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fROOTS Magazine, Issue 381, March 2015

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Lauren Shera

Tim Chipping is smitten by a Californian songwriter with a country tinge.

A few months ago someone I didn’t know sent me a video of Lauren Shera’s single Hell’s Bells. Even before it had finished playing I’d bought her latest album Gold And Rust and set up this interview. But don’t go getting any ideas; this almost never happens and most things I’m asked to listen to by strangers is a waste of ears. Lauren Shera is the exception. And I can’t imagine a single person not being similarly smitten by her dateless Nashville-meets-LA heartache and yearning. Why did no one play it to me sooner?

“I grew up listening to Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell and really traditional folk music,” begins Lauren on her second ever day in London, “so that’s what inspired me the most.”

We don’t need our new favourite artists to like the same music as us. But it helps. Not that Lauren Shera sounds like either icon. “It makes me a little sad when people say, ‘Oh you sound like Joni Mitchell!’ Because I think it’s only because I’m female with a guitar and I feel like they’re not really reading into her music or mine if they’re making a comparison that easily. I’d never want to try and emulate that sound. There are certain things that are just too good.”

Instrumentally Gold And Rust could’ve been born any time between 1969 and now. But while the faultless weave of Rhodes, pedal steel and twang gives the record a warm familiarity, there’s not a hint of pastiche.

“I know what I look for when I’m discovering new music is something that speaks to me from a traditional standpoint but that has a modern or unique stamp on it. It’s important to try and make it your own. Whether that’s through your lyrics or what you’re writing about or the instrumentation that you choose…”

The word that came to us when we first heard Hell’s Bells was ‘bruised’.

“Oh I like that!”

But is it real or fictional bruising?

“On this record there are certainly some very personal songs. Hell’s Bells is one of those. But then I also tried to do something that I’ve really not done much of which is storytelling – playing around with different narratives.”

Lauren’s bio states that she started writing songs at thirteen, and poetry before that. What was the thirteen-year-old Lauren Shera writing about?

“Well that was certainly bruised but it was madeup bruised. Like, what else are you going to write about when you’re thirteen? But I read tons of books and I listened to a lot of music. I read Sylvia Plath and ee cummings, who is still my favourite. And I think that contributed. I remember I won an award when I was thirteen for a poem that I wrote about Kurt Cobain so it was heavy stuff that I was writing!”

Lauren’s 2009 album Once I Was A Bird features a guest spot from former fRoots cover star Abigail Washburn, another important influence.

“She’s amazing. I think I was about eighteen and I had just gotten my first banjo and was just making up how to play it. I saw her play a show that was just her and Ben Sollee on the cello and it was just magical. I feel like it was one of the defining musical moments of my life.”

The most successfully audacious moment on Gold And Rust is a duet with Matthew Hegarty from the British band Matthew And The Atlas. The ghost of Johnny Cash looms large.

“That’s so funny, I just came from a radio station and they said the same thing. His voice sounds like whisky would sound like to me if whisky was a sound – rich and deep and old.”

Lauren recently moved from northern California to Nashville. For a songwriter that city must seem dauntingly crowded with guitars on backs?

“In a way yes. In other ways the musical community has been very welcoming and supportive. Everyone goes to each other’s shows and it’s not competitive at all.”

The TV show lied to us!

“I’ve never seen the TV show. I don’t ever want to see it.”

Imagine Dallas but with country music. So where do you go from here, or there?

“Music feeds me emotionally; it makes me happy. And it’s a means to see new places and meet new people. This right now is basically as much as I can ask for. I’m working very hard to build that, and you have to work really hard. You have to play as much as you can. And you just have to keep making yourself really vulnerable, which can be tiring and scary. So I have to believe that if you just do your thing and do it the best you can then you will attract people to you. That’s the ideal.”

And here we are.