July 30, 2011
Have You Met Lera Lynn?
Well if not, you should. Lynn’s self-produced, debut solo album of the same name turns the question into an imperative.
By Nancy Staab
- Photography by Steven Landry
With new single “Bobby Baby,” a whiskey-soaked torch song to her troubled father as Lera Lynn’s calling card, this 27-year-old singer should soon be blazing up the alt-country-pop charts.
Athens, Georgia-based singer-songwriter Lera Lynn made a name for herself as the front woman in the local folk band Bird & Wire and now, as a soloist, she’s been likened to Dusty Springfield and Joni Mitchell. She’s brought her brooding, autobiographical songs and languid pacing to Atlanta on several occasions, most recently The Earl and Eddie’s Attic, and racked up the people's choice award in the alt-country song category for "Bobby, Baby" at this year’s Independent Music Awards. Lynn also won the 2011 "Best Americana Artist of the Year" from Athens' own Flagpole Magazine Awards and the 2011 Chris Austin Songwriting Contest (CASC) for "Bobby, Baby." (Previous winners include Gillian Welch and Tiff Merrit.)
Read on for Lera Lynn’s all-time list of singer greats, whom she thinks positively smolders, how she takes her bourbon and a link to her moody, film-noir music video.
Catch Lera Lynn performing live Aug. 27th at The Buckhead Theater in Atlanta with ATL-based bluegrass band Seven Handle Circle. Tickets are $7 in advance, $10 at door, show starts at 9PM. Lera Lynn is also headlining at The 40 Watt in Athens, GA, on Sept 30th.
First of all, is Lera Lynn your real name, it’s a PR person’s dream!
Yes, Lera Lynn is my real name. I was named after my father’s Irish mother, Lera McSwain and my mother Lyn Carol.
Who are some of your favorite singers past/present and why?
Some of my favorite singers are: Ray Charles: I do believe he has the most smoulder of any artist ever to walk the earth. His recordings taught me how to sing subtly with soul.
*Patsy Cline: Her music was always playing when I was a child. Her voice is so strong and dynamic. I love that in a woman’s voice.
*A.A.Bondy: The ever-present sadness is his voice is beautiful and has so much character.
*Other favorites include George Jones, B.B. King, Percy Sledge, Jeff Buckley, Fiona Apple, Sarah Vaughn, Astrud Gilberto, Sade, and on and on...
How do you describe your own music? Whiskey-soaked torch songs, brooding ballads, alt country, folk, indie-pop with country strains?
Describing my own music can be difficult at times since it’s mostly subjective. The genre has been recently dubbed “country-gothic” but that seems to mostly confuse people. Also, while a great deal of the songs can fit into the Americana category, some songs are more pop-oriented, making a simple description difficult.
I like what you’ve said above...
What’s on your iPod right now?
Some of my current iPod favorites: Cary Ann Hearst and Michael Trent (Shovels & Rope), Charlotte Gainsbourg, Janelle Monae, Fleet Foxes, Rome (collaborative between Jack White, Norah Jones and Danger Mouse and others), Deadweather, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and on and on...
I read that your mother was a singer. What kind of music were you exposed to growing up?
My mother was always singing and practicing for performances and there were always guitars and microphones set up and music playing around the house when I was a child. Instead of cartoons, I watched MTV music videos. We went to church for the singing. My mother taught me to harmonize when I was 5 years old. She definitely had the most to do with my musicianship. We listened to all kinds of music. My father mostly liked country and hard rock and my mother liked those things but also a lot of pop and folk (Beatles, Joni Mitchell, Dylan, Pink Floyd, Michael Jackson, etc.)
What can you say about your childhood and background in brief?
My parents were poor and worked all the time. My father had drug abuse problems, which led to our regular moving, among other unpleasant things. I was a total nerd and wanted desperately to be an astronaut. I’ll always remember the moment I learned that you had to have perfect eyesight for space travel (which I do not, by a long shot). I was so bummed. So I instead shifted my attention to Star Search and decided that I would someday do that (perform).
Your debut solo album, Have You Met Lera Lynn?, seems deeply personal. What is your creative/songwriting process like and where do these songs come from?
All of the songs were written by me, except for the Leonard Cohen song, “I Tried To Leave You.” Some of them just come to me while I’m putting on mascara or something. Some of them I spent a few days on. Most of them, however, were those gift songs from above, they just fell out of my mouth with little effort. Those effortless songs seem to be the ones that listeners connect most easily with.
The song “Bobby, Baby” is sensational. I have a feeling this is going to be your musical calling card for a long time to come. It’s dark, haunting, sorrowful and beautiful. I love the line about how you “go to his grave with bottle in hand and pour his freedom down in the sand.” The line about how he “lost his daughter with his land” is also heart breaking. I’ve read it’s about the death of your own father and his demons. Care to comment?
