Lauren Calve Provides Track-by-Track Background of ‘Wildfire’ EP

Videos by American Songwriter

Videos by American Songwriter

Lauren Calve and her musical compositions find grounding in the sounds of blues and Americana, guitar and lap steel, but the strength of both lie in how they go beyond tradition into innovative melodies, structures and arrangements that define their originality. 

Calve has a lot to say.  But not in an in your face way but subtlety, coolly.  Her lyrics, intonation, and songwriting resonate with the listener leaving them to ponder what they’ve just heard and wanting more.   On her latest EP, Wildfire, Calve delves into interesting territory as she uses memorable imagery and meter to write about complex issues too little found in popular music today such as the increased polarization and divisiveness prevalent in the US and around the world, corporate greed and their role in both the climate crisis and gun violence, women’s’ stories that are dominating public consciousness, and even the precarity of online dating.

With the release of the EP on June 23 (pre-save), Calve gave the readers of American Songwriter a Behind the Song Track-by-Track of the tunes.

“Better Angels” (Radio Mix)
I wrote “Better Angels” about two years ago after listening to a radio interview with Jon Meacham who cited Abraham Lincoln’s inaugural address on the eve of the Civil War as inspiration for his book, The Soul of America: The Battle For Our Better Angels. Meacham applied Lincoln’s message of “the better angels of our nature” to the courage of the American people who dealt with the unprecedented crises of their era.  As I listened to this, immigrants were being contained along the Southern border.  Families were being separated; children were held in cages without beds, blankets, or food. Talk about a defining moment in American history and the “battle for our better angels”.  Lincoln’s words still held a powerful resonance, and they gave me a deep hope that I hadn’t felt in years. “Better Angels” came from that surge of hope and optimism.  It was a reminder that we would always rise to the occasion, no matter what. 

“SHOCK TIME”
I got the line for the chorus, “What’ll I do when my shock time comes?” from one of Woody Guthrie’s journal entries.  This echoed for me in a socio-political activist book I was reading at the time, Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrine.  Guthrie’s “shock time” refers to the possibility of receiving electroshock therapy to treat what doctor’s thought was a psychiatric condition. Klein’s “Shock Doctrine” represents the social and environmental “shock” strategies of those in power to keep the rest of us fearful and ignorant.  In the song, the speaker brings together Klein and Guthrie’s “shocks” in a fearful contemplation of his misdeeds and the imminent retribution therefor. I also consider “Shock Time” to be a song of resistance and in step with a central theme of the 2020 Democratic Presidential movement: holding the rich and powerful accountable. 

“WILDFIRE”
Wildfire is the first and only love song I’ve ever written.  I’ve always kind of prided myself in never having written a romantic love song because I never wanted to come across as the “confessional, shrinking violet” female singer-songwriter.  Also, I find romantic love songs to be the most daunting to write – how can I say something different about love that hasn’t already been said?! One person who I think does that effectively is Lucinda Williams.  I absolutely love “Metal Firecracker” for its frank and colorful description of a romantic relationship; it’s a completely original love song. In that same spirit, or what I hoped would be, I wrote “Wildfire.” The silly metaphors, alt-country feel, and yodel-y vocal style are all meant to run counter to the saccharine tone that most people associate with love songs.  

“Better Angels”
I wrote “Better Angels” about two years ago after listening to a radio interview with Jon Meacham who cited Abraham Lincoln’s inaugural address on the eve of the Civil War as inspiration for his book, The Soul of America: The Battle For Our Better Angels. Meacham applied Lincoln’s message of “the better angels of our nature” to the courage of the American people who dealt with the unprecedented crises of their era.  As I listened to this, immigrants were being contained along the Southern border.  Families were being separated; children were held in cages without beds, blankets, or food. Talk about a defining moment in American history and the “battle for our better angels”.  Lincoln’s words still held a powerful resonance, and they gave me a deep hope that I hadn’t felt in years. “Better Angels” came from that surge of hope and optimism.  It was a reminder that we would always rise to the occasion, no matter what. 

Once Covid-19 started spreading I began thinking about Abraham Lincoln’s message and the everyday people on the front lines in the battle against the pandemic.  For me, they symbolize the angels that Lincoln talked about.  The qualities of our better nature – courage, leadership, resolve, resilience, empathy, compassion, and altruism are all exemplified in the nurses, doctors, janitors, grocery store clerks, mail carriers, delivery truck drivers, pharmacists, and other essential workers.  They are the “better angels” represented in the lyrics who “carry us to higher ground” while embodying the true spirit of the song and of Lincoln’s famous words: “The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

“ON AND ON” 
The documentary Muscle Shoals (2013) has influenced me in so many ways.  The groundbreaking sounds of Muscle Shoals, Alabama in the 60’s and 70’s are part of my musical DNA.  As a roots music musician and a huge fan of classic soul music, I’m always intrigued to discover the antecedent influences in the songs I write.  In the case of “On and On,” I intentionally mimicked Wilson Pickett’s style, one of the breakout and most electrifying Muscle Shoals artists. “On and On” pays homage to the classic soul music I love so much and is an anthem for anyone who has witnessed a loved one stuck in a vicious cycle.   

“NEW BLUES”
Blues music is probably my biggest influence.  It moves me in ways hardly anything else does. I’m drawn to and try to emulate its simplicity, searing electric guitar lines, and emotive vocal style.  At the same time, I don’t want to imitate it exactly. “New Blues” is my attempt at creating a “new” blues sound. I started with a blues form, but incorporated chords and chord progressions not typically found in a classic blues song.  Also, I wanted the lyrics to feel “new,” or modern, so I wrote about a blues-inspired, woeful issue that is distinct to the Millennial generation to which I belong: Tinder.  

SHE LOVES WATERFALLS” 
There are times when a song comes together all at once: the music, the lyrics, the melody.  “She Loves Waterfalls” came together like that. It all started with a photo of my mom standing and smiling in front of a beautiful waterfall on a clear, sunny day.  She sent the photo to my brothers and me while on a road trip with her husband. Now remarried, they both enjoy meandering through western Virginian backcountry roads in his F-150.  The photo really moved me. To me, it represented my mom’s newfound, and long overdue, joy. And the waterfall in the photo symbolized that joy and the past hardships that had made it that much sweeter.  The lyrics in the second verse speak to those hardships when my mom bore the brunt of the storm, so we didn’t have to. And the final verse is her joy fully realized when she “becomes a waterfall”.  The chord progression choice in the song was a special decision that weaved in another story about my mom.  My mom taught it to me when I was 15-years-old and just learning guitar. In fact, it was the first chord progression I learned and instilled in me a love of open chord voicings.  I always wanted to use the progression in a song, but in the six years of writing, it never made its way in. Needless to say, it was serendipitous that it found its place in this song.  

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