Interview-Laura Blackley

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I've known Laura Blackley for many years now.  I had the pleasure of playing music with her in Trespassers Will for a few years and have kept in contact with her ever since.  After a recent jaunt through my town, I caught up with her and asked her a few questions.  I thought it might be interesting to share them with you all.

The Laura Blackley Band is almost constantly playing somewhere, I think they play upwards of 200 shows a year and they do it in a variety of venues and states.  They've just released their second CD and it's great.  

 

                                                                                                                             

What instruments do you play and how long have you been playing music?

I play acoustic guitar and vocals.  I've played piano in the past- really though I consider myself a songwriter more than a musician.

What bands are you in or have you been in?

Currently I'm the front person for the Laura Blackley Band.  I have done solo acoustic projects and been in bands too, like Trespassers Will and Thursday's Child.

 

How would you describe the local music scene in Asheville, North Carolina? 

Asheville's music scene is like no other- very supportive and encouraging of it's local acts- I love being a part of it.

 

Since this is a college town, our music scene is different from other places' music scene, we seem to have a music fanbase constantly in the 18-30 age group. Does that fact have any effect on your setlists or performance ideas when you pass through here? 

No, our stuff lends itself pretty heavily towards country/delta blues influences, which seem to appeal more to an older crowd and less to college kids (But some college kids really like us too!)  We've had some success in reaching audiences in Blacksburg- it's a really cool place to play.

 

Photo by Mike Wood

I know from reading your newsletters and schedules that  you book different configurations of your band. Some is just you, some is you and Julie, some is the full band. How do you decide what to book and do you book it all as The Laura Blackley Band?

No, We've actually got a Laura Blackley Duo, a Laura Blackley Solo, a Laura Blackley Trio as well as the Laura Blackley Band these days-  I suppose it's formulaic, but I think that's one of the pitfalls of naming your band after one of it's members......You want people to come to your shows, so you've got to use the band's name recognition, but then you can't call yourself anything else.

 

By the way, who is in the band now? You on guitar and vocal, Julie on drum and vocal, Tony Harp on bass, who else? I think at one time you had a pretty well known fiddle player? and some awesome electric guitar players too. What's the official band configuration? 

Wellll- I'm still writing and singing and playing guitar; Julie on vocals and drums; Tony Harp on bass; Mars Fariss on dobro, electric and acoustic guitars and vocals.

 

Let me just say, Julie TOTALLY get's the job done on drums and vocals too!  Awesome drumming and wonderful harmony vocals.  I was pretty much blown away when I saw you all play last time.

What is your favorite kind of music to play? 

Anything by anyone with the last name Williams, original stuff influenced by roots music, anything with a "twang" and just a little touch of funk...

 

 A lot of indie bands have their own cds now. how do you think that effects the greater music scene? 

I think that adds an element of diversity that the major labels are sweating fairly heavily right now...I feel like the majors have produced and marketed the soul right out of most major label releases these days (all in pursuit of the almighty dollar, which I guess is another topic)- therefore the only place to find that soul and freshness is in smaller indie label or completely indie releases.  That's been my experience anyway.

 

 

Has the internet music scene with it's large number of OMD's had any effect on your band? Are you on any OMD's or do you have music on your own band website? 

Yes, we're on  MP3.COM, and we have streaming audio on our own webpage.

 

If you could talk to David Byrne about rare African Art or to David Lee Roth about drinking beer, which would you choose and why?

Honestly- Hell I guess I would talk to David Lee about the beer, but I feel like he's kind of an asshole, so I'd probably try to exit the conversation pretty quick (I chose this because I really don't know much about rare African art, so I probably wouldn't have much to add to the conversation with David Byrne, and we'd probably end up talking about his music.....

 

You play a lot of dates, I'm sure after a while some of them stand out and some don't.  Tell me about the most fun gig you've ever had.

Our CD release show this past May at the Grey Eagle in Asheville- I love playing hometown shows.  We had a bunch of friends and supporters come out for the event, we got great coverage from the local press, and I felt like we were really tight and enjoyed the hell out of just playing together and the energy of the show itself......it definitely made all the schlepping around from city to city for not much money worth it

 

Everyone's got a gig nightmare story too, tell me yours. 

