Before the release of her latest LP, The Lookout, Laura Veirs revealed some stats about its creation, in the form of hand scribbled post-it notes shared on Instagram. Among those are the first word sung on the album ("scuttling"), the last word ("fire"), and the number of children who appear on the recordings (three).
And then, a plot twist for the number of songs written: 117. Only 14 of those were recorded, and only 12 made the final cut. The rest, she says, are crumpled up somewhere in the writing room of her home in Portland, Ore. Ah, the life of a career songwriter.
The Lookout is out today, and features vocal appearances by Laura's pals Jim James of My Morning Jacket and Sufjan Stevens. The album was produced by Tucker Martine, who has worked on records by First Aid Kit, Grandaddy, M. Ward, The Decemberists, Mavis Staples, Modest Mouse and many more. Tucker is also Laura's husband, and has been producing her records for the better part of two decades. But fans of her work will notice something different in these recordings: a gauziness in the sound, a more minimal approach to the arrangements.
"We wanted it to be pretty sparse, because the songwriting — I put so much into it that we thought, 'A lot of them can stand up on their own,' " she says. "Which is my goal as a songwriter, that I can feel confident that there's something there at the heart of it that can be played with a guitar and a voice and still stand up."
To help arrive at that new sound, she gave herself a creative constraint. The songs are performed on a nylon-string guitar, with alternate tunings she'd never used before.
"So you get these voicings that are new," she says, "and also, my hands don't get stuck in ruts of playing the same chords that they've always played — because they don't know what to play, they're just random tunings that bring out a new sound in the chords for me."
In this session we talk about some of Laura's other projects: a children's book, a podcast and being the Veirs in case/lang/veirs, a collaboration with Neko Case and k.d. lang. You'll also hear her perform a couple of her new songs live, including The Lookout's title track. Hear the full session at the audio link.