In Conversation With . . . Rose Laughlin

Rose Laughlin is a folk singer of traditional American and Celtic songs. Her soulful interpretations have captivated audiences all over the United States. (Watch The Voice for an upcoming review of her latest CD, The Chicago Sessions.)

The following are notes from a conversation between Rose and Wanda Waterman St. Louis.

Obsessions, Private and Public

I was obsessed with the Judy Collins album Colors of the Day for a couple of years; every time someone would come to my house it would be playing.

I am very inspired by underproduced work, work that sounds organic. I recognize the beauty in simplicity. I am very inspired by Susan McKeown’s work; her voice is so unusual and beautiful. Also, every song she does is really interesting in terms of the instrumentation she chooses to complement her songs.

Social Concern

A little while ago I learned Woody Guthrie’s ?Pastures of Plenty.? Before I would allow myself to learn it though I read the book that it was based on, John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, and watched the movie as well (Guthrie was actually inspired by the movie, or so I read).

I introduce this song as a piece of American history and explain that it was about the dust bowl. One night after singing it I realized that the song was quite timeless. Sure it was about migrant workers picking fruit in the 1930s, but if you translate that into a worker of today, it represents the common worker and corporate greed, which obviously is a very relevant song to be singing in today’s economic climate.

During the Bush years our country seemed to be so unevolved compared to Europe and other parts of the world. I didn’t understand the aftermath of 9/11; if we were out to get Osama Bin Laden why in the world did we go to Iraq? So many things didn’t make any sense to me.

When Obama addressed these questions, I thought, Wow, he gets it! During the Bush years, the cultural schism in our country was so severe I felt completely unrepresented by my government. I was embarrassed to be an American. Now, for the first time in my adult life, I am actually proud of to be American. I feel represented and I trust our president. However, there are always going to be those who don’t feel the same way.

Musical Roots

I’ve always sung, though I really don’t have formal training besides the teachers I have sought out and studied with. There have been many guitar teachers but only two voice teachers.

The first one was an East Indian classical voice teacher, Chandana. I studied with her for a couple of months in 2002 and then when I moved to Chicago to pursue my study of Irish music, I met June Shellene at the Old Town School of Folk Music. She became my music mentor. I still go to her when I have questions about the business or a music question.

I’ve also gone to a few music camps over the years. I don’t usually learn much there because I don’t learn quickly as I can’t absorb much in one week. But these camps have served to inspire me and keep me on my musical journey.

Way Back When

I grew up in Seattle. In my early twenties I lived in France for seven months and a few years later I lived in Juneau, Arkansas, for six months. In my early thirties I moved to Chicago and lived there for four years.

I had a great childhood. I was born in 1970 and feel lucky to have had my childhood before the computer age. There was a lot of playing outside and using one’s good ole imagination for play time.

On Duo Partner Mike Kirkpatrick

I met Mike at the Old Town School of Folk Music in Chicago. He was the teacher in an Irish guitar class I had signed up for. He learned I was a singer and was impressed that I really took the time to learn these traditional songs and asked if I had ever considered a professional career.

Mike and I worked together as a duo for two years before we recorded this album, so this was very representative of what he and I had worked on. We had a lot of fun recording The Chicago Sessions and playing gigs together. He is a good friend of mine. He is awesome in the studio and just such an interesting guitarist and multi-instrumentalist. He let me have my own way all of the time with the songs, and he just came in and complemented my interpretation.

After Hours

I have a day job, so when I go home It’s practice time for me. It can be difficult to have two jobs, as it takes a lot of energy to sing at the end of the day. At the same time, it brings me joy. I am continually learning and trying to stretch myself in small ways. I believe in baby steps, and then bam, one day, You’re actually where you set out to be.

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