Probably the time the goat stood on Mark David's guitar case, chewed through his power cable, and the band got threatened by the goat's owner to "Let 'im do whatever he wants or I'll start shootin'!"  (Remember that one?)

Yes I remember that one, I tell that story a lot too.   That was when we were all in Trespassers Will and were playing at a field party in Ellet Valley.  Shelia or Layla that goat was called as I remember.  It was sort of a good time all in all but I'll never forget that goat either.

 

For ME, the most fun was always playing those field parties because I always thought the people there were fun and attentive and were there to have fun and hear the music.  Seems like our biggest fans and crowds were always at those field parties. Maybe those were the precurser for the festivals you're doing now? Would you like to mention some of the festivals you've played at and how you got booked in them?

Mostly as the booking agent for the group it's my job to research festivals and clubs on the internet, try to make contact with them, and see if they are interested in booking our act (yes, I've missed those field parties too...)- I feel like I could be more aggressive and "in-your-face" on the phone while I'm booking potential shows, but I think that's really hard to do when you represent/book/manage yourself.  But yes, (sorry for the tangent) I definitely love the atmosphere of the field party/festival so I look for that stuff when I'm doing our bookings for the warmer seasons.

 

Photo by: Tamara Fravel

What's your impression of the public's perception of indie music, and your impression of the band scene in general all over? 

Unfortunately enough, I think the public buys into (unconsciously) the Big Fat Industry Lie that the people they hear on the radio have somehow worked harder, or been blessed at birth with superhuman amounts of talent (Britney Spears???? PUHHHLEAZE!!) to get them where they are today.  I don't think the general public really seems to care much that the radio airwaves are pretty much polluted with whatever big, corporate, moneyed interests have the most "payola".  I am so disgusted with the lack of creativity and originality in today's vast wastelands of radio (thanks to this are due largely to Senator John McCain for auctioning off airwaves to the highest bidder back in the early 90's and of course to Clear Channel, the proud owner of roughly 60-80 percent of most radio markets in most major cities), and I feel that it is unfortunate, because most people are still heavily influenced by radio, which means fewer people go out to see live music locally, in small clubs where that originality still exists unless a band has a huge, rich publicity machine behind them they have a tougher time getting people familiarized with what they do.

 

Speaking of radio, your albums are getting a lot of airplay (and rightly so!), is it NPR, college or commercial radio that you're on? 

The only commercial radio airplay we've gotten has been where we've done stuff locally (like benefits or outdoor events) and we've gotten to be on "Morning Drive" shows as a result, or to promote the show.  Mostly the radio formats that I approach when I'm sending out CDs are Triple A (Adult Album Alternative), Americana, College/NPR, Women's Shows, and some  blues formats.  We've had some luck, but it's been a real grassroots approach.  (We found a friend at WUVT in Blacksburg and I've been pitching this idea to him to try to get the station to sponsor an Americana showcase or something like that at Baylee's (a local Blacksburg bar) but I don't know if it will happen or not, but he seems to like us and our record.

 

Do you have any radio station type preference?

I really like the Americana stations, but there aren't too many of those.

 

Now that I've already asked you about your CDs radio play, Do you have a band CD and if so, where do you sell it?

Yes, we have two.  The first is a 5 song EP (Intentions of Mine), self produced at UNC-Asheville Recording Studios; the second (When a Woman) was also produced locally by Chris Rosser at Hollow Reed Arts Studio.  We sell most of our merchandise at live shows (and we average about 200 shows per year), but we also try to retail them with small, mostly independent music stores (ie. Record Exchange).  Online the CD is available at CDBaby.com and CDStreet.com.  Or call ISG Records as 1-888-495-6575.

 

When I listen to music, I generally listen to the words first, but later I find myself absentmindedly humming what the bass player was playing. How about you, what do you listen to first in a song, and which part sticks with you in the long run? 

Definitely the lyrics- and if they're great lyrics, that's usually what sticks in my head (Like right now I've been hung up on Patty Griffin- she's an amazing artist and songwriter, and I love the way she puts the words together, her imagery, her stories.

 

What about the dayjob? 

My day job for the past year and a half has been booking agent/promoter/marketer for the Laura Blackley Band- it has meant eating a lot of ramen and beans and rice, and making sacrifices, but I'm happy to be doing it.  That I'll know how things on the business end should be run should there ever come a time that I can give some of that stuff up...

 

2002 Bud Bennett