Country singer-songwriter Lauren Alaina has had a whirlwind of a time since finishing as runner-up on American Idol back in 2011.
Only 15 at the time, Lauren was thrust into the spotlight and she released her debut album Wildflower shortly after the show finished. Since then Lauren has been dealing with a lot of personal issues whilst writing her second album, and recently released her self-titled EP as a taster of what’s to come.
Fresh from her triumphant C2C: Country to Country performance at the weekend, I caught up with Lauren to talk about her new music, discuss the personal battles that have inspired the songs, and to find out when she might be heading back to the UK for some headline shows.
I imagine you’re a bit tired following C2C this weekend?
I am a little tired (laughs) but we had such success and it was such a pleasant surprise that I’ve got a little energy left.
Was this your first visit to the UK or have you been here before?
I’ve never been here before. It’s my first time and we’ve had so much fun!
How did you find the reaction from the crowds at C2C?
I was so shocked at how much everyone over here knew my music. Even the ones who didn’t necessarily know caught on very quickly and were super supportive, such lovely people. We’ve had such blast and we’re coming back – we’re so excited to come back! We’ve already started the conversation to figure out how quickly we can come back over here. It could be in the autumn possibly so we’re excited about that.
I had really big crowds at both shows. They sang along and were super into it, and made me feel so great. There’s nothing like being a singer and songwriter and seeing people in the crowd singing songs back at you. I can’t complain! We are ecstatic!
Did you have any idea what to expect from UK crowds before you performed?
No! All I was told is that I was going to be performing in a tent (laughs) so I was picturing the circus. I got here and it wasn’t what I expected it. We played the Indigo both times and it’s so amazing how they have that set up. It was nothing like what I expected. It was a little bit scary and I didn’t have an expectation because I didn’t know if people really knew who I am over here. They did and it was the best surprise ever.
I’m so excited and I was so surprised. I didn’t know that I had fans here and now I feel like these people are my fans and I haven’t come over and done shows for them. We’re going to change that and we’re definitely going to come back. We’re going to take care of everyone who’s a fan and everyone is listening to the music and appreciating it. I love it so much and I want to come back every single day forever.
Something that many of the performers said over the course of the weekend is that they find UK audiences very polite and attentive. Is that what you found?
Totally. I don’t know how to explain it. They just listen and they laugh when you tell a joke (laughs). They clap when the songs are over and they don’t talk over you. It’s so amazing, so refreshing, so unbelievable and lovely. I don’t really want to say they’re polite because sometimes it means that they weren’t super into it. I didn’t have that experience at all. I had people dance, I had people come on stage and dance with me, I had the crowd singing along with me. I would teach them things and they would sing them back to me loudly. It was like we were there together in the moment and we were sharing this experience together; it’s just as cool for us on stage as it is for the people in the crowd. It’s a show for us too – we watch them and they watch us – and it’s always a good show for us when people are having a good time. It definitely didn’t disappoint.
Let’s talk about your self-titled EP, which is out now. The lead single is Next Boyfriend. What’s that song all about?
I wrote that song with a guy named Matt McVaney and my best friend Emily Weisband, who is a songwriter in Nashville as well. I had lots of things change in my personal life over the past few years whilst getting ready for this album and during this whole writing process. As a songwriter this is therapy. My parents went through a divorce – my dad’s an alcoholic and he went through rehab – and it was all these super serious and almost tragic things that happened in my personal life so I wrote a bunch of sad songs, really Country songs.
My personality is out-going and I’m a super happy person who happened to go through this rough patch. It was an unfortunate time but thankfully everything worked out and once I got happy I was looking at all my material that I’d written and I said, ‘I need to write something that really shows my personality or these people are going to think I’m super depressed!’ (laughs).
That’s when I came up with songs like Next Boyfriend, My Kind of People and Crashing the Boys Club. They’re more uptempo happy songs that really showcase who I am. Next Boyfriend I think is a great representation of that. People were singing it here and it was pretty awesome.
One of my favourite songs on the EP is Road Less Travelled. It has such a powerful message about empowerment and being yourself. What does that song mean to you?
I have really struggled with extreme insecurities. My self image was not always the best. I’m a girl and we all kinda struggle but I had a hard time with it for some reason. When I was on American Idol I was 15 and that’s a really hard age to be in the public eye and for people to be starting to have an opinion and saying whatever they want about you. You’re just not prepared for it. When you’re 15 you think about what the cute guy in geometry thinks about you not what 30 million people think about you every night. I had a difficult time with it naturally. I think all artists have insecurities and we’re in the public eye that we focus on them.
That song was really therapeutic for me and it supports loving yourself and appreciating who you are as a person. That’s so important. I was kind of unhappy because I was so worried that people wouldn’t like me or the way I looked. I’m fairly tall and I’m not a super small person in general. I grew up athletic so I have an athletic build. I had to really come to love that about myself and realise that’s OK too and there’s room for all of us. Not everyone in the world is 90lbs, people who are probably aren’t happy at 90lbs! (laughs). That song from me is my message to people out there that maybe have the same problems I have. They really need to believe in their dreams and love that, and love who they are, because it’s exhausting to not appreciate who you are. We’re all really special in our own ways and coming to that realisation was a big healing point in my life. I have a few songs that really touch on that topic and I’m really passionate about it.
You’re a very positive role model for young girls, which is so important when we have celebrities such as Kim Kardashian tweeting out nude selfies…
I won’t do that (laughs). I probably won’t go for that approach!
