The Queen of Echo Park Lauren Ruth Ward speaks to Atwood Magazine about her new record ‘Vol. II,’ self- discovery, honesty, art and the undying love to rock n’ roll.
Rock n’ roll in 2020 really needs something, and that’s why we should thank the various goddesses and gods above us for sending us Lauren Ruth Ward. After releasing her debut album Well, Hell in 2018, she is now blessing our ears with her second record called Vol. II.
Critics have described her music in the past as a cross between musical legends like Janis Joplin, Florence Welch, and Courtney Barrett, but Ward is a unique persona in her own way. The Maryland native moved a couple of years ago to the tie-dye explosion of colour and energy Echo Park, Los Angeles. Since then, many fans and bands alike fell for her unique music.
One of her friends, Echo Park folk powerhouse singer Alicia Blue, even dedicated a song completely to her called “Queen of Echo Park.” Moving to Los Angeles from Maryland opened the musical creative door to a worldwide audience. As soon as she started performing live, the new phenomenon’s music went viral.
In no time, she was playing in front of sold-out crowds all over the US, acting as support for diverse bands such as the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s, Shirley Manson, Eddie Vedder, LP, Shakey Graves, Liz Phair, and even Keith Urban. Thanks to her energetic live show, she built up the reputation of stealing the show.
Now, for her second album, she had the opportunity to work with the LA-based producer Matt Linesch who is known for his love of tape recording. So, for three tracks of this record, Lauren Ruth Ward went back to the roots of music and recorded three out of the ten tracks to tape. She wrote the songs for this album with her creative musical partner, Eduardo Rivera.
With having five singles released before the album dropped, we already got a taste of her new sound. She still sounds just as visceral but now even more focused and mature on what she wants to tell us. From songs like “Valhalla,” “Wise Gal,” and “Super Bullshit,” you could already tell that she delivers her unique messages of empowerment and self-discovery with honesty, poignancy, and her own created beauty.
This year, she had her first US headlining tour planned and ahead of her, but due to the current circumstances of the world, this will be postponed, but her fans will still be able to catch her spreading her eclectic energy on a stage. For her fans from the UK and Europe, she will also do some stops over there.
Atwood Magazine recently chatted with the rising star Lauren Ruth Ward about her new album, Vol. II. Get all the info below!
Listen: ‘Vol. II’ – Lauren Ruth Ward
A CONVERSATION WITH LAUREN RUTH WARD
Atwood Magazine: You had the incredible opportunity to collaborate with Matt Linesch for your new record. How has this enriched your songwriting?
Lauren Ruth Ward: As Matt is a song engineer and producer on the album, he has not really influenced my songwriting. A person who has is my guitarist Eduardo. We demoed some song ideas at his house and then decided who will bring these ideas to life the best. On that note, Matt did three out of the 11 songs on the record. He worked on “Water Sign,” “Must Be Nice,” and “Real Life for the Most Part” with us. He is just awesome.
He recorded, engineered and co-produced the songs with Eduardo and me. It was just a great team. Matt recorded us on tape, so it was a really interesting experience. It was like back in the day, analogue, so you do not have that many chances to get it right. The more you run the tape, the more it thins out, and the more it hurts the integrity of the audio. I knew Matt from former projects, and when we were discussing working together for this album, he explained to me the process of tape recording, which I had only done a few times before. He simply felt like I was a good candidate for this process, as my first, second or third takes of a song are always the best ones.
My singing is very driven by my emotions. I write the lyrics by myself about an experience I have gone through, and as soon as I sing about it, it feels like I am going through it again. In the producing process, Eduardo, Matt and I worked all together. Matt mixed in analogue, which is crazy as he is mixing it live.
You see all these buttons and knobs moving up and down, manually everything. So those three songs, “Water sign”, “must be nice” and “real life for the most part” have never been touched digitally before they went on the streaming services. I won’t make a CD, just a Vinyl. So, when you listen to the vinyl, these three tracks are completely analogue, never digital. It is kind of cool.
After listening to your record, I am very curious about the last song “It Must Be Nice.” It has very strong lyrics. What has inspired you to write this song and communicate this message?
Lauren Ruth Ward: The title was rolling around in my head for a couple of years because I feel very, very hyper most of the time. I’ve always had people around me that talk less. There are so many pros and cons to both kinds of personalities. I have always felt like that. I have so much to say and to feel, so sometimes it is a bit overwhelming. Yeah, I feel like that my feelings are extroverted, but sometimes my brain is introverted. And sometimes, I would prefer not to be that way.
I started writing bits and pieces of a song and thought like “it must be nice to be so calm.” And then the past couple of years, we got a new president for the United States. In my personal opinion, he is one of the worst things that’s ever happened to us. And that’s what democracy is, I guess. He is some people’s gods, which is annoying and hard to cope with for me. I ended up having so much to say about this situation. And that’s what this song is for.
