Name: Laura Loriga
Occupation: Composer, singer, songwriter, pianist
Current release: Laura Loriga's fourth album Vever is out March 18th 2022 via Ears&Eyes.
Recommendations: John Berger’s Our faces, my heart, brief as photos, and 75 Dollar Bill ’s Every last coffee or tea.
If you enjoyed this interview with Laura Loriga and would like to know more about her work, visit her website.
When did you start writing/producing/playing music and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
I started playing classical piano as a child and I thought about writing music only quite a bit later, when I was around twenty two. In the beginning, classical influences were quite strong (also subconsciously), especially Debussy and Schumann, but they collided from the get go with Leonard Cohen and the Velvet Underground, gradually joined by many others in a crowd that got increasingly more numerous to this day, in a battle that is maybe still ongoing.
In music I found the right space, peace, freedom, and a different reality I think I loved and needed since I was very young. Singing always gave me deep joy, and it has been sometimes also like getting to know someone else in myself, saying things I otherwise would not confess.
Some people experience intense emotion when listening to music, others see colours or shapes. What is your own listening experience like and how does it influence your approach to music?
It depends on the music, but often it is a combination of those two things. Emotion comes first and resonates strongly, and maybe it contributes to creating what I see. It’s not shapes for me, but places (real and not) and scenarios. Rooms, landscapes, streets, smells even, sometimes past experiences or people.
In a similar way, I need to see something when I write, a precise image to start from. Without it, I cannot finish a song, ideas that don’t carry me far enough remain unfinished and I have very few complete songs that I don’t use for this reason.
How would you describe your development as an artist in terms of interests and challenges, searching for a personal voice, as well as breakthroughs?
My first love were books (novels, short stories) and visual art, and they guide me still. I discovered film and photography much later, but these are also immense worlds of inspiration for me.
I think I started allowing myself to search for a real voice when I moved to California in the mid 2000s, and I started writing some pieces that I was happy about. A couple friends acted like wonderful guides for me in making me listen to many records I had no idea existed, while we rummaged record shops or drove around the city.
My taste and my intuition changed gradually and deeply, especially since I moved to New York in 2014. There, in these past years, I can say I have found the most variegated and compelling music community, which I am constantly learning from even when I am far. There I learned humbleness, playfulness, and to follow myself where I need to go, not where I thought I was supposed to.
I feel I still have a long way to go, and in some ways I found a clearer direction with this record.
Tell me a bit about your sense of identity and how it influences both your preferences as a listener and your creativity as an artist, please.
Being an expat, my identity is maybe forever split in two. Myself at home (which I always love), and the person I have become with my experience elsewhere. In time though, these two halves have started to coexist and melt into one another, and I find myself quite aware of how I ended up with my present self.
As a listener, I hope I am as open as I feel, and I find myself getting closer also to genres (like ambient music), that I never thought I’d be able to appreciate. As an artist, music definitely helps me to keep my identity together, and I try to experiment, also taking inspiration from my surroundings, while remaining faithful to who I am.
What, would you say, are the key ideas behind your approach to music and art?
A dear friend told me once “the only discriminant is for me if I believe the performance I am listening to or not”, and I have been following this principle diligently, as a songwriter and a listener. Of course the result is subjective, as I could believe what you don’t and viceversa, but I feel that is a good guide.
Then, with that in mind, I try to understand different languages within music, arts, cinema, trying to get all I can out of each, with as little judgment as possible.
How would you describe your views on topics like originality and innovation versus perfection and timelessness in music? Are you interested in a “music of the future” or “continuing a tradition”?
I think it is important to look for new solutions, sounds, and to try to create new perspectives, but in a personal way, which does not mean necessarily not adopting formulas or genres that already exist. In the music of Moondog for example, there was everything in my opinion. Past, present and future go hand in hand, and likewise the music we create can and does many times contain them all.
In regards to perfection, that also was probably achieved by making many mistakes, so I respect it very much and also see it as something in continuous transformation.
Over the course of your development, what have been your most important instruments and tools - and what are the most promising strategies for working with them?
My basic tools are simple: my voice, piano and organs. I have shifted from piano to organs on this last record, and I am wondering where I will go next.
In general, I find that for me limitation is quite useful, and I go look for new tools once I am ready for them, gradually.
Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please.
I am a musician and a teacher, and my schedule varies every day. Almost every day though there is yoga, about half an hour of classical piano practice, time for some improvisation (piano and voice), and a book. A film and a nice dinner too if I’m lucky, with my partner or friends. If I am preparing shows I often go through my set, otherwise I focus on writing, song ideas or soundtrack work.
Another thing I try to do as much as possible is walking. I love walking through Brooklyn and Manhattan in particular, but also through the Hackney marshes in London, woods in general and my hometown Bologna.
