Laura Warshauer’s journey into making music a career began when she was just a small child in her crib belting out songs at the top of her lungs. The young girl with an amazing ability to entertain was eventually given a guitar by her father, which only added fuel to the brightly burning fire. The rising star was honored in 2010 for her abilities and great potential when she was awarded the Holly Prize. The award, given out yearly by BMI and the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame, goes to an artist who exhibits “true, great and original” qualities. Fresh off of being honored by the industry, Warshauer released her debut L.P. “The Pink Chariot Mixtape.” The well received L.P. displays the budding superstar’s musical abilities and features some of today’s greatest musicians, including Roy Bittan of the E-Street Band.
Lately Warshauer spends most of her time recording new material in Nashville with producer Marshall Altman. Yes, the same Marshall Altman responsible for producing tracks for Natasha Bedingfield and Mark Broussard. The powerful new material will be featured on her upcoming album tentatively titled “Wicked Wicked,” which will be released to coincide with her upcoming national tour with Bob Schneider.
Steve Johnson of Icon vs. Icon recently sat down with the strikingly beautiful songstress to discuss her influences, the success of her first L.P. “The Pink Chariot Mixtape,” and the challenges in creating new material for her upcoming album.
Tell us a little about how music first came into your life.
Music has always been a part of my life. It was just so natural for me when I was little. I’ve always been a singer. I would wake up in the middle of the night in my crib and start singing songs at the top of my lungs. I was entertaining everyone from a really young age. I think songwriting and pop songs really hit me when I was a teenager. Hearing songs like “Ironic” by Alanis Morissette or “One of Us” by Joan Osborne, I was really struck. I was personally struck by their songs, but really seeing how they impacted what felt like everyone around me. Suddenly songs came over people like a wave and everyone was singing them. I think that was really a turning point for me. It struck me how something so simple could be so powerful. I picked up a guitar. My dad actually got me my first guitar thinking it would be great if I could accompany myself. I wanted to just take a stab at writing my own songs.
You mentioned Alanis Morissette and Joan Osborne. I assume they were major influences. Are there others who influenced your musical career?
I would say that they were definitely influences in terms of me wanting to become a songwriter. I would definitely site Springsteen and U2, which are very iconic and epic with huge careers. The arenas and stadiums. As soon as I saw those live performances I was like, “Wow! People can do that? I want to do that!” I wanted to aim to sort of create something of that feeling. In seeing them, there’s a certain power. The magnitude. It all stems from something very simple, which is a great song, but then seeing it in this huge venue, it sort of becomes something that’s so much greater and so much bigger. I think a lot of the underlying themes that I’ve always gravitated towards in my songs have that kind of epic nature to them. So Springsteen and U2. From a female perspective, artists like Stevie Nicks or Patti Smith, she’s a pure artist. It’s that sort of underlying spirit that she brings to everything she does that I think I’m captivated by. From a more modern perspective I really love Metric. I got to see them at Lollapalooza a few years ago. I think they’re incredible and Emily Haines is another great female in rock and roll. I love Muse and the nature that it’s edgy, it’s rock and roll, it’s very modern. Sonically I love what they’re doing. I always enjoyed The Killers. For me they represent something I’m looking to emulate in my live show because it is the rock concert experience, but they infuse it with pop sensibilities and even electronica and dance. With their last record I like how they sort of flipped the script. Here’s a rock band that went to Stuart Price who produced Madonna and they came out with songs like “Human.” I really just love that. I’m really inspired by taking things from different genres and mixing and matching. I feel that if you have an underlying song you can do anything with it and go anywhere with it. That is the exciting part. Getting in a room with people that come from different worlds who hear things in different ways, then you can fuse it all together and see what you come up with.
You released your first LP, “The Pink Chariot Mixtape,” last summer. How would you best describe the sound of that album or your sound in general?
In general my sound is pop, rock, alternative. It’s sort of like a neo-Stevie Nicks, Cyndi Lauper, with an Alanis Morissette vibe mixed in there. I feel like “The Pink Chariot Mixtape” represents that. There’s some classic elements of rock and roll fused with a sort of burgeoning pop sensibility.
