She spent many of her younger days on the sugar barges of NY harbor with her father and uncles, who all made their living on the water, at one time running one of the largest fleets on the Hudson. Meanwhile, her mother’s parents were successful musicians; Harry Simeone, the composer and choral arranger responsible for such works as “The Little Drummer Boy” and “Do You Hear What I Hear?” and Margaret McCravy (stage name McCrae), a singer from South Carolina who got her start accompanying her elder siblings “The McCravy Brothers,” a harmonious gospel folk duo, before continuing on her own to record and tour with bandleader Benny Goodman. Armed with her grandfather’s love for modernist dissonance, a genetic predisposition for harmony, and with her sea legs firmly planted in the traditions of American folk singing, Stevenson began creating melodies at a very young age. “My mom would find me in my room, looking out the window, out at the street, singing by myself, sometimes crying,” she laughs, “I was a weird kid.” At around five Stevenson began playing piano by ear, and at that point her mother decided lessons were a sound investment for the young musician.
In High School between going to punk shows every weekend, she spent her afternoons singing in four different choral groups, exploring a growing love for acapella. “Big time nerd stuff,” as she recalls, lamenting that there wasn’t a show like Glee around to validate her when she was in the thick of it. Hundreds of hours of extra-curricular singing combined with a natural talent has no doubt paid dividends when it comes to Stevenson’s powerful vocals. The confidence and precision with which she unabashedly sings out on record and on stage stands in sharp contrast with the reflective uncertainty and isolation that comes through in her lyrics. Though Stevenson began writing classically on piano early on, it wasn’t until her late teens that she taught herself how to fingerpick the guitar, aspiring to have the quickness and intricacy of her “guitar god,” Dolly Parton.
The new instrument opened up a window of creativity and Stevenson soon began writing songs heavily influenced by the writers her father had raised her on, such as Neil Young, Gram Parsons, and Carole King, while also drawing inspiration from music that she discovered on her own like Leonard Cohen, and Jeff Mangum. Meanwhile, leaving her comfort zone, Stevenson started playing in friends’ bands in and around Long Island, a time that she says, “taught me how to be on tour, how to give and take with other musicians, and not be afraid of my own ideas.” With a new found confidence and a solid and supportive community of creative people behind her, Stevenson moved to Brooklyn in her early 20s and soon started performing her own material, loosely assembling a backing band of friends from other projects. In 2010, she released her bare-bones full-length debut simply entitled, A Record, which she quickly followed the year after with Sit Resist, the first solid document of her work playing with a full band. Those two albums and a healthy amount of touring brought Stevenson a dedicated fan base, drawn to her voice, her words, and her relatable down-to-earth persona. While writing the 13 songs that make-up her newest record, Wheel, Stevenson sought to understand her place within the frame of time, nature, and among those that she loves.
With her words, a careful twine of prose and humor, Stevenson manages to expose the nagging contradictions that make life so terrifying but also so worth living, how it is possible to simultaneously feel both fear and joy, the bitter aftertaste of something so beautiful it makes you sick. Themes of passage, the cycle of the moon, the seasons, and love’s ever-shifting states of dependence, are all interwoven throughout Wheel as songs ebb and flow from her band’s crashing walls of distortion and pounding drums, to sweet string-led overtures, to moments where it is just Stevenson and a guitar. In recording Wheel, Stevenson decided to up the production value, steering away from the lo-fi approach of her previous two albums. Forcing herself to fully give-in to the recording process, and relinquish some of creative control she enlisted producer, Kevin McMahon, someone whose work she respected immensely and who would, as she put it, “be the perfect set of ears for these songs.” She also brought in Rob Moose on violin and Kelly Pratt to play brass, adding their own layers of depth to the band’s full arrangements. Despite the move to sleeker production, Wheel retains its organic nature, relying primarily on the resonance of acoustic instruments and the electricity of simply over-driven amplifiers, with its most synthetic moment coming from a Roland organ, an unconscious decision that Stevenson explains as her and her band’s way of “being real, relying on each other’s energy to keep time and just playing the songs like human beings, flaws and all.” Sites: MySpace and LauraStevenson.net (official) [[b]2] From Belfast, UK. Raised only a few streets from the legendary Van Morrison (though admittedly several decades later), Laura Stevenson is finally receiving recognition in the Northern Irish music scene.
Her 2004 EP “Down” and this year’s “Live at the Rotterdam” have already been heard on the airwaves of several local stations and, having recently won a showcase on the music investment website ‘Slicethepie.com’ which secured her £15,000 to record her long-awaited debut album, it looks like Laura is set to grace more than just the local scene with her talent. At the centre of the music is her voice - fragile, ethereal, haunting - providing an apt vehicle for songs which betray a rare kind of honesty. Stevenson doesn't shy away from wearing her heart on her sleeve in her songwriting, something fans tell her they appreciate. At times, her songs are lyrically raw and yet, so carefully framed with those trademark cascading piano lines, the listener is drawn into a space where catharsis and redemption finally meet.
Indeed, one can never be sure if this music will break your heart, or if it will heal it. Stevenson has an impressive range of influences including the likes of Tracy Chapman, Sarah McLachlan, Patty Griffin, Suzanne Vega and Sheryl Crow, but comparisons reveal little about her unique direction. Live sets include impressively original interpretations of songs by artists she admires: Radiohead, Chris Isaak, Crowded House and Alana Myles, amongst several others. She has supported many artists of varying success on the Irish music scene (such as Juliet Turner), as well as those of international acclaim, such as guitar legends Rodrigo y Gabriela and soul diva, Beverley Knight.
This summer, Laura will continue to play local venues to her ever-widening fan base, while she hits the studio with local producer Mike Houston, whom she describes as “The Northern Irish music industry’s best kept secret…”, to finally get recording! While no date for release has been announced yet, we anticipate it won’t be too much longer before you’re hearing a lot, lot more from this talented lady… Songs by this Laura featured on lastfm: Down, Just Beyond My Reach, Welcome to my World, Coming Home, Short Space of Time, One of Us, Wait, Solar System, Shallow, One Night Stand, Where You Lie, Cut and Run. Sites: MySpace Read more on Last.fm. User-contributed text is available under the Creative Commons By-SA License; additional terms may apply..
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