Jackson, Tennessee-born, London-based singer/songwriter Lauren Pritchard this month releases the autobiographical, retro-flavoured ‘Stuck’ as the third single from her critically-acclaimed, soulful debut album ‘Wasted In Jackson’. The bulk of which was produced by Ivor Novello-winning British writer/producer Eg White - the man prestigiously also behind such recent worldwide hits as Adele’s Grammy-winning ‘Chasing Pavements’ and Duffy’s ‘Warwick Avenue’.
Indeed, with its 11 tracks written and recorded over the course of a year straight after Lauren moved to London from New York, standout tracks on ‘Wasted In Jackson’ range from the punchy, raspy R&B swagger of ‘Not The Drinking’ and stomping, spirited ‘I Hope It’s You’; to the darkly haunting bluesy shuffle of the Mumford And Sons-featuring ‘When The Night Kills The Day’ plus the hypnotic, melancholy ‘Painkillers’, whose funky groove comes courtesy of The Roots’ drummer Ahmir ‘?uestlove’ Thompson.
… Cue a highly talkative and articulate 22-year-old Ms. Pritchard hooking up with ‘Blues & Soul’ Assistant Editor Pete Lewis, with first topic on the agenda being said album’s intriguing title. Which in turn emanates from its evocative, string-laden title- track and its references to Lauren’s small-town, Deep-South-USA upbringing.
“Well, in a way I wanted to pay homage to my hometown”, she begins; “I’m actually very thankful that it is the tiny little small town that it IS, because it made me wanna get the heck OUTTA there! You know, from a very young age I always knew that I wanted to go somewhere else! And so that in turn became the reason why I started my journey and what ultimately led me to London and making this album! I just always felt like I was wasting my time BEING in Jackson as a young kid. I just always knew that there were other things in the world that I wanted to go out there and see, and do, and BE! Which was why I bugged my parents to death as a child, making them aware of how much I wanted to be an artist and to be a musician... To the point where at 15, when I finally said for the millionth time ‘Can I please move away?’, they just said ‘FINE! GO!’!”
With ‘Wasted In Jackson’ having been described as “brooding, strung-out soul”, the fact it was largely written immediately following Lauren’s move to London from New York - where she’d just experienced the painful break-up of a longstanding relationship - proved pivotal to its deeply personal lyrical content: “Yeah, the fact I’d lived in New York for three years (she’d been performing on Broadway in the acclaimed contemporary musical ‘Spring Awakening’) prior to living here in London meant I really wanted to write about the changeover and the move from one country to the other”, she explains openly: “Because going from living in a place where I knew loads of people and had loads of friends, to moving to a country where I only knew the people I was working with, made it a very weird time for me.”
“Plus, with me coming out of a break-up with someone I’d been with for three years, the fact I was living alone here in London while writing the album definitely helped me put my feelings into perspective”, she adds passionately: “Because it meant I didn’t have anyone I could run to or cry to. Which is actually something that, as a writer, I’m really THANKFUL for. Because I think in any other circumstances I’d have people around me, which is something that normally kind of dilutes your feelings in a way... You know, I was just sort of left by myself in this city. And the way I was able to work through all the separation anxiety and the break-up in general was through my SONGWRITING! Which is why every single one of the eleven songs on ‘Wasted In Jackson’ has a STORY behind it - and probably 10 of them, I’d say, are devoted to just that one subject. Because I always write very personally, very honestly, and very openly about everything that I’ve been through.”
So how did the hook-up with the aforementioned, multi-award-winning UK producer/songwriter Eg White first come about? “Well, I already knew who Eg was and had listened to his music through all the songs he’d written for people like James Morrison. Plus I also knew he was signed to the same PUBLISHING company as me. So, because I liked his writing and I knew he was very successful, from the beginning I was like ‘OK, maybe that could help me get some TIME with him’… And what happened was, I was actually signed to J Records for a short while in the States and, while I was there, one of the songs they wanted me to record was Eg’s song ‘Who Am I’, which had been a single for Will Young… And that in turn was what first led to the connection with Eg! Because he heard my version, loved it - and so, a few months later, I ended up coming to London for a two-day WRITING session with him - during which we actually wrote the song ‘No Way’ that’s now on my album!”
“Anyway, after that I went back home to New York”, continues an ever-forthcoming Ms. Pritchard: “But then, a couple of days later, Eg’s people called and were like ‘We’d really love for Lauren to come back and do some more writing with Eg’… And so that actually was what eventually led to me moving over here PERMANENTLY! Because, after I’d come over for a couple more writing trips, both our publishers and our managers were like ‘We really believe in what you two are doing together’ - which in turn started the Eg/Lauren ALBUM-making process!.. And I have to say, I’m very happy with the sound that we came up with together! Because to me Eg is a genius, and it was just so nice to find that person who could help me actually create in a studio the sort of album I’d been hearing for so long inside my HEAD!”
