Growing up in a conservative environment coupled with years of art school, traveling and busking has provided the backdrop for Laura Jean Anderson’s honest songwriting, which is filled with wisdom, heartbreak, and hope. In advance of the release of the singer-songwriter’s new EP, Righteous Girl, Anderson kindly took the time to call from California and chat about her roots, those life experiences, and the EP.
Your vocals are both strong and edgy, yet ethereal. How long have you been singing and was music what you always wanted to pursue?
I’ve been singing for a while, but nothing professionally until recently. Music had always been a passion, but I didn’t grow up with a family of artists or know anyone in my community where music was their reality, so it was always kind of a far-fetched dream. Like, ‘Oh I would love to do it, but I don’t know if it’s possible.’
For a while, I just wanted to travel, experience life and be a potter or something, but now I can’t imagine doing anything else. When it comes down to it, music is my tool, my way of communicating about life and experiences and feelings
Initially, you attended art school, then you did get to do some traveling. How did your time in South America influence the decision to pursue music?
I moved to California after high school and graduated college in 2013. After a while I just kind of hit a wall, so I bought one-way ticket to Ecuador. I just decided to get up and go, not having any plans - just traveling. I ended up in Peru and had all of my money stolen. I really couldn’t call anyone, especially my family, who were already like, ‘You’re crazy to take off like that.” I had brought a guitar with me and really had no other option but to play music in the town square for money. Normally, not much happened in the town [Huaraz], which is at the base of the Andes, but it just so happened that it was Peruvian independence week and the town had all of these Peruvian tourists from the bigger cities coming there. So I busked every day, all day, untiI I made enough money to go back home. During that time, something told me ‘Alright, this is what you were born to do’ and I knew I had to do music once I returned [to the US].
That was incredibly brave!
I was twenty-one then and I feel like I wouldn’t do it now. I look back on it like ‘Whoa, what was I thinking?’ (laughing) Part of me is like ‘I was really brave’ and the other part is like ‘That was really stupid, what was that all about?’ (laughing)
Maybe it provided the experiences that will eventually be put into song.
And speaking of songs, your EP, Righteous Girl, is ready to come out on March 4th. The title of the album is also a song on the EP. What’s the story behind the song and what is the significance of it as the album title?
I thought that song represented the most depth of what was going on at the time I wrote the EP and it kind of reflects the other songs as well. “Righteous Girl” is about this inner turmoil of someone telling you to do something and you feeling differently. For me, I relate it to religion, but it can reflect anything causing turmoil. It’s about the life struggles that people deal with and I think it’s a good representation of the work I do.
The songs on the EP blend different musical styles including the blues, rock, and psychedelic melodies. Is that a reflection of what you listen to and are inspired by?
I feel like I am one of those writers who never really writes anything that isn’t super honest about whatever is going on in my life. I’m not a very great storyteller of other people’s stories; I write about really personal, honest experiences and I’m definitely influenced by a lot of different things. I feel like I listen to a lot of different types of music and pull from things that are opposite of what my music ends up turning out to be. A lot of the psychedelic stuff comes from listening to soundtracks like The Twilight Zone. I also love old time rock and roll, Joplin and, of course, Neil Young is a favorite. I also like more modern stuff like experimental avant-garde jazz. I like to think about how could I bridge a gap [of musical styles] and fit in those worlds, but by doing something completely different.
To me, the songs on the EP have melodies that you can get lost in, with lyrics where there’s something deeper. We spoke about “Righteous Girl,” but what about “Over and Over” is there a story there?
Um, yea definitely! (laughing) I wrote that during a breakup of a long relationship. That one is the idea of like, when you do everything you can to try not to think about something, anything, in life. But at the end of the day, everything reminds you of what you are trying to not think about and then it just rolls over and over through your brain. It’s based on something personal, but I also feel like it’s something most people feel; when they have something haunting them be it a person, situation, regret or moment in time that you cannot let go of no matter how hard you try.
Definitely, most people have been in that situation at least once.
Switching gears, do you play out and iwill you be touring to support the EP?
Yeah, I play out pretty often, places like The Bootleg or Harvard & Stone. I will be in the Bay area in March, then I am doing a Southwest tour and will be in New York City in the fall, so I will definitely be around.
I definitely feel like I’m more inclined as a live performer. I’m trying to learn about the recording part of it all, and have a lot of passion for it, but the live performance is a huge part of the sound.
Gearing up for the release, and since it’s the beginning of the year, is there anything you want to accomplish in 2016?
I think this is the first year I’ve said ‘I’m going to make this my year and make things happen.’ A huge goal is understanding and accepting that music is a completely collaborative thing and includes being open to other people’s views. So I’ve been doing that as well as taking a lot of gigs that I normally would be uncomfortable with that ended up being really positive. For example, writing for someone else or with someone who has a style different from mine or say, challenging myself to write a pop song. I think by doing these things, you end up finding your voice more deeply. I am not going to let anything hold me back this year. I am going to go full-fledged in the open-mindedness of music.
Very cool and positive approach.
Finally, I always like to know, is there one release cannot stop listening to?
Oh yeah! I think my dream record of the year been the Kendrick Lamar record, that one just completely blew me away. Also, Alabama Shakes’ record was amazing and the new David Bowie…oh my gosh! As an artist, I think that record is the most prolific thing I have ever seen anyone do. Not only does it sound great, but he’s on his deathbed writing about death and nobody knew about it, which is just insane. Those are definitely my go-to records right now, the ones I’m drawing inspiration from.
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