Originally from Rotherham, singer-songwriter Lauren Housley has been gaining acclaim from fans, critics and fellow musicians since the release of her debut album ‘Sweet Surrender’ in 2015.
Since then she’s performed all over the world and won over the likes of Bob Harris, Robert Helms and Paul Sexton with her mix of roots and pop influences. Now she’s back with her third LP, ‘Girl From The North’, the follow up to 2017’s ‘The Beauty Of This Life’.
I recently caught up with Lauren to talk about the album, how she’s found making and performing music during lockdown, her approach to her songwriting, autumn tour plans and more.
You’ve just released your new album – what can you tell us about it?
So it’s called Girl From The North, and it’s an album that the seed was planted for a long time ago, maybe even three years ago, and I’d written maybe one or two of the songs for the album. So ‘Stay Awake To Dream’ was one of the first songs that we’d written, and that song in particular is very much centred around me personally and me growing up in my home town of Rotherham.
When I was writing that particular song I just kept getting these flashes of different memories that were totally disconnected, but they just kept coming together and they just kept bringing this whole idea together about having dreams and wanting to see the world. You know, like having this really overpowering feeling of possibility. But then also some of the things that were happening kind of trying to drag you away from that thought process. So that became a bit of a centrepiece for this album.
And then the title, ‘Girl From The North’, just came at me from two different angles at the same time, and became a bit of a seed that just planted itself. I didn’t know what it was gonna be at that point. I didn’t know whether it was gonna be an album, whether it was gonna be a song or just something that I connected with as an artist and as a creative person – just this girl from the north with these big dreams. But yeah, it became the album and the songs kind of fed from those early ideas.
But when I moved back to my home town which happened really randomly – I was meant to be moving down to London at some point, just for the experience. I just kind of wanted to live down there as I’d never lived down there before. And it just came to me as a flash in the pan idea, ‘I’m just gonna move down to London for a little bit’. But then the day that I left Manchester to move back home just to find somewhere to live, I got offered a studio space in my home town and it was in the basement of this creative hub, and this opportunity presented itself really randomly. And I just decided to take it [laughs].
So me and my husband built this studio and just knew that we needed to record a new album. I’d been wanting to do it but it’s such a big task, recording a whole album, and I just didn’t know whether I had it in me at that point to do a full album. And just consistent, every single day, thinking about it, working on it, walking to the studio, picking up a coffee on the way and saying hi to the locals and telling them that I’m recording this album [laughs]. And then it ended up getting finished! So that’s what it’s about – it’s about me transporting myself back in time, into this space of being this young girl growing up in this area, and I guess moving back kind of cemented this whole idea for me. A lot of information there! [laughs]
You’ve mentioned moving back to Rotherham. Can you tell us more about how much being there impacted the album?
Yeah. I mean I never thought I’d move back. Even though I love the place and even though I’ve come back a lot to play and I come back to see friends and family and stuff, I just never thought I would move back because I’m a singer-songwriter, and you have to go wherever the work is, I guess. It’s nice to be around a lot of other people that are doing that. Manchester’s full of musicians and I just didn’t know if there was a place for me, really, in the town any more. And then this opportunity just presented itself.
I guess one lovely thing was that I just felt like the town really welcomed me with open arms. And at that point in time I was going through a lot of personal stuff. I felt a little bit lost actually. I just didn’t really know how to move forward with anything at that point, I just felt a bit stuck. And the fact that the whole town kind of welcomed me with open arms just felt like a really nice experience. I just felt like I owed it to myself and to the whole town and the people I was seeing day to day in and out of the shops and stuff, the people that were there all the time. I just felt liked I owed it to everybody to give it everything I’d got for this album. So I just had to push myself and work really hard and so did Tom, my husband.
And I guess having a studio space, with no time restraints, just allowed us to really get creative. There was no outside influence – when we were down there in the basement there was nobody telling us what to do and nobody saying, ‘we need the album finishing, we need this’. It was all down to us to just be proactive. And not having the time restraints I think allowed us to be more creative with production and songwriting techniques as well. We’d sometimes just press record and just start playing and see what came out, and some of the songs that are on the album, that’s how they came about – just stream of consciousness. And they turned into really nice songs. So it’s been a really nice experience.
