Raised in the birth-of-grunge music in Washington State, musician Tamara Laurel’s love with music has been ingrained in her being for as long as she can remember. However, her deep love and appreciation for music didn’t sink into her soul and spirit until she started singing on her own, and then deciding to pursue guitar playing. Tamara Laurel worked with renowned producer, Stephen Johnson of the Great White Buffalo, and together they fused a collection of soul-searching lyrics and music. Tamara has inherent ability and musicianship to convey her lyrics and music in a pure aesthetic sense, and bares her soul in a timeless way. Laurel chatted with us about the recording process of her debut album, what it was like growing up in the state of Washington (hint: she misses it), why she decided to pick up a guitar, and of course much more, including our infamous “fun questions.” Read on to discover more about this lovely singer and be sure to connect with her via the social links following the interview:
GGM: What was the recording process like for your debut album, Lightning?
Tamara: Recording Lightning was the most incredible experience of my life. I wrote all these songs on my bedroom floor with just an acoustic guitar, so hearing the cellos and mandolins and timpani drums and slide guitars come to life in the studio was the most incredible thing I’ve ever witnessed. We had a lot of challenges along the way, but this record perfectly sums up the last few years of my life: living in three different cities, letting go, ruminating, starting over, and ultimately growing up.
After 14+ months of work, I’ll never forget driving home from the studio when we were finally done – it was the biggest sense of relief I’ve ever experienced. My co-producer (Stephen Johnson of Great White Buffalo) and I set out to arrange and produce this album all by ourselves with zero prior experience. That’s what makes this record so personal and meaningful to me: we did it alone. There are a million mistakes we made, but in the end, Lightning is made up of five real, indie, honest songs. That is what we set out to make, and I wouldn’t change a thing. I’m so thankful for everyone who was involved.
GGM: What persuaded your influence of music growing up in Washington state?
Tamara: My parents moved us to a small town in Western Washington during the height of Seattle’s Grunge Movement, but I was too young to understand the importance of it all. I remember my Dad buying Nirvana’s Nevermind in one of those mail-order CD catalogues and listening to it over and over again. No one else in my family plays music or sings, but we constantly had music on – on the radio in the car, in the backyard…all throughout the house, all the time.
As I got older, indie Seattle bands like Postal Service, Band of Horses, and Death Cab For Cutie started having a moment. I was part emo during those years! Around the same time, I saw Tim McGraw at the Gorge Amphitheater and fell madly in love with country music, which is also huge in parts of Washington. The fusion of these two genres – indie/folk rock and country – is really an accurate way to describe my music today. Discovering country music at that time was probably the most important thing that ever happened to me musically. I spent years just catching up on the decades of songs and subgenres that I had missed, and that’s when I started trying to write songs myself in my parents’ basement. Seattle is a very beautiful, very progressive city, and was the best place to form a dream of being a musician. I miss it!
GGM: Why did you wait until 2013 to pick up a guitar and play?
Tamara: When I started playing guitar a few years ago, I only cared about writing songs; not about playing it proficiently. I knew enough basic guitar theory to compose, but my tiny hands and predisposition to stage fright held me back from progressing. I played around Texas for about a year like that – just singing, while someone else played guitar – and it didn’t feel real. I’d labor over these songs and feel all at once naked and like a fraud up there just singing along to someone else’s strumming.
After moving to California, I started going to open mic nights, putting my name on the list, and then leaving before it was my turn to play. I was so irrationally nervous. After a year of that, I forced myself up on stage one night in Malibu and never looked back.
GGM: How did it come about working with award-winning engineer, Philip Allen and Grammy-nominated Luke Tozour?
Tamara:I actually met both of them through mutual musician friends. Phil had recorded Steve’s band Great White Buffalo, so I was very familiar with his studio work. I am beyond grateful that I got to work with him on my debut. Luke is insanely talented as well. We met through a mutual connection in the band Mansions on the Moon. We really clicked in the studio and I have learned more from him than anyone. His cat doesn’t like me, though!
GGM: Which women in music are your muses?
Tamara:I could go on for days about this! On the songwriting side, Hillary Lindsey and Aimee Mayo. They are single-handedly responsible for dozens of Number 1 Country hits over the past decade or so. On the artist side, Emmylou Harris, Gillian Welch… Alanis Morissette for trailblazing the bitterest of bitter ex-girlfriend songs… Jewel for her storytelling, Joni Mitchell, early Sheryl Crow (“My Favorite Mistake”), Stevie Nicks ( the “Silver Springs” Chorus is incredible), and Madonna (especially “Ray of Light”). Also Grace Potter, Faith Hill (“Like We Never Loved At All” era), and the Dixie Chicks. I definitely pull from all of them.
GGM: What do you hope to continue to accomplish with music in the future?
Tamara: Lightning was the first handful of songs that I ever wrote by myself, so I hope my next release demonstrates the growth and sound evolution that naturally occurs after a debut. I will always be so drawn to the simplicity of an acoustic guitar, vocals, and Americana instrumentation, but taking risks is a huge part of growing as an artist. I have some ideas for a concept EP, but I’m really enjoying writing every day without pressure of a release right now. As for the future, I’d love to keep writing music forever and playing it for receptive audiences as long as they’ll have me.
Who was your first concert, and do you have a favorite?
My Mom took me to see Kenny Loggins at the Puyallup Fair when I was really young. We loved that Winnie the Pooh song and she made a whole surprise day out of it. I’ll never forget it – I could even tell you what I was wearing! I remember watching these people around me dance and scream and sing along. I thought it was so cool that there were so many of us there to hear just one person sing. The best concert I’ve ever been to was Elton John a few years ago. No exaggeration, I cried during “Tiny Dancer.” He’s a legend.
What was your first album on CD, vinyl and/or cassette?
My family got a CD player at some point in the 90s, and it came with an Ace of Base sampler karaoke CD. My sister and I had singing and dancing routines to “I Saw the Sign.” I think we recorded ourselves singing it with a tape recorder and sent it to my Grandma. Haha! She was probably so weirded out receiving that. I think I still know every word!
Who are your top five bands/artists or albums you wouldn’t want to live without?
This is way too hard, so I will just give the top 5 songs that I’ve listened to this week:
1. “Factory” by Band of Horses – The Live version from The Ryman Auditorium
2. “Relatively Easy” – Jason Isbell
3. “Damn Spotlight” – Will Hoge
4. “Look At Miss Ohio” – Gililan Welch
5. “Mona Lisas and Madhatters” – Elton John
Do you have a guilty musical or entertainment pleasure?
ABC’s show Nashville. I have to remind myself that it’s not reality and that the characters are not real people/my friends. I love it too much.
Is there any music that makes you cringe?
Inauthentic songwriting. You can miss notes, you can be offbeat – as long as you’re bearing your soul. “Perfect” songs with cliché lyrics feel empty. I’ve loved songs in every single genre because they’ve been real – good songwriting transcends genre boundaries.
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