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Laura Cantrell

A Conversation with Laura Cantrell

Puremusic: So are you just finishing your radio show?

Laura Cantrell: I am cleaning up as we speak.

PM: Oh, really?

LC: Piling some records, and just getting everything straightened up here.

PM: How long is the show?

LC: It's actually three hours.

PM: Oh, wow. And how did today's show go?

LC: It went pretty well. Things were a little rough and rocky, because I haven't been here in a couple weeks, and there are always the radio reflexes that take a little while to remember.

PM: Yeah, right. A lot of dials and faders, and if you don't push the right one at the right time, bad things happen.

LC: Yeah, all those things.

PM: But that's a show you've been doing for many years, right?

LC: Twelve years.

PM: Twelve years. Oh, my. So before I get into the questions, I just want to say that I think Humming By The Flowered Vine is an amazing record.

LC: Well, thank you. I really appreciate that. We worked real hard on it, so it's nice to hear when people get it and appreciate it.

PM: Oh, yeah. You can hear the work. In the time since you walked away from the Wall Street corporate job and became not just a full-blown but a full-time artist, have you to some extent become a different person?

LC: Well, I definitely feel more aware--every day, really--of how much there is to music. I've been a fan and an enthusiast, and I've gone through many phases over the years. But to actually take the risk of putting myself out there as a musician full time was a big challenge for me. And it's definitely exciting when you feel like things are going well, just musically, setting aside how the external successes are defined. More like when you feel, oh, I played the song really well.

PM: Right.

LC: I'm enjoying being with my band. Those things, you start to realize they're not things that you can take for granted, and that you have to work hard to make those things work.

PM: And it's nice to have time to write a song.

LC: Sure. I think I thought the missing ingredient over the years was only time. But I realized when I quit my job, it wasn't just time, but also focus, and how you approach things. All of those things became apparent when I left my job. So yeah, I've got lot of new realizations of how hard the work is, and also how rewarding it can be.

PM: Yeah. Because when you are working a full-time gig you only have so much time, and you are extremely focused. And when suddenly you're a full-time musician, it's a whole different application to become, on a daily basis, very focused about your now completely musical work.

LC: I really don't regret having had to work full time while I was--it served a purpose for me, and I felt no shame in having to have a day job and all those things.

PM: Absolutely not.

LC: It's a good perspective to have. It really does make you relish the time when you turn around and have a little extra to go around.

PM: How scary is it just to walk away from the security and the steady paycheck?

LC: Yeah, that was hard. It took me a long time to do it, partly just because the reality of being in New York is that it's not a cheap place to be. That alone was an obstacle. But there were other things, too, other types of security besides financial. I had been at a place where I worked hard and had had some success in the corporate world. So walking away from that wasn't easy. It was hard work, but it was something that I didn't fret over, and I didn't ultimately doubt my abilities to do it. And there were times after I quit that I realized that I was a lot less secure as a musician than I had been as somebody in a job. To feel really comfortable owning that musician's role, I still work on that on a daily basis.

PM: Yeah, I can relate. Another big leap in that time frame, too, was the one from Diesel Only, your husband Jeremy Tepper's label, to Matador--

LC: Sure.

PM: --a prestigious house, to be sure. Can you walk us through how that transition came to pass?

LC: Definitely. Jeremy and I had put out Not the Tremblin' Kind and When the Roses Bloom Again and the EP last year, the Hello Recordings, on Diesel Only Records. The label was run primarily by my husband Jeremy, although I did a lot of the office work that Jer wasn't as focused on. And as we were looking at the prospect of making a third record, thinking about the work we'd done on our own, we had the feeling that, while I was totally prepared to pay for it myself and do what I had to do to get a record made, that it was going to be harder to get out there and do more than what we'd done for the previous two albums.

PM: Right.

LC: Considering the combination of good fortune that we'd had with those two records, and the favors we pulled and what-have-you, we were really feeling like we were going to hit some of our limitations in terms of being on a small label, and that we might start seeing some diminishing returns. And we were concerned that that might limit what I could do as a performer, and as somebody who wants to travel and play music. And so we were open to ideas, and to finding somebody else to shoulder some of the work.

Around this time, we heard from Matador, which was a big surprise for us, since Matador is known as an indie rock label. We've known those folks for years, being here in New York, [founders] Gerard Cosloy and Chris Lombardi, and known many of the artists who have been with the label, going back to when I was in college. One of their earliest releases was the group Superchunk. And I had gone to school with all of those folks.

So I had known them and seen from a bit of a distance what they did. And I was definitely a fan of the label, but never assumed that they would be interested in what I do.

PM: Yeah, it didn't seem that likely a place to land.

LC: No, it really didn't. What was interesting, though--we'd seen Gerard Cosloy at a few shows. He'd been living in England. And as my experience with gaining ground with an English audience grew, I think he saw what was going on there, with the press coverage and radio we'd received. He'd gone to London to open the Matador office there. And they had Belle & Sebastian and some other indie bands.

PM: Oh, I didn't know they did Belle & Sebastian. [There's some very enlightening info on this great label in their FAQ page here.]

LC: Yeah. And so he was there working on Matador, but was also right there when my thing was starting to get noticed, and so I think he got the perspective of what was happening there. But if he'd been here in the States, I don't know if it would have necessarily come to his attention, or if it would have seemed cool to him in the way that it did over there--hearing John Peel playing some of the music, talking about it, and all the unlikely supporters that I got there, which certainly surprised me.

PM: And the level at which you got them. I mean, John Peel, jeez.

LC: Yeah, exactly. I mean, we were very thrilled, once I got over the shock of Peel playing my album and talking about it. We really, really appreciated that that was unique, and a great opportunity for me. And we certainly made friends with John over the years, and got to know him and his family. So I think that Matador had a perspective that some other labels here didn't have, because of their UK operation. And that's how I understood their initial interest.

PM: Wow. That's a very interesting and unpredictable set of events. That's really an interesting story.  continue

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