I think people understand it when they hear it. Like, it must be nice to stand up. Whilst writing it, I was crossing out paragraphs, as it was already four and a half minutes long. But that’s the real journey of the concept. Also, the sentence “must be nice” is a thing that people say so often. In the end, I said fuck it – hopefully, he has only nine more months left. And I really, really wanted to talk about it.
I also have cut songs about things I have gone through and how men have affected me negatively. Don’t get me wrong, I am definitely not a man-hater. There are so many men in my life that are making me a better person. And it’s not just men, but they were involved in most of the evil that I have experienced in my life, just as an observation. I sing a lot about these situations and how I could have been protected from it. But what happened, happened. This is not about my broad spectrum of pain and healing from the hands of men, this is straight about Donald Trump. It is scary but it is necessary.
You named the term female empowerment as a large influence on your record. How is movement mirrored in your musical work?
Lauren Ruth Ward: I guess the word “female empowerment” came first and the label came second. I adopted that phrase as it simply does resonate. Sounds cliché but it is true. I started to write music because it is healing for me. And I still continue to do that as it helps me with what I am going through. I wrote a song for my first album Well, Hell called “Make Love to Myself” which I consider as an anthem for this empowering movement.
The lyrics are about a situation when a man was hitting on me and he was really relentless, treating me like I was existing for him. I went home and wrote that song, in a like Americana vibe, and tried to make it seem not so obvious. And that was the first song when people started to put the female empowerment label on me. I was seen like a screaming feminist, even though I am way more than that. And people do tend to label me like that whenever I get comparisons. I feel very honoured to be described as a mix of Florence Welch and Janis Joplin, but I see myself as my own person.
It is truly amazing to be compared to such musical legends, and when you take into regard that in the history of rock’n’ roll back in the day, women weren’t really allowed. For example, the all-female group Fanny is unknown as they just seem to be erased from the history of this music genre. Also, when you see the doors movie and they step on a plane, Pamela, Jim Morrison’s girlfriend, gets labeled as “ornament.”
My point is simply that I appreciate the compliments, but I never wrote with these intentions. I was never writing with the intention to empower per se. First of all, I write about things that mean something to me. But more recently, I thought about what I would like to hear and would make me feel better when I listen to music. I simply want to write to make people feel better about what we are going through, and sometimes empowerment is the way to do that. For example, with my song “Must Be Nice,” I want to empower people. Not only females. Of course, I am seeing from a female’s perspective, but I have the intention of empowering everybody that I possibly can.
I see myself going more in that direction. I want to be conscious of the listener, regardless of their gender, and empower them. Also, the female empowerment movement is great, but right now it feels like a trend that is adapted from the masses like tote bags a couple of years ago. I mean it is a great trend, and I hope it will last, but I have always been that way- to me, this is a way of life, not a trend.
From all the songs of the record, “Goddess” definitely stands out as it is way more slow and quiet than the rest of them. What was the intention of this?
Lauren Ruth Ward: It just came out. It was a feeling that just came out. It is about my relationship. Both, me and my partner, we are touring musicians. And to be honest, it has been difficult on the road. I do not have any musician friends who are dating a touring musician as well. It is so hard sometimes, and I simply wanted to get that off my chest. Me and my partner got a lot of fans, who love us as a couple. And that song was my best attempt to get it off my chest whilst protecting my intimacy.
After I wrote that song, it felt like it was stripped down, off my chest. I simply wanted to be heard, even though it was hard to explain these feelings. I have that natural instinct to share, as I am incapable of keeping my feelings to myself. I feel most comfortable when people exactly know how I am feeling. It was a journey to get that onto paper. But I enjoyed it. I don’t even really feel like a songwriter, I feel like a poet who likes to dance and shares a message through that.
Watch: “Water Sign” – Lauren Ruth Ward
Another song that really stands out from the album is “Water Sign.” What was the writing process of this track like?
Lauren Ruth Ward: I am a Scorpio, which is a water sign. I simply feel things more intense. That’s why I am big on meditation, I believe it works very well for me. It has been something really helpful for me to stay centered. I know, it sounds very hippie, but it is true. I just feel like I can focus more. I feel very present because of it. As a water sign, I work on my inner emotions a lot. One of my friends, for example, to cope with this she does breathwork. I didn’t know that it existed before.
You simply check in with yourself, asking yourself what you are without all the hassle around you. The things that are going on in your daily life. You ask yourself who you are as a person. I was listening to my friend about her breathwork and the connection you have with yourself, and then I realized that on some days feel out of hell. Some people introduce me as a firecracker, that’s what inspired that song. I felt like it would work well in the writing. The intensity in the way I feel is not necessarily a bad thing.
