An Interview With Lori LaRayne
Lori LaRayne just released a lucious and tastefully roots folk EP called Quartz Mountain and it's a detailed and descriptive record full of colorful instrumentation and laced with passionate vocals from start to finish.
LaRayne has a unique and vibrant vocal approach that at times gives off an Ani Defranco feel but with a twist.
Songs are doused in heart as she goes on to tell stories that paint vivid pictures with her words and it's very easy to get pulled into her world.
Piano, bangjo, and acoustic guitar drive the record musically as the tracks sway and build with intensity as they play on.
Wonderfully deepening and engulfing, the songs can whisk you away to a different place all together and the artist gets personal and holds little back in the way of both songwriting and what she wants to say.
Vocals bend and swell as the songs swirl around you and at times, keep you afloat in the aether of the record itself.
These songs have life. They have heart. They have realness and all came from someplace within LaRayne whether it was a life experience or a story she created.
The EP really feels good to listen to and beckons a live performance and what it might be like to see.
LaRayne has an alluring power behind her performances and it's both graceful and edgy somehow but works perfectly for the aesthetic of the music and songs.
With such a great release, we wanted to sit down with the artist to talk about where it all came from. Here is what happened.
TSWS: Okay let's start with the Quartz Mountain record. This record is a 3 song EP that hits a very roots folk sound. Where did this record come from?
I've had a really difficult couple of years… as shitty as 2020 was, it was actually a much better year for me than 2019. I've come across a psychology term for it - lifequakes. Apparently most people go through two or three periods in their life where everything falls apart. Their hearts are broken, they are betrayed, people die, they lose their job, house, family, health, their whole universe turns upside down. They just get hit over and over in a short period of time by a series of random, unrelated traumas. To get through it, they have to rebuild themselves from the ashes. These songs I've been writing are a kind of self-therapy. I'm working through my lifequakes by using music as catharsis.
TSWS: I love the vocal style with the way the music plays out. What artists or bands really influenced you as an artist?
When I started singing, I was really inspired by early recorded Appalachian folk singers and banjo players who had this undeniable truth in their voices: Ola Belle Reed, Cousin Emmy, Doc Watson, and Clarence Ashley. As I've been branching out from the traditional style, I've been noticing some of my more modern, alternative idols coming through in my music: PJ Harvey (early demos), Fiona Apple, Dresden Dolls, Bauhaus, and Ludovico Einaudi.
I also have a huge amount of respect and appreciation for my first banjo teacher, Jason Homey, who was the banjo player in The Clumsy Lovers for ten years. Not only did he give me my foundation for banjo, he inspired me to find my voice. In a lesson one day, he gave me a song arrangement to be played while also singing. I told him I don't sing, I don't have a pretty voice, and his response was something like, "Ok, well, sing anyway." So I tried, and I almost instantly felt a part of myself coming to life that I'd been missing for a long time.
TSWS: How did all of this really start for you?
I started out in the local folk scene as a beginner banjo player about three years ago, playing in bluegrass and old-time jams and bands. It was a really difficult but exhilarating time, working through shyness and finding my voice and becoming a part of the music community. When lockdown hit last March and I was on my own, I started writing my own songs and I gave myself permission to break the rules of traditional music. I'm going through a really uncomfortable process of trying to learn skills while trying to experiment and trust my own voice. I thought it would be years before I would be ready to record my own music, but I got lucky. The band I've been in since early 2020, The Trees The Trees, started recording with producer Andy Agenbroad at The Chop Shop, and it quickly became a safe space for me. So I decided to try out recording a solo song. Instead of giving me advice on how to "improve" or trying to smooth out my amateur attempts at music, Andy listened to me and my voice and my vision. He gave me the space to build my confidence so I could keep writing my own songs from the heart, trust myself, lose and find myself in the music.
TSWS: How do you write your songs? Is it lyrics first or do you write it on an acoustic guitar? What's your process?
I almost always start with the lyrics. I know it's different for everyone but I am a total linguistic nerd… I literally have a Ph.D. in grammar… for me, the story is where the "feel" of the song comes from. I get the feel and the rhythm through words and then I get on my banjo and hope for alchemy.
TSWS: What sort of things inspire you to write?
The usual… heartbreak, trauma… and I've had a lot of really strange experiences in my life. I do also write some "lighter" stuff about love and longing and everyday life… I'm working through a lot of my backlog of repressed emotions, and I think I'm going to be able to move past that stuff and write more diversely before too long.
TSWS: What is something like you doing when you are NOT working on music?
This year has been hard for everyone in different ways… for me, it's been really lonely… I work from home now and see only a handful of people and I really miss meeting new people. I've wanted to get a dog for twenty years so finally this seemed like my chance, and I got a quarantine puppy, Gonzo, and we hang out all the time. I'm training him to be chill on my paddleboard, because in the summer I spend most of my free time camping by lakes.
TSWS: Are you going to be performing live when the time comes?
Yes!!!!!!!!!! I miss live music so much. I've done a few live solo shows and I definitely want to do more, especially now that I have a lot of original songs in addition to the traditional folk favorites I love to play.
TSWS: What's next for you as an artist?
I'm nearly finished recording a full-length solo album. I'll release it in March or April. I wish I could do an album release show but I guess it will have to be something live-streamed. When the live music scene comes back to life, I want to get out there! I want to see faces and feel the energy in the room and sing my fucking heart out and forever forget this time where it feels like our whole lives are lived through computers. I want to travel again and see more of this beautiful planet and meet people!
TSWS: This is an impressive EP to say the least. Did it take long to record it? Did it come out how you expected?
This EP exceeded my wildest dreams. It came together quickly, too. I recorded with Andy on Tuesday evenings, just for an hour or two, over four weeks. The first week, I laid down the banjo and vocals for Lake King. Andy said, you know what this song needs? Some piano and bowed bass. I said, well I don't really play piano but I took piano lessons for a few years as a kid, I'll try to figure something out. But for the bass… are you gonna do that? He said… no, you are. And he lent me his stand-up bass. So I spent a week creating my first ever piano composition and hacking at his bass with a bow… I can't believe it actually worked. I mean, it's not meant to be philharmonic standard or anything… it's really all about creating a mood. One thing I love about this EP is the punk DIY ethos behind it.
TSWS: As a songwriter and up and coming artist. What sort of advice would you have for other artists out there trying to get heard?
Be the artist who genuinely supports other artists. And it shouldn't be some kind of reciprocal expectation… if you are passionate about your art, I think you can see it in fellow musicians when they are passionate about their art, and you should do everything you can to help and support those who are authentic, whether it comes back around or not. As musicians we are part of this fucked up club where we take the best and worst we see in humanity and we suck it deep into our lungs and eject it out into the air and it's really fucking hard sometimes and a lot of people aren't going to get it. But fellow musicians, even if they don't really prefer your music, can appreciate the heart behind it. I really think if you authentically engage in the music community, your music will find life.
TSWS: Before we go, what would you like to say to fans of the music?
First of all… I miss you. I miss seeing faces and I miss sharing the same air and airwaves. I've met a lot of really wonderful people by playing music. I've heard stories and learned lessons that I carry with me every day. I'm a pretty hardcore introvert and outsider but this past year has taught me not to take for granted how absolutely magical it is to meet people through music and to push each other to feel things through music that maybe we've been hiding from. I want to meet you soon, and let's stop hiding.