With two albums released inside of the last twelve months including a new Hands Off Gretel record as well as her first full solo album in the last five years, it’s fair to say that it’s been a particularly productive year for Lauren Tate.
The British singer/songwriter and guitarist has been road testing tracks from her new solo album Songs For Sad Girls whilst out on tour as a special guest to Ginger Wildheart and the Sinners.
National Rock Review sat down with Lauren Tate before her show alongside the Wildheart’s frontman in Newcastle to discuss her new album, Hands Off Gretel and her plans and ambitions going into the New Year.
First of all, we’re here in Newcastle tonight, which is also the home of Ginger Wildheart. And I know you’ve been out on the road together for a little bit. How have the shows been going so far?
Great, we’ve done eight dates, well we will have done eight dates. But originally I was never meant to do any solo gigs. I wasn’t planning on any. And then Ginger mentioned it and I like working with Ginger. When we did shows with the Wildhearts with Hands Off Gretel l enjoyed them. So then I thought, oh bugger it, I’ll practice a bit and see how it goes. Yeah, it’s been great, I’m so glad I did it – it’s a nice contrast.
So how does it feel to be up there with just you and Sean rather than having the rest of the band behind you? Do you do sort of think – when are the drums going to kick in? Or where’s the bass? Does it feel different?
Yeah, I think it’s way scarier. It’s weird because this is how I started out six years ago. We did acoustic gigs before and they never bothered me, I just got up and did it. And then I got the band and at that point having a band scared me – that was terrifying. But going back to acoustic when you’ve had all that noise around you, it’s like you just feel all your emotions coming forward a lot more – it’s very emotional doing it like that. You can hear a pin drop and everyone’s listening to everything that your saying – it’s weird. You kind of feel a bit like naked when you are playing like that. I have enjoyed it, but it’s been a lot more nerve-wracking.
You’ve just released your first solo album in five years, which is called Songs For Sad Girls. It sounds a lot different to the stuff that you’re doing with Hands Off Gretel. When you first started working on this record did you consciously have a particular sound in mind that you were kind of going for with this project?
Yeah, well I’d written Hands Off Gretel’s album and I had songs that just didn’t fit. I kept thinking these are a bit too personal in a way. And so I put them to one side and I just thought I’ll record them for myself. I thought these are sounding quite cool I might do something solo as it’s been forever since I’ve done something on my own. I thought I will just release a few songs, like an EP. And then I got a bit carried away – it was just flowing, especially lyrically. I could sing about things with the acoustic guitar especially, you can get a lot more words in. And so when it came to writing about something, I was like I’ve got this idea and this idea. And then what turned into like a small thing for myself turned into actually I’m going to commit to it fully and produce it myself.
Did you always feel like you had like another solo album in you?
It’s was weird because it’s like I’ve gone in a way full circle with it because I did my solo stuff and I had a solo band and I hated it. I hated that everything was my decision and I felt so alone and I didn’t feel strong enough to stand up there, practice and direct. Whereas now it’s completely the other way around – I’ve got a band, but like sometimes it’s like I’m a control freak with that. So just breaking away from it and doing my own thing, it keeps everything fresh. Yeah, I enjoyed doing it.
Were there any of the songs on the album which started as ideas for Hands Off Gretel that you didn’t feel were quite right for the band?
I’ve got to try and remember now. Oh yeah, ‘He Wanted More’ – we played that live with Hands Off Gretel a few times. But then I just kept coming back to it as my song – it’s weird. I’ve got like a line I think, if there’s a certain amount of personal lyrics it feels weird putting it with the band, even though they are personal as well, I just think – this is my child. But then the band is my child as well. It’s like almost like a bit of a character that I’ve been doing with Hands Off Gretel, an eccentric kind of character and this is just when that doesn’t fit that character I think. This is just me stripped back, I’m not being anything with this.
Which artists would you say have influenced the sound or the direction on this album?
I would say a lot of Pink. I always say Courtney Love, she’s always inspired me. But I think there’s some stuff in there like Lana Del Ray and a lot of 50s artists like Etta James. I got really into doing 50s music – that era when my Nana and Granddad had their 50th wedding anniversary and they got me up on stage singing cover songs. So I did loads of covers for them. I found lots of female artists from that era. I love that style – so a lot of that.