It’s a part of my life. In that song, I simply describe who I am and how I feel. The whole point of it is to show I know who I am. Being an intense person can often be seen as “bad” even though it is not. I am not a bad person. The point that I am making is that we have to keep in check our emotions. They are primal. With that song, I am saying I am ready, here I am. My emotions are there, and I am basically saying, I see you and I hear you at the very end. I see myself as a water sign, boiling to the top, like a kettle. I see this as a metaphor for having control over your emotions. It sucks having emotions, would rather have all those crazy emotions than being a numb person.
Was there a major influence for your record?
Lauren Ruth Ward: I always go to shows to get inspired by other artists. It is hard to pinpoint one thing, as my head is always so full of ideas. I never not have an idea. I recently had an experience. A friend of mine started to copy me. The whole thing started off as a fan, who became a friend of mine. It was a really nice friendship. It just kept getting weirder at some point. At some point, I simply talked to her about it, and I decided that I just need some space from her, and it was the time to move on for both parties.
Whilst making this record, there hasn’t a day passed by, when I did not think of her. She was just that kind of person that blindly copies you, without even intending to do so. I talked to my therapist about this and she said something like, you know, some people are born with this natural gift of ideas. The innovators that are constantly thinking of their ideas. I have been thinking about her constantly and I keep thinking about how it must be to not have any ideas. I am very thankful for my loud brain, full of ideas. So, when I go out, I’m always inspired. I feel inspired by everything, I can’t really name a specific source.
How come did you choose “Valhalla” as the album opener?
Lauren Ruth Ward: I love that you asked that question. In terms of the vinyl, on side A there are five songs and on side B there are also five songs. I have to go a step back in order to answer the question fully. So, we got signed to an indie label back in 2018. It was a journey. In the end, it was just for a year. It was really cool. It was a good step to take at this time. One of the downfalls of it was that we got caught up in something stupid.
They were being very precious about songs. I was not allowed to release them whenever I wanted and as a hyper-creative person, that felt very frustrating. I just wanted to scream. I learned so much about myself during that process. It is a very valuable lesson. A good choice in the long run. I learned about myself that I am more inspired to create after I released something. After that, I feel like I can focus on the next thing. With that label, not simply felt like we were speaking two different languages. I mean, being on a label definitely has its perks. For example, we did the music video for “Valhalla” with them, which is a work of art. I would have never been able to realize that idea without their budget.
Long story short- the label got dropped by the end of 2018. As soon as that happened, Eduardo and I had a bag full of songs we were finally able to release, and “Valhalla” was the first one of them. I simply wanted to put out six singles in 2019. A single each month. And I managed on my hairstylist budget to do five out of the 6 music videos. So, on side A of the vinyl are all the single releases in chronological order. On side B of the vinyl are all the unreleased songs.
Watch: “Valhalla” – Lauren Ruth Ward
I saw many references to art in your way of promoting yourself. Is there any artist that has left a special impact on you?
Lauren Ruth Ward: So many artists have left an impact on me. My childhood was Led Zeppelin, Rolling Stones, the Beatles, Jackson Five, The Carpenters, and Frank Sinatra. And more recently, I have been inspired by this band called The Blank Tapes who are also from Los Angeles. His music and the lyrics are just great. You make your own assessment whilst listening to it. I am a massive fan of him. In fact, he will go on tour with me.
Now we are friends, but it took me around a year to stop being nervous around him. He’s got such a cool persona; he delivers things very laid back. That was something that really inspired me. I would say my song “Water Sign” was unintentionally inspired by The Blank Tapes. But more in a sense, that when I listen back to it, I feel the same way as I would when I listen to their music. Cool and psych-rock just have crucial elements that have always influenced me.
Another recent influence, for like the past two years is Jen Cloher. I would describe her music as very well produced, dry ’60s sounding drums like a nonchalant rock. Also, Valley Queen, who is also from LA, is a big inspiration and influence for me. She will support me on my US tour, which is something that she has never done before. Same story as with The Blank tapes. When I came to LA, I was a fan of her music, now we are friends and we are touring together. I feel like a very excited child about this, but I am playing it cool.
How does it feel to have your first headlining tour ahead of you?
Lauren Ruth Ward: It feels incredible. We’ve had headlining tours before, but the longest of them was about two weeks. So, this is actually our first full US headlining tour. We’ve toured the US last year for a full five-week tour last year as an opening act for a friend, which was such an amazing experience. We got to play in massive venues full of people and the energy was just incredible. So, I am very excited to hit those markets again and see. See what comes out of the energy exchange. I know it does sound cheesy.