How have you found the experience of making and performing music during lockdowns?
Do you know what? The time scheme of everything really weirds me out thinking about it. Because when we were down in the studio we were almost like in our own bubble then anyway, and we were just so focused on making the album that we didn’t really have a social life for a while [laughs]. And it was pretty much like we’d put ourselves in this little lockdown before even any of this happened. So then when the lockdown hit it just felt like a really weird thing that we’d kind of prepared for without even realising. We’d just finished recording the album two weeks before lockdown, and obviously I was pregnant as well – I was expecting a baby in July, and I found out I was pregnant with Noah the day we started recording the album as well, which again is weird.
We’ve actually had to move the studio now because of everything that’s happened with Covid and sadly I’m not sure what’s gonna happen with the building, but we’ve moved to a studio space in Sheffield so we’ve now got space there that we can use and we’ve been able to use throughout. But I definitely have focused more on being a mum. I’ve given myself more time as a maternity leave than I would have done if the album had been released earlier. So I’ve not really done that much writing since the album. There’s been a couple of things here and there but I’ve been very focused on Noah for six months and then now I’m very focused on the release and getting this album out.
I’ve been lucky enough to do some really great live streams. I’ve done some really interesting projects with British Underground, who put together something called Looking For A New England. I actually got to go down to Real World Studios and record four tracks in their studio. And my husband has set up a company called Northern Cowboy Films who do live streaming, so we’ve got really professional equipment and I’ve been able to get creative with that side of things. But yeah, in terms of songwriting I’ve not done that much since lockdown. I’ve got a lot of back catalogue that I need to work on still so I’ve been able to stay creative luckily.
Speaking of livestreams, have there been any particular standout moments from those for you?
I did the Tuesday Night Live series and they were just amazing at the time – being able to go online when everything first happened and everyone was just like, ‘I don’t know what to do with the time’. Everybody was just like, ‘whoah! I don’t know how to entertain myself and how to stay connected with people’ because no-one had had that much time on their hands before because everyone’s life was just kind of put on hold. So it was really nice to get online every week and know what day of the week it was [laughs] and just connect with people and get song suggestions and stuff and learn the songs. Obviously I was getting heavier and heavier pregnancy-wise, week by week so that became quite a funny thing as well – by the end of it I was like a balloon! [laughs] But that was a really nice time for doing livestreams, I really enjoyed doing those. And it also meant Tom was trialling and testing different livestreaming techniques for his now-business that’s doing really well. So yeah, I loved that.
But yeah, going down to Real World and being able to record something for Folk Alliance Showcase was a highlight. And the AMA UK conference – that was amazing. Just the whole website and everything. I thought it was the nearest thing to actually being there. I felt like the community was very much together at that point. That was a really nice experience.
You’ve touched on the writing process for this album – were there any songs that were either particularly easy or particularly challenging in terms of the writing?
Yeah, so a couple of songs had been written via stream of consciousness without any pre-context – just sitting down with a guitar, me and Tom. It’s therapy sometimes, just getting the guitar out and playing and losing yourself in the music. There was no word about ‘let’s write a song’ – I just got out my Gibson that sounds beautiful, it’s a beautiful guitar, and I just started strumming away and then Tom joined in. We just kind of played around one chord progression and then the whole song was there. It was a really beautiful moment. And it’s also so good when it happens like that because it just feels easy. Obviously it’s not easy sometimes but that felt easy. And that was ‘Sing To Me’. So that was written as a whole just stream of consciousness piece which was just ‘oh!’ Love doing that.
‘Bless His Soul’ was actually written… it just came to me in a dream. It was written about a friend of mine who’s sadly not here any more, and I had this vivid dream about him. He visited me and was giving me all these positive feelings, sending me some good vibes, and then I woke up and I had this song in my head and I just jumped out of bed about half past three and got my guitar when the song was still there. So that was nice.
