Lauren Housley is a very gifted singer, songwriter, and musician, who has released a superb new album Girl From The North. Louder Than War caught up with Lauren, after she and her excellent band, had delivered a dynamic and very well received set, opening the Underneath the Stars festival.
LTW: “How does it feel, having just playing the opening set, at the Underneath the Stars festival?”
Lauren: “It was a huge privilege. Really amazing. The day we got booked for this festival, I found a snapshot on my phone. It was of something posted by the Underneath the Stars Festival in 2019, where they were saying they were booking for 2020, and they were asking people to recommend who they would like to see. I said to myself, at the time, that I really wanted to play the festival in 2020. It was very much on my radar. I’ve known about the festival for a long time, being quite local, and I really wanted to play it that year, and obviously the festival couldn’t go ahead in that year. When we got the call for this one, I had just seen that snapshot and it was a really nice feeling, especially because I’m living locally again now, and it’s just down the road from me.
So, a huge privilege, and quite emotional to be on stage playing to everybody again. As you just saw, someone came up to me (in the signing tent) and said it’s the first live music they’ve had in eighteen months, and it made them quite emotional. So, yes, I’m very privileged to get the opportunity.”
LTW: “When you played Breakdown, which is my favourite song from the new album, it sounded like a metal band up there.”
Lauren: “We did a gig last weekend, and it was just a 30-minute set, and we nearly didn’t put it in. And then at the last minute, it was well, we have got to do Breakdown. It’s just that moment in the set that we can all let loose. I can throw myself around the stage a bit and pretend I’m in a metal band. It’s just really fun. That’s what happened in the studio as well. That heavy outro came out of just continuing recording. We didn’t press stop basically, and that section was written on the fly as we were recording. It’s one of my favourite moments in the set.”
LTW: “How are you and the other musicians in the band? How have you managed through the pandemic?”
Lauren: “It’s been a weird one for me because I had a baby. So, I guess I would have been taking a very young baby out on tour, which obviously has its own challenges. That was the plan, and then obviously everything got closed. It has been quite a blessing for me to be able to spend more time with him. My husband’s a musician, so he’s also been able to be at home more and spend more time with him. That was nice. It’s meant that I have been in the baby bubble, as well as being in a bubble of restrictions. It wasn’t until about six months after Noah was born, that I started to realise that everybody was at home in a bubble. I felt like I was going through the baby bubble, that everyone goes through when you’re there with the baby all day, every day, and you know you’re not going out like you did before, and not playing gigs as you would before. Then when it dawned on me that it was the whole world, that was a weird feeling.
I guess we’ve been lucky, that we have been able to do some remote recording. My husband, and Mark from the band, do quite a lot of recording and video work. They are great at video documenting musical content. I started live streaming at the beginning of lockdown from my apartment. That took off, and we ended up getting some good equipment, and it became this high-quality live stream. Mark and Tom have actually launched a business off the back of it. So, they now do live streaming events, and that’s become a big part of their work. So, they’ve kept really busy. They are called Northern Cowboy Films, and they are doing some great stuff. They have also supported other musicians to put on shows because a lot of it’s been live streamed. So, we’ve been really active during this time.
It would have been acceptable for us to sit back, and maybe do some writing, or especially having a baby, taking time off, but we had the album ready. Although it was postponed at the beginning of lockdown, I just wanted to get it out in the end. It felt like a really good time to be releasing music for people, people at home wanted some new music. So, I’m glad I did. I know another couple of musicians who are mainly touring musicians and session guys that have struggled, and had to get other jobs, and we are just coming out of that now, so they’re now getting more work. So, yeah, it’s been a rollercoaster for everybody. We are all just eager to get out playing now.”
LTW: “The band are excellent. How did everyone come together?”
Lauren: “They are just unbelievable musicians. Tom and I met at college when we were sixteen, and have been playing together, and co-writing, since we were eighteen. We have moved around different cities and we’ve worked with some amazing musicians. We met Mark through a mutual friend, and he played bass for us today. We have been working with him for probably six years now. He produced some of my previous music because he’s a producer first and foremost, but he’s also a great bass player, and sings really well. So, it just felt the right thing to have him in the band. He knows the music as well as anybody. Then Xavier, the drummer, again we’ve been playing with him for a couple of years now. He’s an awesome live drummer. He’s a great studio drummer as well. He was living in London, then we started gigging quite a lot, and he moved back to Manchester. So, we are all based in the north.
Robbie is an artist in his own right. He was playing acoustic guitar and singing today. We needed somebody who could sing well, because I wanted some more backing vocals, and we also wanted someone who could play great acoustic guitar, and that’s what he does very well. He loves the music as well. He’s been a nice addition to the band. We often play with CJ Hillman as well, who couldn’t be with us today. He’s a great pedal steel player. He played with us last weekend, but he wasn’t available today. That depth of sound is a nice thing to add into the band, and he played a lot of those parts on the album as well.”
LTW: “The harmonies were just fantastic, during your set today.”
Lauren: “Tom, Mark and I have been working on the harmonies for quite a while, because we have another band as well. We have a country band that we play with. So, we have been developing those three-piece harmonies, and then adding Robbie in, who is just a phenomenal singer. It’s become a big part of the show, which is nice. I said the other day, it’s like having Crosby, Stills and Nash as my backing band.”
LTW: “For people who might be new to your music, what would you describe as your personal vision, for the music you create, and what you hope the listener will experience?”
