Photo: Ellyn Jameson
Singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, Laura Jean Anderson has an abiding love for the classics. Old vinyl, old recording equipment and most of all, the great, old American folk tradition. A native of Olympia, Washington, Anderson developed her interpretation of the tradition while growing up in a Mormon household situated in the birthplace of grunge. She began singing as a member of church choir and continued to develop her musicianship studying classical voice at CalArts. The result is a soulful, selectively nostalgic reimagining of American folk studded with ‘80s power-synth and spits of radio crackle. With impeccable storytelling ability and the flute-like vocal turns popularized by folk legends Joni Mitchell and Joan Baez, Laura takes the definitive elements of American folk and redelivers them to us, enlivened by contemporary sounds and themes.
Anderson spoke with OTW about her debut EP, Lonesome No More, out Oct. 12 via B3SCI Records. While the seven-track EP exhibits an ample collection of production styles, themes and pacing, the collection is unified by Anderson’s spectacularly flexible and lovely voice. In speaking with Anderson, we found a skilled musician with the talent and sheer love of music for music’s sake that surely will bring her to the forefront of the rich contemporary folk community she’s found in Los Angeles.
OTW: First off, huge congrats to you. This is your first studio EP release and will likely be the introduction of your music to many new fans. What would like them to have in mind when listening to the project?
LJA: I’m just so excited to release this body of work! It’s been a long road and process and hope that people just enjoy it!
OTW: Tell us about your relationship with the great American songwriting tradition that shows up in your music — how did you come into the genre?
LJA: I’ve always been a lover of old music and old records but it was definitely when I lived in Santa Cruz for a while that my love deepened. My community there was a bunch of artists and musicians who loved American traditional music and we would teach each other our favorite songs all day by night and busk with them in the day. I love finding new ways to honor old traditions. The whole record’s approach is how to live in the gray area between old and new, analog and digital and also on a deeper spiritual level.
Photo Credit: Kaia D’alora
OTW: Do you consider the evolution of this classic tradition part of your project? If so, what does that evolution look/sound like to you?
LJA: Most definitely. Having a love for this tradition, I hope to pay homage to my personal heroes in my music and honor the tradition of storytelling while also staying true to our times, my story and the climate of culture and music.
OTW: Who are some contemporary musicians you look to as peers in advancing the tradition?
LJA: I am such a lover of old music but love when a contemporary artist strikes my heart. I love what Alabama Shakes, Kendrick Lamar, Nick Hakim and the new Leon Bridges record are doing to the American tradition of music. I’m also so inspired to have people in my community like Madison Cunningham, Superet and Matt Rose to feel inspired by!
OTW: You’re originally from Olympia, Washington — how have you adapted and your sound adapted to the desert climate/expansive urbanity of Los Angeles? Did you ever live and play in Seattle and if so, what musical community/influence did you find there?
LJA: I don’t think I’ll ever fully shake the Olympia gal in me when it comes to my music. There will always be an element of grunge and rawness that is inescapable. But being in California has definitely introduced me to so much more music and a wider range of music. Plus, being in the birthplace of all that 60s revival music gets me feelin’ real inspired.
OTW: On a similar but separate note, how have you liked/not liked joining a larger community of musicians in Los Angeles?
LJA: The music community in Los Angeles is amazing, and I am constantly inspired by the people and the strength we give each other. I will say, I do miss the way people watch shows in the Pacific Northwest and in other parts of the country. I miss a good mosh or true let-loose dancing at shows. Letting music live as an expression rather than a career move is so important, not only for musicians, but for all people.
OTW: Speaking of letting loose, the total power ballad, “Silence Won’t Help Me Now” is the only song on the album shellacked in ‘80s-style pop-retro production. Did hear these influences when you first penned the track or did you discover that this instrumentation suited the song once you got into the studio? Do you hope to continue experimenting with this sound?
LJA: The 80s-style production is actually what started the track to begin with. It’s definitely a different direction than my other tunes but I’ve been loving exploring and experimenting with these sounds and this style of production.
OTW: Tell me about the producers you collaborated with on the EP — how did you come to work with them and what you found out about yourself as a musician and songwriter in the course of the production process?
LJA: I had the amazing privilege to work with producer Tyler Chester on this EP. We had met at a gig a while back and got reintroduced and starting working on these tunes one by one. It was an amazing, very collaborative experience working with Tyler. I so often feel that as a female artist (even though I’m so sick of that term “female” artist- why can’t we just be an artist?!), I am constantly fighting for my truth to be heard and my presence as a songwriter and producer to be heard, and wanting to be seen eye-to-eye. Working with Tyler, I finally was able to let my guard down and just be the songwriter and creative that I am in my heart. So inspiring to work in an environment where ego is set aside and it’s just about the music and the message.
OTW: Gettin’ into the nitty gritty — where did you record the EP? How long was the production process?
LJA: It was a bit of a collage. We recorded most of it at Tyler’s home studio in Eagle Rock but also some started with my home Logic productions, we recorded some of the rhythm sections at a studio in the Valley. My favorite part of the process was going to this unbelievable analog studio called Heritage Recording Co. and tracking to tape and using their real plate reverb. The whole thing took over a year to make.
OTW: You open and close the EP with two scantly ornamented songs — “Who Am I To You?” and “Lonesome No More” — can you tell us about how you arrived at the emotional arc of the album, and how the tonal arc parallels it?
LJA: I knew the moment I wrote, “Who Am I To You?” that I wanted it to end the record. It falls in line with the old American tradition of ending on a more tender moment like a waltz or gospel tune and it also means the most to me and holds together what the record means in my heart. Each song on this record dives into a particular emotion but “Who Am I To You?” is almost a reflection of them all — a deep moment of self-reflection. “Lonesome No More” felt like a good way to start the record as this statement of “I’m not lonesome, (but actually feel lonesome), bring it on world!
OTW: You explore this same theme of experiencing loneliness in the face of love in the music video, "Love You Most.” The camera follows you weaving through a collection of couples frozen in loving and not-so-loving embraces — could you tell us about the concept development of the video?
LJA: I really wanted to show the true emotion of this song in the video, which is that feeling of longing, desire and jealousy within unrequited love. I am wandering these couples, seeing them in all their scenarios and full of heartache, wishing it was me and crazing to love them more than the person they are with. When we are heartbroken, we replay scenarios in our minds of all the possible things that person is doing and this video represents that manic dream state we get ourselves in.
OTW: On a totally unrelated note, I read that you spent some time busking on the streets of Peru — how did you find yourself there? How does the experience of busking feel different than playing alongside someone like Langhorne Slim at The Troubadour?
LJA: I busked for a good four plus years and made my rent doing so. Whether it be in or out of the country, it led me to my true love of playing. It’s so important in the world of making records and music career stuff and such, for us musicians not to forget to actually PLAY for the love of music. My heroes have always been the ones who play day in and day out for hours, and it feels so good to just play. Now, I don’t find myself busking but I do play jazz hours on end at gigs or my music or jam old tunes with friends as many nights as I can. It brings me back to the true meaning of it all.
Photo Credit: Kaia D’alora