But then yeah, actually some of the more soulful ones, ‘This Ain’t The Life’ and ‘What’s Troubling You Child’ – they’re kind of ideas that were there for a long, long time. And I knew what the essence of the song was and I knew what I wanted the core message to be but I struggled a little bit with the lyrics for those two. ‘This Ain’t The Life’, the whole thing was written apart from the chorus lyrics, so the chorus melody was there. I just wanted it to sing really easily and I was struggling to find the right lyrics to fit and be singalong and feel good singing along to. I got there in the end, I think. But yeah, that one was a bit of a battle [laughs].
I wanted to ask you about ‘This Ain’t The Life’ which is your latest single from the record. You’ve also just put out a video for the song – can you tell us more about both of those?
Yeah. So brand new single, just felt like a really good time to release a nice upbeat feelgood song. I guess it’s a song about feeling like things are a little bit mundane and you’re coming to a point where you just want to make a bit of a change in your life and you want to do something a little bit different. And you’re not quite sure how to do that but you know it needs to happen – just throwing everything up in the air and losing yourself a little bit for a night or a weekend and just enjoying yourself and having fun. But you’ve made a real realisation that what you’ve been doing in your everyday life is not how you see your future life going. It just felt like a really relevant song – obviously it was written way before lockdown but it just felt like a poignant song for people at the minute and people wanting to get out and enjoy themselves and have a good time and – not forget, but just enjoy themselves [laughs].
And the video was actually filmed on a bridge that I walk over every single day. I live in a place called Kelham Island – it’s a great place, it’s full of creative people and it’s a nice little community in the centre of Sheffield. The industrial heart of the city, I guess. And I walk over this bridge every single day and I see people, and I started seeing the same people on their daily walk that we’re allowed to do once a day and saying hello and stuff. There were constraints at that point in terms of what you could actually do and who you could bring together, and I just wanted to stay safe but also have a lot of fun and bring something light-hearted to this situation. You know, I’d been walking down this same bridge every single day looking at the ducks [laughs]. I just wanted to bring something fun for people to see and experience. And it was fun – people were getting their phones out, having fun listening to the song and stuff.
It’s been a little while since your last album and you’ve mentioned already that some of these songs started life a few years ago. How do you feel your approach to your music has evolved since the last record?
Well I didn’t play guitar on the previous albums, and I play guitar now. I guess I started learning guitar about The Beauty Of This Life time, which was 2017. So I use that more when I’m writing. Which has its pros and its cons – sometimes I’m still focused on guitar playing and that can take you out of the moment. But a lot of times it takes you into a moment because of the sound of the guitar. And that can take your mind somewhere else and allow you to free up ideas that might have been stuck otherwise. Because sometimes if you’re just sat there trying to think of an idea, it can be really intense and you’re putting a lot of pressure on yourself. So the music side can you take away to somewhere that’s more in the subconscious.
And I guess just listening to loads of music. I listen to all kinds of music but Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings – listening to their music so much. They write songs that feel so familiar and like you know them already, but then they take you somewhere totally new that you wouldn’t have expected to be taken but it still feels familiar. That’s a sign of such great songwriting. So I’m trying to take a little bit of that into some of my songwriting as well. I guess the familiar feeling and timeless element, but also it is something new. It’s a hard thing to do but I’m trying! [laughs]
You’ve got some tour dates planned for the autumn – what can we expect from those (assuming they’re allowed to go ahead!)?
Yeah, so obviously I’m gonna be going out and playing a lot of the new record. Who knows, by then maybe I’ll have another one! [laughs] But yeah, I’ll definitely be playing some of the new record. It’s probably not gonna be a full band but it’s gonna be a stripped back lineup, because I really want to focus on my voice and the songs. That’s what this album’s about really. The production’s great and all the musicians are amazing, but it’s me telling the stories so I just wanna focus on that. So yeah, I’m just excited. And I’ll bring all the energy that’s on the album as well, because there’s just so many different kind of energies flowing throughout that album. There is the more lighthearted, fun side and energetic, powerful – I wanna bring that but there’s also some very low-key, chilled… I call them adult lullabies. Like ‘Sing To Me’ is an adult lullaby, it can really chill you out. That can be a really beautiful song to play live. So I’m hoping to bring all those energies to the live gig.
