Laura Ivancie: Comes Out Riffing

Portland singer-songwriter Laura Ivancie produces electronic riffs from her “Coming Out” EP. She’s transformed herself from a softly spoken folksinger with guitar in hand, to experimenting with (mixing) the succulent sounds of dope jams and fast beats. Laura is a worldly young gal, having traveled through South America and back. Not to mention, her grandfather served as one of Portland’s former mayors.

Laura’s hypnotically soothing voice thrust her into musical stardom, but after a few short years on the scene, she was ready to shred her good girl image. She’s recently opened up a whole new wing in her studio and has collaborated with music producer and electronic mastermind Keith Schreiner (a.k.a. Auditory Sculpture). Schreiner is not a Svengali, imposing his will and style. Laura was well aware of his career and track record. Turns out she had been embracing the electronic side for quite a while, just not publicly. Schreiner has worked with singers such as Jen Folker of Dahlia and Orianna Herrman of Oracle.

Audiences who are used to seeing Laura with her acoustic guitar, belting out rhythmic tunes on stage, will now see that she is ready to switch musical gears, bury the past, and pursue a new style of music consisting of funky grooves, sharp melodies and some rap. Laura is an eclectic musician who incorporates rock ‘n’ roll, jazz, folk, and electro. We tend to think of musicians starting out from the depth of their parents’ basement or garage, trying things out until they are brave enough to perform. Not Laura Ivancie.

 

You had this whole other life before pursuing a musical career.

Yeah, I think that it’s been a great foundation honestly. I’ve always been an avid athlete, and basketball was my number-one love. I’ve played since the third grade. I was nominated for the McDonald’s All-American Team in high school. All the while I loved music. I had a damn near perfect pitch. I knew I could sing, but I just couldn’t believe that music was something that was going to be at the forefront in my life. I had all this energy and found basketball to be a great outlet for me emotionally, so I just followed that athletic path.

What position did you play?

I was a small forward, but I played other positions like guard and center. I was really strong and could jump really high, which allowed me to be versatile in that sense.

What was your best shot?

I had a jump shot. I like the line-drive jump shot. I did well and had a good career. Basketball was something that allowed me to go to school without paying for it. I got to know some great ladies who were also very motivated. We made a good team together. We did well and I learned a lot about team building. Those were important lessons because at the same time, I was also with the Forest Service fighting fires in the summer to stay in shape.

What made you begin centering your focus on music?

After my last year of college I almost took a job with Jeld-Wen, the largest private windows and doors manufacturing company on the West Coast. I was a shoe-in. But at the very last interview I decided I wanted to travel. While in college, I had met someone who showed me all these pictures of South America, and that was it. I had to go. I traveled through Panama, Ecuador, Peru, Argentina, Uruguay and Chile. I found a job teaching English in Buenos Aires for six months, which is one of my fondest life experiences. It was a chapter in my life that gave me room to explore, my sabbatical to really figure out what I wanted to do with my life.
As I was traveling through South America, I purchased a custom-made guitar from Bolivia for like $200. It would have cost $2,000 in America and I still have it. I found music and language to be this whole other passport down there. I could just move through that world and it was wonderful. I realized I wanted to play music, but I was out of money and I could barely make it back home to America.

So, what happened next?

I was broke, so I got a job fighting forest fires on a hotshot crew. It was a tough gig and I ended up hurting my back. During that time, I was writing so many songs. They were just pouring out of me, so I just threw in the fire towel. I became a well-known frequenter of open mic nights and received all this beautiful, unexpected praise from the audience. From that moment, everything clicked and I knew music was something I wanted to pursue. I didn’t know it was going to blow up this way for me or that it was going to take over my life. That guitar is like a vampire—it sucks my blood.

That’s a bad thing?

That’s a good thing. It’s something that’s always there. It’s the one relationship that’s always there for me and allows me to express myself. It’s just been a great journey so far. It’s been five years since I decided I was going to start playing music, and I think there have been some wonderful things that have shown me that it’s bigger than only me.

