Her debut EP “Lightning”, released this year, immediately gained great popularity, becoming one of the most often played albums on Jamendo. Since then she has managed to gain the hearts of many listeners from all over the world. In the past she did gymnastics (with successes) and travelled all over the world with musicals. She wrote her first song in the III grade, during a math lesson. Although she sings mostly folk, she listens to Eminem before the shows and in her free time she likes to freestyle from time to time. One of the most beautiful voices I’ve ever heard and one of the most interesting people I’ve ever talked to. Please, read an interview with TAMARA LAUREL.
Remote Talk: When did it all begin? Did you think about becoming a singer when you were a child or did the idea come to your mind later?
Tamara Laurel: I’ve always been so passionately and crazily in love with music. I was analyzing lyrics from a very, very young age and always felt so moved by songs. I don’t remember a time in my life when I didn’t want to be a musician, but I was crippled by fear and self doubt for a very long time – it didn’t seem like a real possibility for someone like me. I hid my dream from most of the people in my life, but I confided in a close friend a few years ago and started to slowly put the idea out into the universe. From there, it took losing a close relative and enduring a bad illness for me to realize my own mortality. I decided that win or lose, I was going to at least give it a try. I quit my job, moved to LA, and started writing my EP “Lightning”. As Robert Frost famously said, “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—/I took the one less traveled by/And that has made all the difference.”
Do you remember your first public performance (not necessarily the professional one)? When and where was it?
I played “Orphan Alice” in the production of The Hollywood Hillbillies in Seattle when I was in 7th grade. I had a small solo singing part and was a nervous wreck the entire two weeks that the show ran. I couldn’t eat, I was so scared! I was the youngest person in the cast by a few years. My Mom had to come to every single performance because I was still a child! It was an amazing experience that helped me start chipping away at my fear of performing.
Is it true that during your youth you travelled all over the world performing in musicals? Can you tell us more about it? What was the best place you visited during that period?
When I was younger, I was lucky enough to be cast in a handful of very successful musicals, including my first professional acting job in “The Greatest Christmas Pageant Ever”. Later, my high school put on a production of “Crazy For You” and we got to take it over to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland. I had never been to Europe before, so it was so exciting! We went to London first, and then took the train up to Scotland. That trip was definitely a highlight of my life thus far, and Scotland is one of my very favorite countries! I hope to get back out to Europe to tour soon. It’s my number one goal.
Do you remember how the idea for your first own song ever appeared in your mind?
When I was 8 or 9, I wrote a song about a kite that my class ended up using for our 3rd grade graduation. I scribbled the lyrics out in a little notebook during math hour, and my teacher called me to the front of the room and took the notebook from me as punishment! Once she read what I had written, we stopped working on math and started working out the song arrangements as a class. I think the lyrics were “When I want to fly a kite I make sure it’s breezy/I put on my coat so it won’t get sneezy/I unroll the string and put up the kite/And it soars through the wind with all of its might.” I think I will remember those lyrics forever. I don’t know how it appeared in my mind because I was so young, but I’m sure it had something to do with wanting to be outside flying a kite instead of inside working on math. From that point on, I just wrote lyrics and poems and little verse and chorus sketches anywhere and everywhere I could. Once I learned how to play guitar and move around on the piano, I started forming full, complete songs.
Some time ago you released your EP. If you were to choose the most difficult moments and the biggest positive surprises from the whole process of making it, what would these be?
It was a very large project to take on as an inexperienced musician, without any formal management or production team. It was very difficult to start over again and again when things fell through in one way or another. But those moments were actually the biggest positive surprises too. It was the excitement of being figuratively locked in a room and not knowing where the next window was going to appear. There were so many last-minute miracle surprises that saved us and kept the EP on track when we felt all hope was lost. It was a beautiful experience and I learned so much. I wouldn’t change anything. I’m so thankful to everyone who was involved!
You worked with Stephen Johnson (Great White Buffalo). What did this cooperation give you?
Stephen is wonderful! He is a very talented guitarist and was the perfect co-producer. We both came from a place of openness to new ideas and new sounds, and he stuck by me for the 14 months it took to finish the record. Steve has this way of knowing exactly what sound I am going for, and that is a rare quality I was very thankful for.
The track list from “Lightning” was accompanied by photos you took during the moments that inspired each of the songs. How did you come up with this idea (combining two arts)?
