Introducing Interview: Gemma Laurence

Having charmed our ears with the beautiful tones of last single ‘Adrienne’, Brooklyn-based “Sapphic folk” artist Gemma Laurence has announced the release of her new album, due out this winter, and has now shared the exquisite title track, ‘Lavender‘. An empowering anthem for the queer community, it flows with lilting melodies and heartfelt lyrics showcased by the raw emotion of Laurence’s rich vocals. Oozing a stirring, shimmering grace, it’s a beautifully poignant, evocative slice of twinkling alt-folk.

We caught up with Gemma to find out more about the upcoming album, what inspires her, her thoughts about how the industry is for marginalised communities, and more. Have a read and make sure you listen to the new single now!

Hi Gemma! Welcome to Get In Her Ears! Can you tell us a bit about yourself? 
Thank you so much for having me! What a delight. Well, I’m Gemma, I use she/her pronouns, and I’m a queer artist from the coast of Maine now based in Brooklyn. I’m gluten free, not by choice. I was on Jimmy Fallon one time (still in denial that happened). I’m really into crunchy Cheetos, plants, poetry and re-enacting the best scenes from Fleabag. And I used to have a British accent when I was a kid.

Are you able to tell us a bit about how and why you initially started creating music?
I played classical piano for years as a kid, but the rigid structure of classical music never really appealed to me much. It wasn’t until I picked up an acoustic guitar (and figured out I’m a lot better at learning from ear than by reading sheet music) that I really felt the freedom to create my own shapes and sounds. I wrote some silly songs at summer camp as a kid, then some more serious environmental protest songs in high school, and now I’m here! 

I love your beautiful, emotion-strewn sounds, but who would you say are your main musical influences?
Thank you, that is so kind of you to say! Growing up I listened to a lot of Joni Mitchell and Norah Jones, both of whom are still two of my all time favourite artists. I really look up to Gregory Alan Isakov as a songwriter – he has this knack for writing songs that sound like poetry. I’ve listened to The Weatherman more times than I can count. Phoebe Bridgers has inspired me a lot, same with Adrianne Lenker. All such incredible songwriters. People who cut straight through the noise. 

You’ve just released your new single ‘Lavender’. Are you able to tell us a bit about the single? 
‘Lavender’ is one of my favourite songs on the album and I am so excited to share it! It’s a song I wrote for my best friend to tell her how much I love her. So it’s a song for her, but it’s also more widely a song for the whole queer community, honouring the hardships and the joys and the beautiful parts of coming out. It’s a queer rock ‘n’ roll anthem about coming out and embracing who you are.

And your new album is set for release in November – exciting news! Are there any particular themes that run throughout this? And what was the recording process like for you?
Yes I am so excited! The album (named Lavender as well) reads like a collection of short stories. I was an English major in college, so I’ve always been drawn to the idea of these interwoven narratives between character and story arcs, some of which might intersect and others just mirror one another in theme or style. Kinda Dubliners style, or Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kitteridge. But the themes on the album are exploring different expressions of queerness, intimacy, and love. It’s a very reflective album – I wrote it during the pandemic when I was isolated on the coast of Maine for fifteen months and really taking the time to reflect on my life, my queerness, my friendships, people I love, or once loved. If my first record (Crooked Heart) was a series of reactions to curveballs life threw at me, my second album is more of a response, or a reflection. It feels a bit more intentional. It feels more true to who I am right now. I spent a lot of time reading while I was writing the album, so there’s all sorts of literary allusions to different writers – Frank O’Hara, Adrienne Rich, Sappho, Elizabeth Bishop, the list goes on. Recording it was a blast – I got to work with Charlie Dahlke, who is this brilliant producer, multi-instrumentalist, and artist too (you can check out his band The Brazen Youth here). He operates out of this gorgeous studio in the countryside of Lyme Connecticut, surrounded by nature and farmland. We recorded the whole album in a week, with the help of Will Orchard, Micah Rubin, Andrew Goldridge, Steve Varney, Matt Phillips, Hill Kourkoutis, Jess Kerber, April Reed-Cox, David Sirna, Anna Sage Jordan, Mike Nunziante, and Aída O’Brien. Couldn’t have asked for a better or more talented group of individuals! 

