Today’s Feature, May 15-16, 2007: Laura Pellegrino

January 18, 2008 at 6:20 pm (Today's Feature)

Laura Pellegrino has been playing music professionally for over 10 years and in so many cities, it boggles the mind to merely contemplate her credit report. L.A., New Orleans, Baltimore, Austin, and most recently, Buenos Aires, Argentina, are just a few of the cities Laura has called home. Laura stumbled onto the blues at 17, thanks to a locally syndicated show on her hometown radio station, KMOD, in Tulsa, OK which was promoting an upcoming show for the late great Stevie Ray Vaughan. After graduating from the University of Texas at Austin, Laura spent 4 years in that music-loving city playing full-time in all of its most prestigious clubs (La Zona Rosa, Continental Club, and Antone’s Home of the Blues, to name just a few) alongside many of its most well-known players. Two consecutive years she was invited to play the SXSW music conference. And although not a native Austinite, she will tell you it is the town that truly gave her life for it was there that she cut her teeth, playing live 5 and 6 nights a week alongside many of Austin’s heaviest hitters. Encompassing a scene ripe with Blues, Rock, Rockabilly, Country, Soul, and Funk, as well as heavy songwriter ethic, the Austin music scene conspired to instill in Laura a strong affinity towards roots-based music, quality songwriting, screaming guitar, XXX salsa, Tex-Mex and Tx. barbecue. And although Laura’s songwriting is uniquely her own, and not entirely the domain of Austin, Tx. it is inherently infused with much of the same sensibilities. Currently Laura is making her home in Buenos Aires, Argentina where she obsessively dances Argentine Tango (Really!). Read her XXQs to find out more…

XXQs: Laura Pellegrino

PensEyeView.com (PEV):How and when did you first get involved with music?

Laura Pellegrino (LP): There was always a lot of music around me growing up. My dad played drums in Leon Russel’s band in high school and was into jazz. My Mom loved classical music and pop. And to insure my music education was well-rounded, my brother (ten years my senior) introduced me to the likes of Styx, Kiss, ZZ Top and Ted Nugent! My parents were divorced when I was a toddler and my dad lived a couple of hours away. On the drive to and from OKC he, (or we) would sing these funny (often off-color) songs about peg-leg pirates, and swimming with bow-legged women. I started studying classical voice in elementary school and sang in my first band when I was a junior in high-school.

PEV: You currently live in Buenos Aires, Argentina. What is the best part about music in Argentina?

LP: There are several really cool things about the music and/or musicians here in Argentina: First off would be that everybody here seems to have a genuinely deep respect for anybody that plays music. I think a statistically higher number of musicians per capita here are classically trained, than are in the states, perhaps as a result of Tango, which requires a higher understanding of music theory than does most rock music. You will also find a lot of jazz here, I believe for the same reason. At the same time, this city really loves to rock! And they’ve done a lot of homework. I’ve been in small towns in Texas where people actually didn’t know who Stevie Ray Vaughan was (which blows my mind BTW) and here, he is typically the first person they mention after learning I’m from Texas. I also find them to be more diverse probably out of necessity. We have so many choices and niches in the states and they just don’t have that here. I’ve been to some very impressive rock/blues gigs (by anybody’s standards) and 3 days later heard the same guys playing impeccable jazz which really doesn’t happen in the states. The jazz guys mostly stick to their gigs and the rock guys to theirs. I think they’ve just had to be that well-rounded to keep working because the scene is more limited. Equally impressive, all the guys that play with me in one of my bands can all play ALL the other instruments almost equally as well as they play their own.! Very rare in the states.

PEV: Tell us more about your album, House Burnin’ Down.

LP: 6 of the 10 songs on House Burnin’ Down were written between the winter of 2004 and the summer of 2005. They were written at a time when I wasn’t regularly playing, was working a highly-stressful day-job, had just moved to a new city, (Baltimore) and was still in the throws of relationship fall-out. During that time, a new band was conceived and the songs got a real workout playing live. The remaining songs were all conceived after my move to B.A. in the first months of 2006. Three of the songs were co-writes with Alex Houton who produced the record and his songwriting partner, Ernesto Cullari and the final song, Somebody Tell Me, written entirely by me , in the 11th hour, and with much divine inspiration.

