Hey Believers! 2016 has started out with a BANG for us and we couldn't be happier! The month of March was crazy busy, but we're certainly not complaining! We played all over the state of Florida last month and shared the stage with some amazing artists ... People like Coco Montoya, Eric Gales, & Sonny Landreth, just to name a few. In the meantime, I found *a few minutes* to chat with Dawne Richards at Pompano Today Magazine before we played The Mess O' Blues Festival in Pompano Beach. It was a pleasure talking with her and I think this interview shows that. I hope it's as fun for you to read as it was for me to give! Enjoy!
A few minutes with the incomparable Lauren Mitchell
By Dawne Richards, April 2016
Photograph © Paul McDermott Photography
Lauren Mitchell is charming even via email. When we asked if 10:00am was too early for an interview, she made the proclamation that she expected to be "sufficiently caffeinated" by then. The following day we were treated to her throaty laugh, and, indeed, she was...
Tell us a little more about growing up in a musical family.
Wow! It was pretty amazing. I remember hearing my grandparents (on my mom's side), they always had an organ in their home and Grandma could play and Grandpa could play a little bit - church songs, old hymns. Both of them, and my mother sang in the church choir in Ohio, so that seemed the most natural place to play in front of other humans for me. I remember [the first time I sang in public]; I was 7 or 8 years old. I remember being nervous, but you're in church, and you know everybody and they're all smiling at you ...and they all love you.
Do you remember thinking at the time, "I can do this"?
I don't remember but everyone would praise me and compliment me. It's always been a very natural thing for me to do. I started voice lessons at the age of 9. My mom put me in voice lessons when it became apparent that I had some ability and I enjoyed doing it. As a child it was definitely - everything was music related in one way or another. All different kinds of dance, lots of ballet and that kind of thing. I found that I had an affinity for tap dance. I still like to watch it, I still love it. I took piano lessons; I played a clarinet, Theater classes. Everything seemed to revolve around performance and one way or another, music was invovled.
Do you have siblings?
Yes, I have a younger brother; he's 2 1/2 years younger than me. He's a visual artist; he does graphic design.
Where do you live know? What's that like?
Sarasota-Bradenton. It's really wonderful over here - we have such a great music scene all the way up and down this coast. There's a wonderful blues and soul scene and also a wonderful cultural scene with the Sarasota Opera, [which is] amazing, and we've got a great ballet over here.
If you could meet one musician from the past, who would it be?
Oh. You can stop right now. It would be Etta James, hands down. Whenever I get asked that question, that is always the answer. She was one of the finest soul singers to ever walk the face of this earth. That personality - she didn't take any baloney from anybody and I would have loved to have met her back in the day.
If you could listen to only one piece of music for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Mmmm. Wow! One piece, not just one artist? That’s hard! An album – Etta James live from San Francisco. Just outstanding. There’s a track where she covers the Eagles’ “Take it to the Limit” that moves me – it stirs my soul. Any ballad by Otis Redding would be a close second.
You tour quite a bit! How would you describe the state of live music in 2016?
Oh wow. OK. [Laughs.] As a working artist, working in the genre of music that I work in, the first word that comes to mind is “difficult”. Especially in the blues world, we are working on a business model that is 60, 70 years old. You make the CD – the record – the album – you promote it – then everybody jumps in a van and you sell the album. Meanwhile, the money you’re making selling the album – prices of records have not really increased much. And then when you enter online sales downloading streaming into the equation, that’s just a whole ‘nother ball game. On average the artist who puts one track off an album on iTunes or whatever – you buy it for 99 cents and we’re getting pennies on that. It’s difficult to make a living at it. Does that mean because it’s difficult to make a living at it that we’re not going to keep doing it and that I don’t think live music is alive and well? It definitely is. But the market has gotten a little smaller and the world is getting bigger. I am fortunate that when I do go out to tour I would say 9 times out of 10 even in cities where I’ve not performed before, blues fans are very loyal, and they love a live show. They show up. They do buy tickets, they do buy CDs. They don’t download. They buy product.
I think part of it is the nature of the music. Blues – or soul – fans – the nature of that kind of music is very intense. It’s very personal. When you listen to Otis Redding sing, that man is pouring his heart out. Blues and soul fans want to show up and see that live show because that’s where the goods are. That’s the artist giving you their soul. And that’s my job as a live performer – to provide that and pour my heart out and give 110%.
My dad had this record collection that was just amazing and spanned all kinds of stuff. Beatles, Creedence, a lot of soul, a lot of Motown. I’ve written a song about some of the stuff that my dad used to play for me, and that, I think, is where I learned to love soul music and blues because my dad would play it – the 4 Tops, the Temptations, Gladys Knight, lots of Odis Redding, that music has always been in my ear.
What’s your advice to aspiring young musicians?
Practice! [Laughs.] Some things never change. Practice, learn your instrument, whether it’s a guitar, bass, drum, voice. If you’re a vocalist, treat your voice as an instrument, learn what its strengths and limitations are. Practice daily. And don’t give up.
What can folks expect at this Saturday’s Mess O’ Blues?
The lineup looks great – it’s lookin’ like it’s going to be a great outdoor festival in a really nice venue. What they can expect from me is what I like to call a full throttle performance. I’m going to give you everything that I’ve got and it’s going to be soulful and hopefully it’s going to be something that people like. We recently got a new guitarist – he sold everything he owned in Costa Rica (which is where he’s from) and moved to the U.S. (he has family here) about two months ago. I met him three days after he moved here. He came to play with us and I knew right away. His name is Jose Ramirez he’s 27 years old and he is definitely a rising star. He moved here with a few bucks, the clothes he had, and his guitar. We definitely both feel that it was a cosmic coincidence that lined us up.
How did you find him?
It was the craziest thing! I played a show in Sarasota in January on a Saturday night. My guitar player has been with me for awhile and it’s a lot of traveling and it was just time for him to do something different. He told me “Take the time that you need to find a replacement but I’d like to be done by March or April.” The next day I go to perform a show in Tampa and my friend Charlie Boyer introduced me to Jose – they had just met. I’ve known Charlie for a long time and he’s a real music aficionado, especially blues and jazz and when he introduced me I’m thinking he’s endorsing him and it turns out they had just met. It was really this very random thing. I invited him to come out and play with us about a week later and as I told him, “you played your face off.” [ed. Note: Mr. Boyer runs “Jazz & Blues Florida,” Florida’s online guide to live jazz and blues. Learn more at jazzbluesflorida.com].