The Lookout is Laura Veirs’ tenth album, and first to follow her 2016 collaboration with Neko Case and k.d. lang, case/lang/veirs; on it, the prolific and fantastic singer-songwriter challenges herself to find new ways to write music — she wrote 117 songs, which she whittled down to 12 — like using an excerpt from T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land” as a jumping-off point for album opener “Margaret Sands.” But though her process can be highly technical, Veirs remains deeply psychological and intuitive in her songs, drawing from a well of personal experience and concrete nature-based imagery to paint an overall picture of the fragility of these times. Veirs is joined on The Lookout by Karl Blau, whom she’s known for nearly 20 years; Jim James, who sings harmony on Grateful Dead cover “Mountains of the Moon”; and Sufjan Stevens, who lends co-lead response vocals on “Watch Fire,” providing a balm to the tension of Veirs’ words. It’s produced, like all of Veirs’ albums, by her husband Tucker Martine, who contributes the rhythmic feel, which this time flirts with the electronic. Veirs enlists her kids (and their cousin) to sing Ram- like backup vocals on “Lightning Rod,” which is full of wonder at the power of lightning. Like the campfires people gather around throughout the record, The Lookout is meant to offer comfort, which it does. (Bella Union)
What was your writing process?
I wrote four hours a day, four days a week for a year. Toward the end was when most of the good ones were surfacing. I made songwriting surprise cards for myself ahead of time. I would pick three cards (for mood, lyrical theme and musical theme) and I would have to do what the cards said to do. The reason I did that was to trick myself into feeling surprised, forcing myself to try something new. There were aspects of it that were super-annoying, but it forced me to be disciplined and do the work.
Nature shows up a lot in your songs.
It’s everywhere. Cherry trees are blooming. I love how those images are free and available to anyone. Even someone living in an urban environment can experience the beauty of light coming in a window or snow on a tree branch. Everyone thinks I live in the woods or something, but no, I live a couple blocks from a coffee shop.