A Conversation with Mixtapes & Meltdowns
mathmanmrt talks to Laurie of Mixtapes & Meltdowns about her music.
In the biographical information I saw posted for you on last.fm it said you used to spend summers making up silly songs and singing them into an old tape recorder. How old were you when you started doing that?
I started writing songs before I could actually write. I would sing them to my mom and have her write them down for me or I would record them with a cassette recorder. We had an old, hand-me-down, out-of-tune piano in the living room and I put stickers on the keys and then used the stickers as a coding system to write down the notes of the songs I made up. It was a very complicated system!
What kind of music did you listen to then and did you try to imitate that music when you sang?
Like most kids, I listened to the music that my parents listened to. The Zombies, Peter, Paul, & Mary, Tommy James & the Shondelles, the Beach Boys. I don't know if I tried to emulate them or not, but that's an interesting question! The songs I wrote as a kid were a lot like the songs I write now - simple and usually a little sad.
Did any of those songs from those days become any of the songs you're known for now?
I didn't write any music at all from about age 7 until I was 24.
Of the songs you’ve put up on the 61, which one was the earliest one you wrote?
'Blindfold' is the first song I wrote as an adult and it was really a trip into uncharted territory! My friend Lauren Kinsler, who is an incredible filmmaker and recently directed a music video for Xiu Xiu, liked that song a lot and made a video for it out of old stock footage. Her video was so cool that it inspired me to keep experimenting with music.
What kind of training or encouragement did you have in your singing and songwriting while you were growing up?
I was really lucky to attend a performing arts magnet high school, so I was surrounded by these incredibly talented, creative people all the time. My focus was entirely on theater and writing back then, but I was around a lot of musicians and I still tend to gravitate toward them. As far as musical training, I took piano lessons for about two years in elementary school, but that's about it. My parents aren't musicians, but they're very creative people and they’ve always been supportive of whatever nonsense I get myself into.
What made you decide to move to Madison? Was that related to your decision to pursue a more artistic career?
I originally moved to Madison in the spring of 2005 for work and just really fell in love with it. Madison is an incredibly beautiful city.
I left for about seven months in 2007 to backpack around Europe and then moved to New York for law school. Law school scared the crap out of me. I just realized that I was on this high-speed train to business suits and power naps and I wasn't ready for that. I'll probably never be ready for that.
I moved back to Madison because I wanted to get back in sync with myself. I think Madison is a particularly great place for artists because the cost of living is low and there are so many brilliant, creative people here.
You say that two of your influences are Mirah and Portishead. What do you think you've learned from each of those artists that informs the music you create?
Oh, I think they both just have so much fun with music. That's something I’m really working on all the time-just trying to learn to let go. Also, Mirah and Beth Gibbons both have really unconventional, beautiful voices, which I always find inspiring.
I notice that you've had several collaborations with musicians from the Madison music scene - John Argentiero, Nancy Rost come to mind - how supportive is the music community in Madison?
I've heard great things about the music community in Madison and I've seen some fantastic shows, but I really haven't delved into that at all. I'm very shy about my music and still have trouble thinking of myself as a musician. The few collaborations I've done have all been over the internet. It’s possible that I'm not actually a real person.
How did you come across the 61?
My friend Russell directed me to the 61. At that point, I in no way thought of myself as a 'real musician.' I guess I still don't, but at that point I didn't even have a band name.
Didn't you originally put your music up under a different name... I believe it was cartographer conspiracy, wasn't it? Why did you change that name?
I made up 'The Cartographer Conspiracy' as a placeholder until I could think of something more fitting. That name comes from a line in Tom Stoppard's 'Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead' which is one of my favorite plays.
I changed my name to 'Mixtapes & Meltdowns' about 24 hours later and that one stuck. I chose 'Mixtapes & Metldowns' because that's what inspires all of my music - the incredible music that my friends share with me and the kind of emotional meltdowns that bring some sort of rebirth.
What were you expecting when you put up your first few songs? In what ways did the site meet or exceed your expectations?
I had zero expectations of the 61 when I joined. I didn't even understand how it worked, but the community here was incredibly helpful and patient with me. I think The 61 is an amazing way for people to discover and promote new music. I've definitely discovered some amazing artists here.
Have you been surprised by the success you've had on The 61?
I've been absolutely bowled over. I write music because I have to; the fact that anyone besides me actually likes it is incredible to me. The community here has been so supportive and inspiring, I just can't say enough good things about it.
Have you performed in front of an audience? Do you have any plans to book any live engagements?
Someone approached me recently about the possibility of a live show, but I'm still not sure how I feel about it. There's part of me that's still very 'wink, wink, nudge, nudge' about my music. I feel a bit like I'm wearing the emperor's new clothes, you know? I've never thought of myself as a musical person, so that's been a big adjustment for me.
My entire life from ages 13 through 19 was spent on a stage, so I'm not uncomfortable in front of an audience, but there's something very different about going on stage as a character and going on stage as yourself. Maybe I'll need to perform my songs in a gorilla suit or something.
It's been fun reading your comments about what you could do with a real microphone. Do I understand that you've actually gotten one now? How is that working out for you?
You know, I do have a real microphone now. It's a USB-powered Snowball mic that Kim from Hot Bitch Arsenal recommended to me. It's a gorgeous mic, but how well it works I can't really tell you since I've been clammed up ever since it arrived. I was afraid that might happen—in some ways it’s easier to hide behind shoddy equipment. I'm working up to it though!
Which of your songs currently up on the 61 is your personal favorite and why?
Wow, that's a tough question. I like different songs for different reasons 'Blindfold' is the first song I wrote as an adult, 'Smoke Signals' is the first song I wrote without the use of any loops, 'Thirty Below' is a song that I wrote about a city that means a lot to me, Wish' and 'Tell Me Now' are songs that I wrote about my first love. In general, I try not to dwell too much on songs after I've written them - onward and upward!
How have you been able to get such good quality out of the built-in mic in your computer? What kind of software have you been using?
I don't think I have any special trick, I just sing really close to the mic. I also spend a lot of time tweaking the audio in Garageband, which makes a big difference. I record all of my songs in my bedroom, usually in one or two takes. I tend to be really lazy about it - sometimes I don’t even bother to turn off my fan first. I've been really lucky that the audio has turned out as well as it has. I honestly think that taking this kind of slapdash approach is the only reason I've been able to make music at all. I'm a perfectionist by nature and I think that if I had a fancy set-up, I'd just freak out and I'd never record anything.
What's the most important question I should have asked but forgot to?
I think you covered it! These were great questions. Thank you.