By Michael Aushenker
For Tamara Laurel, 2013 will go down as a magical one – and a game-changer.
“This year has taught me a lot about self-reliance,” said the singer-songwriter, who will play Witzend on Friday, Aug. 23 at 11 p.m.
The countrified singer-songwriter, who, in recent months, has played every last Friday at the Venice club, concludes her summer residency this week.
“The first time I ever played in public was this January,” she told The Argonaut.
Even though she has been playing and performing all her life, Laurel notes there’s a reason why she is new to staging concerts – namely, fear. For a period, she was even in denial of her creative passions while in college.
“I was terrified of performing,” she admitted. “I tried to avoid it all and got a business degree. I didn’t think I was good enough on guitar.”
But she was reminded of the author of “The Hero With a Thousand Faces,” mythologist Joseph Campbell, who once wrote, “The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.” For Laurel, this year has been all about reaping treasure.
“I had to get over my nerves, get some songs,” said Laurel, who work-shopped her ditties at UnUrban Café in Santa Monica and Sunset, a restaurant in Malibu.
Laurel’s debut live concert was, in fact, at the Witzend back in March. On April 7, only the third time she ever played in public, Laurel performed on stage at the House of Blues in West Hollywood.
“For me, the whole day was like, ‘I gotta calm down,’” recalled the singer, who had placed as a finalist in the Live Nation In-House Artist Competition. She received a $5,000 prize, got to open for contest winner Empra (from Australia), and performed for some 500 folks, including several industry people. The House of Blues attendance was in stark contrast to her gig two nights earlier further down the Sunset Strip at the legendary Roxy, where she played for not more than a handful of people.
But the Santa Monica resident reserved her highest praise for Witzend: “It’s probably the best venue I’ve ever played. The sound is amazing. It’s intimate, it’s spectator-friendly. It’s very clean. It’s this eclectic little place.”
Born in Maryland, Laurel grew up “in an idyllic small town – Woodinville, Wash.” and came to California to attend USC, where she studied business and music and graduated early.
But her education in the latter, in truth, began years before, she says.
“I did musical theater my entire childhood,” said Laurel, who performed in a production of “Footloose” and who won a theater award for performing in “Crazy for You” at Scotland’s prestigious Edinburgh Festival.
Post-college, Laurel moved to northern Dallas, where she worked in advertising sales, and for a year endured a corporate environment that she says “wasn’t conducive to creativity.” Nevertheless, “it was the best thing that ever happened to me,” said Laurel, where she found herself “daydreaming a lot, emailing (song) ideas to myself.
“They have a really strong songwriting community (in Dallas),” she continued. “I wrote with a bunch of different people. I really cut my teeth songwriting there.”
She even performed in a cover band, Baby and the Geezers, playing songs such as Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” and Pink’s “Who Knew” in a dive bar in Keller, TX. But that lasted all of one night – “I wanted to play my own stuff,” she said.
Laurel’s blend of alternative country rock and pop music, which a fellow musician dubbed “sparkle folk,” takes its cues from the Bruce Springsteen and Elton John-Bernie Taupin songs her mother exposed her to while growing up.
“As I got older, I discovered country,” said the singer-songwriter, who embraced “crossover” acts Garth Brooks, Shania Twain and Faith Hill. Laurel also digs Van Morrison, David Nail, Ryan Adams, and Noah and the Whale.
In September, Laurel plans to release her self-produced debut. But thanks to the Internet, her single, “I Want You,” has already been well-received overseas by the online community, including in Spain, Italy, Poland and Australia.
In addition to getting over her stage fright, Laurel overcame another challenge this past year: shifting from the first person to the third.
“I wrote a song for a friend going through a horrific (bad relationship) experience,” she said.
And at the Witzend, Laurel will play her upcoming EP in full (which documents the fallout of a breakup from three years ago) plus a handful of new tunes.
While ambitious enough to want to make a living playing music, Laurel is focused mostly on pursuing her love of music.
“If I just focus on the music and play really good shows,” she said, “that’ll be enough.”
The Witzend is at 1717 Lincoln Blvd., Venice. Information, witzendlive.com, TamaraLaurel.com.
No rest for this Laurel
By Michael Aushenker