Portland's Laura Veirs has come a long way since her days as a nascent punk-rocker at Carleton College in Northfield back in the '90s, growing into a critically acclaimed and ever-evolving singer/songwriter over the course of seven albums. Veirs' latest effort, July Flame, is her finest yet, an impeccably arranged lithe folk-pop collection featuring harmony vocals from some of indie rock's biggest names -- the Decemberists' Colin Meloy, Jim James of My Morning Jacket -- both of whom were presumably wowed by her literate wordplay and distinctive alto. Veirs kindly took time out from the road to give Gimme Noise the scoop on touring while pregnant, the joys of home recording, and why "experimentation is the key to inspiration."
Are there any formative musical experiences from your time spent living in Minnesota during college at Carleton that come back to you when you swing through town?
I remember seeing a riot grrl band called the Salteens at some club downtown and thinking: "How cool!" Soon after I started an all-girl punk band called "Rair Kx!" We never played in Minneapolis, but we played in Northfield a few times and got the young freshmen to mosh. That was the first time I felt wetness on my finger during the show and looked down to see it was blood! I felt very punk rock then.
You're a good ways along in your pregnancy for this leg of touring. Did you have any trepidation over hitting the road with a baby on the way? How has your pregnancy impacted life on the road and your approach to performance?
Well, it was like pulling teeth to get me out of the car when my sweetie Tucker [Martine, Veirs' longtime romantic/musical partner and producer of all her records] was dropping me off at the airport before the tour started. But once I got on the plane I was fine. It's been more tiring than normal to play, and at times I've felt like I reached my physical limit, but when I take it one day at a time it's totally doable. When all's said and done I will have toured for four months of the pregnancy. I'm baking one well-traveled nugget!
All records are informed to a degree by the surroundings in which they were conceived. There's a hushed intimacy to July Flame sonically that marks it as a pretty big departure from your previous album, Saltbreakers. How much of this shift do you attribute to recording and mixing at home?
Well, we've always recorded at homes, but they were Tucker's home studios. This was the first one where it was our home studio in our new place in Portland. There's probably something to that. In general I think my vocals sound more confident and relaxed than on previous records. Perhaps that's because I was singing at home, or perhaps because I've toured a lot and sung a lot over many years now.
The writing of the July Flame album ended what had been a fallow period for you songwriting-wise and it sounds like you purposely forced yourself out of your comfort zone by "inventing oddball tunings" to get the creative juices flowing again. How important is that element of experimentation - and the accompanying possibility of failure - to staying creatively engaged over the long haul?
Well, whenever you sit down to do anything creative, you're risking failure, but the important thing is to just keep doing it. Experimentation is the key to inspiration, especially when you've been working on your craft for a long time and are having trouble getting back to your 'beginner's mind.' Writing on different instruments -- especially instruments I can't play -- really helps me get back to that place of wonderment.
LAURA VEIRS AND THE HALL OF FLAMES play with the Old Believers and Cataldo on TUESDAY, MARCH 2, at the CEDAR; 612.338.2674