Interview: Laura Jean Anderson

IMG_1041I had a very enjoyable chat with Laura Jean Anderson. Laura Jean called me a bit early and my kids were home sick from school so I had to set them up with Netflix before we could get going.

When she called and I explained to my son that I had to interview an artist he asked, “What’s an artist?” So I thought that would be a good question to start the interview with.

Her press materials describe her as full of wisdom earned through years of traveling, busking, hitchhiking, touring and old time religion. Based on our call I would agree. She has amassed a good deal of experience despite her age, as well as a focused education in music from CalArts and her own studies.

Her debut EP, “Righteous Girl,” releases March 4th.

Nick: What is an artist?

Laura Jean: It’s a creator. Creating music or art or something more abstract. Somebody who is pulling from life and using it as a creative tool.

N: Your debut EP is called “Righteous Girl”. What does the word “righteous” mean to you?

LJ: The album named after title track. Righteous has to do with a personal journey and growing up in a religious environment. It’s this idea of how religion can affect a human being. The idea is that it’s a religious experience to deal with personal struggle.

Righteousness is the process of questioning what you’re born with and the world around you. We all should be questioning all the time, whether you grew up in a conservative environment like me or if you grew up in a very liberal, open environment. Questioning can be a positive thing, regardless of your upbringing.

N: What church did you go to growing up?

IMG_0744LJ: I’d rather not discuss my upbringing. I’m a little more private about it.

I definitely think there was good and bad. A specific thing I took from it were old church hymns and singing them with a large group of people. That’s powerful for anyone, whether or not you’re religious. The act of singing with 100 people is so beautiful.

N: I’ve read that you choose your lyrics very carefully. Can you talk more about what your songwriting process is like?

LJ: I’m one of those people where every song is very different. There’s no process. I start with an idea of and song and then let the lyrics flow without dissecting them. Words are really potent.

After a song is 90% done I go through the lyrics. If I can’t look at myself in the mirror and believe in the words, then I get rid of them.

The lyrics have to be honest. Even if I don’t like what I discover inside myself, if it’s still honest then I’ll use it.

So I start with the flow of lyrics, then go back and dissect.

N: You have a very powerful, distinctive voice. Your PR material compares you to Joplin, but your voice is much smoother. Maybe like a young Dolly Parton or Wanda Jackson. Who is your biggest influence or inspiration as a singer?

IMG_1482LJ: We’re in a collage era where we have so many influences and genres. Wanda Jackson and Elvis were a huge influence. At a younger age I was influenced by all the 60s and 70s folk revival crew like Dylan and Neil Young. Definitely Janis Joplin. With her it’s less of a vocal thing and more of just pure emotion. She just puts it all out there.

My influences are really wide. During the time of writing the EP I was really into alehouse music from the 1920s and 1930s. Offshoots of Bessie Smith, Lil Johnson. Lil Johnson wasn’t really well known, she just did this saloon music that was so amazing. She was a spitfire woman who sang this really raunchy music for the time. But she was like, “Whatever, I’m just going for it.”

Victoria Spivey was another singer from that time.

N: Olympia is a beautiful town. What do you miss most about living in Washington State?

LJ: Oh man. I just miss the land up there. The trees and the mountains. Especially Mount Rainier. I’ve spent so much time hiking there. Being on a 14,000 ft mountain is insane.

There’s this feeling of freedom up there. Down here in LA there is nature, but there are all these codes and rules. There’s real wilderness up there. I could walk out my front door and go off into the woods and no one would tell me whether I can set up my tent or not.

I miss that a lot.

N: Your time at CalArts sounds like fun! What was your most memorable experience there?

LJ: Oh there are so many. It was honestly full. Especially coming there as an 18 year old. It was a super avant-garde school.

The most memorable thing was that the community that got created there immediately is still the community I have now. It’s crazy to think about. The songwriters and musicians I was surrounded by are still people I make music with. It felt like Laurel Canyon or something. There were only a group of 10 of us, but somehow we were all on the same wavelength.

I was never really around that before.

We learned how to write songs with each other.