For me, songs are a way of capturing a certain moment or a certain feeling and being able to revisit it over and over again no matter how much time has passed. Writing Lightning, I was speaking from a very specific place in each song. Every detail, city, day, time… it’s all exactly what happened. I realized toward the end of the recording process that I had photos representing the exact moment that each song originated. The photo for “Dying”, for example, was taken in rural Oklahoma during a lightning storm, which is mentioned in the song. It’s “Dying”’s visual companion; it’s what I saw in my mind when I was writing it. I wanted to give listeners a way to see those moments as intimately and viscerally as I did. It’s funny, all 5 of those photos were taken in different US States over the span of a few years. They all were taken at a moment that struck me enough and stayed with me enough to eventually become a song. Art is a beautiful thing – it enables you to immortalize a fleeting moment. It’s wonderful.
Your song “I Want You” was included in a Spanish mini-documentary about “passion and chasing your dreams”, as you described it. Let me ask you about the dreams that have already come true. If you were to choose one, what would it be?
There have been so many! This all started with a desire to express myself through song. Then it grew into wanting to have the courage and skill to play these songs in front of others. Then it grew into wanting to write, record, produce, and release an album independently. Then it grew into wanting to reach people with that album. At this point, I’m focusing on how I can record my next album, and then tour and see the world. If I had to pick one specific dream that has come true, I’d say it was when I finally got up on stage completely by myself and played a song a year and a half ago. I couldn’t sleep at all after that; I knew I had just upped the ante and accomplished a lifelong dream. I think life should be lived like that – constantly pushing away fears and getting to the next level, no matter how insignificant they seem to others. That’s how I’m trying to live now.
Imagine that you can pick any artist you want and perform a concert with him or her. What artist would you choose and why?
This is such a hard question. I’d say it’s a tie between Bruce Springsteen and Stevie Nicks for a big arena show. If it was an intimate, songwriter in-the-round show, I’d say Jason Isbell or Robert Francis.
SPRUCE SPRINGSTEEN – why have you chosen such a name for your guitar?
I LOVE Bruce Springsteen! His greatest hits album changed my life when I was 18. My Mom bought it for me at a record store in Maryland and I listened to “Thunder Road” and “The River” over and over and over again – his storytelling is so beautiful. So, when I bought my first touring guitar, I had to pay homage to him by naming him Spruce Springsteen. I LOVE my guitar. Spruce is the best.
By the way, I think that guitar is an instrument that is most cherished by its owners – they give names to guitars, put special slogans on them, paint or decorate them and so on. Why do you think guitar is so special?
It’s funny. My Taylor guitar rides shotgun in the car with me, comes everywhere with me, and “sleeps” in the same room as me. I think as a musician, your closest friend and companion is your instrument. Because a guitar is portable and small enough to travel easily, it becomes an extension of who you are. You pour your emotions out in your bedroom, trying to craft a beautiful song, and the only witness to the creative process taking place is your guitar. It sees everything. As music turns more electronic, there’s something so beautiful and sacred about the sound of a well-made acoustic guitar.
Is there any instrument you would like to learn to play?
I can loosely find my way around most fretted instruments, but I’d love to be able to really play the banjo and mandolin. I learned a few chords on the mandolin the other night! I also want to relearn the violin, which I gave up in favor of the flute when I was young.
It seems that your music is very popular with Polish listeners. Why do you think you have so many fans in Poland? They love your songs, that’s for sure, but is there any other reason (than the songs themselves)? What do you think?
Discovering the large fan base in Poland was really surprising to me! One thing I’ve loved about having so many international fans is how passionate they are. I love receiving messages from all over the world. I also love that we live in a time where someone in Poland can know who I am and hear my music even though I’ve never been there. I want to come visit Poland! My Grandmother is from Slovakia, so I feel a strong desire to go explore that part of the world. Kocham Cię Polska!
I’ve read somewhere that you listen to rap music. Do you remember the first contact with this kind of music, the first artist or song that really impressed you?
I did competitive gymnastics when I was very young, and our instructors were all in their late teens and early 20s. During our long rehearsals, they’d put on KUBE 93.3 FM which is Seattle’s hip hop/rap radio station. Imagine a bunch of little girls tumbling on balance beams and uneven bars singing rap lyrics and learning all these hip hop songs! It was so funny. We were way too young to be listening to that music, but it stayed with me. I went through a Ja Rule phase, a Jay-Z phase, an Eminem phase, and then later, a Lil Wayne phase. One of my favorite songs is this mashup of “Dirt Off Your Shoulder” and “Bittersweet Symphony.” It’s incredible. I still listen to that song and “Lose Yourself” before shows. I love them!