Do you have a favourite track on the record? And if so, which song and why?
I think it kind of changes quite a lot. I think when I first wrote ‘Miss America Perfect Body’, I really connected to that one. And me and Sean wrote that at the same time. I remember we were sat on the settee and then Sean was playing the guitar and I was feeling sad that day. And then I started singing over the top. And then I’m like, oh, I like this – get recording it. Then when that came together quickly, I just had one line ‘Spending the summer hiding in my room’ and that just shaped the song. The second I got that I was visualizing myself when I was younger, I’m thinking I’m singing directly to myself when I’m younger. I enjoyed writing that.
So this year it’s been quite a busy year for you and the band. You’ve put out two albums in one year, which is pretty impressive. Do you feel like it’s been a creative year for you all?
Yeah, it’s weird because as much as I do, I always feel like I could have done more. I always do it. I’ve done this and then you kind of forget – it’s weird. I’m just so in front – I’m already in next year, I’m already that far ahead. And like sometimes I get down and I’m like, oh, I have not achieved anything in my life and like I’m crap and then Sean will be like just look at what you’ve done. And I think sometimes you are so ahead, you forget what you’ve done and then I’ll look back and think, oh yeah, it has been amazing. It’s weird, it’s gone so quickly and I’m always so far ahead that when something amazing is happening I’m thinking of next week. Living in the moment is not my thing – I’m really bad.
Besides that, when you haven’t been putting out records you’ve been touring quite a lot as well. I mean you’ve been on the road a lot. I don’t know how you’ve managed to fit it all in this year. It must have been a bit of a whirlwind.
I don’t know either.
So if you managed to do two albums this year, what are you going to do next year?
Three albums. I want to do a lot more experimental things on my own. Like, just trying new stuff. I plan to write a lot more – Hands Off Gretel will be doing the third album. I don’t know when that’s going to be recorded, but I know next year is going to be me writing but then, more touring. We’re finally going to Ireland with the band, which is where Sean is from – so that will be good. Although I’ve got some plans, I’ve forgotten them all – I’ve kind of forgotten everything. But every day I wake up with new ideas of what I want to do. I think I’m going to do a comic book – no, I’m not. I want to do a show like in a theatre – I want to act. I want to model. I want to write a book. I want to draw a book. I’m just like, I never feel like I’ve done enough – it’s weird.
But I think it’s great to have all those things – it keeps you motivated. I always like to have projects that I can keep on working on. I think next year I’m going to do this. It’s just great to be creative and have those kinds of things in your back pocket, they keep the fires burning.
So you self-produced this album in your home studio. How did you find that experience and was there ever a point where you thought about bringing in a producer?
I did use a producer for three of the tracks. Although I say it’s self-produced, I have credited him on the album. But I did this with him and then I think it was kind of that experience that made me think I would like to do on my own, just because I like creative control when I’m in the studio and I like to have control of how something sounds. And a lot of the time it’s like the producer wants one thing and I want another.
I was just thinking I just want to do them as a demo and then I’m going to find a producer that gets me. I’ve still not found that person, I’m still looking for someone that I can work with like that. And then the more I worked on it, I thought to then go and take it to a producer, it’s going to be like another year and I’m so excited by the songs and I was excited by how it sounded. So I just thought I’ve been too shy to do it on my own, I was just worried that people would listen to it and be like it’s shit and then I can’t blame anyone else because it was me. I think sometimes it’s hard because you won’t get anyone else’s opinion if something does sound shit.
It’s difficult because the producer they kind of intervene and give you some feedback. But if there’s no feedback there, it’s difficult being your own judge.
It was worrying. Especially the first time I showed anybody. I kept saying it’s just a demo, it’s not finished yet. I’m like if anyone says it’s good then it’s finished – until someone tells me it’s good, it’s not finished yet.
What has the reception been like towards your solo record from the Hands Off Gretel fans?