It was magical.

N: What took you down to Peru?

thumb__MG_0200_1024LJ: I never expected to go to Peru. I honestly don’t even remember. I had spent 2 years in college and was like, “I’m getting out. I have to experience real life.”

I just wanted to travel. Found a cheap ticket to Ecuador or and just went for it. I was either really brave or really stupid.

I initially found a farm to work at. I was really into agriculture and alternative farming techniques back then. But there was just a weird vibe at that first farm. Very heavy. I wanted a different experience, so went to another farm a week later. Met a bunch of people who were doing the whole traveller thing.

I didn’t realize when I bought the ticket how close I was to Peru. The other travelers were going down there, so I was like, “Oh. I’ll go to Peru. Maybe I’ll go south and see some ruins.”

Ended up in Huaraz, a mountain town at the base of the Andes. The main reason people go there is to hike in the Andes. I was there for about a week, then my money got stolen. There was no way I was going to call my family about it though because they would freak out.

I had brought my guitar and started busking in the marketplace. And it was just like the universe aligning. The town was usually not busy, but it happened to be Peruvian Independence Day so there were all these Peruvian tourists from Lima.

I was there for awhile saving up money.

I got to the airport and had like $1.08 in my pocket. The only food I could afford was McDonalds french fries, but it was the best food in the world right then.

It was a spiritual experience. If I could make it out of this situation with just music, then I really had to take music seriously.

N: How did you connect to Theo Karon?

IMG_1487LJ: He went to CalArts for a moment. We connected because we were both really into Neil Young and his album “On The Beach”. It’s a weird record. The opposite of “After The Gold Rush”. All over the place, but has some songs that just rip you apart. And he and I were just like, “That’s it, that’s the best Neil Young album ever.”

We made a couple records together and different projects. We always vibed on the same thing. We made a record that was 10 songs recorded with a 10 piece band. We tracked from 2 am until 8 am. Very traditional sounding. It’s very specific, not very accessible.

It was a music vision to take 10 songs and create one long song with horns and a saloony-industrial vibe. It was an idea of chaos. There are specific songs, though. I guess even in my chaos things are still organized.

N: What is your favorite song from the 1960s or 1970s?

LJ: “I used to be a king” by Graham Nash. Came out on a solo record.

It’s totally a cheesy anthem which strikes a chord with me (laughs). That song hit me at the right place at the right time.

A letter to artists

Nick

Hello fellow artists

For those of you who don’t know, I am an artist myself. I grew up singing in church choirs and playing guitar around the campfire with my family. I’ve played in numerous bands, busked on the streets to pay for food and rent, toured without hope of recouping expenses, worked shitty day jobs to help support my music career.

I have always been a broke-ass artist and prolific songwriter. I’ve never had enough money to properly record my songs in a studio or support touring and marketing to successfully grow a career. I know all-too-well how tough it is out there as a musician. And yet I keep making music because I have to. It’s in my bones. If I ignore music, my soul dies.

You can find some of my music online:

The vt launches soon as a mobile-focussed new music discovery club. There’s a lot we want to accomplish with it.

***

OUR FINANCIAL MISSION

I started working on the vt because I had a streaming vision years ago, and in the process of bringing it to market I was so horrified at the way business works today that I became fueled with a burning passion to change everything about the way the entertainment industry works. I have been driven to build a company that creates a new kind of environment: an environment that emphasizes collaboration over ego, trust over greed, and shared prosperity over individual gain.

VTlogo WE PAY ARTISTSThe mission of the vt is to create a digital service that builds a robust and thriving ecosystem for artists. Back in the 1950s – 1970s artists used to be able to pay the bills from their music. Publishing paid actual money, local venues paid musicians to play. Musicians used to be able to get loans from the bank because they had steady, reliable money coming in!

We want to bring this kind of world back.

We’re starting small with actual licensing payments using an innovate new licensing model (very similar to Creative Commons) that aligns music rights with how music actually works in the digital age and gets rid of systemic problems like DRM that everyone hates.

