In the CROSSHAIRS Lauralee Northcott
(Published in: The Western Way Offcial publication of the International Western Music Association
The Western Way: Today we’re visiting with one of western music’s enduring performers who has recently released a brand new solo album that has received lots of airplay on western music radio shows. She was formerly a member of the all-girl Horse Crazy Cowgirl Band and has since broken out on her own. We’re happy to get this time with Lauralee Northcott.
Lauralee Northcott: (just put something here if you want to respond to the intro)
TWW: So, how’s life been treating you since you became a solo act, Lauralee?
LN: Thank you for asking. Life has been very interesting. I've been working pretty hard. You see, I realized to change from a vocal trio, bass player to a solo entertainer I would need to develop new skills and repetorie. Being a solo is uniquely different from being a band member. So a took a step back to my roots. I was a wilderness guide and camp cook for a little over 30 seasons in the Pasayten Wilderness of northern Washington State. I had a saddlebag full of unpublished songs and poems reflecting those experiences. So I set two tasks for myself: a solo album; and a book. I gave myself one year for each project. The album was released in 2018, called, "On The Loose and Headed Your Way." Next, in 2019, I finished my book called, "A Cowgirl's Life in the Mountains". The concept of the book is to present song lyrics, poems, and mountain menus are woven together with stories then decorated with stylish pen & ink drawings. Ollie Reed reviewed my book in the Winter issue of Western Way 2019. He made many interesting and thoughtful comments on the book and I think he really like it, which thrilled me. By the way, I will be offering a workshop at the IWMA Awards Festival in ABQ this year, to share some of what I learned about writing and publishing a book. Life is very interesting.
TWW: How busy have you been since Horse Crazy disbanded?
LN: I am as busy as I want to be. I like booking tours for myself but it isn't too long before I head home to my husband and dog.
TWW: We love your new album, and it looks like it’s enjoying a fine measure of success. So now we’re wondering why it took you so long to do a solo project.
LN : I was busy! Bands are very engaging. I love harmony and a musical group requires creating together, which can be exciting. Horse Crazy had eight different women members in its seventeen year run. Each one of them brought something unique and engaging. I was there the whole time. Thinking about creating a solo album was pretty scary. I truly have Dave and Carolyn Martin to thank for helping me create such a high quality product. They stood beside me, providing skill, enthusiasm, and friendship. Without their help it would not have become the work it turned out to be.
TWW: You have exhibited some very fine and strong songwriting skills on this new project. What do you find to be the greatest challenge in songwriting?
LN: Writing a song or a poem is the equivalent of writing a short story in just a few words. Sometimes I write a lot of the story before I can start whittling away to find a song or poem. I imagine what it must be like to be a sculpturer, staring at a hunk of clay! My idea is that lyrics tell the story and music provides the emotion to carry to the story to the listener. It is funny though because sometimes songs take on a life of their own, and pull you around. One of the hardest parts of songwriting is finishing. You have to decide it is done even though you know it could be better. It can be hard to call a piece finished. Each part of the process: imagination, creation and completion have their own challenges and rewards.
TWW: You had some cowboy poetry on your solo album. Will you continue to make poetry a part of your future projects?
LN: Yes, there is magic in poetry. However, it is massively difficult to write poetry and even harder to recite it. The spoken word has a rhythm and melody of it's own. Some poets transport me to their world in just a few lines. I attended the National Cowboy Gathering in Elko, NV every year from 1999-2006 with my pal and original Horse Crazy member Virginia Bennett. Her personal friendships with Buck Ramsey, Joel Nelson, Sunny Hancock, Paul Zarzyski, Pat Richardson, Glen Orlin, Stephanie Davis and others, this gave me a back stage pass to some very inspirational times. As often as possible I'd just sit in the green room and soak it all up. Super fun times.
TWW: Are there some certain songwriters that you feel have taught you a lot just by studying their writing? Some who have influenced you in that way?
LN: I've learned something from each and every musician I have worked with. Learning with other musicians is the best. For writing traditional feeling music I go back to the celtic melodies that became the classic cowboy repetoire. For western swing Cindy Walker is the queen. I study her work and learn. Tin Pan Alley creations and later hollywood tunes were very complicated but so interesting. Ranger Doug is a master teacher to help understand how to use these tunes and swing them. Of course, for contemporary western music and story telling Dave Stamey is the king. His music is a gift to all of us. His chord sequences can sure be weird though. I listen to all of it, diagram the work and then steal ideas here and there. shhhh....don't tell anyone.
