INTERVIEW: Laura Veirs | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Image by Jason Quigley

As an indie folk artist and veteran songwriter, Laura Veirs explores a different realm of musical expression in her latest album, The Lookout. As with previous releases, Veirs, who started her career in a punk band, demonstrates nuanced poetry and unexpected imagery while capturing her contemplations on themes of fragility and protection with quiet intensity.  

“For ten records, it can be tricky to grow, change and surprise myself,” the Colorado-born singer admits. Both she and long-time producer Tucker Martine fear feeling unmoved by new songs. “If we’re excited about the music, we realise that probably someone else will be too and we should share it.” If Veirs’ aim is to move people, she has succeeded almost unwittingly, as the delicate combination of melancholic tones and brighter Americana strings can hide her rigorous songwriting regime.

Her work ethic has been largely inspired by her collaboration with k.d. lang and Neko Case on their 2016 release case/lang/veirs. Lang and Case took Veirs’ old demos and transformed them by keeping the melodies they liked and replacing the words or keeping the words and changing the music – a process which taught Veirs that she does not have to be precious about songwriting. “Songs can be very changeable,” she says, “before I worked with them I’d just write a song and think I’d be done.”

if we do not have hope, and artists do not give us hope, we are really lost

Inspired by the idea of a malleable song, Veirs has written more than 100 songs while working on The Lookout. In comparison with the previous album, however, and backed by her desire to let songs shine on their own, The Lookout has an intricate sparse quality. Its brilliance lies in the technical and lyrical detail that makes each track distinctive. Veirs adds new musical touches in Everybody Needs You and Lightening Rod through vocal delays and electronic beats that break the purity of the songs’ melodies. In When It Grows Darkest, she expresses the necessity of hope during dark times through a chorus of violins that interrupt the lilting 5/4 time beat.

Yet, it is not so much the electronic rendering, or effortless collaboration with Sufjan Stevens on Watch Fire, or her ethereal finger-picked guitar that leave an enduring impression. It is her candid reflections about our changing society and our responsibility to protect those most vulnerable around us. If Veirs had to choose two songs that capture her intentions most vividly, it would be the politically-charged Everybody Needs You and Seven Falls. Margaret Sands and Canyon, however, are as powerful in their evocation of mortality. Especially the former, based on the T.S. Elliot poem Death By Water, expresses the importance of being appreciative of life while being conscious of those who have passed away.

The album shows Veirs’ attempt to be honest, truthful and not naïve, and hopeful, because if we do not have hope, and artists do not give us hope, we are really lost. Inspired by the non-linearity of science, nature and its overlooked similarity with art, Veirs’ mastery of expression is achieved through a continually experimental approach to songwriting. By drawing on nature imagery, she is also able to weave musings about political engagement into the body of each song without letting it dominate the music, creating poetical dream catchers with melodious wit, intimate beauty and irresistible simplicity.

Laura Veirs performs at The Cluny, Newcastle on Monday 4th June.

 

 

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