Lauren: “One of my first influences is soul music. So, there’s a lot of soul in there. It has carried me through all the different music that I’ve been making over the years, and it’s always there in every single album. But I’ve also been influenced by the country, Americana and folk scenes. I’ve been lucky enough to go to some of the showcase festivals, where I’ve seen a lot of folk music, in Canada and New Orleans. That’s crept into what I do, but I also love having the live band and having that bigger sound. The new album has got an atmospheric and almost cinematic kind of feel on some of the tracks. There’s also definitely influences of soul, country, Americana, blues, and folk. I’m also inspired by the music I listened to growing up. I listened to a lot of pop music, and my song writing is drawn from the pop music that I love, like Carole King.”
LTW: “You recently made an exciting announcement about being awarded the PPL Momentum Fund Bursary by the PRS Foundation. What will that mean for you?”
Lauren: “Oh, it’s amazing. It’s just come out at such a perfect time for me because I have released the album now. So, I am eager to work on new songs. Because of the timing of lockdown, the album was finished, but we were possibly going to record a couple of extra tracks as bonus tracks, which we obviously couldn’t do. They have been sitting there, so I’m going to be able to work on those songs with a big band. It’s going to be an eight-piece band. We are going to do some live videos. I’m not going to tell you where, because it’s going to be in a really cool venue. Then I’m going to do the recording of these tracks that we couldn’t record for the album. Some new arrangements of songs as well. So, it’s going to allow me to do that, and also everyone getting paid well to do it, which is really important, especially at the minute when everyone’s been waiting for work. It’s just going to be nice to be in the studio again and creating. So thank you PPL and PRS. Honestly, I’m so grateful. I was shocked when I found out I had got it. It’s good timing for me.”
LTW: “The new album, Girl from the North, has wonderful song writing, and atmospheric musical arrangements, that seem to wrap around your voice. Can you describe how the songs and musical arrangements were developed for the album?”
Lauren: “Every single track on the album is pretty much co-written, fifty/fifty between me and Tom. Some of them were written on the fly. So, it’s like a bit of a stream of consciousness. In respect to Sing To Me, we were not having a good couple of months. A bit all over the place and didn’t really know what was going on in life. We both sat down with acoustic guitars. I remember it was at my parents, in the living room, and I started playing round with some chords, and Tom started playing with me. Then I just started singing and the whole song sort of came out. I’ve got a recording on my phone of when it first happened, which was an amazing moment. I love it when songs happen like that. We tried to keep that essence when we recorded it in the studio. We wanted to do a fuller arrangement while keeping it atmospheric. It’s got that anyway, just with the two guitars, but Tom has this very old, hollow-body 1930s guitar, that he’d written it on, and we were like, that’s got to be on. So, we’ve tried to stay authentic to how some of the songs were written.
The first track we recorded for the album was Two Lovers Lost In Space, which was just an experiment in the studio between me and Tom. He was playing some synth lines, and I was basically just banging on things. I was trying to come up with a drum loop. I wanted it to feel very deep sounding, which we managed to get. Then, I went in to the vocal booth and started singing. That’s why it’s so short, but at the time, we just didn’t want to expand it. We normally write six-minute songs, but with this one we said, it’s going to be one and a half minutes.
The influences are all there. This Ain’t The Life, has more of a Carole King, soul and Motown feel. We tried to stay true to that and make that sound fun and energetic. Then some of the more atmospheric sounding tracks just crept in, because the songs lent themselves to that. So, for Breakdown, we got a friend of ours to come in, who is great at the rock drumming. He is called Craig Hanson. He loves songs like that. So, when he started playing, it just sounded huge and more rocking. We have all these amazing musicians that we work with, that we choose which songs we know they’re going to be right for. Tom played a lot of the instruments on it, because we were down in the studio quite a lot, and we had a restricted budget as well. He’s just so creative, he was really invested in the songs, obviously being the co-writer, and he also produced. It’s the first album that he’s produced. He’s a talented guy.”
LTW: “You have a UK tour through Nov/Dec. What are you looking forward to most about it?”
Lauren: “I’m looking forward to seeing people. Playing live music and celebrating that experience, of being able to see people in the audience. I think one thing for touring musicians, is that it is not just about getting on stage and playing the gig, that’s the fun part. There’s a lot that goes into it, including the audience coming out to see you. It’s easy to forget when you are playing a lot of shows, the amount of effort that people put in to come and see you. So, I just want to have a good time with everybody and just celebrate playing live music.”
LTW: “I did notice on stage today, that you had a real rapport with the audience. Right from the beginning when you talked about bringing back the sunshine before the day is out.”
Lauren: “Oh, that’s good. Thank you.”
LTW: “One final question. On your Facebook page, there is a poster for the upcoming Rotherham show, with some amazing artwork. Can you say something about how the artwork came together?”
Lauren: “Thank you. So as a special limited edition print for the album, I worked with a local illustrator, called Reyt Good Illustration, based in Sheffield. He does these custom pieces, and he also does pieces, where he’s been inspired through lyrics. He’s got a lot of Artic Monkeys songs, and Johnny Cash ones too. He’s very centred around music. When everything was shut down, I thought, how can it be creative? I would love someone to do a one off, special artwork, for the album, something that’s local. Given the whole feel around the album is very local. I just got in touch with him, and he was just chuffed to bits. He came up with this beautiful artwork, with all the song titles on. So, I’ve got some limited-edition gold ones and standard prints, which are beautiful. He’s taken the core of that design, changed the colours on it, and done something really cool to create this poster for the one-off show in Rotherham Civic Theatre. It’s the third time we have played there. It’s always a good gig because that’s my hometown crowd.”
LTW: “Thank you so much.”
Watch the video for Why Are We Making It So Hard, from the Girl From The North album here:
You can find Lauren Housley here:
All questions by Gareth Allen. You can find Gareth’s author profile here. Photograph from Lauren’s set at Underneath The Stars by Gareth Allen.