TWW: Some songwriters we describe as "deep" or "introspective" or "dark" or "clever." We say your songwriting is filled with "fun." Do you view your songs in that way?
LN: I am a big fan of fun. But of course, contrast is the key. One song doesn't make a show. I design my performances to offer the listener an overall feeling of happy, honest warmth. I like to write adventuresome story songs, which are usually humorous, because most of the stuff that happens on adventures needs a little humor to help you survive. I enjoy swing, and like to write in that style. If you've heard my album you know I'm a little crooner at heart, so I write some sweet stuff. Here is my soap box issue with dark and clever work. We have been manipulated by experts for at least a century. There has almost been a requirement for artists to struggle with the painful parts of themselves and expose those emotions in their work. As a human family we are just beginning to understand that all people battle internal circumstances. This is nothing new. Plato said, "Be gentle everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle." Creating is a compelling force for artists, for me it's mostly fun.
TWW: OK. Since the disbanding of the group, how have you developed as an entertainer? Has it been a difficult transition for you to move into a solo act? Has it been good for you in some ways?
LN: It is much more diffcult to be on stage alone, than with a group. Becoming a quality solo act will take the rest of my life and then some. So far I have found three areas of performance that need big work. First: the quality of the work. It needs to be worthy of the audience's full attention. Next, I want to make connections for the audience using history to place my piece within the context of culture and time. Think PBS! Finally, I live to connect with the audience to create a magic time. That is the best part. It has taken a long time to figure out what I need to do, and it will take the rest of my life to figure out how to do it!
TWW: When did you start playing music?
LN:I started singing with my mom and dad's band when I was eight years old. My big hit was, "A Good Man is Hard to Fine". Got big laughs. Didn't know why. I've been in bands ever since.
TWW: Do you think as a solo act you might branch out into some different forms of music – or are you pretty much committed to the western genre?
LN:I am committed (or, should be!) Seriously, I live in a small western boardwalk town of 300 souls. Owen Wister, who wrote the "Virginian" considered the foundation work of the great American Western novel, lived for a time, two blocks from my house. I couldn't get away if I tried. Happily, western music has plenty of room for me to grow.
TWW: What would you like for your fans to know about Lauralee Northcott that they probably don’t know?
LN: I was a very tall child but was dropped from a china cupboard which stunted my growth plates. Hee, hee. Really, I have a very nice website, which I have filled with interesting pictures and topics: lauraleenorthcott.com. If folks want to learn more about my creative self it is only a link away. I will be happy send you an autographed copy of my book and CD. Just contact me.
TWW: Some other reflections from Lauralee:
In closing, I would like to share with fellow performers my thoughts about the western torch we carry. Western music, cowboy poetry and the American western experience have come in and out of fashion for over 150 years. Right now we are seeing our gatherings closing down with fewer places to perform. This is unfortunate but is a natural result of the times. There is an enormous amount of available entertainment. The people my age and older, who have experienced the ranching culture are getting to an age when they don't go out of the house as much as they used to. Most younger folks just don't have those the experiences, so they aren't attached to the cowboy world. I encourage all of us go out and find a bridge. Western values like: hard work, persevereance, humor, friendship, and sewardship of the land are timeless endeavors. We can carry the torch faithfully.
TWW: Any advice for aspiring young musicians who want to make music their career?
LN: Most of the young musicians I know are way ahead of me. My favorite teacher is Kristyn Harris. She is my dear friend and a very smart person. She has helped me a lot. Also, watching the IWMA kid family grow up has been very exciting. Musicianship takes a life time, but it will keep you young. My mom is 104 years old and going strong. She plays the ukulele every day. She says, "Honey, you're just a spring chicken."
TWW: Well, you have certainly set an example of perseverance for all to emulate. I know our readers will enjoy getting to know you better through this interview, and we thank you for giving us this bit of your time. We’ve always found you to be an enjoyable person with a quick smile and friendly way about you. And your music is simply wonderful!
LN: Thanks for asking about my life and letting me share with all our IWMA friends. Keeping going folks, it's good work.