Really good. Yeah, I was a bit worried. I thought people would think I’ve quit Hands Off Gretel, because people do. They are like oh no, what have you done, what have you done, you’ve changed. That’s the worst thing people say – you’ve changed. This is how I started, I started kind of acoustic. Then I went to the band and when I did that transition people were like – you’ve changed, oh my god what have you done to your voice. Because I was screaming a lot and everyone was like you are going to wreck it, your beautiful voice – it’s going to die. And then I did this album in a way saying like it’s not dead, I can still sing like this. And then I just enjoyed it, people enjoyed it as well. Especially with the lyrics, a lot of people identified with things I sang about.
I read a quote which said that you wanted to sound like a girl writing in her diary. In that respect would you say that the songwriting is a lot more personal than your songs with Hands Off Gretel.
Yeah, that’s why when I run out of ideas I’ll tidy my bedroom out, and I found my diaries from when I was younger. So I was reading through and I’m like, geez, she was so sad. Because the things she wrote about at school, the stuff that I went through then and it’s like you kind of forget how angry you were back then. It all becomes like small events, but that was years of my life spent feeling a certain way. I think I’ve not written enough for her yet. When I look back at myself I think I still owe her a lot of anger that she never got out. So many people that feel just like I felt. Everything I need is in my diary.
So would you say that you find songwriting to be therapeutic or cathartic?
Yeah, sometimes – if it’s not forced. If I’m trying to write, if someone says to write a song, I would be like I can’t. But then when I’m just enjoying it, there are different styles. Like some of the new songs that I’ve been doing – they’ve just been fun, which is weird, it’s a weird emotion for me to feel. Usually, it’s like angry, kind of like heavy, sad. On this one, I’ve been doing quite fun stuff – that’s kind of therapeutic, but I don’t know, sometimes it’s not. When I’ve been performing these, they are kind of sad lyrics. I’m kind of stood there like, Oh, I feel like I’m depressing everybody. I’m looking out like I am sorry if you’re all in a good mood, you’re not now.
This album, not only did you self-produce it, you recorded all the instruments on the album, designed all of the album artwork and the merchandise too. I mean that takes the concept of DIY to like a whole new level. Was that something you enjoyed? I wondered did it ever get a bit overwhelming or a bit too stressful would you say?
It was always quite easy – I find the art side easy. I find it harder for the band because I’m worried – especially the cover, that is the hardest because everyone else has got in their head what they think. So Sam will be like, well I can see the album already and I’m thinking shit I can’t? I can already see what it looks like – I’m feeling blue. And I’m thinking I am not feeling blue. Oh God, he is thinking blue, I’m not thinking blue. So when I’m doing it with someone else, I show them the artwork and be like please like it – it’s pink. You don’t want it to be pink? I want it to be pink. So when I did my own, it was just easy. It was just kind of like, the only person that’s got to like is me – easy.
We used a photoshoot that I did quite a while ago and put that together. These were in my bath at home. That one I did with my mum, we fell out when we did that one. We always fall out, we do all the time. The bath was starting to go cold. So I was sat in there like, mom, why aren’t the lights working? She’s like the lights are not working. One minute, let me get my batteries and I’m sat there like mum come on. And then she’ll take one and she’d be like, no, no. We are a brilliant team – we’re honest with each other. She would be looking like you are pulling a face, and I’m like, I’m not pulling a face that’s how I look. They always work out well.
Now that you’ve got these solo gigs under your belt do you think that you are going to continue and maybe do some more shows next year?
As I said, I didn’t expect to do these – we didn’t practice that much. We’d come straight off the tour and it was like, shit, we haven’t got much time to practice. But we did, we were alright, well we had four days practice. From doing it, I think maybe I need a little bit of a backing band when I’m playing it. Like it’s good acoustic, but then there are some songs that I want the kind of impact. I don’t want people to think I’m boring. When it’s a bit soft and quiet all the time, I want something that moves you a little bit. That would be something I would consider just for a few shows. Not a lot. Not like a big tour, just a few special shows in venues like this that are pretty.
Songs For Sad Girls by Lauren Tate is out now via Trash Queen Records.
Words & Photos by Adam Kennedy