With an ethereal folk-pop slant, Lady Lazarus has used her intuition and personal experiences to craft minimalist piano-based songs since 2008. Having released three albums and one EP, her latest is Miracles, out this year on the label Queen’s Ransom. I had a chance to chat with her over email about the themes that fuel her songwriting and what it’s like to be a touring female musician.
SH: I see that your bio says that Lady Lazarus is your solo project, and I’m curious about what other bands or musical projects you’ve been involved in?
LL: Lady Lazarus has been my only music project, but I’ve had some fun working with my brother Matt and his project, Inner City Cruiser. He wrote some songs with me for a 7” release on Graveface Records called The Old Manse. I’d like to revisit writing songs with him some day.
SH: Is the name “Lady Lazarus” inspired by the Sylvia Plath poem?
LL: Definitely. And what an provocative poem it is.
SH: What made you want to focus on, as you call it in your Facebook bio, “intuitive music?”
LL: It’s not so much as a “want” but a “pull.” I was sort of called to make music this way. And it’s the only way I know how. More feeling and heart and what’s real.
SH: Songs like “Lonely Daughter” focus on family relationships, and I’m wondering how your own life inspires your material, or how you use your experiences in the songwriting process.
LL: My songs are mostly autobiographical, so what you hear in “Lonely Daughter” are my actual feelings about my family and upbringing, etc. Music has been a way to help me uncover my complex emotions and experiences and hopefully translate it into something universal. That’s the beauty of music and art, and the fundamental power of it. I don’t think I’m the only woman or person in their family who has felt left out, or a black sheep.
SH: I’ve often thought that the main things worth writing about (for me) are love, lust, and loneliness. Do you find that to be true for your own writing, or is there more to it than that?
LL: Certainly, and if you look at what people write about, songwriting or otherwise, those are some the main themes… death and time, too, of course. I think what I’m interested in, and what I tend to write about is what it means to exist… I’m interested in just us being here. What that means and how we can achieve these ecstatic, creative states. What makes a spiritual moment? What can I do to call attention to how sacred and precious life is? I’ve written songs about the creative process quite a bit, also. About youth and innocence. About performance and what it means to devote yourself to songwriting and really making an effort of it. I write about being a woman. Oh so many things to uncover.
SH: What’s your songwriting process like? Are you a lyrics-first or melody-first sort of writer?
LL: Melody-first nearly 99% of the time.
SH: Your songs somewhat remind me of a “solitary woman, singing in the desert” or “lady of the canyon” type scene, and then I look at your bio and see that you live in Joshua Tree, CA. What does that environment do for you? It’s a rather sparse, unusual place to live. (Unusual in that Joshua trees remind me of the trees in Dr. Seuss books, ha!)
LL: The desert has surely worked its magic on me in my personal and spiritual life, though I haven’t composed here too much. Besides releasing the new album, I’ve been writing a book, mostly, with my now ex-boyfriend that I hope we can publish one day. I do wish I had taken some time to write songs here, but there’s always another time if I wanted to. Unless there isn’t, of course. I’ve traveled quite a lot around the U.S., touring and otherwise, so there’s something in my personality that sees and longs for the horizon and beyond, the big vision, the big picture. Always been drawn to seeing and exploring as much as I can and try to not limit myself.
SH: When you tour, do you know if your experience is any different as a woman compared to male musicians that you know? Do you ever feel like venue promoters or other staff treat you differently?
LL: When I’ve arrived with my boyfriend at a venue, typically staff or a sound person starts talking to him first, if they don’t know who I am. Other than that, I try to ignore any other bullshit, and feel I’ve held my own well. In another sphere, I think there’s a lot wrong with music journalism today. Female musicians on the indie level just aren’t being heard as much. It’s a numbers game–they’re just not represented as much. They’re also not represented well at festivals (i.e. they’re not getting the job, the gig as much as male musicians, and therefore unable to be paid as well for their music.) The same gender inequality that exists in the corporate world exists in music. No doubt. Female musicians are still “the other.” In all, I think more feminine-leaning music isn’t that respected. Why? Well, for one, look who’s reviewing it. Time and again the staff at the larger publications are predominantly male. It still feels like they make room for only so many women through the door. Who knows when things will truly shift.
SH: Do you have a favorite gig so far? What makes an ideal gig?
LL: Always the connection with the audience. For that reason, there are several that come to mind… playing my hometown of San Jose after I had been away for a time and having a welcoming reception. Playing quite tipsy, which I hardly ever do, and open and free at Sweat Records in Miami and feeling absolutely sublime and that the audience was right there with me. Maybe it was all in my head, but it was liberating. And last but not least, playing in Savannah at Civvie’s during the Savannah Stopover Festival… I had so much wonderful feedback from the audience both during and after the show. Some people were openly crying and clearly moved — What more can you ask for as a songwriter?
SH: Whose music are you currently really into?
LL: Just discovering Sibylle Baier’s Coulour Green and Bill Fay’s Time of the Last Persecution. Also heavy on rotation — and I can’t believe it’s just found me now — Joni Mitchell’s Hejira. A must listen for anyone, and certainly any woman.
Hejira has been on my list as a future Record Machine examination for almost as long as I’ve been doing these posts. Thanks for the reminder, and thank you for your time.