We anticipate substantially growing our licensing payments early on. We’re signing artists now with a modest licensing fee ($250 per album we release), though we expect to actually pay out a great deal more than this. More to come here.

When we reach 50,000 subscribers to our service we’ll begin hiring artists with steady paychecks and amazing healthcare via a non-profit we’re in the process of founding now. We expect this to be something of an incubator that allows artists a few years to quit their shitty day jobs and seriously focus on their music and grow their careers via touring and other opportunities. We want to help these artists graduate from the incubator into self-supported careers, including (but not limited to) an ongoing relationship with the vt.

There are other models and things we will be experimenting with, including building a catalog of awesome material that can secure strong backend licensing deals that will support everyone via our unique 30/30/40 rev share model. There are other things I have in mind down the road as well.

I also don’t expect to have all the answers and are open to ideas from you. If there’s something you’d like to see or experiment with, we are all ears and would be happy to help as best we can.

The goal with all this is to grow the vt into a strong business that builds a very real ecosystem that allows artists to pay their bills and thrive, and introduces a licensing model that makes sense and actually works in the digital age.

***

OUR NON-FINANCIAL MISSION

Our mission is larger than just building a business and paying artists. Equally important is the cultural and spiritual mission of the company to build a better world for all beings.

Hong_Kong_BudhaThe world we live in is rife with evils. Humanity (or at least Western culture) is plagued by greed and narcissism. So far as I have been able to tell, our current media exists to keep people in a state of anger and fear. From Fox News to CNN, nearly everything is lies and delusion that are spread to serve corporate interests.

It is our job as artists to dispel these myths. We do so by talking about our struggles and the pain we see in the world. By being introspective and open about the evils we find within ourselves, and our challenges to overcome them. To manifest love and joy through our art, connecting us to a higher spiritual calling.

I have designed the vt from a financial perspective to be a globally-scalable economy-builder for artists for the sole purpose of accomplishing our non-financial mission. As we grow, the vt blossoms into a creative renaissance that fundamentally shifts the global zeitgeist toward peace and harmony among all beings.

The vt is an explosion of love and joy.

***

WHAT THE VT MEANS

People frequently ask me why I chose Vishnu’s Trumpet (aka the vt) as the name of this service. There was no deliberate intention on my part; it was just a cool and different name that popped into my head one day. After doing research years later I’ve learned that it actually has two different roots.

vishnuRoot #1: Millennia ago, on the ancient battlefields of India, warriors blew their horns (conch shells) as a rallying cry before charging into battle. This is exactly what we are doing. The vt should be our rallying cry for a better way to do business, a better way to exist as beings in this crazy world of ours.

Root #2: Also millennia ago, God-idols were carried from temples through villages and towns in regular religious ceremonies as a call to worship. The God-idols were surrounded by trumpeters whose task was to make music praising the glories of God. (These sorts of ceremonies still exist today across the globe, from Hindu ceremonies in the rural state of Orissa to Catholic ceremonies in the North End in Boston.)

Though I had no knowledge of this when I chose the name, the vt combines both of these roots.

I was talking with a (very talented) Christian folk band recently. They make beautiful music, but were unsure of whether they would be the right fit for our service. Would they find a welcome audience through us?

“Our music is ministry,” they explained shyly.

“I think you will find us and our listeners to be very welcoming,” I replied. “The most important thing is that you are making quality music. And also your ministry is rooted in the heart. The world today is inundated with so-called Christian music that encourages people to hate Arabs and others. We need better messaging. The Christian church I grew up in (my father was a minister) preached love and kindness among all peoples of all creeds and colors. Jesus taught us to love our enemies, even as we love ourselves. The world needs to hear more of this kind of Christian message.”

It doesn’t matter to us whether you are Buddhist or Muslim or Hindu or Christian or some small tribal religious group no one has heard of or Atheist or Agnostic or a Latter Day Saint. So long as you are making quality music that speaks from the heart, you will find a welcome home here.

***

At the end of the day, the vt isn’t really about me or my vision at all. It’s about us as artists coming together to create something beautiful and different. A music service that matters, and that builds a better world for artists everywhere.

