The Music City maven talks music therapy and life on the road with the RNR Globe
Lauren Anderson sings the blues with a hint of soul and country in her arrangements. On her latest EP, Won’t Stay Down, she gives us five songs full of attitude and acerbic humor that take on the situations a touring musician often confronts on the road, from harassment (“Honey, Call Me Baby”) to empowerment (“Won’t Stay Down”).
Her backing band hits hard, supporting her gritty vocals with a searing Stax/Volt horn section, a funky rhythm section and powerful lead guitar work.
“It’s still difficult being an independent woman musician,” she says. She’s behind the wheel, driving to a show in Atlanta, before heading on to another gig in Florida. “It’s a shame, but you have to own up to it and focus on the resources you do have. I remember setting up for a gig one night. A guy comes up and starts chatting with the musicians in my band. ‘What’s the name of your group,’ he asks. They pointed to me, and he looked clueless. I guess he assumed I was the girlfriend of one of the band members, not the lead singer. It’s a shame, but there are a lot of opportunities out there, so you gotta focus on that.”
Anderson says she always wanted to be a performer. “I grew up singing and took classical training when I was young,” she says. “I started on piano and stayed with it until college. I loved all kinds of music and was going to grad school in Kansas City for a Music Therapy degree. To be successful in that field, you have to be able to play in a lot of different genres. I discovered lead sheets, which don’t exist in the classical world, and that led me to improvisation. Knowing the chords and melodies and being free to take off from there, set me free.”
While she was in school, Anderson put together a band, playing a combination of her original songs and covers on nights and weekends to help pay for her schooling. “It was tough, but I loved the crew I was paying with. After school, I worked for seven years in on a pediatric unit, using music to help kids cope with chronic illnesses and kids at risk with incarcerated parents, or kids getting in and out of trouble who needed a little bit of help to get back on their feet.”
She was still playing nights and eventually decided to make the leap to pursuing music full time. She moved to Nashville and started making records. She also got serious about songwriting.
“What I write is emotionally based. I like technique, but I cater to the emotion of the songs,” she explains. “I like to give people something they can feel. Music for me is therapy. When I play live, I want them to be in the moment with me, to feel what I’m feeling. Most songs start with a melody and a couple of lyrics. A lot of them come just as I wake up. I have to pull myself out of bed to go write them down. I get the melody and record it quick on a voice memo. Then, I take out the guitar and write the chords. Once I have an idea, I take it to my band and we play around with it, in a full band setting, until it finally settles into the final product.”
Anderson does not consider herself to be a country artist, but she does concede to the ease of slipping into the genre’s sonic comfort as a songwriter.
“I’m not country, but there’s some value to the way a country song is put together,” she explains. “There’s a simplicity to that approach that’s effected how I write. When you’re young, you want to put everything you have into every song. When you get older, you learn how to say more with fewer words and less notes.”
The singer also acknowledges the robust nature of her current city’s non-country music scene as a never-ending source of inspiration and collaboration.
“I love Nashville. I’ve been here two years now and everybody stays busy. If you’re a good musician, you have a lot of opportunities. I have my first call band and a lot of friends I can use if they’re busy. If you’re not in country music, it’s a small, intense scene. I know so many good musicians, I dream of fronting a 50 piece band. That would be really cool.”
AUDIO: Lauren Anderson – “Won’t Stay Down”