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Whispers of the Plains: Lauren Edman

Lauren Edman’s debut solo CD “It’s Always the Quiet One” is quite fantastic – as we’ve said below. We got the chance to chat to Lauren about her first solo album and the processes and thoughts behind it…

Firstly, congratulations on the fantastic album “It’s Always the Quiet One”! How do you feel now your baby is out for public to enjoy?

Thank you! It actually feels really weird. I’m glad it’s out, but it is a strange feeling. These songs were kicking around in my head for so long, and for so long I was the only one who’d ever heard them. I’m a private person, but this is a really personal album, so coming to terms with that has been interesting for me. It’s weird also to think that these songs are finally “done” after so long, and that when I get to making my next album, I will be working on an entire set of completely different songs! I probably sound silly saying that because it’s just… obvious, but there it is, that’s how I feel.

Reading up on your bio, most of the album seemed to be conceived in the early hours of morning – did that have an overall impact on the sound designs and writing as a whole? I would describe it as a secretly nocturnal album!

There was a period of about three years during which I got the impression that my best creative time was at 3AM. I was awake past then every night due to my late work hours – I slept until noon every day – and the music ideas would just kind of flow around 3AM. I would say my most sprawling, somewhat dark songs were written during that time: “Charge,” “Be the Light,” “Slate.” I don’t know if that was a coincidence or not. About half of the songs on this album were written then. I guess generally I do prefer writing songs when it’s dark outside, though now that’s more likely to be around 9 or 10PM.

You’ve had such a diverse musical backgrounds previously with bands – how do you narrow down your sound for a specific album when you cover so many genres in general?

It’s really difficult to do that, actually. I naturally write in a wide variety of styles – it’s just whatever I’m in the mood to write, and I’ve been like that as long as I’ve been writing songs. I like doing that too much to want to try to limit the genres I write in. So the music itself is all over the place, and any kind of production that gets applied to those songs has to fit both with the song itself as well as in the context of the album as a whole. I had more songs I wanted to put on this album, songs I really like, but style-wise they were just too far removed from everything else to work here. I chose these ten songs because not only could I make them work as part of a whole in terms of the direction of the sound, but I was able to tell a story with them.

Sometimes the production of one song was guided by the song that came before it – “Red Wings” had to somehow form a bridge between “Sweet Girl” and “Desperate Times.” I didn’t start work on the production to that song until both of the surrounding songs were complete, and I let the feel of “Sweet Girl” guide the way I wanted “Red Wings” to come in, and what tempo it should be. “Red Wings” was actually much slower when I made my original demo of it, very ambient and washed out with the vocal harmonies. I felt that if I were to leave it in that style for this album, I would need more songs that sounded like that because otherwise it just sounded too out of place.
I’ve also read about how you came across the banjo which is an excellent read from your behind the scenes posts you place on your website. Do you have any other stories of discovery about the album you could share with us?

The slide guitar sound in “Sweet Girl” has been mentioned a little, but I’ll go into more detail about that. I’ve had a thing for the lap/pedal steel sound for a while now. I wasn’t sure how I wanted it to fit in my album, but I was thinking I wanted it on there somehow. I went to Craigslist looking for a lap steel player and got a few responses, but I didn’t know what exactly I would want an actual player of the instrument to do, so I never did anything with them. I got out my acoustic guitar to tinker around with it somehow, seeing if I could make convincing sliding sounds with anything I already owned. I tried a bunch of devices as a slide: a ceramic shot glass, an empty beer bottle, some sort of metallic item that I can’t remember (no, not a beer can). But this one glass makeup bottle I had – makeup that I don’t even use but still had – actually sounded pretty good. I put maybe five different effects on it to stretch out the notes as much as possible. While it’s not lap steel, I got the sort of effect I was going for.

One thing that stands out on the album is your vocal harmonies. How do you manage to create such a beautiful collage of voices?

In some cases I write specific harmonies, but other times I just go through and improvise harmonies along with the track and record whatever comes out. Some of it inevitably sounds terrible because I have no idea what note I’ll be singing next (I chop out the terrible notes), but I like doing it that way because I end up coming out with really interesting harmonies that I wouldn’t have thought of if I’d actually been thinking about it. Usually I have an idea of what I’m going for – tone, mood, vocal range/register – but not the specific notes planned ahead of time before I start recording. I like the ethereal, angelic stuff, so that is usually the vibe I go for with harmonies- but sometimes I want more of an epic sound, sometimes a happy sound, sometimes a little weird or discomforting. For example, all of the vocal harmonies in “Be the Light” were improvised except for the ones in the bridge, which I had planned specifically. I really wanted that song to sound pretty but also a little creepy at the same time, especially at the very end where all the odd vocal parts start coming in.

Any plans to do some live shows to support the new album?

Yes! I’m working on writing live arrangements of the songs. I won’t be trying to replicate my album’s sound. I like having “live versions” of songs, as opposed to just playing it exactly the way it sounds on the album. So I’m going to have a group of instrumentalists playing with me, and we’ll see how that sounds.

As an instrument enthusiast, are there any new instruments you’d like to include or learn for future projects?

I’d really love to learn bass, but if that doesn’t work out well for me I’ll definitely involve a bass player on my next album. Electric guitar, too. I’ve got songs that need those sounds. I’ve got a plucked psaltery hanging around that I didn’t use on this album, so it would be nice to find a place for that in the future also.

Do you have anything you enjoy to get up to as a break from recording / song writing?

Yeah, sometimes I would get up in the middle of mixing a song and bake a quickbread or cookies or something. Cooking was generally my distraction during the process. I’ve actually been cooking less extensively since finishing the album, which I find strange.

Lastly, as a truly independent artist, do you have any advice on any other artists wishing to get their music out there and how valuable is the internet as a tool for your musical adventures?

I haven’t exactly mastered this arena – I have a hard time reaching out to people for the purpose of promoting myself, and I always feel awkward doing it – so I’m not sure I’m a good person to offer advice on this! I do think it’s still important to have an actual, decent looking website with general information on it as opposed to just relying on a social networking page. And I personally think it’s cool for that website to have interesting content on it, related to the music, that isn’t already posted on Facebook or Twitter, etc. to give people something to really latch onto. Beyond that… I guess try to be less shy about it than I generally am, and try to have someone other than yourself promote your music for at least a little while if you can.

Thank you very much Lauren – best of luck with the excellent album that you can grab on iTunes and Lauren’s website.

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