There’s an element of spirituality with it that I can’t explain. I really get to connect to all that is. I love that it serves me and other people too. If you can find something that offers that much joy to you and is also such a huge challenge all the time, you know you’ve found the key to living. It’s not easy all the time of course, but who wants easy?

If you wanted easy you wouldn’t have taken a job as a firefighter.

That’s right. It was dangerous for sure. That’s the other side of it too. I think I’ve got kind of a thrill-seeking nature that I can’t really avoid.

That’s something that is hard for people to imagine. What is that like?

I imagine it’s sort of like being in the military. You’re in your crew, everyone has maps and a crew leader, and then you have your tasks. To be honest, it’s a lot of ditch digging. You get a lot of honor from the community, but we’re just digging holes. We’re dirty and sweaty. I mean you wouldn’t even recognize me back in those days, Tom. I may as well have been a boy, because I was covered in mud. I wasn’t a girl out there. Nobody was.
You’re an equal but you gotta pull your own weight. All these things I’ve experienced were preparing me for the “right now.” You have to rely on your crewmembers to really make the show happen, and to put the fire out and stay safe. And a lot of times it isn’t the fire that’s the most dangerous—it was slipping and falling through the rocks. Things like that you wouldn’t think of until you’re out there … dehydration. You’re in the middle of nowhere and you’re hungry, you have MREs (meal ready-to-eat) for a week and you can’t even make proper bowel movements because you’re eating this food that’s all salt-induced to keep you moving. I mean it’s a really, really crazy part of my life that I look back on.
You also have to prepare for the worst, and because people get hurt, people die. Stuff happens that you hope isn’t going to happen, but it just does … It was good. It’s been fun to have all these life experiences to add and throw into the mix.
These experiences don’t necessarily show up directly in my music because I think that music is a more feminine expression for me. The firefighting was a more masculine expression. I think it shows in how I’ve grown as a person over the years. I’m definitely working on expressing myself more, and talking about things that I wouldn’t typically talk about. I think that music is that outlet for me.

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How does that inform, or does it inform, the subjects of your songs?

There are a lot of relationship- oriented songs. I look at myself as being a loner (sometimes) and independent at the same time. I’m really just trying to go to the next thing, and to keep doing it without really slowing down. The last few years have been about opening myself up to people, my family, really delving in and looking at these dynamics. It’s important for me to navigate and learn from all relationships, such as familiar, intimate, and business.
I was writing about experiences from my narcissistic and self-focused days as a teenager, to now more of a position of, “Hey, this isn’t all about me, it’s about everybody.” I’m realizing where my place is in the world, and maybe there are some things that are unacceptable that I’d want to change. I feel that music is a bit of that.
A lot of my music really focuses on this self-reinvention, seeing that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. So it’s not all happy music— but hopefully it’s idealistic music, too. It’s a place I’d like the world to be. You know, there are also some kind of angsty songs that are just reflections of my teenage emotions. Ultimately, people that identify with the music are people that closely resonate with the artist’s particular frequency and where they’re at in their lives.

I just think that’s the camaraderie— there are a lot of things that I can compare to music. You have a set amount of tasks that you have to complete in order to make the whole.
The people I’ve found who really enjoy my music are in a place where they want to open their consciousness more. They want to heal and grow.

About your new musical direction … is it really a new direction or is it something that’s been there all the time?

It has been there all the time, for me. It’s trip-hop, house, kind of industrial house, and some drum and bass with some string accompaniment. There’s a full sound of strings on a lot of these tracks, and a lot of electronic drums and some electronic samples and other types of keyboard sounds. I’m really pleased with the productions we were able to do together in order to bring my songs to life in a fleshy, body kind of way from their original skeletal beginnings, you know.

You say it’s been there all along—why hasn’t it been out here before?

I’ve been performing since 2008, so I felt like I had a lot of growing up to do in order to work with a strong-minded producer like Keith. For me to sit there and to say, “This is what I really want,” I had to feel more confident. I was trying to make sense of what I wanted, before step- ping out onto the playing field with him. I didn’t want him to be the full creative force behind it. I had to be strong enough to be that. Now, I feel like I’m in that place where timing is working itself out.

About The Author: Tom D'Antoni