Interview: Laurel Sprengelmeyer of Little Scream

Little Scream is the stage name of Laurel Sprengelmeyer who is from Montreal, Canada. Little scream is an up and coming band who’s music style is somewhere between a mix of art rock and folk accompanied with a melodic sound. Laurel released her first album The Golden Record in 2011 and her second album Cult Following was released May 6th, 2016. She has collaborated with artists like Richard Perry of Arcade Fire, Sufjan Stevens, and Bryce Dessner of the National on both albums. We had the opportunity to interview Laurel at the 9:30 club on Friday, April 15th 2016. We then saw her music come to life on stage with an ambient alt rock vibe. Check out the interview here:

Interview conducted by Lilia Grabenstein.

Lilia Grabenstein: So this your first time at the 9:30 club right? How do you like it?

Laurel Sprengelmeyer: Oh, it’s great. Yeah it’s really lovely. The people who work here are awesome and they bring you out food right away. You can tell they care about their artists. You get that vibe right away when you walk into the venue for sure. Some care more than others and so far I’m really enjoying this one, they’re great.


LG: Yeah I’ve been to the venue a few times. It’s a really nice venue; it’s more intimate too.

LS: It’s a nice size; everything sounds good in the room so far, too.


LG: Yeah, and you have been to DC before I’m guessing?

LS: Yeah! I have a couple of times. I’m trying to remember the places I have played here. God, this is terrible that I am forgetting where, but I was on tour with The Antlers once and I think I also did a headlining show here, like a little one. But it’s really terrible that I can’t remember.


Fan: Are you Little Scream?

LS: Yeah


Fan: Cool! Wait, real quick, I just have a quick question. So your album isn’t out yet right?

LS: No, it comes out May 6th , my new one.


Fan: Okay, well will the old one be for sale here?

LS: Yeah, the old one will be for sale and it’s the last box of vinyl, like there aren’t any others that exist so you can only buy it at shows, so that one’s here.


Fan: Also, I have one other question. Why is it called The Golden Record and it’s not pressed on gold? Really dropped the ball on that one.

LS: Oh, we actually discussed it and at the time there was the idea or the thought that sometimes it affects sound quality when you do it on the colored vinyl and I was really into not affecting the sound quality. But, the first order of my new record is going to be on blue vinyl. Which is like special edition so I totally dropped the ball. You know what, that’s a great idea though because I think we’re going to reprint The Golden Record. Like I said, these are like the last copies of the first printing so maybe the next printing I’ll do golden, for you, because you told me.


Fan: Okay, well sorry if I interrupted anything. I’ll see you later!

LS: See you there!


LS: That was a good question!

LG: Yeah that was actually a really good question, so you had The Golden Record before and now it’s Cult Following?

LS: Yeah.


LG: And that’s going to be May 6th you’re releasing it?

LS: Yeah.


LG: So you collaborated with people like Sufjan Stevens and Richard from Arcade Fire?

LS: Yeah.


LG: What did you think of that dynamic compared to the first album?

LS: Well I made the first album with Richard as well. We worked on both of those together and it was pretty similar in that we just invited friends, and there were a bunch of friends in Montreal, but also Bryce Dessner played on that one as well, from The National. And they play on this one too, so yeah it was pretty similar in that we just invited friends to do different parts especially when we were traveling or when we’d run into people. I think a lot of our musician friends are pretty collaborative and we really enjoy working together. I really enjoy working on other people’s stuff, so yeah it was pretty natural.


LG: I didn’t hear as many duets and stuff like that on the first album, were there more guest star appearances on this one or?

LS: No, I think it was about the same and even on this record I didn’t do like, duets, it’s funny.


LG: Like harmonies and stuff like that?

LS: Yeah there’s a couple places, like Sharon Van Etten does some harmonies and yeah there was just that one line that I really wanted Kip to do and so I wasn’t really thinking of it as like, “Oh this is like a featuring.” At the time it was just like a creative idea and I was like, “Oh this one line, it has to be the line of the eight balls.” Like, if I had been actually thinking about that stuff I probably would have had him sing on the choruses and stuff like that too but it was more of a creative decision to be like, “who is the right voice for this” and just kind of piecing stuff together pretty organically which is how I tend to work. Well, the only exception to that is Mary Margaret O’Hara. I’m a huge huge fan of hers from way back and so she’s the only one I approached specifically as, “will you please guest on my record?” and she sings a chorus and some really interesting interpretive stuff on a song called “Wishing Well,” which is huge for me. To have her be on the record and be a part of it was like the crown jewel for me and everything else just came together pretty organically in the process of working on the record.


LG: I know “Love is a Weapon”, that was a great song and was one of your singles released in February, that’s going to be on the new album?

