In the pub after an Exeter City game a few days ago, a friend sat opposite me and explained the appeal of going to lower league football when you’re a kid as “the only place you can go and see grown men swearing”. I don’t think that was the only reason I so often followed the fortunes of Bury FC in my pre-teens, but it certainly made you feel grown up. You could say something similar about some gigs, these days, that they are the only place you can go to see grown men enjoying themselves. Just as when I went to see Aimee Mann last year, we were some of the youngest people in the venue at the Bristol Fleece for Laura Veirs’ solo show. And once again, I felt very grown up. Because this crowd certainly wasn’t ‘mellowing’ by embracing Laura’s tasteful folk-pop. No, they were seeing one fantastic songwriter. I’d like to know, where were all the trendies who flocked to Regina Spektor’s vastly inferior show a week prior?

But what, you ask, sets Laura Veirs apart from the many other singer songwriters? After all, every one seems to get 4 stars in 'Uncut' these days. Well, first is her breezy way around melodies, always emphasised by a strong but subtle vocal. Her first song tonight, 'Cool Waters', is pretty and vaguely groovy, but has a tune you’ll be humming for months. Or there is the ever so slightly grungy ‘Galaxies’, which is the single Dido would surely die for (if she cared that much about her music, which we all know she doesn’t). Then there are Laura’s lyrics, where she tends to use the natural world as a metaphor for human stories and relationships, greatly expanding upon the traditional vocabulary of love songs in pop, and original without ever needing to be oblique. Consider these lines from 'Spelunking', “If I took you darling to the caverns of my heart, would you light the lamp dear? And see the fish without eyes, bats with their heads hanging down towards the ground, would you still come around ?”

If the songs haven’t already grabbed you, I bet the sophisticated arrangements will, like the memorable violin line on ‘Parisian Dream’ cleverly reproduced in the live show by Laura with her electro-acoustic guitar, for example, and it sounded ace. Laura is that rare thing; an artist who maximises the potential of the studio on her recent album, 'Year of Meteors', without ever disturbing the intimacy of the songs, who then strips those songs right back on stage, to compelling effect and ends up making you go back to the album and play it to death all over again. Her show in Bristol was one of the most fun I have attended in ages.

A few days after that gig, she took a moment to answer my questions.

PB : To begin, can you tell me a bit about your background. Your interest in music developed relatively late, so what do you think made you want to become a musician?

LV : It was sort of a slow process of becoming more interested in art and music than the science I was studying in college. I started learning some guitar, and soon after writing songs, and then playing in bands, and then recording albums. It was a gradual awareness that I wanted to do something creative with words and music, instead of more fact-based learning.

PB : Have you noticed much difference between life on a major label, and your earlier years as an independent artist?

LV : The main difference is that I've been able to tour with my full band, since Nonesuch gives us tour support. That's been really fun. Also, another difference is I've been able to pay my band better for recording the albums too, and that feels good. Otherwise, there haven't been too many differences. Nonesuch acts more like a large indie than a major, I know all the people at the office in New York City and in London and they're all really friendly.

PB : Would it disappoint you if listeners ignored your earlier albums? Do you see them as strong works in their own right, or as part of the progression to where you are now?

LV : I’m not so fond of my first recording, 'Laura Veirs' from 1999. I did it really quickly and it feels really 'green' to me. But my other three previous albums ('The Trials and Travails of Orphan Mae' (2001) ; 'Troubled by the Fire' (2003) and 'Carbon Glacier' (2004)-Ed) I really like for different reasons, and I hope people who are just finding out about me will check them out as well.

PB : You have said that your most recent album, 'Year of Meteors', is "more of a band record". Why did this happen? Is it perhaps because you have become closer to and more comfortable with your band, or is it just that you fancied a change?

LV : Both. I wanted to write more up-tempo electric guitar songs, and I was interested in using more drums and beats, so we approached the record from that stance. Also, I’d been playing with Steve, Karl and Tucker for three or four years by the time we made ‘Year of Meteors’, so I wanted them to play a major role on the record. They're great people - they're like family to me - and they have wonderful creative ideas, so I’m happy we made the record as agroup.

PB : Why do you think you have chosen to record as a solo artist rather than join or front your own group?

LV : I just started out solo in Seattle, playing open mics and coffeeshops, after moving there in 1997. I’d been playing in bands in college, but I didn't know too many people in Seattle, so I just started writing songs by myself and made my first record under my own name. Then gradually I met Steve and Karl and Tucker and started playing with them, and we became more of a ‘band’. It seemed weird to change over to a band name at that point, but I suppose at some point I will want to be a part of a band as well as being a solo artist.

PB : Your background in Geology is often used as a slight gimmick to promote your albums. Are you comfortable with this, and do you think that there is really much of that part of your life in your music?

LV : My appreciation of the natural world is certainly a huge part of my music. I am inspired by nature and find in it a wealth of material to write about. but I don't think geology in particular has that much to do with it at this point.

PB : Do you have a standard manner of writing songs, and are there any particular songwriters whose approach or style helps you with your own songs?

LV : I actually don't read much about other songwriters or musicians so I don't really know what their approaches are. The way I’ve been doing it lately is writing words on tour and coming home and crafting music around them. That seems to be working pretty well, but of course it's always a struggle to come up with a batch of really great songs. They're elusive creatures.

PB : Is the studio an environment you feel comfortable in? Have you found making any of the albums hard work and pressured, or does it tend to be a relaxed experience?

LV : I always put a lot of pressure on myself before recording albums. I practice for hours every day for around 2-3 weeks before recording so that I can assure myself that I’ll be able to perform well in the studio. But I like to keep the songs somewhat loose before heading in - sometimes when you're too precious about the songs they can get squished or squelched. So it's about striking a balance between being prepared and not being overly anal about how things are going to work. I feel comfortable with Tucker and Steve and Karl because I’ve made four records with them. I’ll work with them (and hopefully more people) on the next record which we hope to make this fall.

PB : What is the difference between seeing you play on your own, or with the backing band? Are there songs you would only play in a certain setting?

LV : When I’m on my own, I play most of my songs just with my guitar and voice, but I play with my looping pedal on about a third of the songs in each set. It's fun to add layers and to experience the thrill of live recording in front of an audience. I think I talk more in between songs when I’m playing solo, too. And yes, there are certain songs that only work when I have the band with me, like 'Galaxies', for example.

PB : Finally, have you any thoughts about what things you hope to achieve in the future with your music?

LV : I would like to make a bunch more great records. I would like to collaborate with artists I admire. I’d like to push my own limits and to grow as an artist. I’d like to make music for films, and I’d like to encourage other people to make and share their own music. Also, it would be really cool to tour in China !

PB : Thank you.

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