Published on October 1st, 2013 | by Ballard Lesemann0
Laura Jane Vincent Finds Her True Carolina Voice On Her Latest LP
If indie/Americana singer/songwriter Laura Jane Vincent was a quiet, grinning character on the inside edges of the Charleston band scene in late 2000s, she’s certainly bolder and more confident as a recording artist, bandleader, and vocalist these days.
A native of North Carolina, Vncent spent several years in the Charleston area before heading back to the Tarheel State in 2010. She’s currently based in Greensboro, and she has several version of her full band situated in several key locations.
Vincent will return to her old Charleston stomping ground this week for a show at the Tin Roof on Thurs. Oct. 3 in support of her new studio album For a Sweetheart from the South. She took some time to chat about the album and her bandmates with Metronome Charleston earlier this week.
Metronome Charleston: As a songwriter and musician, how would you sum up your experience back in your home state of N.C. since heading back there in 2010?
Laura Jane Vincent: Coming back to North Carolina has been a wonderful experience because it was on my terms. I wasn’t pushed back here for lack of money or options. It just seemed like the right place at the right time. North Carolina’s environment, culture, people, and style has obviously influenced my songwriting, and I hope that I reflect the people and stories of this state in my music and represent them well. Though Charleston will always have this huge and beautiful — albeit thoroughly worn but wiser — piece of my heart, rural N.C. is my home. I left Charleston in late 2010, and after hiding in the mountains of Asheville for about a year and half, we made it to the Triad around April 2012.
Metronome Charleston: Did you have a specific artistic goal in mind when you landed in Greensboro — any plans to record, perform, or write?
Laura Jane Vincent: I had been hearing from many friends in Greensboro about the music scene here, and they weren’t kidding. So many talented bands, of many different genres, all with welcoming arms and space to share on their stages for a returning lady like me. The goal was simple: get to Greensboro, get settled in, get our money straight, and get our act together. Quite literally, Greensboro was a chance for [drummer] Dave Tippetts and I to get ourselves lined up with each other musically and somehow form it into a cohesive working unit. We come from very different backgrounds in our lives and musically, so we needed time to breath, and listen, and learn from each other. Then the natural goal after that was to perform as many gigs as possible, save every single penny and put it toward a real, professional recording effort.
We played about 35-40 local and regional shows the first 11 months we were here, and though it was hard to not spend the money and reap the rewards of our growing efforts — especially when we’d visit cool new cities — we stuck to it. We were able to record this album completely on our own, without crowd funding or label support … not that we’re against Kickstarter or any of the suits in the biz, but we didn’t think we had the widespread net to seek out donations from people. We wanted to have a proper tool to sell ourselves with before we reached out to ask for a growing pool of fans to kick us some extra chips. But we hope after touring in support of For a Sweetheart from the South for we can record our next effort with the support of a whole new network of friends.
Metronome Charleston: When and how did the songs for For a Sweetheart from the South start coming together? Did you collaborate with anyone on the arrangements or lyrics?
Laura Jane Vincent: Most of the songs were written between 2010 and 2013, with maybe one old standard or two stuck in there as well. To say I wrote them all on my own would almost misrepresent the work because, of course, I came to the table with words and chords and structure, but the musicians around me really made each song come alive and take on new sounds and shapes along the way. One of my favorite songs on the whole record is “Rivers,” which is a song I wrote with my friend and fellow musician from Charleston, Matthew Alexander. We’ve collaborated on a few songwriting efforts during our friendship, and I hope to do more. Our styles lend to each other nicely. His ideas push me outside the box, whereas mine seem to sometimes bring him back in for a soft landing in an otherwise spinning scenario. I think that’s my favorite part about writing a song with someone. You can’t always predict where it’s gonna go, and letting go of that control and hold is essential to growing with your writing.
Metronome Charleston: Tell us about the production of the new album at Echo Mountain. Did engineer Jon Ashley offer some heavy ideas and creative production guidance?