Is being a role model something that puts a lot of pressure on you?
Absolutely. My goal is to be a good one. I don’t frown upon anybody and I try to be understanding and supportive of all people and how they want to live their life. I just want to be someone who parents are OK with their kid coming to my show and adults want to come because it’s fun, and not someone who makes all these crazy spur of the moment decisions for fame or whatever they think it’s going to get them at the time. Life is too short to live in that bubble of trying to get hold of attention. Our goal here is to do what we love. I love music. The fame is something that just comes with it.
I don’t want ever to sacrifice who I am and my morals to get one more person to see a picture of me. I’m not perfect and I make mistakes, we all do, so I’m not going to sit here and say I’m not ever going to make a mistake or that people are never going to be disappointed in something I do. That’s just not possible to accomplish. I have really young fans and I have one in particular, this 10 year-old girl that has been to all my shows Nashville, and I think sometimes ‘would I want to do this in front of her? Would I feel comfortable acting this way if she were standing here?’ It really puts things into perspective for me.
It’s a good way to be. There are a lot of famous people out there who don’t think about the repercussion of what they do…
I just think that it’s a really scary business because we’re all out here sharing who we are with the world. There are parts of yourself that are scary to share. When those things get shared, people start to panic and try to overcome that by doing something crazier. I just think fame is a crazy, strange and exciting thing. It’s difficult to explain. People get caught up in it and make bad decisions because they think it doesn’t matter. It does matter because you’re still a human being and you have to take care of yourself. I think sometimes people forget that and it’s unfortunate.
Another track I love on your EP is Painting Pillows. It’s a big traditional Country ballad with a fantastic vocal from you on it. What’s the story behind that one?
Well that one’s a little bit of a different song for me as far as how I wrote it. I had suffered so much heartache from my parents’ divorce. I put myself in the shoes of the person who had gone through the breakup because I’ve had the same boyfriend for almost 4 years and I’ve not gone through a breakup. I watched a pretty bad one though with my parents who had been together for 21 years when they got divorced.
I put myself in that position and I felt that heartache; it just wasn’t first person. I had told so many of my stories from my point of view that I wanted to tell it from the person who’s hurting in the middle of it. I was hurting too but it’s just a bit of a different storyline. That song was therapeutic because it helped me identify where my parents were coming from and it made me realise that they were hurting as well. There were nights I definitely cried myself to sleep and that song is just about the feeling of ‘I can’t take this any more and my life has been turned completely upside down, how am I ever going to get out of this endless tunnel?’ When you’re there in that moment you feel alone, that no one understands you and you’re never going to get out.
I wrote Painting Pillows about that helpless lost feeling when you lose something that means so much to you. We all go through it and we can all relate to that feeling unfortunately. That song I really wrote to showcase my voice and I felt I had to capture the emotion of how I felt then. All of these songs are just me and my experiences, and that’s really important for me because I wrote all of them. On the first album I didn’t have time to do that because I came off American Idol and they wanted to rush everything. I wrote over 200 songs for this project.
When can we expect the album?
I think it’s finished. We’ve turned it in but we don’t have a release date. We’re seeing how things go with Next Boyfriend and we’ll put it out at the peak of that song. I’m sure it will be sometime this year but I feel like if I even say a timeframe that pins me. I’m constantly writing songs and I just keep writing. Hopefully we can get this album out so I can start another one.
It sounds like you might have the next one written already before this one comes out…
(laughs) I know! I will definitely have some content so hopefully we’ll have a quicker turnaround the next time. I also had to have vocal chord surgery in this break so it was pretty much a two- year period where I wasn’t able to do music and get my music out. I think it’s been about four years since my first album came out, which is a crazy time frame between albums. Most of them happen every two years but I had some things to straighten out. But it worked out because I got some really good content. For a Country music singer I had quite the year to write about (laughs).
You don’t really appreciate happiness until you’ve felt extreme sadness. It made me really appreciate good days a lot more because I had a lot of not really good days.
The silver lining though is now you have these great songs…
And hopefully I’m going to be able to help people. When my parents got divorced I was an adult but I suddenly felt six years old and everything I knew was ripped out from underneath me. I think regardless of the age you are, something like that is so hard. People forget how hard it is because it’s so common and people get divorced so much. It doesn’t make it any easier when it happens to you, just because other people have gotten divorced. I’m doing so well now and I’m so happy, and my parents are happy. My dad is sober and he went to rehab right after my mom asked for a divorce. He’s overcome his problem.
I want to tell my stories and say ‘hey, don’t let what’s going on in your life pin you down and make you feel helpless because you can make the best of every situation and learn so much.’ I’m so glad I went through those things, in a weird way, because I learned so much about myself and how I handle things, and what sort of things I can handle. Even though it’s sad I had to go through those things, I now have an understanding of divorce and tragedy that I never had before. I can feel other people’s pain and relate to their sadness or their joy. I feel like I’ve felt all the emotions you can feel in the last couple of years.
Do you have anything else in the works for 2016?
We’re kicking off the Alan Jackson tour from now until November. The dates are pretty spaced out so we’re doing more promotional stuff and festivals. We’re definitely going to keep busy and in that time frame we’re going to find some time and come see you guys and do some shows in the UK. We’ve had so much fun; it’s really been such a wonderful experience. In the meantime I’m going to keep working really hard.
Lauren Alaina’s self-titled EP and her new single Next Boyfriend are both available now. Watch the music video for Next Boyfriend below: