Rob Laakso died on Thursday at 44 after a battling a particularly aggressive form of cancer. The two artists most associated with him -- Kurt Vile & The Violators and Swirlies -- have since both shared heartfelt tributes.
"This one’s been hard to get out of the fog in my brain and into words for a long time now (and I mean for the last year or so, not just since Rob’s passing)," wrote Kurt Vile on Instagram today. "Tributes are never easy but this one is just too close to the bone I guess." He goes on to call Rob a "musical genius" and a "recording whizz," shared memories of his love for Rob's Boston band The Wicked Farleys, and working on Violators albums with Rob.
Swirlies, meanwhile, write of meeting Rob in 1995 when he was still a teenager and asking his parents if he could go on the road with them as their drummer (his parents said no). Rob would join Swirlies two years later and was known as "Doc" in the band as he had a way of "fixing bad situations and making right everything that was wrong." They add, "In the end, he couldn't fix himself, but he still touched so many of us with his beautiful, positive soul.
Read the full posts from Kurt Vile and Swirlies below.
KURT VILE REMEMBERS ROB LAAKSO
This one’s been hard to get out of the fog in my brain and into words for a long time now (and I mean for the last year or so, not just since rob’s passing) Tributes are never easy but this one is just too close to the bone I guess. Thank you to everyone who reached out. It’s been beautiful seeing all the nice things written about Rob, because yeah he was quiet but there was so much to him. Musical genius. Recording whizz. Best husband and father. Mamie-Claire we love you so much you’ve always been the greatest. All the things you’re writing are beautiful and killing me at the same time.
If anyone can, please see the link in bio to donate in support of the Laakso family.
When I think of Rob I often travel to memories of him cutely talkin to his family on FaceTime from studio recording sessions and Gus calling me “Mr. Kurt” (“I wanna talk to Mr. Kurt”)
Talkin about banjos to Gus saying there’s one featured on “I’m an outlaw” then next time we see him (10 minutes later over FaceTime again) he’s wearing a cardboard banjo and rocking out. (Apple not falling far from proverbial tree!)
Lou you were too young to say hi to me over the phone I guess but I can’t wait to talk to you and see you soon and happy birthday ❤️
Rob and I worked close together on the albums B’lieve and Bottle (him coproducing many of the tracks alongside me, engineering often, playing many different instruments, slaying with ease.)
But Wakin was his first full time violator record and you can see the shift to epic proportions from smoke ring to it. I’ve clocked in so many hours on the road and in front of amps with him but so have the violators Jesse first and Kyle later. So I’ll never get all these stories down in one post and I’m just gonna have to jump around but…
I used to follow Rob around in Boston in the early days becuz I worshipped his first band the wicked farleys so that was definitely my mission when moving there for a couple yrs in the start of the aughts… luckily he took me in and recorded me even tho I was awkward and shy (good thing so was he but just in different ways) …later some of that stuff ended up on the Swirlies album Cats of the Wild, thanks to Rob… (see comments)
By (watch my moves) you were recording parts remotely from home but still nailed everything as usual… but I’m so grateful we did get you in person for a few epic nights while we recorded “say the word” at Mant with Schnapf in LA: you in the control room playing bass next to me while I sung and played acoustic… the rest of the violators in the other room playing, the whole thing captured live. Later you added those angelic backing vocals from home (“chaos comin…” mary lattimore’s favorite!) …strangely the only time you sang on a violators recording but now I find that cosmic and fitting and magic.
Thanks Steven for this beautiful photo of us after we literally closed out primavera festival in Barcelona (I mean the dj stopped and the whole fest was over) that’s a beautiful memory and i feel like I’m back there now when I look at it. I look pretty tired and crispy but Rob is glowing, so… had to use it I guess.
…an early dream of mine fulfilled (auxiliary Swirlie!)
More recently it was sometimes just me and him at Shawn Everett’s studio in LA for bottle it in… I often see the image in my mind of Rob shaking his hand in pain after playing the same two bass notes while I sang and played lead gtr on skinny mini for over 10 minutes (but every note from Rob solid as hell, what ya need) …that was right after coming off a tour of the sea lice with Courtney where Rob was the glue (you were often the glue, brother.) Thanks to my best bro Rennie for saying “my right hand man lost his right hand man” that was heavy to see but beautiful and true.
But I’ll never forget his true initiation into the violators was when he showed up the last day of sessions at the magic shop nyc while I was workin on Smoke Ring with John Agnello. I had an idea to trigger the fingerpicked acoustics on baby’s arms with synths sorta like the drum machine does on freak train (thanks for that jeff zeigler!) when rob visited the studio (still in other bands but my having known him for years at that point…) he ran home and came back with an arp 2600 and sequencer and other pedals and accoutrements under his arms and made the final touches of baby’s arms in about 1 hour I’d say (it sounds like beautiful psychedelic raindrops singing along or something, you’ll know when you listen…)
SWIRLIES REMEMBER ROB LAAKSO
We met a teenage Rob at Phillips Hall in Fitchburg (October 29, 1995). That smile and those soft eyes, like Moxie in human form. We danced on tabletops as Rob stood below and laughed. Later, when we wanted to take him on tour with us (on drums!), his parents said absolutely not; he was too young to go to NYC, and besides, he had to finish his senior year of high school. Damon did some recordings with the Wicked Farleys in 1996, and then Rob finally joined the Swirlies (on guitar!) in early 1997.
We called him "Doc" (originally Dr. Bobby Laasoko) because he had a way of fixing bad situations and making right everything that was wrong. In the end, he couldn't fix himself, but he still touched so many of us with his beautiful, positive soul. We miss you terribly little brother - thank you for our time together and for all the wonderful experiences you've shared with us. We hope wherever you are, you are playing "Do the Ostrich" far, far longer than anyone ever should and smiling down on us through it all.