Laura Jane Vincent: I will never forget the amazing experience of Echo Mountain. We were mere babes in a basket when we arrived on their old church doorstep, and what we — myself, Dave Tippetts on drums, Laura Zapp on keys and organ, and Derrick Spivey on upright bass, and the talented engineers and mixers — left with was a project that I will be proud of forever. Jon was absolutely fantastic for several reasons. He’s a master of his trade, and he also knew how to make us feel comfortable and confident. It was important to me that the person who produced our record be a stranger to me. I know so many talented folks who I could’ve easily recorded with and turned out a professional top notch recording, but I honestly didn’t trust myself to truly let go and make it happen, knowing a close friend of mine was in the booth.
I’m not sure … call it nerves or anxiety … but put me in front of thousands, and I’ll shine. But sitting in that booth with just one person, listening to the playback of your song over and over and over and performing it over and over until you get the right take is a very humbling, terrifying experience. I knew I would get too much in my head if the person behind the wheel was someone I knew socially. So, I’m so grateful for him, his high level of skill, his honesty, and his ability to just let the music tell its story. Jon didn’t put too many effects on my voice, and he didn’t do anything particularly special to Dave’s drums, other than mic them appropriately and fantastically. He really let us do our own thing.
Jon had a couple ideas here and there concerning the mix, which were welcomed by us all. He knew how to get the best sound out of all of us, after only spending a short amount of time getting comfortable with our sound.
Metronome Charleston: What did you learn from the experience of recording at a top-notch facility like Echo Mountain with pro engineers and producers?
Laura Jane Vincent: I learned so many things. Mostly it’s always more money than you think it’s going to be. no matter how fast and how prepared you are, so watch out for that. Worth every penny, but definitely more pennies that I wanted to part with initially! Be fast but also be good. We recorded this entire album in a mere two days. I learned you have to be ready to roll from hour one. No time for practicing. Don’t go into a recording if you haven’t practiced. That’s not to say that arrangements change, reverse, move forward, come alive and those brilliant “a-ha!” moments do occur spontaneously, but for real, know your stuff backwards and forwards.
Furthermore, pick not only your most talented friends to play on the record with you, but the most trustworthy and competent. I’ve always lived about 200 miles away from Spivey, and Zapp has been in New York City since 2011, so there was literally zero time for us to all play together in the same room before we went into the studio. I say that specifically to show off not only their basic musical talents, but also their ability really listen and absorb the feeling throughout the room. We recorded it as live as we could, some songs in only one single take. We didn’t expect to have that kind of connection day one, right off the bat. But I’m so grateful for talent like that. At one point, we were all mostly in separate rooms and couldn’t even see each other during some songs, but we could talk and hear and feel what was happening. It was wonderful.
Metronome Charleston: How has your singing and performance style changed or developed in recent years? Or has it?
Laura Jane Vincent: The best thing I ever did for my voice happened very recently. I quit smoking cigarettes. I’m coming out and admitting it in print because I can’t believe how silly I was to have such a nasty habit for so long and call myself a singer. It was a crutch that I am so glad to be without, and it’s really done some amazing things for my vocal power and range. I hope I stay as strong as I feel now and stick with it.
Metronome Charleston: Have you been busier as a musician this year than ever before?
Laura Jane Vincent: We’ve nearly doubled our show, tour, and performance schedules over the last year. Our goal for 2013 was a lofty 100 shows — a big goal because both Dave and I still have day jobs, and our band members are scattered all up and down the East Coast, so we have to do what we can. It looks like we won’t make it all the way, but we’re gonna probably round out at 75-80, and that is something I’m really proud of.
Every single time you get on a stage in front of people, it’s a learning experience. You get just that much more comfortable in your skin, you sound just that much better. Every gig is a band practice. Every band practice is a gig. Performing more often has changed everything for Dave and me. We are getting new ideas every day, writing constantly, getting inspired by all the incredible musicians that surround us, and always looking for ways to develop our sound. Right now, we just wish we could both grow extra arms to play more instruments.
