A few weeks ago, Becca and I caught up with Laurel Sprengelmeyer –aka Little Scream –at the MusicNow festival to discuss the creative process behind her outstanding debut album and the magic that happens when great musicians get to hang out for a weekend in Cincinnati. A talented songstress and genuinely mirthful soul, Laurel was a total pleasure to talk to, and I would highly recommend catching her on her current tour with The Antlers. To whet your appetite, some of the topics breached in our conversation include Klingon, Prince’s Purple Rain, and “Little Miss Sunshine.” Enjoy!
What has been your experience so far with the MusicNow festival?
It’s been great! It’s my second time coming here and my first time playing. It’s all about music and people making musical connections, so its kind of a music festival for musicians. So it encourages collaboration and its one of the only times I’ll ever have Bryce and Aaron from The National play [with me]. It’s so great to have that kind of thing happen and the festival facilitates that. It’s not about going with the hot new thing and it’s not about industry. So many bigger festivals are about industry even if the people who are programming love music. This festival is about music and that’s so unfortunately rare.
Has there been camaraderie among all the musicians?
Yes! It’s so nice to make all those musical connections in a really quality way. I just really trust Bryce’s instincts about people doing really interesting stuff and being awesome people. Some of them are people that I have been on tour with before like Sharon [Van Etten] and Owen [Pallett], but I had never met the Megafaun guys before.
They’re so supportive. When Aaron heard that Ritchie [Richard Reed Perry of Arcade Fire/her boyfriend] was working on my album and that we were down in NY for a couple of days, he was like ‘Hey, come on over to the studio and we’ll record something’ and so they recorded a song of mine and Aaron played on it. They’re so good about that; its unfortunately rare –a lot of integrity
Is there a unifying concept that unites your debut album, The Golden Record?
The unifying concept was that… I mean the way that we approached it was that we took every song individually –I’m a painter first –and so my thinking was I wanted every song to be like a little universe. So in some ways it’s like paintings at a show. Actually, the album cover is my painting, but I take a long time on my paintings and that’s why it’s hard for me to have full shows. I usually just sell stuff out of my studio.
I thought of it like that, the way you would approach doing a painting show: everything has to be its own universe; everything has to stand on its own as its own picture and its own story and its own universe, but its still part of the same show. So even if some would be very different from the others, they’d be unified by that same spirit.
I wanted it to be able to go to different territory because there are different stories and different emotional content in each of the songs. Like oh this song sounds like it should be coming out of the desert in the Southwest, so lets just take it all the way there. Let’s not think about it making sense with song B or C or D; lets just take it all the way there. But its still coming from the same headspace and recording sensibility, and we trusted that would unify it.
We thought about unifying it after, but I knew it was more important that each painting is awesome, because you’d rather have each individual track be good even if it doesn’t end up fitting in to the album. I think I will always approach writing that way. I want to love each one even if they’re different and then trust that it will fit together -and it does -because it all comes from the same headspace. I think that the more you create, the more that you realize that you have your own voice, even if you’re trying to do something else. Like when you hear early Lou Reed stuff your like ‘oh dude he’s trying to be bob Dylan!’ but Lou Reed is Lou Reed so he sounds like Lou Reed, and the more he does his own stuff it just sounds like that. So I think the more you do your own stuff, even if you’re inspired by different things or aiming at other things, its going to still sound like you and that unifies it. It was cool to hear that happen on this album for me.
I took stuff from different periods too, like I just write all the time and I have notebooks full of everything, and I have a billion song fragments all the time. If I just took my same old notebooks that I took these songs from and sat down for a couple days and just turned them all into complete songs it would be like oh that would be the next album, even if I didn’t write another new thing. It just so happened that these were the songs that I was pulling up and we started working on, and that’s how this album came together.
Do you consider yourself a nerd in any way?
I know what the Klingon prefix code is! [deadpans] 96301. But that was from grade school. It’s hard for me to sum up what I nerd out about because I am not reactionary about trying to be different, because I’ve never related to anything all that normal. I feel like I’m a field analyst like ‘Oh interesting, really, this is what people like?’
So yah, I collected rocks and music boxes as a kid. I would only need to show you a picture of me from third grade to kind of sum it all up. Little pink plastic glasses, hair permed really tight, and I would make these little hair bows for myself out of yarn. Ritchie was like, ‘you were Little Miss Sunshine,’ after he saw an old photo. I was a little bit chubby and I was very much Little Miss Sunshine. Now that I look back on the little hair things that I used to make for myself, they kind of look like tampon strings. Even my mom was like are you sure you wanna wear these? And I was like yah I like these –they’re cool!
If you could dance to one song for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Probably something by Prince on Purple Rain, or something Motown.