LS: Yes, it’s on the new record. They’ve just been releasing a couple songs and actually we’re going to be doing another release of another song next week just to kind of introduce the record to people. It took me a little while to get this record finished and get it out, so it’s been fun to just release singles and start playing shows, kind of get out there again before this record comes out. Like it’s kind of coming out of nowhere I guess.


LG: Well it’s sold out tonight, have you been selling out most places?

LS: Well right now I’m on this tour with Thao & The Get Down Stay Down and I think a handful of the shows are sold out and I’m doing some other dates with Land of Talk in May and most of those are sold out as well. Land of Talk is amazing I’m a huge fan. Lizzie Powell is her name, you should check her out. But you know, it’s different every place so it depends on local independent radio stations [that] contribute a lot, especially when you’re not Rihanna. When you’re outside of the pop world, the only way that people really find out about you is when promoters get into what you’re doing, and local stations, and local music people get up and help spread the word. So yeah, that is a big part of it and that is why I’m always happy to talk to you guys.


LG: It’s like one of my favorite things. I’m from WXJM and I go to James Madison University and we’re like an independent college radio station and so it’s really fun to discover new music and put it on the air and then you can kind of go through and find related artists and get the music out there. We book bands at our school too, I’m part of that committee so it’s like underground kinds of bands. We had X Ambassadors and some ones that have blown up a little bit but it’s really cool to have those newly discovered bands.

LS: Yeah, and then you are part of what happens organically with it, which is cool. There’s not a million dollars behind every campaign it’s just a bunch of people spreading the word.


LG: I want to ask about your songwriting process, what do you do to get inspiration for a song and then start it up. Does it just come to you? I know a lot of times it can just be an emotion and you just sit down and write it, or do you write pieces and put it together over time?

LS: It depends, like some things do kind of tumble out almost in their entirety and that always feels awesome when it happens, and then the rest of the time it’s a lot just piecemeal. You’ll have a good line, or a vocal melody, or just some idea of how things will come together and then you build around that. I always find that there’s stuff that comes out really naturally and really easily and that’s usually what you like the most and stick with and then the stuff you have to work on, you just keep working on ‘till it doesn’t make you embarrassed or if it makes you embarrassed it should be intentional. But yeah, it’s just a matter of work. On this record, same as the last one, my sister is a co-writer on two of those songs and she’s a co-writer on some of these as well including “Love Is A Weapon” with Richard Reed Parry because I wanted to have a little more happy upbeat music. This record definitely gets dark as well, which is like when I’m alone in a room I just naturally will write like, a dozen sad songs and what I think I pushed for in this record was to really break out of that for myself. There are still a fair amount of gentle and introspective songs, but I wanted to explore what it would be like to write more upbeat music. That was a challenge for me and that is partly why I opened up the writing process a little bit more than I had in the past. That’s just by virtue of hanging out with people that make me happy and joyful, it makes it easier to write and work on happy music. Especially on the more “up” pieces on the record, it would be start from whatever idea it would start from and working on stuff with people that are fun to work with, and then it’s more natural joy that just comes out and I don’t have to struggle with it or force it.


LG: I feel like it’s a little bit easier to write some lower stuff when you’re all by yourself.

LS: Well yeah, it’s introspective, and that’s the vibe but yeah and then when you hang out with other people you’re more likely to go dancing. It’s just a different mode I guess, so yeah that was a thing that helped me write and helped me writing more upbeat fun things. I feel like I’m a very democratic person in general, I try not to be super personally ego-driven and I feel like I just want to do stuff and be part of music that makes me happy and excited, and it’s super fun to work with other people so it’s part of how all this stuff came together.


LG: And how were you originally discovered?

LS: I don’t think I was discovered, I mean I was living in Montreal and I was working in a kind of arts community. I was working at a kind of music festival and had friends who were events promoters and stuff so there was that but I had a bunch of songs I had worked on writing over the years and I had never done anything with them. I made this little demo on my own on a Skype microphone on this really shitty PC computer that I had and I had three songs which I put on it, one of which was “The Heron and the Fox.” I gave it to like three people and they all offered me a gig and people liked it and then I just had friends who really encouraged me to get stuff recorded and Richard Parry at some point heard that demo and said, “Oh, I want to help you make this record.” He was really into the music, we had a lot of similar music reference points, so I think it was an easy combo, and easy fit to work on stuff together. And we’re collaborating on a bunch of other stuff as well, he has this really cool project called Quiet River of Dust that he’s been working on for a couple years, it’s really beautiful music. But I am a band member of that and I work on a little bit of the lyrics, it’s mostly all him and that’s another thing that I’ve worked on with him.


LG: That’s really cool. If you could choose someone, any big person, even if they died, who would you want to collaborate with?

