Singer-songwriter Lauren O’Connell is a very gifted individual that is yet another fixture of the wonderful world of social media. She is known through YouTube and through her associations with both Julia Nunes (herself an success known through the great YouTube and a fellow Glass interviewee) and Nataly Dawn (of Pomplamoose fame; Dawn is part of a duo with Lauren called My Terrible Friend).
With a creative ear as a recording artist, Lauren is making some very thought-provoking music. Her latest CD Quitters is on sale now if you click up here or down there at the bottom.
Lauren had some time to talk to The Glass via Skype.
CM: There’s so many great musicians now in the world of indie music, that the one big umbrella with the word “indie” on it seems to encompass a lot of different things. Of course, what you do is sort of “Alt-country”. Do you like that as a description, or is that not necessarily how you feel about it?
Lauren: That’s how I feel about it! I was always careful to use that description, because if somebody isn’t totally tuned into what that means, they kind of just hear “country” and get scared off, but yeah, “Alt-country” is a concise way to put it.
CM: Because it does kind of remind me of Lucinda Williams, Neko Case, Son Volt, Wilco, etc. These songs are incredible. “I Will Burn You Down”–I’ve been obsessing over that song…
How did you come across that sound? Were you always into the country and rock combination?
Lauren: Not really, no, I guess I listened to a lot of different things in high school. I sort of had a long figuring-out-what kind of-music-I-like phase. Actually, R.E.M. was my favorite band for a lot of years, and they’re all over the place. They play with so many genres. And then somebody introduced me to Wilco–That was probably the momentous event that sort of pushed me in that direction, and then, I’m trying to remember when I started discovering all these old bluegrass songs and stuff…Probably sometime in college, I just started listening to the Anthology of American Folk Music, and became really interested in classic American songwriting and the roots of that, and how it was applicable in contemporary music.
And then in college, I think I started hearing lots more music like people tend to do in college–I got into Neko Case, and fell in love with Gillian Welch a couple of years ago.
CM: I love the guitar sound you have, and then there’s the drums. On some of these songs you have this minimalist sound where it’s acoustic guitar, and then this heavy drum sound comes in. I love that somebody thought to do that–That’s an incredible imagination!
Lauren: Thank you!
CM: Did something inspire that, or was that something you just started working with?
Lauren: I think it’s something I spent a lot of time thinking about before I did it. Up until a couple of years ago, I was recording in a basement with no instruments other than a guitar, a banjo, and a borrowed bass from somebody, and that was it. I always wanted drums, and I’d use other things in place of drums, or find other ways to make percussive sounds, and it sort of made me–as opposed to just like, “Oh, there’s a drum set now, I’m just going to play a 4/4 beat!”, I didn’t have that option, so I had to think a lot harder about it, and so then developing that while not using drums, made me sort of approach drums in a very particular way, so I usually got what I wanted out of the drums.
I think Wilco has been a big deal for how I think about arrangements. Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is probably my favorite album, and if you listen to the roles assigned to the instruments on the recording, in the first track (which I covered) “I Am Trying To Break Your Heart”, the drums aren’t keeping a beat, they’ll play a phrase and then back out.
CM: It’s more isolated.
Lauren: Yeah! And it’ll be like, the catchiest riff on the song is from the drums, which is not something that ever happens! And then they find other ways to keep the beat. I guess I became really interested in that!
I Am Trying To Break Your Heart (Wilco cover; She plays the glasses on this!)
CM: What is the story with your connections with some other familiar indie singer-songwriters Julia Nunes and Nataly Dawn? You’ve done several videos with both of them.
Lauren: Julia is my best friend from high school, so from the age of 16, we sort of grew up together as musicians. We would play new songs for each other and go to open mikes, and then eventually our styles diverged a little bit more and we ended up doing our own things, and we both ended up with music careers–If you’d told us that as 15 year-olds, it would have blown our minds.
It’s just so funny that my entire life started from when I started posting videos on YouTube, and Julia and I started posting videos on YouTube because we didn’t want anyone to see them–We went off to college, and we were sharing videos with each other, and we didn’t want to post them on Facebook.
CM: Yeah, she talked about that, she thought that YouTube would be more private.
Lauren: Yeah, it wasn’t a thing yet, it wasn’t a music thing. So, it’s just so funny from that mistake we made, I now live in CA, and I never would have met Jack and Nataly, and I get to play music for a living. Everything came from that, it’s just so bizarre and wonderful.
The Same Things (featuring Julia Nunes)
And Nataly–Once Julia’s YouTube thing started taking off, she was recording an EP, and she wanted Pomplamoose to produce it, so Jack and Nataly flew out to Rochester, where I was still living, to produce a CD for Julia, and I got to know them that way, because they were here for a month. And we just kind of hit it off, and I ended up moving out here to California, and now we live together!
The Daylight Here (My Terrible Friend, duo w/Nataly Dawn)
CM: You obviously have an audience and people are buying the music, but is there any kind of more popular status you look for that exceeds where you stand now?
Lauren: Well, I’m making a living, which is more than I ever could have hoped for. If I did just sort of end up making just enough money to live for the rest of my life, that would be amazing! I would like to reach more people. Right now, I don’t play many shows. I’d like to go play shows with artists that I admire. The sort of career that the whole YouTube thing has been conducive to is not really a traditional music career, which is good in a lot of ways, but I guess I sort of long for the old school musician life a little bit, so, I’d love to go on tour, meet people in person, be part of a scene, play festivals, have a band–Those are things that would be exciting.
CM: Do other musicians advise you about any of that?
Lauren: Yeah, it’s hard–it’s a great time to be a musician, but it’s a weird time to be a musician, because there’s so many ways to handle the career aspect of it, how to handle your public image and how to handle your connection to your fans, and there isn’t an answer, it’s really different for everybody. Not everybody, I think, should be using YouTube. Not everybody should be going on tour. It’s such a personal thing, because you have so many tools now. I do get other people’s opinions, and I listen, but everything has to be taken with a huge handful of salt, because I think that’s something that you have to figure out–when it comes to your career with music, it’s such a big part of your identity, both as an artist and as a person how you handle it, and nobody else can tell you how to do that.
CM: Any people you’d like to collaborate or tour with?
Lauren: Right now, I don’t have too much interest in collaborating with people who I admire that are other songwriters, but there are a lot of artists I’d love to tour with, like David Bazan–He’s a genius writer, and I never use that word!
Gillian Welch, like I said, is a favorite of mine, Neko Case, The Weakerthans–I love their writing. I just saw St. Vincent, actually! She totally blew my mind. That’s the sort of thing that’s so exciting about what I’m not doing right now. I have so many resources and it’s awesome, but going on tour with somebody like that–I liked her records, I didn’t love her records, but then I saw her live, and I just have this whole new perception of her!