RR LogoLaurie Larson and Whisky A Go Go

Laurie Larson Photo OneSinger, songwriter and musician Laurie Larson, who is a favorite at the famous Los Angeles music venue Whisky A Go Go, had a lot of reasons to give up on music when she was still establishing herself as an artist. Her father was dead set against her pursuing a music career and the first album that she recorded as a gift for someone she loved was never even played by that person. Those could have been both major obstacles and heartbreaks that could have derailed the career of a lady who creates fabulous music, plays more instruments than most artists we know and even though she is an independent artist without the financial support of a major label, she receives radio airplay worldwide.

Laurie Larson’s father worked for the Forest Service and her family moved around the country numerous times after she was born in Kalispell, Montana. She attended three different high schools during her teenage years and music became a safe haven for her.

“My musical heroes ended up being my only friends, because my parents would move me, just when I was getting close to somebody or when I would have a new friend. I was always the new person or the outcast every time. I would retreat into music for sure,” she says.

“I am an only child. My parents only listened to Country and Western music when I was a child, so I didn’t even like music (growing up). I was maybe six or seven when they (her parents) forced a violin on me. I didn’t even know what it was, but I wasn’t even a musician yet. My dad loved the violin, so they made me learn the violin, but then my dad didn’t want me practicing. I never really practiced and I never really got what music was, because to me it was annoying.

I didn’t like what I heard my parents playing all of the time. I was about twelve when we moved out to South Dakota.  In South Dakota everything changed, because now I could listen to my own radio station and I found one called KKLS. They played Kansas, Poco and The Eagles. Wow this wasn’t Country. This was good and I fell in love with music (her voice rises). My God this was great. Is this what it is? I get it now. Then all of a sudden it all clicked for me. I picked the violin that I wasn’t ever very good at and that I never wanted to play and I started (playing) stuff by ear. Kansas (the band) has a violin (her voice gets lower and more dramatic).  This is cool! I just took to it immediately. Anything with strings I would just pick it up and I would try to learn it and play. In a year I could play the guitar, violin and bass and just anything.  Oh My God this was great stuff!  I was, oh what does this do? I would just figure it out and feel it. I didn’t really know what notes I was playing and stuff like that. Later I did learn to read a little bit, but I am still way better if I play by ear and feel it.

I am not fond of the name of the town (in South Dakota), Custer, but it was a great town people wise and it was very small. There was a lady and she and her husband cleaned the faces of Mount Rushmore. They were like renaissance people. They did everything. They made their own musical instruments. They were painters. They were like geniuses. She happened to teach at the school, the Jazz band and now I was all turned on. I wanted to play music, because I loved music now, but all I had was a violin. She said well we don’t have a violin, but we need an electric bass player. She said the violin is just like the bass, only the strings are reversed.  I took to the bass guitar like nobody’s business. I just loved it.  The Jazz band guy would say, Laurie I love your music, but could you just once play what is written.  I would go off and do bass solos and go crazy,” she remembers.  

Now that she was smitten with the sounds of Rock bands like Kansas, Poco and the Eagles Laurie Larson felt inspired to start writing her own songs.

“I wrote stuff instantly. I took to it and the first song that I wrote was called “Child of the Wind,” which I ended up recording on my second CD Aquila. I think it is really funny, because Richie Furay of Poco says that when he listens to my music that it is his favorite song.

It all just happened at once, because I started playing live and started playing in a Jazz band. My father was dead set against it and my parents never came to any of my performances. I was so good on the bass and we had the school gigs. I had to sneak out of the house with my bass guitar and my amp (she laughs). I had to carry it, because I couldn’t drive. I would carry it a few feet and then set it down. Someone would pick me up and I would be on the corner of the street. (she laughs)  I would play bass in little bands for people who already had gigs. I had a little band of my own and I would jam with whoever wanted to. I would have people come over and we would write songs together.

When I got into college some disastrous things happened and I got scared about music and I dropped it cold. Stuff happens. It was Oh My God, someone wants to jam with me and then it was no wait they don’t really. Oh God let me get out of here and stuff like that. I got disillusioned,” she recalls.

Laurie Larson is one of the more creative artists whom you will meet and she is also one of the more cerebral ones as well. She majored in astronomy at the University of New Mexico where she earned a physics / astronomy degree. She explains that you had to do both majors in tandem. Her minors were math and music. She says that she wanted to major in music, but her father would not allow it.

“If I had my druthers music and art would have been my majors. He wasn’t happy with physics and astronomy and that was the only other thing that I enjoyed as a child was looking up at the skies. Absolutely I wanted to do music, but I am curious about everything and I fell in love with a lot of the planets too,” she says.