Thank you for making great music.

best

nick

Upcoming SxSW appearance by WagakkiBand

We just learned about a rad Japanese traditional rock band heading to Austin this spring. They’re called WaggakkiBand, and they fuse Shingin (traditional Japanese instruments) with rock music.

After watching their video, we don’t think “rock” is the right word. They have more of a thrash sound. Their drummer is intense and hits hard, and the band wails on their traditional instruments. Maybe we should call them folk-thrash?

They’re certainly not underground. In Japan, anyway, their videos have well over 60 million views. They played to 10,000 fans at Budokan, and have sold out Club Nokia LA.

If you’re in Austin this spring, be sure to check them out.

And report back. We’d love to hear what you think of them.

New video: Uncle Meg “Freak Like a Model”

So our favorite bad-ass lesbian hip hop artist from West Virginia just released a new video for her tune “Freak Like a Model”. As usual, Uncle Meg delivers a funny, irreverent video to accompany a solid, irreverent track about falling in love.

Seeing Uncle Meg’s face painted up like a skull is both hilarious and disarming. She and her model/muse consort Clara Rae walk about in the rain, eating cigarettes and Ritz crackers in a swank house in the West Virginia mountains. She smashes things with a golf club …

… wait, let’s get back to the skull face paint part. The makeup is really well done, and watching her rap with it on gives you the chills. Watching death spit out lyrics about raunchy sex hits a trigger in your gut, reminding you of the French phrase for an orgasm, la petite mort. And then death and her skull-faced model cut up cigarettes at the dinner table and proceed to eat them …

This video would go over very well in Paris.

Maybe we should say it’s a killer track?

Buy it via the iTunes:

https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/freak-like-a-model-single/id1071985796

Album review: Habibi

I had the great pleasure of visiting Burger Records recently. I learned about them via an upcoming SxSW panel and made the long trek out to Fullerton to check out their store and spend some of my Uber tips on some indie garage rock.

habibi_lp_coverI picked up a few CDs for my car but could only afford two. Lee helped me decide on Dead Ghosts Love and Death and All the Rest and Habibi’s recent eponymous album. I haven’t dug too deeply into the Dead Ghosts yet. I was instantly drawn to Habibi’s album art and it’s been in steady rotation in my car for a week now.

Habibi has a psychedelic rock feel with 1960s girl group harmonies. It is a lot of fun to listen to with surf beats on the drums and grungy guitars. The takes are all live and loose, or at least they feel that way. When you take the time to dig into the lyrics you find yourself deeply rewarded as well. Smart, simple, funny, clever plays on words throughout. Just a joy to listen to.

habibi photoWhile their sound is distinctly garage rock, it is also heavily influenced by Middle Eastern melody structures. Lead singer Rahill Jamalifard is of Iranian descent.

Stand-out tracks include “She Comes Along”, a slower ballad, and “Gone Like Yesterday” ends the album perfectly. Actually “Detroit Baby” and “Tomboy” frequently get stuck in my head, as does the opening number “Far From Right.”

Order your copy today from Burger Records:

http://burgerrecords.11spot.com/search-by-artist/habibi.html

They said I bought the last copy, so you may be put on backorder. #SorryNotSorry

 

New garage folk rock from Laura Jean Anderson

A friend sent in an awesome new track from indie folk artist Laura Jean Anderson. It’s a fuzzed-out, garage rock single “Righteous Girl” from her debut EP of the same name.

Her PR material describes her as evoking the ghost of Janis Joplin. This is absolutely accurate. Stunning vocals with a hard rocking edge, you can tell this is a young virtuoso with a ton of passion and power.

Very excited for the release of her EP on March 4th.

http://www.laurajeanandersonmusic.com/

New folk pop from Sean McVerry

Hailing from a quiet town in Connecticut, multi-instrumental folk artist Sean McVerry just released a single “Kerosene” from his upcoming debut EP, Hourglass Switchboard I. He has a powerful voice accompanied by layered, thoughtful music. A simple guitar line swells into a strong chorus, then falls back again into a quiet verse.

