In 2018 Laura Veirs released her 10th studio album, The Lookout. The album confirmed what her fans already know: that she is a constantly evolving singer-songwriter with a knack for joining the eternal and the ephemeral to capture life’s most sweeping moments.
The Guardian praised the album as being “perhaps her most satisfying yet.” The Lookout tackles mortality and life’s turbulent moments with a hard-fought grace, leading NME to declare it a “quietly optimistic manifesto” that is “both comforting and bittersweet.”
In 2016 Laura’s reached new audiences as part of the celebrated trio case/lang/veirs, with Neko Case and k.d. lang, which made an appearance at Denver Botanic Gardens that summer.
Among Laura’s many non-music projects, in recent years she gained attention for hosting the Midnight Lightning podcast, which explores the “challenges and rewards of juggling a family life with a career in music,” and her children’s book, Libba: The Magnificent Musical Life of Elizabeth Cotten.
We recently caught up with Laura over email, where she told us about her songwriting process, what it’s like to return to her native Colorado, and more.
You shared in a recent update on your website that “I’ve written over 90 new songs this fall and winter,” adding that “Ten of them have stayed off the cutting room floor.” What happens to all those song bits that end up on the cutting room floor? Do they resurface in unexpected ways, like a discarded chorus showing up later as a bridge?
It goes many different ways but yes, I will grab a chorus from a discarded song, or lyrics – which can start a new song. Sometimes a line will survive, or just a word. Sometimes a rhythm will make its way into the next song or a melody. This is how I write such a volume of songs. I grab bits from ones that aren’t working and this allows me to not feel the “terror of the blank page” as I sit down to write each day. I also write songs like a job, from 9:30-12:30 every morning (that’s when I’m in a writing cycle – sometimes I go a year without writing to take a break).
For the songs that you decide to keep, when do you know in the process that it’s a keeper? (I ask this realizing that all songs have their own life cycle and maybe there isn’t a script to follow.)
For the songs that I do keep, there’s just something that feels right in our gut. “Our” means me and my husband/producer Tucker Martine. We listen to the demo and we can just tell that the essence of something good or true is there. Of course this is most often NOT the case as most of them get tossed.
You grew up in Colorado and gave a wonderful account on eTown of how that experience continues to influence your music to this day. Are you still able to recognize the Front Range of your youth when you come through today, or has it changed so much that it is a fundamentally different place?
The smell of the air and deep blue color of the sky and the landscape of Colorado stays the same. Of course I see changes like more and more sprawl but the basic feeling of the place is the same – that dry, dusty, high mountain feel – and very different from the Pacific Northwest where I’ve been living for the past 20 years where it rains all the time and is lush with extremely tall evergreen trees.
Your first album came out in 1999. Realizing the music industry has changed in radical ways since that time, what advice would you offer to a young songwriter on the cusp of releasing an independent debut album in 2019?
It’s probably a version of the same advice I would have given the whole time: go out, test your songs, play shows (start with coffeeshops and house shows), practice your instrument(s), collaborate widely, write lots and lots of songs, make an album that you feel great about (have no disclaimers when you hand it to someone), develop a work practice, open your heart, discover what makes your voice/perspective unique, find a good helper, build/lean on your artistic community, stay vulnerable and also use your grit… and then rinse and repeat!
In recent years you’ve also been involved with several non-music (though music related) projects, such as your Midnight Lightning podcast and the children’s book, Libba: The Magnificent Musical Life of Elizabeth Cotten. What does 2019 hold in store for you on the non-musical front?
I’m focusing just on music and family life these days. I’ll be recording my 11th album in July. Though I learned a tremendous amount from the podcast and the book I found that I was dispersing my energies by doing too many non-musical things. I’m deeply focused on songwriting these days. I’m also reading and writing a lot of poetry which is a new development that is positively influencing my work and helping me to surprise myself in my writing.
Are there any plans, however vague or concrete, for a case/lang/veirs follow-up?
There are no plans for a followup but I guess you never know…?
Is there anything you’d like to add?
I’ll be bringing my almost-9-year-old son Tennessee on tour to CO to show him my homeland. He’s my youngest roadie to date! We are excited for our mini-adventure.