Being based in Brooklyn, do you get to see lots of live music? It seems like a great scene there! Would you say it’s recovered from the effects of the pandemic?
Oh boy, what a question. I’ll come at this from two minds – firstly, yes, I am so incredibly excited to be getting back out there and performing. The Brooklyn music scene is wonderful – there’s so much amazing live music happening in NYC right now, and I’ve met so many amazing people through it. With that said, I’m not sure we (or anywhere) will ever truly recover from the pandemic; I mean after all, we’re still going through it. As an able-bodied, healthy, young person I feel so privileged to be able to be in these packed venues in front of so many people, but I know not everybody is able to exist in those spaces in the same way as I do. There’s been this rush (on a governmental/societal/social level) to “get back to normal” and forego masking/testing etc., which puts so many folks at risk. And it’s really unfortunate and super ableist. As an artist, I want to create a safe space for folks, so I really think we need to be taking covid precautions more seriously than we are in order to create more of an inclusive space.

How do you feel the industry is for new artists at the moment? And do you feel much has changed over the last few years in its treatment of female and queer/LGBTQ+  artists? 
There’s certainly some improvement happening – there’s less blatant homophobia and misogyny now (at least at a surface level). And it’s really inspiring to see so many diverse voices out there in the music scene now, advocating for queer voices, trans voices, non-binary voices, black and brown voices. But there’s a lot more work to be done! I’m conscious of this as a self-titled “Sapphic folk” artist: I identify as queer, and write a lot of music about my queerness but, as Emma Madden noted in her article in NPR Music, if you look at the Sapphic folk scene and “aesthetic”, it’s predominantly white. Queerness has become more palatable to the mainstream audience, but the industry still feels white-washed – I think we could do a lot more to promote queer and trans artists/producers/musicians of colour. 

As we’re a new music focused site, are there any other upcoming artists or bands you’re loving right now that you’d recommend we check out?
Oh yes absolutely! I cannot stop listening to Reliant Tom right now. They sound like Weyes Blood-meets-Lana Del Rey, and their live shows are spectacular. Also can’t stop listening to Jess Kerber’s new album (she’s an amazing vocalist and songwriter – she actually sang on my last single ‘Adrienne’!). Also obsessed with Pictoria Vark, bestfriend, Big Stuff, partygirl, America Jayne, Youth in a Roman Field, Forever Honey, Babehoven, and The Answers In Between.

As well as the album release, what does the rest of the year have in store for you? 
Well I’m just so excited to be signing with Better Company Records! I could not think of a better team to get behind this album; it’s artist-run (started by Allen and Ellis from San Fermin!), and they work with so many artists I look up to and have followed for years  – Sorcha Richardson, Wye Oak, Daisy The Great, Thao, to name a few. I’m so honoured to be a part of the Better Company family now. My band will undoubtedly be playing some fun shows this year, and hopefully even (maybe!) going on tour at some point. Keep an eye out!

Massive thanks to Gemma for answering our questions!

‘Lavender’ is out now, ahead of the release of Gemma Laurence’s upcoming second album of the same name, which is due out on 4th November via Better Company Records.

LISTEN: Kristen Merritt – ‘I Don’t Think ABout You’

I Don’t Think About You’ is the woozy new single from Brooklyn-based artist Kristen Merritt. With heartfelt lyrics and laid-back instrumentation, this neo-soul groove is the perfect soundtrack for bright summer mornings. ‘I Don’t Think About You’ is positive and light, sung from the perspective of someone who has found clarity and has been released by it. It feels as though each word is sung through a smile, creating a warm and inviting soundscape.

Describing her music as “high-key” (high energy) neo-soul, you can hear the influence of Lauryn Hill and Erykah Badu in Merritt’s slick and chilled-out arrangements, with lush keyboard flourishes highlighting the soulful lyrics. She also cites inspiration from her contemporaries, H.E.R. and Daniel Cesar.

‘I Don’t Think About You’ comes together magically with live instrumentation, it oozes a sincere human quality and vulnerability. The smooth and spacious percussion is reminiscent of Motown recording, providing a soothing groove. To accent the music, the guitar plays jazzy chords that add to the woozy ambiance. Smooth and sweet, Merritt’s vocal melody meanders up and down, flowing effortlessly as it leads the song. The vocal melodies and harmonies interweave and overlap, creating delicious textures and easing transitions into new musical ideas and sections.

Of the meaning behind the track, Merritt reveals: “It is the song of coming to terms with feelings for someone, feelings that you denied, for feeling as though they were misplaced on that person. In coming to terms with these feelings, I have reflected in the lyrics the ‘five stages of grief’: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and finally, acceptance. There is also an additional component of something almost happy/joyous in that acceptance, content with the understanding of the situation, even if it didn’t pan out how you wanted it to.

‘I Don’t Think About You’ is accompanied by a vintage-inspired, artfully created new video, directed by Marissa Yates. Watch here:

Joi, Kristen’s debut album, is set for release 14th September.

Jaz Kelly
@surfjaz