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30 Songs, 30 Days: The Music of Aerica Lauren

Here's the first installment in our new RVA Magazine column, “From The Desk of GayRVA.” Look for it in every issue of RVA Magazine, beginning with issue 31, which is on stands now!

DougNunnally | December 26, 2017

Featuring delicate vocals, sparse instrumentation, and lo-fi command, the music of Aerica Lauren isn’t easy to overlook. Though quiet and restrained in volume, there’s a pull in her voice and words that most will feel when they come across her music, whether it be on her prolific Bandcamp page or in any of the coffee shops or breweries she frequently performs in around Richmond.

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Like Frankie Cosmos and Car Seat Headrest before her, Aerica Lauren’s output isn’t something you can really quantify, especially when you consider all of the social media teases and fragments she frequently posts. Her “Song A Day” challenge in April alone would stump most competent musicians, but it’s nothing for the young songwriter who’s been honing her craft for quite some time now.

“I learned guitar when I was 13 and immediately started writing songs,” Lauren says. “I’ve always kept a journal, and songwriting is like a much more rewarding form of journaling.” Now 27, Lauren has almost 15 years of songwriting under her belt, with enough material to dwarf the songbooks of Greta Kline and Will Toledo, if she had the inclination.

Lauren explains how her songwriting is inspired and molded by a variety of sources. “I grew up listening to a lot of artists like Joni Mitchell, Crosby Stills Nash & Young, The Cranberries, Harry Nilsson, and Wilson Phillips,” she says. “But I also loved Jimmy Eat World, Eisley, Deftones, and Tegan & Sara. To me, those are all bands whose songwriting styles continuously evolved while still remaining true to their own unique sound that their fans love them for. And of course their lyrics are pure poetry.”

Of course, writing music is one thing, but performing it live is another. Many fruitful songwriters struggle with this in their career, including Lauren. “[First performing live] was nerve wracking,” she exclaims. “My friend Andy and I had been jamming together my freshman year of high school. There was an open mic at my school, and Andy and I were going to play ‘Hear You Me’ by Jimmy Eat World together. I messed the guitar up a few times, but afterwards I felt so energized. I was instantly addicted. After that, I tried to find as many opportunities as possible to perform live, whether it was original songs or covers, solo or with some of my musician friends.”

And Lauren has definitely done just that, live as well as recorded, with plenty of collaborations (like 2014’s split EP with Billy Bacci) and covers (2013’s Under The Covers) to back up her own staggering list of originals. Releasing this music has never been a challenge for Lauren, who has found a steady following through performances and online engagement. “I’m all over social media and I play out in Richmond pretty frequently,” she notes. “That’s been my approach up until recently, just because I didn’t really need to do much more than that for what I was releasing (all home-recorded EPs). I was successful with that approach, but with my new project I want to do a lot more.”

This new project is a solo record Lauren is currently finalizing, her first full-length, which will be welcome news for those often left wanting more from her brief, yet compact releases. Though her approach has done well for her in the past, she admits it’s time to shake things up, adding some music videos, merchandise, and even tour dates to really push the new record as best as she can.

This record comes on the heels of a busy 2017 for Lauren, in which she participated in a daunting April challenge that saw her create a new song each day. “My [ album ] producer and another of his clients started a Facebook group in April called ‘30 Day Songwriting Challenge’ that was supposed to get artists to find inspiration to write music every day,” Lauren explains. “I think I took it way more seriously than anyone expected. I wrote and recorded 30 songs for the entire month of April. My work schedule was 7:30 A.M. to 5:30 P.M. and I have a roommate, so I only really had time during my lunch breaks to record anything. Sometimes I would try to record two songs just in case I didn’t have time to do one another day.”

With album pre-production going on in the background of this, it was a great time for Lauren to examine her creative muscles, and challenge herself to do something new as much as possible. “The most successful part of the month was seeing exactly how much I could think outside the box regarding my typical songwriting,” she recounts, “and how deep I could dig to create interesting songs without getting repetitive or boring.”

Creatively, 2017 has been a rewarding year for her, something she’s achieved without diving too much into the muddy politics that dominate the news cycle. For Lauren, a musician who identifies as LGBTQ, there’s always a sense of apprehension with what’s going on in Washington, no matter how you label yourself. “If I have to pick a label, I usually say I’m queer or gay,” Lauren says. “Lesbian works too, but I typically don’t like to associate my biological sex with my gender identity.”

Still, just because Lauren isn’t overt in her music about issues within the community, she’s certainly seen plenty of bigotry and ignorance, as could be expected for someone who plays as many outdoor, public gigs as her. Venues around the country have definitely taken steps to be more inclusive, but there are still plenty that offer situations that can be anxious, if not terrifying for artists who identify as LGBTQ, something Lauren is well aware of. “I’ve never been worried about a venue having an issue with me, but I am always aware of the possibility of homophobic patrons,” she remarks. “I’ve experienced my fair share of ignorance regarding my appearance and sexual orientation, but I can only hope that my music speaks for itself and inspires people to let go of their prejudices.”

Though her music, quiet and powerful, does speak for itself, Lauren admits that there is still more she hopes to do. “I’ve definitely felt a pull to be more politically active,” she notes. “I’m a preschool teacher and a school-age care counselor, so I’m reminded every day why it’s important to speak out about social issues that directly affect my loved ones and me. My songwriting has definitely become stronger, but mostly I think I’m all the more inspired to have my voice heard by more people so that I can potentially have a positive influence on a wider audience.”

Photo by Brett Denfeld.