PEV: Is there a certain atmosphere you surround yourself in, when writing?

LP: In theory, my house is tidy, my dogs are quiet, its raining outside and I’ve had enough distance from whatever is ‘workin’ me, to write something profound…(LOL) But in reality, I’ve written, what I feel is some of my very best work under exreme duress. At the time “House” was primarily written, I was working for a huge intl. company for the first and only time in my life, stressed to the max, working a lot of 12 and 13 hour days, with no end in sight. There was also 5 feet of snow on the ground, and no heat in my apt. much of that winter. I was skinny from stress and just wired 24/7! In the meantime, I had managed to also fall madly in love, (don’t ask me how) and that had just gone away. So I was coming home every night, manic as all get-out and writing songs until 4 in the morning, going to bed and getting up at 8 to do it all over again. This went on for several months.

PEV: What is in your CD player or on your iPod right now?

LP: Black Lab-See the Sun, Prince- Musicology, Junior Brown-Live at the Continental Club, Steeley Dan, The Black Keys-Thickfreakness, Billy Squier-Don’t Say No and a whole lotta Tango from the 30’s and 40’s

PEV: What was it like when you stepped into a recording studio for the first time?

LP: I had been in and out of recording studios since I was pretty young as my mother was a figure skating coach and at that time you had to go to the studio to cut music. I also had to cut a demo for my music school audition. But my first really bonified recording experience was in Stillwater OK, where I was attending college. A local sound engineer heard my band do a live show and invited us to record, I think for free. We went in late at night, I believe, so as to not conflict with his paying customers. The first time you sing into a quality microphone feels so good. The fact that you can actually HEAR yourself like that is a rush but always contains a little weirdness as you never sound like you think you do. This takes getting used to.

PEV: You have traveled all over the world. Which city do you think offers the best environment for music?

LP: Austin, TX. wins hands down. For me, there has really been no real challenger. New Orleans, has always been a great music city, however, due to the tourist industry which features so prominently there, much of the daily live scene has often had to succumb to the lowest common denominator. I mean, I love Brick House as much as anybody but I don’t need to hear it by anybody but the Commodores, ever again. I also felt there was a lot more substance abuse by musicians there, which made a lot of players somewhat unreliable. On the other had, there are truly awesome original musicians there doing what nobody else in the world has ever done. Baltimore was good to me, but the scene is not that big and/or cohesive. Buenos Aires has great players, but lacks the industry to be truly original. L.A.: great musicians, (passing through town anyway,) but no real scene to speak of. The Austin scene is built on songwriters, guitar players and an audience that is savvy in both. I have never lived in a city where my fellow-musicians so inspired (or frustrated ) me. Unlike in every other city I’ve lived in, I don’t remember anybody EVER pressuring me to do covers in order to “break into the scene” or get work. Every other city I’ve lived in has felt the need to do that. That, perhaps, indifference, has always made Austin unique, some might say to a fault. The bulk of the musicians there, live, play, and stay there because they get to hone their craft and be creative in whatever way pleases them. And there is almost always a home-grown audience that will appreciate it, and support it by buying records and coming out to live shows.

PEV: How does it feel to play your music and hear people sing the words along with you?

LP: Surreal.

PEV: When you are not writing, performing or touring, what can we find you doing?

LP: These days, that’s easy: dancing Argentine Tango

PEV: What do all your friends and family think about your success?

LP: LOL! Success….hmm. My family is extremely supportive, pleased and proud of what I do. I cannot ask for more. Of course, we’d all likethere to be a little more “che-ching” at the end of the day, preferably before we’re all in the ground. LOL!

PEV: If I were to walk into your house right now, what is one thing I would be surprised to find?

LP: My two dogs, Buster and Charlie. People are amazed and confounded that I brought them with me here all the way from the states to Argentina. Really, they’re very well-traveled and have wild stories of their own. Both were found on the street and they’ve gone with me everywhere, including Mexico where we lived for 4 months in ‘05. They drove with me all the way there for 15 hours, not sleeping, standing up in the back of my convertible, ears flapping in the breeze.