Metronome Charleston: How would you classify the music on the new album? Which genre or mix of styles accurately apply? I’m leaning toward something like “Folksian, Appalachian-tinged vinto-country with a delicate touch of soul and sad-happy swagger.”
Laura Jane Vincent: That’s pretty spot-on! I wonder if iTunes will let me type that many words in the box. Picking out a genre for me has always been a struggle. Of course, no one ever wants to admit they do something that can be summed up in one word, but the basic feel behind my songwriting has always had a strong country and folk influence. I love telling a story. I just might present it first or third person, depending on how it comes through me. I don’t think we’re breaking down any new barriers of any sort, but we are hoping what we do musically strikes a chord with people and they can take from it what they like.
Metronome Charleston: I met Dave Tippetts this summer. Seemed like a very nice guy. Is that an accurate impression?
Laura Jane Vincent: Dave is the greatest! But I’m incredibly in love with him, so I’m a little biased. We couldn’t be more different, but we are exactly the same. The song “Believer” on the record is shamelessly about him and what our relationship has meant to my whole entire perspective of what love really is. I’m so grateful that we can play music together. It’s almost silly how inseparable we are, so keeping it a family band was just a very natural progression for us. Plus we’ve got this whole great introvert/extrovert balance going, and it works in life, love, work, and music. What else could I ever need or want?
Metronome Charleston: How does Dave’s drumming best complement and enhance your singing and playing on stage these days?
Laura Jane Vincent: Dave comes from this heavy metal, hardcore, and punk music background. Probably around the time I was seeing my first Reba McEntire concert, or reading my Jewel poetry book, or listening to Lisa Loeb sing “Stay” for the 1,000th time, he was growling and screaming into a microphone in a warehouse somewhere and thrashing about in a way that would’ve frightened lil’ ol’ unworldly me. He also is an accomplished guitarist and singer, so I find it interesting that he now responds and connects so naturally to drumming. He pushes behind what I’m doing and gives me an edge in my sound that I so desperately needed. In fact, I play a couple solo shows now and again, and it’s so strange when I don’t hear a familiar beat drop behind me. I’m almost lost without his steady and precise drumming.
Metronome Charleston: What’s your next major goal for the rest of 2013?
Laura Jane Vincent: Goals for me go as humble as making an honest buck or two at a weekly bar gig and as high as bright lights and big cities. We are releasing our record on vinyl this fall, and selling through those as quickly as our CD stock is moving would just be icing on the cake. Dave and I really want the music to allow us to travel and see more of the country. And I’m getting braver and bolder about where we’re playing, how far it takes us away from our home, and what venues and rooms I’ll try to get us into. I’m not afraid to ask, and I don’t really foresee myself stopping anytime soon.
Metronome Charleston: What might friends and fans expect from you and your crew at the Tin Roof this week?
Laura Jane Vincent: The Tin Roof is so very much my happy place. So many of my favorite musical memories have occurred in that bar and on that stage, so I always love to come back to town and do my very best to play a great set and get them some business by stirring up all my Charleston friends and family. We’re very happy to reunite with our dear friend and bass player Danny Infinger for a full band show, and we’ve got a couple new tunes to try out as well.
I’m really excited that this show is free. I’ve not become a millionaire recently. We still need to make money at shows, especially the ones far from our home base, but I feel like sometimes you just gotta play for the people and the rewards come back to you later on. I get a lot of support from my Charleston family, and they come back again and again to see me perform, and I hope by playing a free show, they are able bring in a whole new set of people that have never heard our music.
Also, I’m sharing the stage with my good friend Nicholas Doyle of Chord & Pedal Christmas show fame, but he writes so much more than just a great catchy Christmas tune. He’s a wonderful songwriter, and I’m always so glad to play a show with him.
Laura Jane Vincent and her band perform at the Tin Roof in West Ashley on Thurs. Oct. 3 at 9 p.m. Admission is free. Visit facebook.com/LauraJaneVincent for more.
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