INTERVIEW with LAURA WARSHAUER, April 30, 2012
Laura Warshauer is a name that you will be hearing a lot about, if you have not already. She is a young singer-songwriter who is on tour in support of Bob Schneider and will be playing the Birchmere on Wednesday, May 2nd. She has got a killer voice and songs to match, and before I head out to cover the show I had an opportunity to chat with her by phone, while she was able to spend some time with her family in the New Jersey area. And although I tried my best at transcribing, I did have to guess and paraphrase a few areas, so I hope I did not obfuscate any comment.
Laura Warshauer - Well you know, I put out an EP and I also put out a full length album this past summer (The Pink Chariot Mixtape). I continue to record and play live... as an artist and creative person, I am go through both recording and building a live show, getting the opportunity to work with a number of different producers and I sort of feel like I have been going through all this process with this bigger picture in mind. It is like you create a sculpture and you dig into the marble slab and the shape takes form. It's that like the process I've been on with my music, the EP at that point last summer represented where I was in that process. And now I feel like finally on stages in my first National tour, looking forward to playing Lollapalooza this summer, to recently starting recording with a new producer in Los Angeles. I couldn't be more excited about the music that we're making and so I already feel like another creative evolution is happening, so eventually I am working towards my next full length record, but with that I feel like I've gotten so much closer to the vision I have had in my head for a while that I am able to realize.
DH - OK yes, you as a singer songwriter come into any project I'll assume with the songs, of course the voice, and some instrumentation, so how do the different producers work with you and where does the process find it's way into the recording. Can you go through that with us?
LW - Yeah, definitely--that's a really good question. I kind of am looking for something for the longest time, a feeling of my own sound--something as unique as what you mention the actual sound of my voice with my writing style. I really come from writing my songs on a guitar with maybe two chords and I sing melodies over the top. And then I get a chance to work with producers like where the producer is a one--man band where he helps with all the instrumentation you hear on the record from programming the drums to the strings to playing electric and acoustic guitar and maybe I'll play some guitar additionally. I have also had an opportunity to work with a producer where I've been paired with a full band. So I would come in with some band arrangements and the producer would orchestrate and arrange that. And this latest collaboration that I am so excited about, we've actually just kind of dug in and have been involved in the writing process together. And it's kind of made me feel what is going on is so organic... and I'm hearing my voice along with the messages of what it is that I write about in a different context and in a different way. And it feels that much more powerful and potent, so that's why I feel so enthused about it.
DH - So you are still starting with ideas but things change as more layers are added, I guess.
LW - Well maybe i will be playing something on my guitar and have like I come up with a great thing and come up with some lyrics that I love and then the producer may pick up a guitar and start playing something or we might pull up the track and say how can we accent with strings or how can we capture that sound. It might blend perfectly with an idea that we were already thinking about. It is kind of amazing when it comes together when you add elements that are genre-wise that is something that is a bit more of a hip-hop oriented from that stand point over something that is more top-heavy with an acoustic guitar with more beautiful strings and you sort of do a with a mish mosh of it.
DH - Right.
LW - I think that's when you come up with something that is really cool and although I do come to this as a singer songwriter, but for me I have always had sort of a bigger thing in mind like a Stevie Nicks or a Cyndi Lauper, artists with a distinctive voice and sound--things to say in their songs that seem to transcend the female singer-songwriter with something bigger at work, as an artist. And I have always felt that about myself and what it is that I am writing about in my songs. So it should be a bit, as a young artist, to get a sense to know what you want, but finding it can be a process. And I've always felt that I have had a pop sense to what I do, from a writing standpoint and what I am attracted to sonically, but I much more of a rock'n'roll girl heart. So it's how do you capture that in the record. Again, you can think about it all day or you can try things, but until it happens organically and then you just know it's right, it just feels right. You know, like recently, my producer Marshall Altman has the experience of working with some great artists and has discovered (various others). I got the chance to meet him, he heard my voice and called me into the studio and we hit on a creative sweet spot.
DH - When you were getting into music when you were younger and I believe you started on guitar, was the idea of writing your own songs come quickly or were you trying to cover other people's songs? How did that break through happen?
LW - When I first started playing guitar, I learned a lot of songs like Joan Osborne's "One of Us" which was a really popular song at the time, and then I felt really empowered and inspired to give writing my own songs a try. And it was really due to wanting to expand my repertoire and I could either learn more cover songs, but I realized if I wrote my own songs, I could create and learn simultaneously. So, I gave it a try and started playing them for friends and family and then on to local coffee shops. Then I found a local studio.. and got a lot of positive feedback and then a show in New York City and it was always very encouraging and I love that I could be very proactive with it in writing songs. It really felt again empowering and I felt it was my own thing.
