After Making Waves with Righteous Girl, Laura Jean Anderson Makes the Personal Political on Forthcoming Debut Album

Laura Jean Anderson. Courtesy of the artist.

Laura Jean Anderson. Courtesy of the artist.

“I grew up in Olympia, WA, which is grunge and super liberal, but then I was the weird minority in that town because I was in a super religious community,” says Laura Jean Anderson, the soulful songstress, impressive whistler, and professional music scene bouncer. “If you went downtown to see music it was grunge - but then I was singing hymns on Sunday.” She continues: “For a really long time it was a very painful thing to be like, ‘I don’t know! I don’t fit into anything!’ You know, teenage kind of vibes. But then I took this opportunity with music to dive into that duality and be like, ‘it’s okay to be both.’”

By way of Olympia, Anderson came to Los Angeles to study at CalArts in their classical vocal music program, a choice she laughingly reflects on as “super nerdy” - she had no idea what she was signing up for. “I’ve always loved singing, and it’s always been a huge part of my life - I sang in church growing up,” she says, “so I was like, ‘oh yeah, I’m a singer! I’ll just go into the vocal program.’ And when I got there I was like ‘oh, does this mean I need to sing opera?’” As it turns out, she didn’t, and instead was able to study the style that would lay the groundwork for her future projects : New Orleans jazz. “I’ve always been a lover of old music and traditional music — whether that means jazz or folk music or soul and Mo-town — you know, music for the people,” says Anderson. “Part of that is how it gets made and learned, which is through people.”

As she lost sight of the value of soul searching in academia (and began feeling the pressure of her student loans), Anderson left the classical vocal music program at CalArts. She travelled to South America to serve as a volunteer farmer in Peru, and through a stroke of fate, became extremely ill, as well as lost all of her money — “I probably left my credit card in an ATM or something, it was definitely not a dramatic scenario where I’d been robbed or anything,’ she says with a laugh. “Basically I had no money, and I was stupid, and I was 21, and I was like, ‘well, I have a guitar.’” 

Against all odds, Anderson busked her way back to California, this time landing in Santa Cruz. Sharing a house with a bunch of artists, she fell in with a group of “old-time” players, “people who were learning old folk music, and old blues, and Carter family stuff,” she says. “Learning it from them and not from recordings was super cool. It kind of sparked this love for old music.”

Her debut EP, Righteous Girl (2016) basically shouts Anderson’s adoration for old-time folk music, New Orleans jazz and soul from the rooftops. Coming in at just four songs, the release is textured by diverse percussion, twangy acoustics, bellowing horns and Laura Jean’s vintage-jazz-with-a-touch-of-country vocal style. And, while her instrumentation wears its influence on its sleeve, her lyricism is without a blueprint — her songs tell stories that only Anderson can, because she’s the one who lived them. “I think my approach to music is super personal and explicit. I feel like the world is full of people trying to talk for other people in so many ways, so my approach is, ‘well, I cant speak for anybody but myself,’” she says. “Every song has its personality and they all get formed in different ways. The moments that I really try to focus on and try to cherish are those moments when you’re in the car or in the shower and a melody pops in your head. When a song starts that way, I feel like there’s something really honest about it.”

Kimi Recor