A Rising Star Among Setting Suns
A few years ago, in this magazine, I reviewed an album from a band that no one had ever heard of before. I chose to review the album based on what the band looked like (I know that sounds silly, but when there are a plethora of CDs to choose from, sometimes you do that. After all, that’s how Brainhammer! started — David Lee Beowulf and I had no idea who some of the bands were, but if they looked brutal enough, we’d play them). Anyway, in my review, I boldly stated that this would be an up and coming band. Give them a few years, and everyone is going to know who they are. And who was this band and CD that you are referring to? It was Incubus’s first EP. More importantly, though, I’m one for one in bold predictions.
Bold prediction #2: Laura Dawn will be a household name in a few years. And who is Laura Dawn? Spin Magazine put her on their “Hit List — More Artists You Need to Know About.” She’s played chess with Moby. She had humble beginnings growing up in Pleasantville, Iowa, moved to New York at 21 and fronted the all-female punk band Fluffer. All of which is culminated with her solo debut on Xtasy Records, Believer. A good friend of mine recommended this CD to me. After listening to it, I was blown away. This album is a mix of pop, punk, rock, and a little bit of country. It is refreshing to hear someone who is honest and sincere with their lyrics. Music today is full of poseurs (still) that sound the same and make no effort to be original. Laura is definitely a star on the rise, so read on and help me maintain my perfect record of bold predictions by purchasing Laura Dawn’s Believer.
One aspect of your album that I like is your beautiful voice. Did you have any type of singing lessons when you were younger?
Not really. I guess you could say that my mom taught me to sing. She used to teach me how to sing harmony while we washed the dishes. I never really took any official singing lessons until right before I did my album. When you’re working on an album, you end up singing tons and I was worried about losing my voice. So I took some lessons with Roger Love (a vocal coach in LA) that centered around strengthening and not losing my voice. He was great because he really liked my voice the way it was; he didn’t try to change my phrasing or anything — he just gave me the tools to not lose it!
Were you encouraged by your family to be a singer/songwriter/musician?
Sort of! My mom was always very worried about my ongoing state of poverty during my struggling years, but I think she always wanted me to succeed. My brothers (especially my brother Jim) and father were very supportive though. They really just wanted me to be safe and happy, I think.
Did you always sing?
Yes, always. I made up my first song at around age eight: I still remember the lyrics. They were: “Smiling moon smile down on me/Filled with royal majesty/My eyes will swirl to my pretend world/A beautiful night it is!“
I was a pretty precocious kid, yo.
What is the most important piece of advice that anyone has given you?
To just do what you do, make the music that comes out of you and don’t judge it by anyone else’s standards, ESPECIALLY not the music industry’s — because no one really knows what they’re doing anyway. Also, tastes and trends constantly change, so basically, just be yourself and make your album to please yourself, which is what I did.
What group do you like that you would be embarrassed to admit and why do you like them?
Hmmmm. I have always secretly loved and adored Rick Springfield. I think if you listen closely to my album, you’ll hear me re-writing “Jessie’s Girl” at least three times!! I love him, what can I say? I’m not really embarrassed about it, though. I try not to let something I like embarrass me. Life’s too short! Anyway, the girls in my old band used to make fun of me for liking James Taylor, so maybe I should be embarrassed about him, but I’m not. I’ve always had a bizarre range of tastes — like, I’ll listen to James Taylor one day and Queens of the Stone Age the next. I just like good music, regardless of the “genre.” Wait! — I also love Journey and George Thorogood — do those count as embarrassing?
What’s in your CD player right now?
The White Stripes, The Zombies, Gorillaz, the About A Boy soundtrack by Badly Drawn Boy, Splashdown (this great band from Boston that got signed and dropped before their album even came out, which is a fucking shame because it’s awesome) and a demo of a new song for my next album called “Around The Bend.” I’ve been working on it for a few days and I really like it.
Has your opinion of the music business changed since your CD was released?
Yes, drastically. But I would have to say that it’s changed since being signed, period. I’ve learned much more than I wanted to. Let’s just say that the Emperor is definitely not wearing any clothes. I do feel lucky to be on such a great independent label, though. I know that my experience has not been as dark as some other artists I have known. All in all, I’ve had a great year, so my complaints are really only philosophical in nature. It just hurts to see so much money being so incredibly misspent. I grew up fairly poor, so the amount spent versus what they actually accomplish is staggering to me. It all starts to make your head spin, and I fully understand now why some artists choose to just insulate themselves from the business all together.
Do you aspire to be a platinum-selling artist?
Well, I aspire to anything that lets me continue to create albums and perform them for people. If I sold a million records, I’m sure my label would be happy, so that would make me happy in turn. The owner of my label (Yoshiki) is an incredible guy, and I really want to see the label succeed.
But honestly, if someone told me that they would pay me a regular salary and health benefits for the rest of my life as long as I kept making albums and touring, I’d take it in a heartbeat. I strongly feel that that is the way record labels should be run. Take all this rock star fantasy shit out of the equation. Just hire me to make records, pay me a good salary (as good as an A&R salary, plus benefits) and then we can all do a profit sharing thing if the record blows up. That way we’re all in it together for real, and if everyone in the stable works hard, then we all reap the benefits. That’s my fantasy, but I doubt it ever happens. Anyway, I just want to make music and tour and work toward a goal all the time. That’s it, really.
My other fantasy is that we have some sort of electrical disturbance and all radios and televisions quit working! And the only way anyone can hear music is to get off their asses and go see it live. That’s such a delicious fantasy, but again, don’t think it will happen.
If you do not become a platinum-selling artist, would you consider that failure?
Hell no. “The Macarena” sold millions, if I recall. I wouldn’t exactly call that art, or even music, really. I love the album I made, and the letters and support I’ve gotten from my little “cult following” have been so inspiring and tremendous.
All I really wanted was to make some music that touched someone, and I know that I’ve done that, so I feel incredibly blessed and successful.
When all is said and done, how do you want to be remembered?
I hope that any fans of my music remember that I cared about them and always took the time to hang out after shows with them and tried to answer all their letters and never tried to separate myself from them. I truly care about the people that the music has made a connection with — it’s just a beautiful thing that I will always respect.
And that I was honest in my music, and never presented myself as anything other than the infinitely flawed creature that I am.
If you had to do everything over, would you change anything?
I would change just one thing. I would have dropped everything and raced home to be with my friend when he was dying. I didn’t do that, and he died without me seeing him again or hearing how much he meant to me, and that’s just one of those things I’ll have to live with. I’d change that if I could.
In the world of music, past and present, who would you most like to sit down with and just shoot the shit and why?
Willie Nelson. Because he’s one of the greatest songwriters and greatest spirits of all time.
I’ve read in past interviews about your country music influences and then later your punk influences, I’m curious if you have any female influences?
Sure! Kristen Hersh, Dusty Springfield, Kim Deal, Etta James, Billie Holiday… I could go on, but those are probably the biggest influences.
What do you do when you just want to get away from everything?
That’s a really good question.