I fear that people will feel sorry for me if I go on and on about the relationship with my father, but it was a very deep cut that has shaped nearly everything about me in some way. This song "Bobby Baby" was written when I finally came to understand and forgive him for the wrongs he had done.
He had a rough upbringing himself and no real outlet. Thankfully, I’ve discovered music as a cathartic vehicle to deal with my own issues and, luckily for me, some other people seem to enjoy the narrative.
There seem to be a lot of troublesome men-folk in your songs, (“Bobby Baby,” “Gasoline,” etc.)--you make that old chestnut seem new. I assume much of what your write is autobiographical?
Ha ha! Yeah, you know, we have to get through a few of them before we figure out what the red flags are. Such troubles seem to have slowed for the moment. Fingers crossed... I usually write totally from the heart but sometimes 90% experience, 5% embellishment. I have also written songs from other peoples’ perspectives but they have not yet been recorded.
I think the most hopeful you get on this album is the song“You and Me Alone.” It’s romantic, but even then, there’s the dark threat of a storm and a thunderbolt possibly taking you out right there and then so it’s darkly romantic. Thoughts?
Perhaps that’s my negative expectation personified. As the child of a divorced couple and a graduate in Anthropology [from the University of Georgia], I am doubtful that relationships or “love” will last for a lifetime. I hope I am wrong...
The pacing in your songs is leisurely and slightly drawn out so it creates anticipation and it allows the listener to really savor your voice. Is that intentional?
I haven’t always sounded as relaxed as I do now. It took a good deal of study, practice and focus, especially in the live scenario.
I have found that the singers I enjoy most are the ones who sound like they’re just barely exerting themselves and that is what I try to do as well It takes work to sound like your aren’t working!
I like that the album is pretty simple and pure--no need for lots of distracting bells and whistles:
Before C.k. Koch and I started recording this record, we had several conversations. One recurring topic was that I wanted to create a simple representation of the songs. I even asked that we not use any cymbals whatsoever. As you can hear, C.k. snuck them in there anyway. He did what was best for the song. We tracked a good deal of the album live, with no overdubs or edits. It was important to me that we would be able to perform the songs live and sound like the record without having an eight-piece band. C.k. played most of the drums, I played 95% of the guitars and sang 100% of the vocals, Robby Handley played 100% of bass and produced “Happy Ever After,” Marlon Patton played drums on a couple tunes and a few other people played here and there.
You are Houston-born and did a stint in Atlanta, but ended up in Athens, Georgia. What is it you enjoy about Athens?
Athens is cheap and easy, has a really strong sense of community, and is teeming with talent. Coupled with the university, you get a super concentrated town of artists and academics. What more could you need?
Can you name some fellow Athens musicians/bands that you particularly love?
Athens-based musicians I love: Kenosha Kid, Madeline Adams, Kaitlin Jones, The Whigs, The Modern Skirts, Reptar, and more...
What are some of your favorite Athens haunts?
I’m a food snob and health nut. I love The National, The Five & Ten, Farm 255, La Dolce Vita for food, The Manhattan or Normal Bar for drinks, Community and Minx for shopping, Caledonia and 40 Watt for music and I can’t wait for the re-opening of the Georgia Theater [It reopened post-interview].
What do you enjoy doing in your down time?
I have a mutt dog, Rooby, who is my little baby and a new cat who has just recently become a tri-pod (hit by a car). I really enjoy weight-lifting and am a health nut (alternative medicine, healthy eating, etc). I love cooking and traveling. If I had more time I’d have many hobbies. As of now, music consumes most of me.
Well I guess I have a few.
I love my bourbon with two cubes of ice. I also love the donuts that are made around the corner from my house at Ike and Jane. And I can never get enough massages. Those are human, right?
The video for “Bobby, Baby,” which you star in, is very film noir. Tell me a bit about how the video concept came about. (I could imagine that song in a David Lynch movie!)
The video was written, directed, shot and edited by Brett Vaughn. He’s a super-talented guy and I feel lucky to have worked with him on that. He was inspired by the song and approached me with his ideas. They really panned out.
LINK TO BOBBY BABY VIDEO HERE:
I love the simplicity of Have You Met Lera Lynn? as your album title. What was the thinking behind that?
It was my first solo album and a common name for artists in decades passed. I thought it was great marketing slogan, being my first album and all.
And I have a feeling everyone is going to know Lera Lynn very soon. You need to get your songs in front of music producer T Bone Burnett, or Jack White or Ryan Adams or someone highly original like that: my humble opinion!
My fingers are certainly crossed and I am on the same page with you for sure. The opportunity to get in front of most of the aforementioned pros are quite possibly on the close horizon. Funny you mentioned them all.
What would you like to do or accomplish next?
I’d LOVE to tour Europe. I just don’t know where to start. I have a feeling Europe would dig the band...and I sure would dig that!
For more information on Lear Lynn’s music and shows visit: www.leralynn.com