Have you ever tried to do some freestyling ?
Yes! I’m weirdly good at it but too shy to do it around anyone other than my friends. My goal is to work up the courage to do it on stage at shows…but that might take a miracle! Also, I freestyle about silly things. It’s more of a joke than me seriously trying to rap.
Rap music is the kind of music in which artists really pay attention to the lyrics. In an interview for GUITAR GIRL MAGAZINE you said that ““Perfect” songs with cliche lyrics feel empty.” Is there any singer that doesn’t have an outstanding voice but you respect him or her for the lyrics?
Honestly, the way I feel about a voice comes from what that voice is saying, not necessarily how it sounds. Some of the most emotional and well-sung songs come from people who aren’t classically trained or particularly talented singers. In Folk music, what you are saying and the way you are saying it is so much more important than how many octaves your range covers. I am proud of be a part of a genre that places the emphasis on the soul of the music. With that said, I absolutely love and appreciate the sound of an other-worldy talented singer. I grew up listening to Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey, Celine Dion, and Christina Aguilera as a little girl and just wishing I could sing like that. Those voices are rare gifts.
“I think TV is a dream killer”, you once said and I must say I agree (even though I’m a fan of a few TV series). In my town, Świdnik, Poland, during the times of communist regime people put their TVs in their windows when the main news started and took a walk. They wanted to protest against the lies and propaganda of the communist authorities that were present in every TV news at the time. Maybe it would be a good idea to turn off the TV and take a walk from time to time? What would you say to people who spend a few hours a day watching stupid TV programmes?
I didn’t know that; what an amazing story. I definitely believe in turning off the TV and going for a walk instead. As a songwriter, I never know when my next quality, recordable song is going to come, and knowing my creative process, it certainly isn’t going to come to me in the middle of watching a sitcom. To maximize my efficiency and keep at peace creatively, I just choose to not have turning on a TV an option in my home. I do watch Music Awards Shows, the ABC show Nashville, and sporting events, though! If you look at your life as a lump sum of hours you are given, I think it helps emphasize how precious our time here is. I believe that you’ve got to be in the trenches, living a life you’re proud of, experiencing everything you can outside of your home before your time is gone.
Let’s talk a little about sport. You used to be a gymnast. What did that experience give you, apart from great dexterity and sport successes? Do gymnastics and music / singing have anything in common?
Gymnasts work out more than people realize. I was 12 – 13 years old and spending 20+ hours in the gym on top of going to school. I really learned about grit from a young age; how to push through crippling fears, how to tune out illness, injury, and doubt, how to trust myself enough to try something new even though I’m terrified…I could go on forever. One day, I just decided I was done and walked away from the sport for good. I immediately took up music and acting and never looked back. Gymnastics is a different sort of performance, but it’s still an artistic expression. I think that experience – the high pressure situations with all eyes on you, the nerves, the do-or-die/one-chance mentality – made the transition to a recording/performing artist smoother than it would have been otherwise. I’m so glad I did gymnastics to the extent that I did.
You once wrote that one of your New Year’s resolutions was to become an amazing swimmer. Is there any song that could be something like a soundtrack to swimming or makes you feel like swimming when you listen to it?
Swimming is so meditative! You’re underwater, so focused on breathing and moving all your limbs that you don’t have a chance to stress out about anything. I love it so much. Any up-tempo rap or rock song makes me want to work out!
On your FB, you show support for your favourite American football team. In Europe American football is gaining more and more fans but it’s still less popular than other games. What is so special about football?
This year, my hometown team (The Seattle Seahawks) won the Super Bowl. When your team is playing at that level, the athletes are playing for more than a win; they’re playing to bring that trophy back to the people; back to the city. Football is just so ingrained in our culture right now, and brings together people of all ages and types. It’s a wonderful thing.
And what kind of fan are you? Do you just observe or do you eagerly support your team – jump, gesticulate, shout?
I get SO into the game! I definitely jump and yell and get really excited. My childhood best friend and I watched the final playoff game before the Super Bowl together, and toward the end, we were both jumping up and down on opposite sides of the room and screaming. In the moment, you don’t realize how ridiculous you’re being.
Thank you very much. I hope you’ll make your musical, travelling and other dreams come true.
Interview by Łukasz Garbol
A few useful links worth checking:
Official page http://www.tamaralaurel.com/
Photo 4 – a frame from “Sweet” lyric video. All the other photos from Tamara Laurel’s official page, used by the permission of the artist. All photo copyrights belong to their respective owners.