Folk/alternative country singer-songwriter Laura Veirs calls from Portland, Oregon as she’s walking her dog, a chihuahua/dachshund/terrier mix that she adopted almost a year ago.
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“I like to get multitasking in when I can!” she says with a laugh. “I didn’t want a dog, but my kids wanted a dog so I was like, ‘All right, we’ll get you a dog for Christmas.’ So then of course I fell in love with him. He’s a really sweet guy.”
Veirs is releasing her eleventh studio album, My Echo, on October 23 (via Raven Marching Band Records), but even though she’s been through many release dates before, she admits this one is making her a bit anxious. “I was feeling a little nervous today,” she says. “There’s songs on it that make me feel vulnerable. This one is more emotional for me in some ways because it was made with my ex while we were still together, but we were really faltering and having problems in our marriage. Tucker Martine was my producer for 20 years and the father of my children. Everything fell apart and he only mixed half of it.
“It’s an album about disintegration,” Veirs continues. “It’s kind of sensitive territory for me. I guess sometimes I wish I didn’t have to think about it. But I do want to talk about it and play the songs in these limited shows that I’m doing because I’m proud of it, and I think it’s a good piece of work.” She sighs and adds, “It’s just kind of a mixed bag, honestly.”
Veirs also changed things up this time in terms of the way she wrote her lyrics. A couple of years ago, she began a monthly poetry writing/reading group with two friends. “So a lot of the songs that I wrote on this album came from that, from poems first, which I’ve never done,” Veirs says. “Usually, I just sit there with my guitar and strum until words come. But this [poetry] was like, ‘I think I can turn it into a song.’ I did a lot of exploration between different poetry and songs. “
This new method resulted in a new writing style for Veirs. “I guess my poetry is more free-flowing and more open-ended,” she says, whereas her previous lyrics were “more structured and rhyming.” While she admits that this poetic approach meant she had to “shoehorn some stuff into place this time,” she’s pleased with the results. “I do think it got different words out of me, and in certain songs I’m in a more open, dreamlike, free-associative space that I love. So I was grateful for the poetry side of things to come in and change the music.”
Veirs is confident enough in her songwriting to shake things up with it now, but she admits that she initially was slow to realize she should be a professional musician at all. When she was in high school in Colorado Springs, her brother gave her a guitar and showed her how to play a few chords. “I thought it would be fun to be in a band,” she says of this time, “but in my town, there were no girls in [bands] and hardly any live music, so I didn’t [think], ‘Well, I can do it.’”
Things changed when Veirs attended college in Minnesota. There, she says, “I met some people who were really into the DIY punk thing. It was really mind-opening because I realized, ‘I can do this’ – because I saw enough women doing it. Which is weird, because I’m usually really confident. But I think because I just didn’t know any women doing it, I didn’t make the leap. But once I did, I was like, ‘Wow, this is so fun!’”
After graduation, Veirs moved to Seattle, where her brother was living. She ended up staying there for a decade, and that’s where she met Tucker Martine in the late ‘90s. Together, they moved to Portland, Oregon 15 years ago.
Throughout this time, Veirs had been working on her songwriting, guitar playing, and performance skills. She released her self-titled debut album in 1999. Since then, besides releasing eleven studio albums (including My Echo), she also wrote the soundtrack for the 2012 film Hello I Must Be Going. In 2016, she collaborated on an album, case/lang/veirs, with k.d. lang and Neko Case.
“At the heart of it, I think is the enjoyment of the process of writing,” Veirs says of her prolific output. “I’m not sitting down to write a song to get a hit or to make money, although it is my job and I do realize there’s a money element to it. I’m just thinking, ‘Gosh, the way the wind was moving the trees today was amazing. How can I capture that?’ I’ve got my radar out all the time. I’m taking it all in.”
Even though Veirs constantly scans her environment for inspiration, she has also found a more proactive way to spark her creativity, as well: “I invented a card prompt system – it’s like a songwriting game,” she says of her Kaleidoscope Creativity Cards, which she sells as a set of three decks of cards at https://ravenmarchingband.com/products/creativity-cards.
“I did that because I felt that I was writing the same kind of songs over and over again in terms of chords and similar lyrical content,” Veirs says of the inspiration behind creating these card sets. “So I made these cards where there was a random prompt that tells you what to do. That did shake it up for me, and I’ve been teaching the system to people online with Zoom classes. It’s been really fun.”
With My Echo set for release, Veirs is already looking ahead at what she wants to do next with her newfound artistic freedom. “Now I’m rediscovering myself as an artist because I was in partnership with Tucker for 20 years, and he had listened to all my demos and would be the first editor and listener and help me decide on songs for an album. Now I’m like, ‘Okay, pull up your big girl pants, it’s your turn!’” She laughs and adds, “It’s exciting. It’s scary.”
Veirs says she’s already written her next album. She’s not sure when that one will come out, but she gives a preview of what fans can expect from it: “I do have some heartbreak-style songs on the new one. But also, the next one has exciting love songs on it, and songs that talk about transition and moving from one space to the next and rebirth and renewal. You’re not going to get a downer heartbreak record from me because I don’t feel that way at all now,” she says.
And it’s true: Veirs certainly does seem upbeat. “A year ago, I wouldn’t have believed you if you said, ‘You’re going to be much better in a year. You’re going to feel happy.’ And I do,” she says. “I’m not skipping through daisies all day, but I do feel like I made the right decision. I am exploring new relationships. I’m exploring new connections to music in terms of working with some new collaborators.”
Suddenly, there’s the sound of crashing glass, and Veirs explains she’s just deposited her recyclables – more multitasking. “Life is happening!” she says cheerfully. Life certainly has been happening for Veirs recently – both good and bad. Undoubtedly, that experience will continue to come through in her music.