Could you describe your creative process on the basis of a piece, live performance or album that's particularly dear to you, please?
I almost always start from words.
As an example, I’ll talk about a song on Vever, "Passes the Flame", that is particularly dear to me. When my grandmother was still alive, we had very long conversations, and she told me many stories about our family and people she met, about her childhood and teenage years, about my mother and her travels with my grandfather.
From these stories, I took some excerpts and turned them in to a song, that had in my mind to move like a river (like the water she paddled on when she was young), as if all our family members where at a party on a ferry boat, floating by, without time, death, separation. So I used a lot of modulation, as if the music was a wave itself, to bring the song up and down, back and forward, as gently as I could.
Listening can be both a solitary and a communal activity. Likewise, creating music can be private or collaborative. Can you talk about your preferences in this regard and how these constellations influence creative results?
It has been a while since I tried to write music with someone, but I love it and I would be very happy to do it soon again.
In general, I write songs by myself, then bounce them off very few people I trust, then go back to them again until I am satisfied. When the time for arranging comes, I always leave a lot of freedom to the musicians who work with me to find their parts, only giving some direction here and there, as little as possible. It is beautiful to hear their voices and ideas change and interpret the raw material I offer them.
Their work is a true gift and a great source of learning for me, and I try to do the same when I play on someone else’s music, to enhance some aspects of the music without changing the soul of the piece.
How do your work and your creativity relate to the world and what is the role of music in society?
Creativity in general is a way to be in the world, not just through art but through everything that makes us happy or more connected to it. It can belong to everybody.
I usually tend to write in a quite intimate and reserved way, but I would like, continuing, to possibly address a wider dimension, if I’ll be able to. I find it easier to address individuals, stories, more than to analyze the world or society as a whole, but I admire who can do so in a natural way. During the pandemic, I often thought about the role of music in society, in a world in that moment was full of closed doors and lit windows, of major difficulties, and I realized that my first wish at the end of it all was to go and see a concert.
Music is a force, a voice of time, a fundamental vehicle of mutual understanding, salvation even.
Art can be a way of dealing with the big topics in life: Life, loss, death, love, pain, and many more. In which way and on which occasions has music – both your own or that of others - contributed to your understanding of these questions?
Each voice we listen to definitely helps us to understand or at least interpret a bit of the mystery around us.
I remember hearing Karen Dalton’s voice for the first time and hearing all the pain and power in it, Alice Coltrane made me imagine the entire universe, which I hope is as she pictured it, Laurie Anderson endlessly amazes me with her Intelligence and curiosity. Meredith Monk made me think of what language and the human voice are in music … it is endless, and that’s why music is so important.
In my particular case, I think the moment I abandoned what I thought I was supposed to be doing as a musician and started writing more freely, I understood more of what the experiences in my life left in me, and what they really meant, in a positive way as well.
There seems to be increasing interest in a functional, “rational” and scientific approach to music. How do you see the connection between music and science and what can these two fields reveal about each other?
I remember reading This is your brain on music by Daniel Levitin and discovering a new world. Learning about the relationship between music and the brain was extremely interesting to me, and also the one between music and memory. The reasons why rhythm resonates so much within us, why certain melodies are sad or happy, without using any words. The discovery of bone flutes whose notes belong to a pentatonic scale, proving people played melodies already 40,000 years ago.
Music surely did not come by by accident, in our history like in the one of other species. It would be extremely interesting to me to learn more about how music and sound in general are and could be used in various therapeutic settings, both for mental and physical health. On the other hand, it would be interesting to see how science could influence music itself, still keeping it human, revealing patterns and possibly underlying logic in what is instinctive to us.
Creativity can reach many different corners of our lives. Do you feel as though writing or performing a piece of music is inherently different from something like making a great cup of coffee? What do you express through music that you couldn't or wouldn't in more 'mundane' tasks?
I love coffee, and I do believe again that most of our actions can be carried out in many different ways, with different meanings. Yet, music is different, it is there and one moment later it’s gone, it travels, if anything it is more similar to an atmospheric event to me than to something that can be crafted like a tangible object. We can develop it and guide it, but it arrives to each receiver in a different way, it is ultimately uncontrollable and independent from us, which I love.
Music is vibration in the air, captured by our ear drums. From your perspective as a creator and listener, do you have an explanation how it able to transmit such diverse and potentially deep messages?
Maybe it has something to do with our development as a species, as we probably had to rely on our ears a lot to defend ourselves against dangers coming from our environment, and we had to be able to interpret many different sounds.
This question is related to if language itself is inherent to our species and how, which is a beautiful topic. Surely though, music can be stronger than words and images even, passing underneath them, and it is to me one of the most beautiful manifestations of human possibilities. In a way, I am happy not knowing exactly why.