Nashville-born, New York-based Laura Cantrell has been a familiar presence on the U.K. music scene for over 16 years. She released her debut album in 2000 ‘Not The Tremblin’ Kind‘ on Shoeshine/Spit and Polish, an indie label based in Glasgow. This album has been re-released today (16th April 2016) and is on vinyl for the first time, along with her new release ‘Laura Cantrell At The BBC‘. Laura will tour the UK in May.
What has been the greatest influence on your musical career?
Just in terms of being exposed to music, my parents are both
music fans, but they are ten years apart in age and have very different taste. My dad loved old school country and pop, everything from Hoagy Carmichael and Nat King Cole to Bill Monroe and Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs, and we listened to lots of AM radio in Nashville, WSM and the Opry and big bands and old radio dramas. When I was small, my mom’s musical tastes were more contemporary, the Beatles and Joan Baez and singer songwriters. But both of my parents would leave the records and radio playing long into the night and I just kind of grew up with my ears open, trying to soak it all in.
What song are you most proud of and why?
I’m still really enjoying playing a song I wrote for my first album, ‘Queen of the Coast’ about Bonnie Owens, the country singer who was married to Buck Owens and then Merle Haggard. The song’s emotions are complex and it holds up to repeated singing, and I’ve realized that it weaves elements of Bonnie’s history, which might seem sad on the surface, with my own joyous experience of seeing her in concert and appreciating her music.
Listen to ‘Queen of the Coast’
Tell us about your album ‘Not The Tremblin Kind‘. What highlights and challenges did you experience whilst making it?
‘Tremblin’ was my first record, so I had only the slightest idea of what I was doing. At the time, my main goal was to record the songs that had been in my live show and see if they added up to a good album. It was definitely a challenge to translate to the world of the recording studio, where I was very inexperienced; the finer points of arranging were beyond me. But I had great musicians playing with me like guitarist Jon Graboff, bass player Jeremy Chatzky, and my producer Jay Sherman Godfrey. And I knew when we heard the playback of ‘The Whiskey Makes You Sweeter’ and ‘Two Seconds’ that the album was going to reflect what I felt was special about the songs.
Watch Laura perform ‘Not the Tremblin Kind‘ in Glasgow, 2013.
You have released two critically acclaimed albums – 2011’s ‘Kitty Wells Dresses’ and 2014’s ‘No Way There From Here‘ since the birth of your daughter. How do you balance your musical career with your family life?
Every family finds balance in its own way, whether the parents are professionals or stay at home or work in the arts or whatever. I just try to direct my free moments, which are limited, to a range of music tasks. At any given time, I’m working on finishing a song, practising for a gig, planning a tour. You just sort of take whatever’s at the top of the list and chip away at it a bit, and if it isn’t working you move on to the next thing. Often it feels like nothing is getting finished, but you actually do move forward, just while also making school lunch every morning and helping your kid with homework and taking them to their lessons and friends houses. Balance may just be another word for spreading the tasks of a music career through all the other happenings of a busy life. One thing I enjoy as a working mom is collaborating with other writers and musicians, it spreads the work around and also brings a feeling of community to the process.
What piece of advice can you give to aspiring country music artists?
Listen to a lot of old music, steep yourself in the greats – voices, storytellers, the old stylists. Learn songs that feel good to sing, that you can somehow make your own. Keep working towards the next goal, writing a better song, booking the next gig. The small accomplishments eventually add up.
And just for fun…
Who is your favourite music artist (dead or alive)?
Ugh, maybe my favourite country music artist was Merle Haggard. He’s just passed at the age of 79. He was both an amazing singer and writer and he made SEVERAL outstanding albums, not a handful, or a few but MANY. I was lucky to see him in concert many times. While he’s beloved as a country artist, I think years from now he’ll be understood to be one of the greatest American artists, up there with Louis Armstrong and Jimmie Rodgers and Bob Dylan and the rest.
If you could wake up in the body of another person (just for one day) who would it be and why?
Hmmm, I think it would be amazing to get to see what it is like to be an Olympian or someone with great physical skill – like a gymnast or dancer – could I be Fred Astaire or Nadia Comaneci? Of course it would have to be on a day they were dancing!
You have the chance to time travel to any gig or concert that has ever taken place – which one would it be?
That is almost impossible to answer – I would have loved to see one of the old dance bands like Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys or Milton Brown, or Jack Teagarden or one of the early Louis Armstrong bands, Ella Fitzgerald singing with Chic Webb. As you can see, I’d have a hard time deciding on just one!
What is your favourite lyric?
From Kris Kristofferson’s ‘Sunday Morning Coming Down’:
In the park I saw a daddy, with a laughing little girl who he was swingin’
And I stopped beside a Sunday school and listened to the song that they were singin’
Then I headed back for home and somewhere far away a lonely bell was ringin’
And it echoed through the canyons like the disappearing dreams of yesterday
Can you tell us something that will surprise us?
I love old school suspense and horror films, and so did my mom, who named me for the Otto Preminger film, ‘Laura‘ from 1944.