Laura Marie In Studio: The World Still Needs Unconditional Love
A seasoned member of the San Antonio music scene, Laura Marie has been playing gigs as a singer/songwriter for nearly twenty years. In the late 1990s, she and a few of her musician friends started a band called Sofa Kingdom. When that project dissolved in the early 2000s, she struck out on her own and has been performing solo ever since. We got the chance to talk with her in the studio and discussed her songwriting, her background, and the changing San Antonio music scene.
Miranda Whitus: One of the songs you performed in our studio, "Be Love," you actually have a tattoo of it on your arm. Can you talk about which came first, the song or the tattoo?
Laura Marie: I'm pretty sure the tattoo came first. I don't remember actually! It's been a saying with me for a long time.... A long time ago, I decided to write songs that were centered on love, not just romantic love, [but] sort of this unconditional, all-encompassing love, and to focus my career on songs of that nature because I felt like the world need more of that. I needed more of that. Then I got the tattoo somewhere along the way.
The song's actually based on the Prayer of Saint Francis. Years ago, David Kaufman, a Christian singer-songwriter, had written a song I absolutely loved and it was based on the Prayer of Saint Francis. I wasn't really big on Christian music, but that song just really stuck with me and I decided someday I would write a song that's also based on that prayer. I think I was also just caught up in the turmoil that was going on in the world at the time, and that's why I wrote it.
When did you start writing music?
I started writing poetry when I was very young. I think I was in elementary school when I started writing-- as deep as that can get at fourth grade!--and I just sort of kept up with it. I was in the creative writing club in high school and I had a few things published in school publications, but when I went off to college, that’s when [writing] really became important. I suffered from very severe depression my freshman year of college, and really credit lyric writing with saving me from myself. I spent a good amount of time skipping class, riding a bus and writing lyrics, not knowing how they were every going to get performed. I wasn't in a band at the time, but I would just do it over and over again... Eventually I met up with some people and we started playing together, nothing really formal. I ended up dropping out of school and decided that when I went back I was going to study music.
What had you been studying?
I was a marine biology major. That's not what led to the depression, but I also have a really strong fear of deep water so that was not helpful.
You've been working on and releasing music since the 1990s, so it's been almost 20 years that you've been part of the San Antonio music scene. As far as I know you've never been signed to any label... why?
I think a lot of people do that nowadays. First of all I don't think there was any label interest. When we were in a band there was some interest of management coming in, but at the time that that happened the band members were conflicted as to whether or not to trust these people and it sort of led to our breaking up, [though] there were other factors as well. When I first started doing my first solo project I had interest from some sort of management people, but as soon as they found out I was pregnant they weren't interested anymore, and that was it. I think I got a little chip on my shoulder like, I don't need you people, I have the internet now! That's kind of when I was dealing with some phobias and some post partum and I didn't really want to leave the house and I was really doing everything from my computer and I just became sort of very isolated and it wasn't until a few years later that I started recovering from a lot of stuff that I began branching out and working with other songwriters. It's harder and harder to find label interest, and then when you do, you find out you could very easily end up losing yourself to them. I had friends that I went to high school with who actually did get signed and toured all over the world and I've heard horror stories about how they still owe money, didn't make a dime, and they were still trying to pay back the cost of making their album with this big production that they'd done. You hear enough of that over the years, and you think maybe it's not such a bad thing, not getting on a label.
What's it like being a mom and a songwriter and a musician?
It's the same as being a mom and any other art, I guess. I think what's unique about it for me [is]... I think artists tend to be obsessive, and it's really difficult to be obsessive when you have kids tugging at you. So for me to sort of compartmentalize and stop mid-song obsession, because when I'm really focused on writing I'm totally focused, so to switch gears can be really difficult and stressful. It took some getting used to, but by the time my second son was born he just sort of took charge and I had no choice, he'd just come in and put his hand over my guitar strings are say 'stop, it's me time.' At this point I'm practically bribing my older child to be my roadie half the time, to carry my gear, which is helpful! And they've also been inspiration for some of the music as well. It's good to be a mom.
You started working on an album, "Stars Apart," this year. When do you think it'll be released?
It's due to be released in August to my subscribers. Through Bandcamp I have a little subscription service and I'm definitely putting it out to them as soon as it's done. I record just down the street from here [the TPR studios] and we're doing the final vocals for it. And then [it'll go] out to the public just shortly after that.
You've been a part of the SA music scene for many years now, can you talk a little about how it's changed?
Oh yeah, it has changed. It used to be where it was only rock and cover bands and I never fit into the cover band scene because it's never anything I wanted to do... I've been really fortunate because unlike some musicians in San Antonio who rely on their income for survival, most of my income goes to creating my art. I was afforded the luxury of being able to just take those shows where I can do my own music and that's what I do for the most part.
Now it's a little bit different. I’ve seen different parts of the music scene grow and I've seen others shrink, at times you can be really isolated from each other. I've seen a number of groups try to get together and band together and help each other out. I've seen great attempts at that, some successful and some not. I think we need to work together as musicians in San Antonio, I think we really benefit from each others' experience and I think that's really helpful. Especially with Facebook and Twitter you see more musicians helping each other out.
It's tough because you see venues come and go. That's the hardest thing. The biggest changes are losing venues as a singer/songwriter, because most of the time there's not a lot of showcase venues for us. For a long time I was at Candlelight Coffeehouse and then they had to not have music for a significant amount of time because they were having difficulties with the licensing with BMI and ASCAP. Everybody wants a cut of the royalties and they couldn't afford to pay. They were being charged [a rate] they felt was not fair, so they ended up having to scrap music altogether. I had been playing there regularly for two years, and [when] it just goes away, then the whole community around there forgets about you, and they don't know where to find you, so you're scrambling for a place to play. That's a challenge, but you just gotta keep going.
I see a lot of people like myself doing restaurant gigs and things, where you might be more background music than the main reason people are there, which can be a little exhausting. But it's good because you can come to San Antonio and actually get paid to do that, whereas if you go to another city that has way more musicians in it, then you're probably not going to be making much money at all and just be glad to have a place to play.
Where are some of your favorite places to play in SA?
I love Rift House Concerts, which is just a house-concerts venue, not a "venue" venue, it's in somebody's home. 502 bar is a fun place to play because it's got really good lights and sound and you're above the ground. That's always a pleasure, when you get to do something like that, like at Sam's Burger Joint, with a real crew and the whole thing running it.
Beyond the messages in her music, Laura Marie uses her talents to spotlight causes she is passionate about. She’s an active supporter of No More, an advocacy group defending victims of domestic violence and sexual assault, the Joyful Hearts Foundation, the Human Rights Campaign and several others. You can find Laura Marie here: