The music of Lauren Ruth Ward and her guitarist/collaborator Eduardo Rivera has a raw, warm sound that gives it a particular kind of driving, vulnerable human energy. Its post-punk aesthetic is built around Ward’s evocative vocals, traversing such subjects as identity, relationships, and plenty more of life’s most wrenching aspects and complications.
Before music, Ward had a long stint cutting hair for a living, going from high-end salons to lucrative wedding gigs. And although it’s something she still flirts with today, her recent move into full-time music making, inspired her to move from Baltimore to Los Angeles, where she is now very much at home, having carved out her own niche in the city’s crowded music landscape.
We spoke with Ward and Rivera about their creative process, touring their music, and the tools of the trade they rely on most heavily.
Can you walk us through your creative process, in terms of how you two collaborate on composing songs?
Lauren Ruth Ward: For the most part, I’ll have a general idea of what my message is, or I’ll have a full verse and a chorus, and then Eduardo and I will get together and I’ll roughly explain [what] I’m thinking. Sometimes I’ll just have a concept, and he’ll often come up with a guitar part; I basically put him on loop and then finish writing the lyrics. We usually write at my house — to be super specific, on my front porch — and then go to demo at his house, where he’s got his set up. We’ll get the guitar and the bass down first, and then I’ll do like a scratch vocal and then just start building and start jotting down notes. Keyboard here, claps start here, tambourine and starts there — that kinda thing.
A lot of folks do their writing in the studio or in their bedrooms, usually in front of a computer. Writing on your porch sounds very pleasant.
Lauren: We’re east coast kids, so when it’s January 2nd and we’re like writing a song on the porch in the sunshine, we don’t take that for granted. It’s definitely a marriage. It’s definitely both our sound. Just factually, I write the lyrics and he writes the guitar. How I explain it is that the conversation that we have that just happens really effortlessly. We just kind of piece it together and there’s never an argument really — when it works it works kind of thing.
Are you guys bringing in drums and percussion at a later stage?
Lauren: Yeah, we’re by default skipping out on drums because we’re not drummers, and we’re just looking to demo to get the idea down.
Eduardo Rivera: Percussion we definitely add, and we use Abbey Road 60s Drummer for that — it’s got a great kick sound.
Lauren: We co-produce all of our music. The more fleshed out the demo is, the more the more the co-producer/engineer that we’re teaming up with is going to understand direction we’re going in.
How do you guys describe the sound you’re going for?
Eduardo: We’re both drawn to very organic sounds. The more that we’ve been writing, the more we’ve been in the studio, the more tools we have at our availability, it’s always a situation where while writing, while producing we’re throwing a lot of ideas out there — and then we always pull it back. I just loved the old Elliot Smith recordings, where you can hear his fingers on the acoustic guitar — I just love that, and I think that’s really kind of stuck with our consciousness.
There’s always this temptation to apply technology to your sound — to make things sound as big as possible. Do you guys fight at all with that temptation?
Lauren: Yeah. I think it’s clear that I’m a vocalist. I play the guitar and I play percussion, but I’m clearly a voice more than any other instrument. And the more drowned out my voice is … it’s less the case now, but in the beginning I definitely enforced, like, dynamics. I’m a writer, so I really need people to hear my lyrics. I don’t need noise to hide or amplify anything; my instrument is my voice, and I need people to hear that.
What tools do you guys tend to rely on in the studio?
Eduardo: The majority, if not all of the organ sounds we use are from the Vintage Organ library. A lot of the Rhodes stuff that we use — if we’re not using the actual Rhodes, we’re using Vintage Keys. We run sounds through a bunch of Sound Toys stuff, like the Decapitator and Radiator, to give the sound warmth and saturation — that vibe and disintegrated quality of analog sound. We have a couple of pieces of outboard gear, some Warm Audio, some Stam Audio stuff. AKG mics. The majority of the guitars we just run through amps and a bunch of pedals.
For more synthy stuff, we have a Prophet Rev2 and the Korg Minilogue. Omnisphere. For any kind of pads, we typically try to give it a little bit of air. And everything runs through Kontakt — I use The Giant piano sound a lot. That guy is great, just ’cause of how weird it is — and, like, how you can really kind-of manipulate it to not like a piano, just right out of the plugin itself. We’ve used that as an ethereal, spaced out thing — like, “Oh, is that a piano or something in a cave? I don’t know.” I use Kontakt as a host for Spitfire Audio stuff, any kind of orchestral things too. It’s just super easy and super reliable.
Lauren, you’ve become known for dancing on stage. Is that just kind of your natural state?
Lauren: I mean, it’s always been who I am — I’ve just been dancing off stage. I would phrase it more like, “I’m finally home.” I’ve combined all the things that I love to do, which is communicating a message that I have — I love being social, I love telling people how I feel and finding out how they feel and exchanging energy. That’s number one. Number two, I love to sing. Number three, I love performing. Number four, I love dancing. Now I don’t really go out and dance much anymore, because I’m kind of getting that off my chest when I perform. And by “kind of” I mean totally [laughs].
How are you guys approaching albums versus singles in your creative output?
Lauren: Well, we’re not really looking at this next body of work as an album. We’re just writing and letting what comes out come out. We’ve released something every five weeks as of January 19 — just putting out all this content that we’ve been working on has been great. We were on a label last year, which was awful and amazing, just kind of a learning experience. So when we got off the label in December, I was just like, “We’re putting everything out.” I was even getting really depressed — like if we can’t put out another song, I didn’t even want to write. There’s such a euphoric moment you have when you’re performing or touring a song or body of work, while you’re still feeling that message, while it’s still fresh. I’ve had to play songs that I wrote that I don’t need to get off my chest anymore — which is fine, you know, playing music is a privilege and I understand that at times it’s gonna feel cathartic, but once you start making money off of this beautiful hobby it becomes a career and a job, and it’s not always gonna not always going to be that lucky. But when it’s just a matter of someone being like, “Ooh, we should wait and I don’t really have an answer, but we should just wait.” I don’t accept that. We’ve talked about at the end of the year and he’s putting everything on an album just as like a volume two as kind of a time marker, but content is content. Sometimes releasing an album it’s just a freaking waste, and we’re just doing singles to get it off our chest, but it’s definitely not hurting our social traffic. Without sounding like a number-hungry lunatic [laughs].
When you’re recording, is it hard to sort of recapture that same energy that you have when you’re running around on a stage at a live show?
Lauren: No, it’s easy. Also, I’m singing something basically for the first time, so depending on the song, you can hear the angst, or the happiness, or the sadness in my voice, because I’m feeling it.
Eduardo: Also to a certain degree, while writing, you know, unconsciously or consciously, we kind of look at the end product — I can easily imagine playing it on stage, or how’s it going to sound when the drums come in right here. You arrange it all in your head, from songs to performance.
At what point do you know when a song is finished? That’s always a tricky thing for people.
Lauren: When it’s done. I have so many friends who are really precious about what they put out. And not that I’m not precious, but I’m just such a firm believer of trusting my gut, and I’m just really happy that Eduardo is one of the people who knows when to walk away from something, because I would not be able to make music with that person who is just like, “Hmm…” Within reason, of course — and we look back now at the first songs that we ever recorded, and there are at least one thousand things that we would differently, but that’s because our ears are still sonically forming.
Eduardo: I think for me personally, two things work. One is having Lauren or a partner in the entire process to be a checks-and-balance for if something is done. I know some people where it’s just one songwriter, and then it does become very precious and does take a long time. Also, I really love deadlines. This whole five-week releasing thing is wonderful, because it forces you to make decisions. Having infinite software and options for artists is a blessing and a curse; it doesn’t force anyone to make decisions early on. Forcing myself to make decisions based on this kind of deadline really helps.
photo credits: Shane Lopes