What’s the one song you wish you’d written?
Oh, there’s so many songs I wish I’d written! [laughs] Honestly, I say this all the time, ‘I wish I’d written that song’. A Case Of You by Joni Mitchell – when you just feel it in the pit of the stomach and every word feels like you can relate to it, or you can just feel the emotion. She just captures something so poignant for a lot of people in that song. That’s all you wanna do I think, as a songwriter. You just wanna write something that people can feel, and I feel that song when I listen to that. Any others… I mean there’s just so many I can probably go on forever! [laughs] I always say I wish I’d written Jolene, because I love singing that song. It just kind of flows for me. (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman – that’s just one of my favourite songs of all time. Any Carole King song really!
Speaking of Carole King… you did the ‘Tapestry Rewoven’ event back in February, how was that?
That was amazing. When Paul asked me to do that – I’m good friends with Paul Sexton and he messaged me when he first got the idea to do it and said, ‘have you ever sang this song Natural Woman before?’ It was a really random question. And I was like, ‘do you know what, I don’t think I have, but it’s one of my favourite songs of all time. Why are you asking me that?’ And he said, ‘I’ve got this idea’ and explained it but he said, ‘I’ll only do it if you sing that song.’ And I was like, ‘I’ll sing that song, definitely!’ Even though it’s one of those songs I hold on such a high pedestal. I’ve probably never sang it before because of that reason – it’s just up there for me and sometimes it’s hard to sing those songs because you don’t know if you’re gonna do a worthy version.
But because he’d asked me to do it I was like, ‘I’ll definitely do that’. And then he said, ‘I know it’s really cheeky but can you open and close the show? I want you to do Earth Move as well’ and I was like ‘oh yeah!’ Because it’s such a fun song to open an album. I absolutely love that song. And then when I saw the line-up… there were so many people I knew on it, some of my favourite artists, and just so many great artists on the lineup. I was well chuffed to be involved [laughs].
What’s next on the horizon for you? Are the album and the tour the main focus at the moment?
Yeah, so I’ve got the livestream of the ‘Girl From The North’ album that’s live from Sheffield which is the Tuesday after the album release so it’s the 27th of April. So that’s gonna be really fun, that’s gonna be a stripped back lineup as well. So yeah, I’m focusing on that, focusing on the album release. I think because I’ve now got a bit more time before I start touring – obviously everybody has because things aren’t getting started as quickly so we’ve got a bit more time – I’ve got a really big catalogue of stuff that I wanna keep tweaking and keep working on. So now that the studio’s opened back up I’m probably gonna be in and out of there making some more music.
Are you thinking about the next record at all? Or is that still a way off in the distance?
Yeah, I’m thinking about it. It’s not gonna be another four years, definitely! It’s funny, one of the things we found when we were moving studio, since lockdown basically, was the big sheet of paper that said ‘Girl From The North album’ and all the list of songs, and there was a lot of songs on there. There might have been over 100 songs [laughs]. I have on my phone, I found it the other day and I was like, ‘oh no, I should be more organised how I save my ideas’ because I’ve got 1800 song ideas on my phone. So I need to spend a bit of time tweaking them and finishing a lot of those. So I’m gonna stay creative, I think! [laughs] There’s a couple of really, really good ones that weren’t fitting on this album – I was like, ‘these are the 10 songs that are going on this album’ and then the other ones are gonna get released at some point. But there’s some really nice stuff so it’s nice to have that there. And obviously I’m sure there’s gonna be a lot of writing about the pandemic and all the things that have happened in the past year, because I’ve not really had time to process it because I’ve just been concentrating on being a mum and getting this album out. But there’s a lot of ideas brewing [laughs].
Lauren Housley’s new album, ‘Girl From The North’, is out now on Lovebird Recordings.
Lauren will be performing a livestream of the ‘Girl From The North’ album live from Sheffield on Tuesday 27th April at 8 PM BST / 3 PM EST. Tickets are available here.