Heavily influenced by Paul Simon, Brian Wilson and Brian Eno, McVerry’s music features succinct arrangements and poignant lyrics, drum machines and acoustic guitars. His voice is reminiscent of Chris Martin and Nick Drake.

He is currently on a nation-wide tour in support of Hourglass Switchboard I. The follow-up EP, Hourglass Switchboard II, is due to release later this year.

McVerry tour dates

Just released: Vinnie DeWayne “St John’s Scholar”

A new hip hop artist just hit our radar, Vinnie DeWayne.

TSJSFRONTAfter a year of hard work and dedication, the Portland, OR artist drops his highly anticipated mixtape St. John’s Scholar. Upon earning the title while completing his Bachelors of Arts degree at Columbia College in Chicago, Vinnie DeWayne hit the ground running in the studio this fall to bring fans the long awaited project. Although few may be familiar with the St. John’s neighborhood outside of Portland, DeWayne paints a lyrical picture of what life is like in St. John’s while relating it to a greater universal struggle through a deep, personal narrative.


Vinnie Dewayne (Vincent Dewayne Spillman) was born in St. Johns, an often controversial, small, low-income neighborhood in North Portland, OR. Vinnie grew up in a house filled with soulful tunes such as Aretha Franklin, Al Green, and Jerry Butler. Shortly after developing a love for music in general, Vinnie then began listening to hip-hop music, this was during the DJ Jazzy Jeff and Fresh Prince era. At the age of 12 Vinnie decided to take a visit to a local recording studio in St. Johns where he met Lashawn Stewart, a production engineer who quickly took Vinnie under his wing. Stewart gave Vinnie his first job, compensating him with 2 hours of studio time at the end of each week. With that time Vinnie recorded his first track ever titled, “St. Johns Soldier”. This was the beginning of the pursuit of a music dream. Besides being a music lover, Vinnie was always an exceptional writer and story teller.

vprpic3In 2009, Vinnie received a full ride scholarship to Columbia College Chicago, where he was to pursue a degree of the arts in Business and Entrepreneurship. Even while being a full time student , Vinnie did not lose sight of his ultimate goal, so between school and work, Vinnie spent his time at the studio. Over the course of the school year, he recorded and released his first single entitled “Damn” which was very well-received online on a global scale. Solitary became the title of his first project, which dropped September 2010 hosted by DJ Ill Will. While at Columbia, he performed at various shows in the Chicago area, and through out the East Coast. In January 2012, Vinnie Joined forces with All-Terrains Music’s CEO, Robert “Bob Law” Lawrence. With Bobwire.

With one year left of school, Vinnie went back home to Portland for a show and he was in a tragic car accident. It nearly killed him and a friend. He was hospitalized for months and unable to return to Chicago to finish his Spring Quarter. After a summer of healing and renewal, Vinnie returned to school in the fall, receiving his Bachelors degree in the spring of 2014, a year later than expect with the same scholarship. Vinnie is currently working on his third project, The Scholar, the follow-up to his Second album Castaway.

 

The Humpty Dance (Muppets Version)

How did this not hit our radar until now?

Earlier last year the clever people at isthishowyougoviral released a brilliant mash-up of Digital Underground’s “Humpty Hump” with clips from the Muppet Show. Gonzo makes an excellent stand-in for Humpty. After all, his nose is big, nuh-uh he’s not ashamed. Big like a pickle, he’s still getting paid.

Watch out, though, ‘cuz in the 69 his Gonzo nose will tickle your rear.

NYCs 2nd best Weezer tribute band

The Undone Sweaters are Brooklyn’s 2nd best Weezer tribute band, New York’s last punk rock band, and America’s only hope. Headed by Jim Tews, the comedy trio have been gigging around New York (and tour!) for awhile. Last year they started making a web series about their misadventures as a band. Their second season just started releasing this year. New episodes appear on Wednesdays.

The web series is a lot of fun. Anyone who has ever struggled to find a practice space and book gigs as an indie artist will appreciate watching.

All they want to do is rock. Just don’t ask them if they need a bassist.