Spotlight: Laura Groves
29 Nov 2013
"London's just a different frame for all those things that I wanted to write about anyway..." We put our spotlight onto charming and considered singer/songwriter, Laura Groves.
It’s not very often that journalists are granted access into artists’ own homes - a coffee shop or inappropriately noisy café is often the go to place for interviews - so it makes a nice change to meet Laura Groves in the calming environment of her house in Stockwell.
As I walk into her living room area (where the live video for ‘Pale Shadows’ was shot), one thing immediately grabs my attention. Through the patio greenhouse I catch sight of the rather unnerving shape of a cow’s head perched on a tree in her little garden. After further enquiry, it transpires that said cow head has been named Byron, just because ‘it was the first thing that came into [her] head’. This is one of a number of little antique trinkets that serve to decorate Laura’s home as well as define her as an artist; individual, quirky and whimsical all enveloped by a striking sincerity of a young Yorkshire girl who’s slowly but surely finding her feet in London.
What was growing up in Shipley like, Laura?
I love Yorkshire, it’s got a special place in my heart. The reality of being there every day is maybe not the same, I’m quite nostalgic about it. So it’s lovely to go back and visit. I love all the countryside, revisiting all that. There’s not so much going on day to day, it’s a slower pace.
Was that where your relationship with music begin?
I lived in Shipley until I was about nineteen. My mum, dad and older brother were really into music and because of that there was always music around. I didn’t start writing ‘til I was about eighteen, I remember I was doing my A-Levels at the time, and I had a plan to go to university and do that, and then I just got this really cheap music software – it was like a shit version of Cubase from PC World - that my dad bought me, and just did it for fun. It started with making recordings, I never sat down and wrote songs and then thought ‘I should record these’, I just thought it would be fun to make a song and do loads of harmonies.
You didn’t start writing on guitar?
No, it started from doing those productions and then I remember putting them on Myspace just for fun, I never had any plans to pursue it at that point.
What did that stuff sound like?
It was quite a solitary thing in the bedroom. Acoustic, finger-picked guitars and lots of vocal harmonies.
Do you remember the moment that made you want to start making music?
It’s a really back to front process, I started with the recording and then my friend at the time was doing gigs in Bradford, there was a really small music scene happening. He was like ‘why don’t you come and play’ but I only had two songs so was like ‘okay I better write some more’ and wrote some songs for the gig. And that’s how it began really.
What was it like writing those songs for the gig?
It seemed to come quite naturally at the time. I guess I must have had lots of ideas in there somewhere, and I just needed a goal to put them into something.
What was your first instrument?
Piano was my first instrument, and I used to take singing lessons. That was my original plan, to do voice at university. I started piano lessons when I was maybe eight or nine, just because my older brother played piano and he was really, really good and I just had this romantic thing with piano music, Debussy and Chopin, stuff like that. I heard him playing and I really wanted to play like that. So they sent me for piano lessons but I just wouldn’t practice, I had a real problem with the discipline with it. I was so frustrated that I couldn’t play like that!
It kind of just phased it, a shame really. I’m getting back into it now a little bit. Just trying to learn how to sight-read again. That’s what I struggled with most in lessons, the theoretical side of things.
Did you ever write songs on the piano?
Not really, until maybe the age of sixteen. I remember doing GCSE Music and doing some compositions on it. I just thought it was an amazing sounding instrument with so many possibilities. A great compositional tool.
And when you did start writing, would you say that your surroundings influenced you at all?
Yeah definitely. That first album that I did in 2009 as Blue Roses is very influenced by Yorkshire. Living there, all sorts of different aspects, romanticising it a little bit, which I always tend to do. But then the most recent stuff I’ve done, is the same but in a different way because I moved down to London, and there’s a whole new collection of things to draw from. I’ve always been quite interested in cities, I love the countryside, but I’ve always found urban environments so appealing.
How did the change in environment change your songwriting style?
I think maybe it’s more to do with people and relationships. It made me think about myself a lot more, in London everyone seems to really be on a mission, just constantly busy and I feel like there’s a lot of pressure to do that, as opposed to just being comfortable in the place where you grew up and totally at ease. It’s just a different frame for all those things that you want to write about anyway.
Did you move here to further your musical career?
Not really, I don’t really think like that. I don’t know whether that’s a problem or not. I just wanted a change of scene in a more creative way, rather than something like ‘right we’re going to make it in London’. I’m not really a business person in any way (laughs).
How did you notice the change in your songwriting since you got here?