I wish there was a different word to describe it, but there simply isn’t. I feel so honored that I can do all this. I know that this is a massive privilege and not everyone gets to do that. I do wish that everyone could experience that incredible feeling of being on stage, it is truly amazing. It is just like a drug. It’s like low, a drug that cleanses you. Being on stage and singing to people. And sometimes people sing back your own lyrics to you, which is unbelievable.
On your website, I have seen that you are inspired by rock n roll. What in particular means rock and roll to you?
Lauren Ruth Ward: Ah, that is a good question. I think it is the formula. I just feel songs that have this mix in themselves. It takes you to a place, the lyrics are folk, they are the story. And they take you on a journey with some electric guitar and drums. I know it is a very broad description, but especially nowadays when there is like son much gender blending, I think it is really cool. I think it is cool that most things can have this rock element. It is the energy about it, I think.
How come does the album artwork underline the message of the music?
Lauren Ruth Ward: It is just me. I think that is the underlining message. I have been doing art all my life, whether that was photography, printing or anything else. I love creating images, but it is the art for my joy. For me, Instagram for example, is a visual platform, a platform that gives me the opportunity to share that side of myself. I consider myself at my happiest when I am creating. And I love to see other people creating art. People are taking art in various ways. And they interpret it in various ways.
You can’t change the way that people think about your art. For example, that’s what the song “pull string on my album is about. For the album, I just want to create unique art musically and visually, that represents me. I love creating it and I would never steal any sort of idea or artwork from another artist. Being unique and innovative is my first priority with it, so being called a copycat would be my worst nightmare.
How did you get into music? Was it always something you wanted to pursue?
Lauren Ruth Ward: When I was a little kid, I always wanted to be an art teacher, singer and, an actress at the same time. I always sang for myself but didn’t really see singing as something I would like to pursue. It was not until my early twenties when I started my first band. I tried to start like four bands from the age of 20 to 23. It just never really worked out at this point, as I was living in Maryland and everyone had day jobs. So did I, I was a hairstylist. I had a career, but I still had that urge in myself to sing and pursue it.
I know it sounds very cheesy, but as time progressed, the hunger inside me, the hunger for music just seemed to grow more every day. I had a little band with my ex, who is a very talented videographer. We played at house parties; it was fun. And then we broke up. I suddenly felt that void inside me, without the music. By this moment, I seemed to have everything. I had built a clientele, was successful in my day job and worked six days a week.
I was getting depressed and I didn’t know why. By that time, I had already been discovered by my now former manager Diane, who is now a friend of mine. I decided to move to LA, everything pointed to the fact that I could do it, as I had savings to live from. I maybe had, like, two friends in LA before I moved there. Diane introduced me to all her friends over there and as soon as I moved there, I became a happier person. It might sound dramatic, but seasonal depression is a thing. I just didn’t know that I had it. When I started to perform live, it took me a second to get comfortable. But as soon as I started doing that, I became lighter. It was almost like I got something off my chest. So, it wasn’t always this undying desire, but Jesus Christ it was definitely something that I needed.
You once said that you got a lot to say in your music. Do you think music should be used as a platform to make a difference in this world?
Lauren Ruth Ward: I think it is completely up to the artist. It is a very personal choice. There are so many artists out there, so many beautiful minds. But from an artists’ perspective, I know how unforgiving the world and especially the media can be. It is a nerve-racking process to make sure that you do not offend anyone in the wrong way.
And in this digital age especially, it is so easy to cancel an artist. It is just super personal, this whole thing. I do not want to say that everyone should be standing up. I am not that kind of activist. I don’t think everyone should do anything. I can’t tell anyone what they will use their platform for, it is everyone’s individual choice. I am just speaking for myself.
Which live performance of yours had the biggest impact on you as an artist and why?
Lauren Ruth Ward: There are so many. I know I have only been doing this for like four years so I am still learning and getting to do a lot of new stuff. I feel like every performance has an impact on me. Sometimes, I get so positively overwhelmed, that I cry. When I was in Europe, people knew the lyrics to my songs, which is just crazy. It is unignorable.
It is just me, being in a room full of 200 people and they know the words to my songs. It is just crazy. I have never experienced something like this before. It feels like they give back to you what you have given to them. It is just an unexplainable experience. My knees just felt liquid at that moment.
If you would have to describe your album in three sentences, what would you say?
Lauren Ruth Ward: Literally everything I am thinking of saying is so cliché. Lyrically, I think we have gotten more truthful and political. Production wide, we definitely raised the bar. And my third sentence is that Eduardo and I feel very set up for the next album. I feel like it definitely opened through the songwriting that we did together for this album. We started writing again like a week ago.
? © Nicol Biesek
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