PEV: When you are not creating music, what do you like to do?

LP: Tango, tango, more tango. It’s an illness, but not as bad as some. I also like to travel, obviously.

PEV: People can download your music from your website. What is your opinion on the heated debate over downloading music?

LP: Well, depends on what you mean by downloading. If you mean, musicians making their music available digitally, I think that’s unavoidable. Personally, I always loved to have something tangible in my hand. And I used to love buying vinyl and having all the artwork, being able to see the artists and read their lyrics. However, these days, my own life is so mobile, that I find I am downloading more and more when it is available. If you mean, however, musicians just giving away their work, that is a little harder. There are examples where this has benefited the artists, with “the Dead” being the pioneers and most obvious example. And I am not opposed to giving a little bit away to get people out there interested. However, if music-lovers out there think that they can continue to download and /or pirate music for free and that there will be no consequence to pay, I believe they are sorely wrong. It has always been extremely difficult for artists to get paid and now as much as ever. Maybe a short while ago when downloading became the trend, people could somehow convince themselves that they were only cheating big music companies out of ridiculous profits. These days, however its common knowledge that those companies are now in trouble and musicians are still trying to get paid, though for different reasons. Before, they were struggling to pay back “advances”. Now, they have to figure out how to pay for marketing themselves, when labels can’t do it. Big labels aren’t taking any risks and “development” deals are scarce. They want obvious home-runs, (which unfortunately means catering to the lowest-common denominator again) And that is where they’re spending their marketing dollars. And it seems to me that Indies are surviving because most of their artists are doing everything themselves. They pay for their own record. They put up their own website, they tour (often on their own dime), and they sell C.D.’s from the side of the stage. If their label has distribution, they’re doin’ good. If their label can afford to market them in any way, then they might stand a fighting chance.

PEV: What is the best part about playing live?

LP: Without question, the rush that comes from the audience attention, the chemistry of the players on stage and the “x” factor of what’s gonna happen next. Great sound, when it happens, can also make for sheer Nirvana.

PEV: What is something that people would be surprised to hear about you?

LP: Perhaps that I’ve been altered due to a series of life-changing spiritual encounters, that I believe aliens are among us, and I do not necessarily believe they are unrelated.

PEV: What can someone expect from a live Laura Pellegrino show?

LP: Passionate, quality playing and singing. No filler.

PEV: You write songs that inspire others, but what artists have inspired you?

LP: That list is long and varied but here are a few of the top contenders in no particular order: Tom Waits, Chris Whitley, Etta James, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Rickie Lee Jones, Jonny Lang, Prince, Sting, Seal.

PEV: I know that every song has its own meaning and story behind it but is there one song in particular that you feel you put extra work into? Or better yet, found yourself putting extra work into?

LP: Honestly, I have often found my best ideas initially come with little effort. Perhaps the ideas are percolating for a while, back in the recesses of my brain or some incident will start me thinking in an unconscious way until substantial parts appear on the page with seemingly little energy. I have had this experience often enough and am never displeased with the results. On the contrary, I find myself marveling at the miraculousness of it. And I believe it’s this experience that explains why so many artists thank “God” on their albums, and when receiving awards etc., At times it just feels channeled. I will say that few songs come out in their entirety as such. And THEN the pressure is on! Some really strong ideas, or imagery or entire chorus’ or whatever will just pour out onto the page and the challenge is to make sure the rest of the song and all the details are up to the challenge and the standard that has just been “handed” to you. The title cut on the album, House Burnin’ Down, arrived almost in that way and is perhaps why it gave me enough personal satisfaction to make it the title cut. My personal gauge is whether I’ve effectively conveyed the sentiments that inspired me to write it in the first place and whether I’ve done so in a way that makes it meaningful and possible for others to “get it”.

PEV: So, what is next for Laura Pellegrino?

LP: Already writing a bunch of new songs, but would really like to see this record get some serious distribution and do some touring. Anybody got a line on Europe? For more information on Laura Pellegrino, check out: http://www.LauraPellegrino.com

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