It’s hard to say. I remember when I first moved here I was in a one-bedroom flat, and I set all my keyboards, synths and everything up in the living room. I started concentrating on the production side of things a lot more, rather than the straight forward sitting in front of the piano and just writing songs. It seemed to be a lot more, not electronic, but based on the computer, really trying to hone that sound a bit more. And then I also met Nathan (Bullion) and my friend Tic who I’ve known for quite a while actually, that was actually a real change in my outlook on things. We started playing together and writing together as well. I think playing my songs to them opened a lot of things up.
Can you see yourself going back to Yorkshire at any point?
Maybe one day when I retire (laughs). I don’t go back enough, just when I can really. I’m probably going to go next week. When I go back I like to just not do anything, see old friends, go for walks and stuff like that, recharge. But when I’m there I’m still wanting to get back to London and start working again.
Another thing I wanted to ask is at what point did you decide to drop the Blue Roses moniker and start using your real name?
I think when we were planning the release of the EP, it just felt like such a different thing sonically, and it’s been such a long time since Blue Roses, and it was made in such a different way, it just felt like a logical thing to do.
Why choose your name and not just another pseudonym?
I think because I did most of it myself, I felt in control of the way it sounded for the first time. When I’ve done stuff before, I’ve just put loads of stuff down and not done it in a deliberate way. I wanted an overall sonic thing to draw it all together, but with this it felt a lot more honed and somehow that seemed to lend itself to having my own name.
I noticed a references to roses in ‘Pale Shadows’, was that a deliberate allusion to your old name?
No it wasn’t actually! I can’t remember what that was in reference to. I think it might have been from a poem or something. Perhaps T.S Eliot...
Are you quite influenced by poetry then?
In the past I’ve liked the idea of being into poetry. I really liked Eliot, I pick bits out that I love, but as a whole it’s pretty dense. There are certain lines that really jump out and are really evocative, and I think that’s my whole relationship with poetry. It’s hard to read as a whole but I love the impression that certain things make on me. I like Philip Larkin and Sylvia Plath a little bit.
It’s interesting that none of the music from your Blue Flowers project is on your Soundcloud anymore - is it something you want to leave behind?
It’s not a new start, just a fresh project I guess. It’s not that I want to bury it or anything, it’s just that four years is a long time and you listen to so much more music and you’re influenced by so many different things. Meeting Nathan and Tic as well, it’s really nice to meet people who have similar tastes, and that encourages you to find new stuff. I really like digging through old things. I love classic songwriting, Todd Rundgren and Joni Mitchell, things like that…
You’re also a part of Nautic with Tic and Bullion - what advantages do you find in working in a group compared to writing alone?
The thing with Nautic is that we started doing that music pretty soon after we first met. We never really had a plan like ‘we’re going to start a band’, we just started playing. It was when Nathan was living on Portobello Road and he had this studio in his flat, and we just used to go round and play. It was only a year later that we realised we had a few songs and we could make a release out of it. It was mainly for enjoyment, we were into a lot of the same things and a connection was already there - we were on the same wavelength. I think collaborating is really rewarding, I hadn’t experienced that before. It was quite an eye opening thing for me.
Let’s talk a bit about your EP… Why did you decide to self-produce?
I just really enjoy that process. Going back to when I first even started, I loved multi- tracking and all the possibilities that come with that. I’m not a control freak or anything! (laughs).
You’ve said that the film London inspired the title track of your EP.
Yeah it’s by Patrick Keiller, I didn’t know anything about him but I went to an exhibition he curated at the Tate. He’s made a few films about this fictional character called Robinson who’s this mysterious traveller. In London, it’s a psycho-geographical sort of thing, so he’s exploring the history of London through the architecture.
Do you use cinema as a jumping off point for your songwriting?
Maybe not directly, but I really like films that capture a mood, and that’s what I try to do in my music. I love Fellini, 8 1/2, things like that. He’s just able to conjure up a sort of atmosphere.
I found the video for ‘Inky Sea’ really intriguing, was it just stock footage you pieced together?
Yeah. I was just looking through some old footage, and it really stood out. I think it’s based in Leeds, and I recognised some of the roads. The whole idea behind that song when I was writing it, the imagery is a lot of driving around at night in the city. It’s always been a thing for me, listening to music while travelling, so that was in my head when I was writing the tune, and a lot of the synth sounds were kind of influenced by that idea. The ending is quite dramatic.
You’re happy with the ending being a crash and burn?
Originally it wasn’t like that, but I thought it was a shame for it not to end like that. So I asked to change it. The original is just them driving off…
Watch Laura Groves' video for 'Inky Sea' below.
Laura's Thinking About Thinking EP is out now on DEEK Recordings.