DH - Is writing a very formal process for you--do you sit down and write or do things pop up in all kinds of places and times.
LW - Things pop up everywhere! (laughter) I can come up with stuff when I am just walking around by coming up with melody ideas. I'll definitely sit down with my guitar and work things out, but it is all very organic.
DH - Yes, it sounds from talking to you, that you do enjoy the studio process. How about the live show--do you prefer one experience more than the other?
LW - I love them both. They do really compliment each other. And I can already tell that being on stage is so invigorating because everything will either make sense or it won't when you take the stage. When you are in front of people, there are fundamental things you are saying and you are directly communicating with your audience and you get immediate feedback of whether you are getting through or not. And that is sort of a challenge and an art form in and of itself. You know performing music has so many elements has so much excitement. The live aspect is so... I really love it.
DH - Yes.
LW - And the studio is really interesting in a different way. You obviously get to hear your voice in a different way, under the headphones, and you get to try things out. It is satisfying in a different way and the one thing I am finding is that the more I incorporate aspects of what makes a live show work into the studio, the better. Even though in the studio, in theory you have times you can go back and take time in doing a part, I feel like for me, I am better served when I think less, do more, dive in, take chances like the chances I would take on the stage. So that way I can get the spontaneous energy, but then know when to walk away. Not to like sit there and work for... it's not about perfection, it is about something that is real. And so I think it is important for a performer to get on stage a lot because I think that is what drives everything else.
DH - Yes, I think that is well said and it should happen to most performers. They may hit it later rather than sooner, but it is something they should go through in remembering the visceral live approach while they are in the studio.
LW - Definitely.
DH - You mentioned a couple of people that inspired you. I find it interesting with Stevie Nicks who some people underrate, along with the dynamic Cyndi Lauper and I read you respected Patti Smith...
LW - Yes, I love her. She just represents the purist.
DH - Did you get into these artists when you were younger or discovered them after you got started?
LW - Yeah I did, I would say quite a while ago. It is really interesting because even though I really look up to them, each of them is an icon in their own way, it was not like I grew up wanting to be any of them. It was like someone gave me a cassette of "Landslide" when I was really young and that impacted me and became one of my favorite songs. But it was not I really knew Fleetwood Mac's or Stevie Nicks whole career, it was more like people would say they hear a little of Stevie Nicks or Cyndi Lauper, but it was more that I had a sense of who they were as artists and knew a handful of songs and had kind of a vibe of their presence and what their style and aura was like. But I definitely love... like we were talking about earlier, it is a sense that this is a sum of the parts equals a greater whole. And that is what who I really connect to with what I am doing. It is the song, the spirit, the journey, it's the live show... there's so many pieces that add up that is much bigger than of the individual parts.
DH - Right. So how on earth did you make your way over to Scotland for schooling was it?
LW -Yes, that was in 2001. I had graduated from high school a year early in New Jersey and went over to Scotland for high school.
DH - Did you touch base with any of the music scene while you were over there? There are a couple of favorites of mine like Dick Gaughan and Robin Williamson who I follow.
LW - Oh wow. Well, it was really a very idealist town and I had my guitar and I was writing a lot that year. But I was mostly performing at the dorm for friends, but it was more being inspired being there. I ended up going to New York City the years after and ended up recording many of the songs I wrote over there. Some of those songs I still play today. I think it was more that I wanted an experience that was totally different, you know kind of get outside of myself a little bit and I ended up having an amazing year.
DH - OK, where was it?
LW - St. Andrews.
DH - Yes (we discuss its relation to Edinburgh for a bit). So how about in the non-musical world... Can you give someone that was either an inspiration to you or someone you really like, like an author, painter, film director...
LW - I love Gaudi, the architect and artist of Barcelona. I love and am inspired by art in general, visual art, and he was really way ahead of his time. The way he could take broken pieces of glass and incorporate them into something else that he would design. He had a great sense of color and used whimsical shapes and that is something I am really involved with. There is also artists like Picasso and Matisse who I really love.
DH - OK and you are playing Lollapalooza, so I am curious to see if they have you playing the same stage in between the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Black Sabbath.
LW - (laughs) Wow. Well, it is totally confidential for now as to where I will play there, but I am totally thrilled about playing there.
DH - And first you will be at the Birchmere, which should be comfortable for you. The atmosphere is a bit sedate, but the audience pays rapt attention to the music and it should be a really good crowd.
LW - That is great. I look forward to seeing you at the show.