What was your most fond memory of working on the “Pink Chariot Mixtape?”
I just loved getting the opportunity to work with Thom Panunzio. He’s incredible. He’s someone I really look up to in music, creatively and with how he’s built his career. He came up alongside Jimmy Iovine in the ‘70s at The Record Plant. At the time that I worked with him he was actually the head of A&R/Geffen Records. He worked with a lot of the artists that we have been talking about. Springsteen, U2, Stevie Nicks, Patti Smith. We set up shop in my manager’s home in Pacific Palisades and I was working with other musicians who also worked with The Killers. They came in from Las Vegas and we set up all of the equipment. For about three weeks we were in this home that we were using as a recording studio. Thom would come over. Thom’s like a James Dean type figure. He’d come over every day in his classic car. We recorded five songs including a song that was actually for a Runaways tribute album, which was cool because Thom had been involved with some of the original recordings with some of the members of The Runaways. It was kind of interesting with it coming full circle. Thom and I are also both from New Jersey, so we share that. I was kind of at a point where I was about to transition to Los Angeles. I really felt that I was transitioning to a new place in my career. This opportunity was just amazing not only because of the recordings, but often times we would go out back. We were in L.A. It’s beautiful in The Palisades. We were hanging out in the back yard around this fire pit looking at this beautiful view and getting a chance to sit there and talk to someone I look up to so much. We talked about his experiences with these iconic artists and how he built his career. I felt like I got so much from that experience.
That sounds awesome! I’d like to pick his brain a little bit![laughs]
How was it received and are you happy with its success?
I was very happy. For me, “The Pink Chariot Mixtape” is very much a process of building a career and the life I’m looking to develop. I feel like “The Pink Chariot MIxtape” is a really important step in that process. It brought together a lot of songs, a lot of people, a lot of ideas that have helped me get to the point that I am at right now, which I couldn’t be more excited about.
I understand you are working on new material. What can we expect from that? Are you headed in a different direction?
I wouldn’t say it’s a departure. It’s more of an evolution. I think of it as life is art and art is life. You can almost see the process that you are going through reflected in the songs you are writing and vice versa. Over the past year I’ve really had an opportunity to do so much travelling, sort of get my feet wet. Whether it’s touring or other aspects of my career, I’ve been excited to build. All of that is reflected in this new material. Both lyrically, what I am talking about and production wise. I haven’t decided on the title yet, but as I live with it more and more, I want to call it “Wicked Wicked.” That comes from one of my songs, which is titled “Such a Lovely Place.” The lyrics go, “The violence feels so wicked, wicked sweet. Sometimes the darkness is so wicked, wicked deep.” In the second verse it goes, “The cold air is such a wicked, wicked treat. The morning feels so wicked, wicked free.” So, it’s a big part of the lyrics. I love it because it has a sort of contradictory element that I feel is such a driving force of who I am as a person and where I write from. I’ve always felt like a downtown girl. Suburban punk. I have a pop sensibility, but I’m much more of a rock and roll girl at heart. I was recording with Marshall Altman in Nashville. On my day off I went to The Frist Center there, which is a visual arts center, and I saw this big exhibit that I really connected to called Woman on the Run. It was an installation where … I love anything that looks like a big movie set. It had a Bates Motel sort of vibe. They had a facade of a motel and, where they had the windows, they actually had running movies. You could actually see what was happening inside that motel room from a movie screen. Then the next window would be a different movie screen. There was actually a motel room that you could walk through. The bed’s a little un-made, the suitcase is open. You could see she had to run from the authorities. She had the blonde wig and sunglasses. It’s sort of like Thelma and Louise meet The Bates Motel kind of thing. Something about that sensibility struck me and I love the detail. You walk around and there is dirt and cigarette butts on the side in the alley. This is in a museum. Some day when I do stage productions I want to collaborate with this artist. It really sort of brought home what I am trying to capture in “Wicked Wicked.” That for a title kind of sums it up. Again, I can be that rock and roll girl where I get that phone call from Las Vegas from some of the guys that The Killers set me up with. I’m like, “OK. I’m hitting the road. I’m coming to you right now.” It’s 8 o’clock. I’m in Santa Monica. I hit the highway and drive through the desert. There’s a full moon, I’m almost running out of gas, no one else is on the road, and I’ve never made this drive before. My telecaster is in the backseat. It’s that kind of spirit and energy that I kind of move through life and what it is I am creating. The more that I bottle that spirit and put it out there, that’s what I am after and what I am trying to do.
