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Having put out solid records over the past decade, Portland's Laura Veirs has established herself as a popular staple in the Pacific Northwest and beyond. In addition to her own work, Veirs has worked and toured with such acts as The Decemberists and Sufjan Stevens. After a two-year break from touring with a band, Veirs has returned to the road for a brief West Coast tour with an entirely new backing band consisting of members of Seattle’s Cataldo and Portland's The Old Believers, both of whom open for Veirs on July 15 at Café Du Nord. Veirs talked to Decider about her new outfit, her songwriting process, and July Flame, her new album due early next year.
Decider: Tell us about your new backing band.
Laura Veirs: The members of my previous backing band are all busy, well-established musicians, so I thought it would be hard to get them all 100 percent aboard for this new tour. It is hard to tell what will come of it. I might have a real flexible cast of players or I might lock in with a specific few.
D: Did you record July Flame with this band?
LV: I mostly recorded with people I have worked with on my previous albums, such as Karl Blau and Tucker Martine. However, Annalisa [Tornfelt] from The Old Believers did come in and record on the new album. In addition, we had various Portland musicians come in to record, such as Jim James of My Morning Jacket. It’s a combination of some of the old cast and some new people.
D: Your previous two albums—Year Of Meteors and Saltbreakers—seem like more collaborative efforts than your earlier releases. Do you write all of the music or does everyone contribute to the writing process?
LV: I write all the songs, but we have so many people who contribute giant ideas with their instruments that it's hard to say what exactly the songwriting process is. I am definitely responsible for core of the song, but, for example, if Karl didn’t include some hook in a song, then it wouldn’t be as good. So it is collaborative in the sense that other musicians I play with have lots of input and that I don’t micromanage in the studio. However, I really do come from the standpoint—especially on my new album—that my songs need to be strong enough to stand on their own with just an instrument and a voice.
D: On that note, who inspires you lyrically?
LV: I was just listening to the new Bill Callahan record and thinking to myself, "Gosh, that is so beautiful!" Many of his lyrics are so stripped down and sparse, but also very literal, and I like that because it is so easy to grab onto what he is talking about. And yet he seems to always find a new and cool way to talk about the same old stuff, and that is what I try to do, too. I also really love the new Bon Iver record for the same reason. His choices of words are so interesting and unusual. So many songs have been writing about the same thing, but somehow people seem to come up with new ways of writing about these things. I think keeping it new and exciting is the challenge for any artist.
D: This upcoming album will be your seventh. How do you keep things fresh?
LV: That’s a good question, and it's something I never would have thought of early on. Then suddenly you're like, "Oh, I’ve already done six albums." It is a real challenge now to keep things fresh. I wrote up to 75 completed songs for this new album, which is way more than I usually write. Only 13 of those 75 made it onto the album, but I think they're good and I am proud of them. I had to struggle, but I don’t think they sound that way, which I guess that is the trick for any artist. It’s not misleading though to say that I wrote 75 songs. I am compulsive about finishing them. It’s not a good feeling to have a bunch of half-finished songs.
D: Have you recorded all these songs?
LV: The demo process is incredibly important and I always record them because I actually reference them. There is something you can capture in that first moment of creation that is often difficult to repeat in a formalized recording environment. It’s a different feeling when I’m making a demo in my living room opposed to making a record.
D: Do you foresee a point where music will no longer be the focus of your life?
LV: That is a hard thing to answer, but I wonder that sometimes. I have gone through phases in my life where I have been obsessed with other things in my life. For example, I was really into photography in high school and then really into studying Chinese in college. Since then, I have been really into music. Recently I have been really interested in learning construction and how to build cabinets and things. So maybe I will be building cabinets in the Oregon woods in 10 years. I have no idea, but it's possible.