get a feeling from teaching that’s just amazing. It’s gratifying getting to watch your students learn and love music. That’s what it’s all about.
RD: What are some plans that you have for 2020?
DL: For Blackletter, we just recorded a new album. We’re going to release it in March and there’s going to be a show celebrating the album around that time that’ll be announced soon. We already have a single called “Animal Farm” that’ll be out soon.
Vic and I also have a side project going on called Pony Boy. It’s us, Eric Hanson and Bob Giusti. This is an original thing, too, and we’ve already recorded a demo of six songs. There’s a dirty blues-rock type of vibe to it and it’s just been really fun, so we’ve been working on that stuff as well.
With the dueling pianos, I have a company called Dave Laros Entertainment, and I do these shows on the road and I work with different companies but I also book my own stuff. I book corporate parties or cocktail hours so those are some things I have in the works.
To learn more about Blackletter, follow the group’s Facebook page. To learn more about Dave Laros, his music lessons and Dave Laros Entertainment, visit davelaros.com.