LS: I think they would have to be alive because if they were dead it’s like too many so to make it easier it would probably be Tom Waits and Steven Tyler. I’m a huge early Aerosmith fan, I just really love Steven Tyler. I just bought a poster of him yesterday at the vintage store where I got this jacket. In the venue there was a vintage store and they were open late, it was very cool. I never get to go shopping on tour. It was brilliant, they could set one up here, you know, because that’s exactly what you feel like doing at night after you’ve had a drink. So yeah I bought a white leather jacket which I’m wearing right now and an Aerosmith poster, a picture of Steven Tyler for inspiration in my car, so yeah it would be that.


LG: Okay, so this is kind of random, but if there was a favorite food that you get on the road, what would it be?

LS: Oh yeah! That is a really good question. I mean I just try to get a lot of fruit and Mike, who is our sound guy right now, he has a juicer that he brings along. A masticating juicer, it’s giant, heavy, and every single day he juices and there’s like kale and carrots and turmeric and so much stuff so that’s a pretty big tour staple right now. And I would have to say it’s that, ‘cause you just can’t be too choosey when you’re on the road, I do my best. I think that’s the most ambitious I’ve ever gotten, or wait, I used to travel around with a little rice cooker that I could steam vegetables in that worked really well but then I gave the rice cooker to my brother and haven’t bought on since, for tour at least.


LG:  Are you guys in a touring van now or…?

LS: We are in this minivan and then another car. We’re in two cars now actually, there’s a couple reasons for that. It’s partly, I just feel minivans are a little bit safer on a couple fronts and people don’t assume that there’s gear in them so that’s a big part of why I really like that and they’re actually better on gas than some of the bigger vans and it’s just a little bit more cozy for how we’re touring right now, so yeah we’ve got a two car caravan.


LG: That’s smart, I like that idea. So all the equipment and stuff goes into one car?

LS: Yeah, and then people’s bags and stuff go into the other one.


LG: Is it the band that loads it in and loads out and stuff like that?

LS: Yeah we’re doing all our own stuff, and I usually sell my own merch. It is fun, especially on opening tours when budgets are smaller and also I like being part of the whole thing. It’s nice to feel connected to everyone you’re working with and everyone sharing duties and pitching in. It’s a real community effort kind of which is fun.


LG: And who designed your merch?

LS: Well the t-shirts I designed and then the album cover art for this new record, Maggie is the graphic designer at Merge and she is awesome.


LG: Merge [Records] is the record label right?

LS: Yeah, exactly. I actually built this set for the album cover art with my friend Michael in New York who’s a set builder. He basically built it and I helped in two days and then we photographed it. We had two friends come in and he lit it and we did our own photo-shoot for it, which was really fun. It was really ambitious and kind of nuts, so that’s how the cover art came about.


LG: That’s unique though, I really like that.

LS: It was a little crazy, but we’re optimistic people I think. It’s like, “Oh let’s do this,” and you get really excited about it then you’re halfway through doing it and you realize how much work it is. We have lots of cool shots from that whole photo set-up scene that we did.


LG: Is there something that you do for free time on the road or is there an extra hobby that you enjoy?

LS: I actually don’t have a lot of free time on the road, especially touring like this because I am involved in a lot of stuff. Like when I’m not driving I’m answering e-mails or I’m on the phone. It’s very little free time. So yeah I’m not able to actually get that much done unfortunately on these kinds of tours, but Lisa who is playing keys and singing with me right now is working on lyrics and writing poetry which is cool and ambitious. And yeah, sometimes I’ll just run around in the parking lot literally, like when we stop for gas. Just stuff like that, but yeah I’ve always wanted to write more on tour. Now, I will a little bit, but that’s kind of my future goal, just work on writing while I have that time in the van a little bit more. It’s a little bit hard to read in a moving van for a couple hours. I always start out with really big expectations and they aren’t very realistic.


LG: Last thing, if you could go on tour to one place, one venue, where would you want to go?

LS: I mean I really love Japan, I’ve never been on tour there. I think that would be a really amazing place to go to for a tour. And also Ireland, I was just in Ireland, I played at this festival in Cork and was part of this artist residency at Lismore Castle which was incredible. That’s on my bucket list and hopefully I get to do it sooner rather than later, I would love to do a tour of Ireland for sure, it’s just so beautiful over there and people are so fun.  So it would be that. And then after that I want to do a tour of the Midwest with my little sister and do a tour of all the little venues that are off the beaten path a little bit. I think that’s like going back to my homeland of the Midwest and that’s totally doable, and I’m totally working on it, ‘cause that would be super fun.


LG: And your sister plays other instruments?

LS: She does, and she has a band in the Midwest as well called Driftless Sisters, it’s just her, a kick drum and banjo and her friend Kat. I’m partial, I love it.


LG: Of course, I have a sister too so I definitely understand. I think that’s it, do you have any last words?

LS: No that was it, that was a really fun interview!