Have there been any challenges to putting together the new material?
Really its been more inspiring and exciting. I think there is always a challenge to what you’re doing because I think some of the same questions you are asking me, I am always asking myself. Inherently I know what it is that I am looking for, but I ask myself the questions for me to pull it out and have the courage to go after it. I think more than anything you kind of have to dive into the deep end, but you’re sort of constantly looking at things and questioning things because you can’t help that along the way. I think it’s like anything. There are challenges, but overall it’s just been awesome.
When can fans expect to be able to get their hands on the new album?
We don’t really have an exact release date yet. The idea is to put it out to coincide with my upcoming national tour with Bob Schneider. That starts in late April. People can look for it around then.
What can people expect from your live show?
That’s a good question! I’m actually practicing the new material. Up until the tour, my focus is this album and really putting together the live show of my dreams. I’m so thrilled that Bob Schneider has given me this amazing opportunity. I feel like it’s really a chance for me to sort of crystalize this vision that I’ve had in my head for a long time. I had a recent collaboration with an amazing viola player. She also plays electric viola and violin. She sings background vocals. I am very excited about working with her. I’m still in the studio deciding which songs are going to be my focus and that I will be performing on this tour. That’s really going to drive what the live show is going to be like and what other musicians will be on stage with me.
What do you consider the defining moment of your musical career so far?
Definitely the moment where I was on stage singing the Buddy Holly song “That’ll Be The Day” with all of the legends. Lyle Lovett. Shawn Colvin. Graham Nash. Paul Anka. Bob Scaggs. Chris Issak. Michelle Branch. You know what? More than that. The singing was unreal, but earlier that day I had been given the Buddy Holly Prize from the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame and Songmasters for a young artist that exhibits some of the same characteristics of Buddy Holly. Because of that I was able to take part in this PBS Special. I just remember playing on stage for the rehearsal during the day and suddenly I was surrounded by all of these artists that I look up to. Lyle was like, “Hi! I’m Lyle!” Michelle Branch was like, “Hi! I’m Michelle!” They were like way too normal. There were so many of them. You ever had one of those crazy dreams where you wake up and you go, “Oh my god! Where did that come from?” I was on stage with this person and that person! It’s warm on stage and the lights … Peter Asher is directing everybody. I literally felt like I was dreaming. Suddenly I’m singing in Lyle Lovett’s ear because he’s asking me the words to the song. He’s like, “Oh. You sound great. How does that go?” It was just surreal. It was amazing. I was like, “WOW!” To be alongside these great artists is what I’ve worked so hard for.
It sounds like it was amazing!
It really was!
That’s a lot of really good talent in one room saying you are a good musician! That has to feel nice!
Before I went on stage, Peter Asher actually recognized me and had me stand up. Again, surreal was sort of the word to describe it.
Do you have any advice for someone who would like to get involved in the music industry?
I do! Yeah! I was talking to someone recently and there is that sort of cliche of just being yourself. To be yourself you have to find out who that is. I think that it’s a process. Like what we were talking about earlier. Life is art. Art is life. Both are a process. You have to have respect for that process. I think that it’s a constant challenge to sort of put yourself out there, and create, and sort of make mistakes. I really think there aren’t mistakes. There isn’t failure. Everything is an opportunity if you look at it that way. As Lionel Richie told me, “just keep going.” I think that’s where you’ll be able to do whatever it is that you want to do. Build the career of your dreams. I think that it takes courage to live the life of your dreams. I think that people should find the courage to do that.
Is there anything else you want to add before I let you go?
I think we covered it!
Thanks for your time Laura! All the best!
Steve, thank you so much!
For the latest on this incredible artist, check out Laura Warshauer’s official website at www.laurawmusic.com!