In­ter­view: Laura Veirs

The Port­land song­writer talks si­lenc­ing her in­ner critic and how you don’t have to shout to make a dif­fer­ence through mu­sic

Total Guitar - - CONTENTS - Words Thea de Gal­lier Photo Ja­son Quigley

On first lis­ten, Laura Veirs’ 10th solo al­bum, The look out, has all the trap­pings of the singer-song­writer genre: soft vo­cals that em­brace the ears, whim­si­cal gui­tar lines and bit­ter­sweet lyrics. But it’s also qui­etly rev­o­lu­tion­ary: since Trump took of­fice, the Port­land-based artist has felt a com­pul­sion to ref­er­ence the state of the world.

“It cer­tainly feels more fever­ish now,” she says. “I know many artists are strug­gling with trying to tackle these is­sues be­cause they feel so press­ing now. Waves of dark­ness and light come through the po­lit­i­cal world, and this is re­ally a point of dark­ness in Amer­ica.”

Hav­ing be­gun her ca­reer in a punk band, it’s not sur­pris­ing to hear that so­cial is­sues are a thread run­ning through Laura’s mu­sic, es­pe­cially on, The Look­out. There are more ways to make a stand, she says, than be­ing “brash” about it.

“There’s a lot of soul mu­sic that was rev­o­lu­tion­ary… it was hard­core in its own way, but it’s also so lis­ten­able and dance­able,” she muses. “Mu­sic acts as a refuge for peo­ple. You can pro­vide some kind of so­lace, and I try to do that in the sense of, ‘I’m pay­ing at­ten­tion to this, you’re not alone.’ There’s a song [on The Look­out] called Watch Fire, which for me is so ob­vi­ous, it’s about pro­tect­ing vul­ner­a­ble peo­ple. A lot of my work is grap­pling with my­self and my own is­sues. If it does pro­vide some­one with so­lace, that’s great. I don’t ex­pect my mu­sic to be rev­o­lu­tion­ary but I think it’s a piece of the pie.” Mod­ern proverbs – the kind that are of­ten shared on In­sta­gram against a vis­ually-pleas­ing back­drop

– also found their way into her lyrics.

“When It Grows Dark­est is a track on the new al­bum. When the elec­tion hap­pened, I saw that quote: ‘When it grows dark­est, the stars come out’ go­ing around. I wrote a song around that lyric, I think it’s just from the com­mon ver­nac­u­lar, I couldn’t find a source for it. I grew up in Colorado in the moun­tains where the stars were very bright, and when it got dark the stars did come out. It’s kind of ob­vi­ous but it’s also a great metaphor: dark times build our re­silience and per­se­ver­ance.”

The inward-look­ing ap­proach also ex­tends to her work­ing en­vi­ron­ment. Writ­ing from her at­tic stu­dio in Port­land, she says she writes “over and over” for as long as a year, un­til stand­out songs be­gin to take shape. “My hus­band [Grammy-nom­i­nated Tucker Mar­tine] is my pro­ducer, and we lis­ten through them and de­cide which ones are the strong­est. If you be­come too heavy-handed you can over­work and stifle your­self, but writ­ing 10 songs and mak­ing an al­bum… I can’t!” she laughs. “Ba­si­cally, most of the songs I write are not good. I have to write a lot to get the qual­ity up. I wish it wasn’t like that, but it’s been that way for years. I have to keep my in­ner critic at bay.”

Work­ing with her hus­band, she says, makes this both eas­ier and harder. “It’s eas­ier be­cause I trust him so much and I don’t care if he doesn’t like it. But some­times I feel hurt like, ‘You don’t like any­thing I do!’ His bar is very high, he’s a great pro­ducer,” she says. Time in the stu­dio also al­lows the pair to re­con­nect on a cre­ative level, which is how they first met – she mailed him a cas­sette of her mu­sic al­most two decades ago. “We don’t get a lot of time to­gether in a cre­ative way any­more be­cause we’re so busy with other projects, our chil­dren, and the lo­gis­tics of tour­ing,” she ex­plains.

The Look­out’s col­lab­o­ra­tors, which in­clude Suf­jan Stevens and Jim James, were cho­sen not just be­cause their voices fit­ted the mu­sic, but be­cause of their friend­ship with Laura. “All the peo­ple on this are old friends and peo­ple I’ve toured with and col­lab­o­rated with in the past,” she says. “We just know we can trust them to come up with great parts quickly and not have big egos, you can en­counter that when you get into the realm of great mu­si­cians and it’s a bum­mer to be around. None of these peo­ple have that.”

Laura her­self could never be ac­cused of hav­ing an ego, ei­ther. From her ad­mis­sion that she has to write hun­dreds of songs be­fore find­ing one she’s happy with, to her re­jec­tion of the trope of artis­tic mis­ery – “I don’t do well when I’m de­pressed, I’m not the tor­tured artist!” – every­thing she does comes with a ground­ing that makes her mu­sic far more relatable than she re­alises.

The Look­out is re­leased on 13 April via Bella Union

“I don’t ex­pect my mu­sic to be rev­o­lu­tion­ary but I think it’s a pi ece of the pi e”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.