All You Need Is Love
The Vibrant Music Of Leading Bass Player Laura Love Is An Extension Of A Rare And Gentle Spirit.
By Dave Irwin
MAY 3, 1999: IF EVERYONE WERE as happy about getting fired as musician Laura Love, unemployment would never be an issue. Dropped last month by Mercury Records in the wake of corporate giant Seagram's takeover shakeout, and just ahead of her two-day stint at the Tucson Folk Festival, Love is downright giddy.
"I've decided I'm not going to kill myself," she giggles. Angst is not one of the adjectives that applies to the ebullient folk heroine. She's too damn happy with who she is to worry about her identity.
"I could have seen this coming," she says, "but they kept telling us it wasn't coming. They said, 'You give us credibility.' It kind of feels good to be gone. Not that I have any choice, but it feels really liberating. I'm able to do what I want without having to worry about how it's perceived."
Love, a latecomer to playing her signature bass guitar, (despite having started performing as a 16-year-old in Nebraska), is a musical chameleon. Her style is a changing string of awkward adjectives, like folk/jazz, Afro/Celtic or rock 'n' rap. She mixes styles with the shamelessness of one who couldn't care less about labels, or about who someone else wants her to be.
"People clamor to be on labels and I just don't get it. I went to New York City way more than I wanted to and saw their big offices and how I was helping to pay for them. It was interesting, but I'm looking forward to putting out an indie record--hopefully a live album, because that's what fans have been asking for."
Love released three albums on her own Octoroon label before being picked up on a Putomayo World Music sampler album that sent her music around the globe. Unlike mogul Danny Goldberg, who got a $16-million golden parachute for jumping ship, Love (incidentally signed to Mercury by Goldberg himself) was unceremoniously jettisoned soon after, without even a parting gift of Seagram's Crown Royale, in spite of the fact that she released two highly respected albums under Goldberg's tutelage--Octoroon and Shum Ticky.
Love is no stranger to reinvention, though. She took up bass at age 25 to play in a punk band, Boom Boom G.I., because she figured that four strings couldn't be too difficult. Along the way, she finished a degree in psychology and did a lot of gardening (including growing some killer pot along with her tomatoes and green beans: "I love to grow things and I didn't differentiate between good and bad plants," she concedes). As an accomplished musician, she exudes a gusto for life that many, especially neurotic artists, can only dream of.
Her gig at the Tucson Folk Festival is another instance of serendipity, in which Tucsonans share in the good fortune. Having played here several years ago, she returned to Tucson for a pleasure trip and hooked up with KXCI-FM (91.3), which led to the invitation as this year's festival headliner. Her hard-to-define world-music style gets regular play on the community radio station.
Since, as she admits, a bass guitar sounds dumb alone, she's bringing her band with her: Rod Cook on guitar, drummer Chris Leighton, and Barbara Lamb on vocals and fiddle. With her newfound freedom, she's looking forward to touring more on the West Coast and especially Canada, which her former label didn't support despite her loyal following there.
"The label didn't value Canadian fans at all, because they didn't release the record there. There are 15- to 20,000 people at these festivals, and they're fun and we sell a ton of records," she says.
In writing her own songs, Love starts out with a riff, "body music" as she calls it, which is then augmented by her humming a melody and eventually adding words. "I get a groove first, and then we start hopping and then I come up with the words," she says. "I do my little Tascam recorder thing and then give copies to the band and we just make it work."
Her irreverent lyrics are an important part of her continually evolving style. She loves wordplay and mixing metaphors in striking ways, such as lampooning her own Roman Catholic roots by referring to Christ as "a long-haired white guy wearing a diaper" or singing a funky paean about her own butt ("Maybootay").
Her personal projects include working with disadvantaged children and preserving Longfellow Creek in her adopted home of Seattle.
"I love playing bluegrass. But I also love playing grunge bass, you know, rushing the edge of the stage for no apparent reason. Standing intentionally pigeon-toed, ya know? Of course when I do that playing bluegrass, I just lose folks," she giggles again.
Love was deeply touched by the Littleton massacre, since her own niece, who lives with her, attends a school in Seattle which had a similar shooting situation.
"The only response to this is to try to be as kind and as tolerant and as patient as I can, to try to find in my own life what would make someone feel so alienated," she says. "It's the only way I can think of to cope with the enormity of that act. My whole demeanor has been to be kinder, more understanding."
After talking with her, it's hard to imagine that is much of a change for the gentle and happy spirit who is Laura Love.
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