When your friends and collaborators just happen to be part of a rotating talent pool from the likes of Stars, the Arcade Fire and the National you probably can't help but be a bit awesome too. And Laurel Sprengelmeyer certainly is, displaying flourishes of skill as both a singer, songwriter and artist. Her debut album, The Golden Record, dropped on Secretly Canadian a few months ago and she passed through London to sing her brand of experimental and textured folk songs to our city. Refusing to box herself into the constraints of just one genre, we speak to Little Scream about why Canada's the best place to be as a growing artist, her stage fright and exploding supernovas. Of course.
First off, you came out of nowhere, as far as the UK music scene goes. How and when did you start making music?
I've always made music. Since I was a kid, and I've written and performed my own songs since high school. But I'm also very shy about performing, and shy about having a public presence. So even though I started recording songs on my own as Little Scream in 2007 and performing them in 2008, it wasn't until last year that I put up a proper website or MySpace. And it wasn't until this spring when my record came out and I started touring outside of Canada that people in other places started to hear about me, I guess.
How would you compare the sound of the songs you first wrote with the material we can hear now on The Golden Record?
A lot of my earlier stuff was a bit more straight up folky. But it often had jarring riffs and juxtipositions, or a tendency to be rubato
('in robbed time'), which are things you can hear on this record. Since I had never recorded properly before, The Golden Record
is a mix of older and newer stuff. Songs like 'Hallowed' and 'Red Hunting Jacket' for example are older material.
What are your thoughts on the recent rise of the Canadian indie scene, in terms of its recognition overseas? As an American in the Montreal scene, how open do you feel it is to artists of different backgrounds?
I guess I never thought of the rise of Canadian indie as being recent...I think bands like Godspeed! kind of made Canada an important place in the indie scene a long time ago, and I just think the good music has never stopped. I know before I moved to Canada, some of my favorite musicians were Canadian – Leonard Cohen, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell. Of course they were all Canadian expats living in the States.
But now I think the reverse seems to be happening, with a good number of musicians originally from the States living in Canada. I don't mean to imply that the reason indie bands in Canada are on the rise has anything to do with Americans. It doesn't. I think if anything it's just because Canada has managed to support cities that are great places for artists to survive and thrive, and that's what makes it attractive to artists - from all over the world, really. And that fosters good music.
The LP straddles a folk sound with a real mysticism and grit. Which stories, people and images inspire your songwriting?
Sometimes visiting the town where my dad and brother and sister lives feels a bit like visiting one of those vampire television shows. There is always a great story of a haunting or an exorcism, or UFO sighting or the like. And I grew up straddled between that type of thing and very extreme Christian religious views. So I'm always kind of a sucker for stories and images with a strange religious drama to them. That and astronomy. Astronomy juxtaposed with personal drama. Did you know that a giant supernova exploded
in the Pinwheel galaxy this year? I like to think about that in relation to the start of the football season. It puts things in a dizzying perspective that never ceases to blow my little mind.
The album's cover art is one of your own pieces. How long have you been working with oils? And which came first for you: the love for music, or painting?
Painting took a deeper hold of me earlier on. My mother, grandfather and great-grandmother all painted. And I grew up learning that and feeling naturally drawn towards it as a craft. I got a guitar around the same time I began learning classical oil painting techniques. But I think because I was so shy I put more of a focus on painting initially, mostly because I didn't have to be in public to practice it.
Could you tell us more about the different collaborations on the record, with people like Becky Foon (A Silver Mt Zion), Sarah Neufeld (Arcade Fire, Bell Orchestre) and Aaron Dessner (The National)? How did they come about?
I live in a community full of really talented people who all also happen to be very generous with their talent and very supportive of each other. Lots of people came in to play parts on the album – Becky Foon, Sarah Neufeld, Mike Feurstack, Marika Shaw (Stars, Arcade Fire)... Aaron Dessner actually recorded one of the songs as well as played on it. But really Richard Parry (Arcade Fire, Islands) was the main collaborator for the album, along with Marcus Paquin (engineer for Stars, Arcade Fire) who engineered. And all of those things came about because of friendship, really, and being excited about musical ideas.
What's next on your list of accomplishments for the Little Scream project? And have you got any side projects in the pipeline?
My next record! I'm trying to set aside time in the coming months to work on new material. Richard Parry and I are also working on a project together that we're both anxious to get back to once I'm done touring for a bit, and I'm also excited about helping produce an album by Jess Robertson, who plays bass flute on my album and writes really really lovely songs.
Head to Little Scream's site to hear her latest news.