In 2001 Laurie Larson released her debut album Artist’s Mirage, the album that was originally intended as a gift for the person whom she loved in college. Laurie Larson Photo Two

“I fell in love with somebody and I thought, well maybe as a gift for him I would take all of the songs that I ever wrote and I would record them. I found recordings that I had and which was dumb, because some of them only had the saxophone part on a cassette. I took all of them into the studio. It was not a very good studio and I layered them on top of things that I had. I played all of the instruments, because when I went to the studio to make the gift, I thought, who is going to play with me? Everything, is very random on that CD, but it was just meant as a gift for this person that I liked (she recalls the expectation and the giddiness is evident in her voice as she relives the memory). I thought, this is the most that I can give somebody and he didn’t even listen to it. It shattered me and it broke my heart. I gave up again,” she says.

From the Artist’s Mirage album “Feather Dancer,” is a song that garnered considerable attention. The song came to Laurie Larson while she was playing with some horses on a nearby horse ranch. Horses are another constant in Larson’s life. She owns a horse that is part quarter horse and part Morgan and she named him Poco Kansas Spirit. She rescued the horse when it was still a foal.

About her popularity at Whisky A Go Go, she says, “I love it there. I think I have played there eighteen times in the last two or three years. I just love it. I think it is really funny, because I live here in Phoenix and I try to get a gig and people are like (she changes to a crotchety voice and is quite funny) You’re not Country or Heavy Metal and singer-songwriter we don’t really have blah blah blah.  At Whisky A Go Go they ask me to play and they say hey we have a slot open and I say okay I’ll be there. It is very different. I think it is the real deal, so they understand. That is the club that broke The Doors, they broke Buffalo Springfield. They have always been innovative and they have always celebrated individuality and things like that.  I think that is why I can be celebrated there where at other places they say, what’s that? What are you doing? That’s not country. Phoenix is a wannabe city. They want to be L.A. so they misinterpret that. They could be an awesome music market, but just isn’t.”

Laurie Larson’s ethereal vocals are hauntingly beautiful on “Architect of Dreams,” from her 2006 album Aquila, named after her favorite constellation. “Call To Action,” from the 2008 release Striking Resemblance is passively provocative, if you can get your head around two words that are normally juxtaposed to one another. “Redefining Home,” is reflective and Laurie Larson’s pretty vocals are set to driving guitars that growl and then solo like a mad man lost in a maze. One does not begin to understand the musical genius of Laurie Larson until you listen to her songs several times, because each time you discover a new layer that escaped your attention the first go round. Her music is not cleverly contrived nor is it reliant on cheap hooks. It is timeless and some of her songs remind one of the creativity of the early Moody Blues.

She says of “Redefining Home,” “I have always written my songs being conscious, but all year long I was dreaming that entire song.  I would awake in the middle of the night singing this, the whole thing, lyrics, music, the whole nine yards. I thought who does that song, that’s a great song. I kept thinking Oh My God, it has to be the Moody Blues. I was half awake and I thought, wait a minute, that’s nobody’s song, you better write that down (she laughs). That has never happened before where I have a song when I had just dreamed it.”

Has commercial radio in the most recent era of music quashed creativity? Laurie Larson has some thoughts about that.

“Radio is very depressing. When I started it seemed like it was going to be great and if we just changed a few things here it could get better. It has been a downhill slide ever since. Pretty much the bean counters came in and they took the radio friendly thing too far with over consulting and too much research. They basically sucked the life out of things and did not let local stations have their own unique sound and their own unique flavor for the community. It is mass marketed MacDonalds radio. I think that is very destructive and it really hurts artists. Now when they grow up they think, I have to write a song that sounds like this. If Jim Morrison and The Doors had thought about what’s commercial they would never have been The Doors and nobody would have cared. If you look at all of the iconic bands, I love Kansas, well nobody else sounded like them.  You have to make your own unique mark on the world.  What has happened since the mid-eighties is, oh I am a metal band, so I have to sound like this, I have to dress like this. Even though they are trying to be anti-establishment it is so funny they all dress the same.

If Jim Morrison were alive today he would be putting out some great videos, but then he might not write great songs, because we are only capable of so much. Right now we expect the artist to do everything. You have to make your own video, you have to do it yourself, do this.  Now you are not writing songs and now you aren’t working on your own unique footprint. Now you are in love with the technology. Oooh look at my voice, now I can auto-tune twelve layers of my voice. Oh My God listen. You start falling in love with the technology and you get away from the core songwriting.  What is important is that the original message you want gets out and it is the way that you want it to be.  With all of this technology and with all of this instant stuff you really can get lost and I think it is going to take some strong musicians to find their own unique voices today.”

Looking ahead Laurie Larson says, “I want to continue to create this beauty, as long as I am still inspired. I am working on a fourth album and three singles have been released, if you count the cover of the Steve Walsh song that I did. One (of those) songs is “Redefining Home,” and I really enjoyed that. We tried a new thing with my vocals and it makes it sound a lot better.”

You can listen to some of Laurie Larson’s music here and please visit Laurie Larson’s website.       Return to our Front Page

All photos courtesy of Laurie Larson and are protected by copyright,  © All Rights Reserved.

Interviewed by Joe Montague, July 2013

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