A Moment Of Peace; An Interview With Laura Boswell

With a degree in classical guitar performance and having studied classical piano, singer-songwriter Laura Boswell presents a poetic nature within her work.  Her previous albums Counting Eyes (2014) and Fall Away (2017) disclose an artist that draws a connection and vulnerability for fostering community. 

Boswell is now set to release her latest effort, Place To Be.  “This EP reflects a time of travel and transition in my life. It explores transience as well as a sense of place; the process of searching for and finding a home in an ever-changing geographic and emotional landscape,” Boswell says. “’ Place to Be,’ a Nick Drake song, seemed to weave my own songs together harmonically and thematically, also considering that I wrote both of them using alternate tunings of his. I was seeking an atmospheric, meditative sound with this compilation and wanted to create a world for the listener to live in. I was lucky to be able to work with Daniel Shearin of River Whyless; he is an amazing musician, engineer, and producer who masterfully (and magically) layers delicate instrumentation and texture. We recorded in March of 2020 right before North Carolina enacted its stay-at-home order. These songs touch upon themes that many of us are experiencing (loss) and that many of us are longing for (travel and closeness). I hope this EP can serve as a momentary refuge in these trying and turbulent times.”

Your new Place To Be EP is very lush, well-arranged, calm and orchestral. Who and where do you draw your biggest influences from, in and outside of music?

Thank you so much! I’d say my strongest and most consistent influence is the natural world. Music always flows through me when I’m surrounded by nature; in a forest, camping, hiking, in or near the ocean…

As for this EP’s particular sound, I’d say a big influence was Sufjan Stevens’ album Carrie and Lowell. Hearing that album for the first time blew me away. Having sparse acoustic layers juxtaposed against synthesizers and whatever other effects he used was incredibly powerful to me. From then on I knew I eventually wanted to make music that wove elements together like that. Also, Daniel Shearin’s self-titled EP was big for me (he recorded, co-produced, and played most of the instruments on my EP). I heard it and was hooked- hearing all these subtle details intricately woven together to create a soundworld all its own. I listened to that EP and thought “this is how I want my next recording to sound.”

My musical influences have shifted throughout the years. Strong influences include Nick Drake, Ani Difranco, Elliott Smith, Iron and Wine, Laura Marling, Andrew Bird, Norah Jones, Brad Mehldau, the Punch Brothers, Johannes Brahms, and J. S. Bach.

Our favorite track on the EP is “Idaho To Montana (Loving Softly),” what’s the story behind the title on this one?

It’s funny you ask about this particular title; I have a more serious answer that leads into a funny one. I was on a camping trip out west several summers ago when I wrote this song. I was camping on the Snake River on the Idaho-Oregon border on my way to Montana, so literally I was heading from Idaho to Montana. The song was originally just titled “Loving Softly.” It speaks to our need for tenderness and stillness in our increasingly noisy and chaotic world where things feel like they are moving at lightspeed (at least for me). I actually wasn’t so keen on that title, really, but it had stuck for years and I hadn’t thought of anything better. When Daniel and I recorded this song in March, I later found out he thought I was singing “Hi-dee-ho to Montana” instead of “Idaho to Montana” during the song’s last verse. I just about died laughing. We went through all the takes and I was really putting a heavy “h” sound in front of the vowels on this record… I didn’t really want people to think I was saying “hi-dee-ho,” even though it’s hilarious, so he suggested I call it “Idaho to Montana (Loving Softly).” I actually like that title a lot better than “Loving Softly” by itself, so it’s a win-win.

If you can give your listeners one thing to be optimistic about going into 2021 after such a crazy year, what would it be? How does music give you hope?

One thing… hmm… the first thing that came to mind was an outdoor show I played at a brewery here in Asheville a few weekends ago. It was a songwriter in the round format, three singer-songwriters sharing one song simultaneously, very intimate- solo guitar/banjo and voice. We had such an attentive, engaged audience that night. It was a Saturday, and most people in the audience seemed to be in their 20s and 30s. This was so encouraging to me that people (young people, especially) are still engaging with art, that their hearts and minds are open, that they are being present. I’ve played many brewery and restaurant gigs and this is not the typical audience, especially for singer-songwriters playing solo. I think we’re all deprived of human interaction and seeing live performances at the moment, and a large majority of us are not taking much for granted. This makes me optimistic.

In times of great struggle and deprivation, there can also come great love, gratefulness, and appreciation for what we do have. When we lose something or someone, we hold those people and things we care about much closer, make more space and presence for the things we cherish, and sometimes even find out what it is we truly cherish through those difficult experiences. That show seemed like an amazing example of the capacity we still have to be bonded together through communal experience, art, music, sharing space and time… We need to be unified through all of these struggles, which leads me to your next question: Music gives me hope because it is such a powerful tool for building community and reaching across our social and political boundaries that might otherwise seem impassable. It’s a universal language that has the potential to transcend all our socially-constructed divisions. In our increasingly divisive social and political landscape, music gives me hope in its ability to unite us in our humanity, in empathy for one another, and in presence of mind, which always makes us able to see a bit clearer and be a bit more compassionate.