Further mention of Lauren’s early upbringing in the aforementioned Jackson, Tennessee meanwhile triggers off a mixed bag of musical and personal memories: “Yeah, Tennessee is a funny place to grow up. Because it’s the ‘Bible Belt’ of America, and so it was very conservative”, she recalls truthfully: “But then musically - because Jackson is dead-centre between Memphis and Nashville - you still sort of have this strong country/blues element going on. And, so, because everyone in Jackson listens to music, there were always these really groovy events happening. I mean, Carl Perkins - the man known for writing songs for people like Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash in their heyday - was FROM Jackson and always LIVED in Jackson. So, with him being friends with every major country/blues artist of his day, there were always things going on like blues concerts and country music festivals. Which - while I never personally sang what’s technically considered country music EVER - may explain why some people have commented that they can hear some country elements in my ALBUM!”
“You know, when you grow up in a place that is the HEART of a certain type of music, I think it just comes out in your own songs by osmosis”, she adds thoughtfully: “Your ears kind of go towards that style even if you don’t MEAN them to, because it’s what you’re HEARING all the time. But then, having said that, in my case my parents also listened to soul music from people like Al Green, Candi Staton, Marvin Gaye, Luther Vandross… So, because there was a lot of very, very deep soul music being played at home, that was what I was always singing around the house. And so - with the only other artists I listened to religiously back then being people like Billy Joel, Joni Mitchell and Carole King - when it came time for me to start writing I kind of always had this singer-songwriter-y/soul element to my music from a very young age. And then the fact that my parents were very good at sort of encouraging me and could look at everything I did writing-wise very subjectively, I think also played a massive part of my initial musical upbringing.”
Interestingly, having always sung and played the piano from an early age, at just 16 Lauren found herself - with mother in tow and dreams of a career in music - leaving her Deep-South hometown to head to LA. Where she soon ended up singing in a reggae band, falling in love, breaking up, and eventually running out of money - before a family crisis found her about to head back to Jackson, her dream in tatters... At which point one of her closest friends - Riley Keogh - came to her aid big-time, by insisting Lauren move in with her family. All of which - with Riley’s mother being Lisa Marie Presley, no less! - suddenly found a now-newly-invigorated Ms. Pritchard living with the Presleys for eight months! During which time she landed a starring role in the highly-acclaimed, hard-hitting contemporary musical ‘Spring Awakening’. Which, with it hitting the big-time, soon led to Lauren relocating to New York, where she performed on Broadway for two years - before ultimately moving to her current home in London.
Understandably Lauren today expresses nothing but heartfelt gratitude for the Presley family: “Well yeah, the Presleys are like a surrogate family to me really”, she replies without hesitation: “You know, there came this point where my mom and I had been living in LA for a year when my little brother was in a bad accident, and so my mother had to move back home to take care of him. So like two weeks later my mom was like ‘I’m not a bad mom - you’re not emancipated, and so you have to come home TOO!’… But then, as I was getting ready to move back and saying my goodbyes, Riley was like ‘You CAN’T move back home! You’ve been working so HARD!’!”
“You know, everybody I knew out in LA knew what I did and how I dedicated I was to getting my MUSIC out there”, she adds as our revealing conversation draws to a close: “So next thing I know, Lisa Marie rings my mom saying ‘Look, we really BELIEVE in her! We know how hard she’s working. And if you take her home now, then all that’ll happen is she’ll just come back out here in a few years and have to start from SCRATCH again. So she can just stay with US!’!... So yeah, though my mother at first was like ‘Are you SURE?’, I did actually end up living with the Presleys! And so in some ways I feel I owe as much to them as I owe to my parents for CREATING me! Because had they not let me stay with them, the show in New York wouldn’t have happened for me, Lord knows whether I’d have ever made it here to London, or WHAT would have happened!... You know, I do owe everything that’s happened to me in the last five years to THEM and to the fact they took me IN! So as I say, they’ve been like a surrogate family to me and I love them dearly.”
Lauren headlines HMV’s Next Big Thing tour at Borderline, London (February 8); and Louisiana, Bristol (February 9). (Tickets available online at hmvnextbigthing.com or from hmvtickets call centre on 0843 221 0100.)
The digital single ‘Stuck’ is released February 28. The album ‘Wasted In Jackson’ is out now, both through Island/Spilt Milk
Words PETE LEWIS