Ever evolving indie singer-songwriter Lauren Dair sits down with us at family-owned Honu Coffee to share her amazing experiences in working with members of Linkin Park, playing Young Jess on New Girl, and using songwriting as an outlet to project her true self to her audience.
So you recently released your single, “Every Little Light,” in which you had gotten the chance to co-write with Mike Shinoda and Brad Delson of Linkin Park. Would you like to share with us how this opportunity came about?
Lauren Dair: Absolutely! So basically last year, I want to say in March, I saw this ad on Facebook for this competition called the Stagelight Monthly Music Contest. It was like, “Oh just upload your song, and we’ll choose a winner out of that,” and so I did. Then it said, “Share this on Facebook with friends and family and have them vote,” and I was like “I’m not going to do that. I do so many of these things already, I didn’t want people to get overwhelmed by it.” So I just kind of uploaded it and forgot about it. About a month later, I was leaving the gym when I got this email that said, “Congratulations, you won, either first, second, or third prize in this contest. We’ll contact you in a couple of hours, then let you know where you placed.” I was little confused because I didn’t know what they were talking about. I looked back, I was like, “Oh right! I submitted to this contest!” So a couple of hours go by, and I’m thinking, “Ok, I got third, I didn’t win, because I don’t win these things.” I ended up getting first place! It was a monthly music contest, so they had twelve winners, one for each month. I ended being the month twelve winner, the last winner for this contest. I was on my way to Las Vegas for a concert when I got call from a guy at Open Labs named Travis. He was like, “Congratulations on winning! Here, we’re gonna send you this paperwork! Please sign it! And we’re going to send you a bunch of recording gear because your music is in the running to be a part of the grand prize!” In which it turned out that I would be in the studio with Linkin Park! So I went to this concert, ended up getting super sick, had the flu with a 104 fever, felt horrible, and then Linkin Park put this video out that basically said, “Congratulations for winning month twelve!” I think that video got up to 800,000 something views. I felt like I was going to die, but I was also super excited! Fast forward a few more months to when they were deciding who the grand prize winner would be from the monthly winners. I didn’t hear anything until one day I ended up getting a call saying “Hey, can you hop on Skype? We just have a couple of questions for you.” I got on Skype and they’re like, “The guys liked your music, thought it was great, we wanted to know how to make it better.” I was like, “Great, I didn’t win. They’re just trying to let me know nicely, that I didn’t win.” But they turned around and said, “Congratulations, you won!” I was getting to work in the studio with them to work on one of my songs!
How awesome to have them hand pick the song!
Lauren: I know! When I was talking to Travis he was like, “Yeah, they knew right away that was the one that they were going to go with,” which is such a huge honor!
It really is! How was your experience working with members of one of the biggest rock bands in the world?
Lauren: People always ask that, and I’m just like, “It’s kind of surreal.” I grew up listening to Linkin Park, I was a huge fan when I was a kid, and I never thought I’d win a contest where I would get the chance to work with them. But they were really down to earth, really nice guys. They know what they’re doing because they’ve been doing it forever. For them to work with an independent artist, whether it was me or whoever else won it, is such an amazing thing for them to do. Not many celebrities would go out their way to help somebody that’s just getting started.
How did the inspiration for “Every Little Light” come by? In terms of the lyrics and the instrumentation that you chose?
Lauren: “Every Little Light” is something that is very personal to me. It’s something that I’ve wanted to write about for a long time now, but never really had the words to really put it together. I started writing it I believe the day after Chester [Bennington] died, and it was not meant to be influenced by that at all. That wasn’t the goal, but I later realized that I very much was influenced by that. Inspiration-wise, I was looking at how I handle myself and my own daily life. I’m a very happy, positive, upbeat, optimistic person. But I’ve also had those periods of being very down and going through a rough time. Feeling like I have to put a smile on because I am that over-the-top, super loud, obnoxious, happy person didn’t allow myself the opportunity to be sad. To just, not be ok. Writing it was more about my experience feeling like I had to put this front up. So what happens when I’m not happy? Everybody goes through that. I think that’s what’s relatable about this song. Is that everybody has felt that at one point or another. I think I was writing something that could comfort people for a lack of better words. To give them that feeling that they’re not alone, and that everyone goes through this. That kind of went hand in hand with I was going through at the time.
Would you say that having to put a smile on your face and be this happy person is a big part of the musician’s job?
Lauren: I think so, because I think a lot of people look to you for inspiration as an artist. People have called me a role model, and that’s great, I would love to be a role model, but I’m just a person. You know? I have my fatal flaws just like everyone else. That’s something you have to learn to deal with as you’re coming up on your ranks. The bigger you get, the more people are going to have their eyes on you. I don’t want to say they expect things of you, but, they do. You kind of lose that human touch a little bit. You’re a person, but you forget that people are viewing you in different light. You’re supposed to be a superhero, for lack of better words, but we’re not indestructible. We still have bad days. I still step on gum on the sidewalk, or spill coffee all over me. We still have normal lives like anyone else.
Going back to “Every Little Light,” you kind of touched based on the fact that you starting writing it after Chester died, and that you didn’t intend it to be a Linkin Park style song. It sounded like it would’ve fit really well with their last album, but still very similar to your style at the same time. Would you say that you’re trying to give your listener a slightly altered, Linkin Park version of yourself?
Lauren: Kind of yes and no. I think that having Mike [Shinoda] and Brad [Delson] involved changed the song a lot as well. I wrote the song, brought it in, and then they helped put their magic on it. People are always like, “Oh this sounds like a Linkin Park song!” I’m like, “Well, you got two members of Linkin Park to help write it.” *laughs* Joking aside, I always try to evolve with everything that I do. I went from being in a hard rock band, to doing something a little more electronic pop, and then branching out to that EP that I did a couple of years ago. I did a very pop, dance-y, single before this. Everything’s trying to be one step more. I was like, “Well, we can make it sound like Linkin Park, but I still very much want it to emulate and represent me as an artist.” I think the ideal was to do something that fits in the vein of everything else I’ve been doing, but with them having their own touch on it.
The golden touch.
Lauren: The golden touch, yeah! The contributions that they made to the song are incredible! Things I wouldn’t even have thought about! From first listen they said “Hey, what if you did this?” And I was like, “Why didn’t I do that in the first place?” But that’s just collaborating with people who have been in the business for a very long time, who have done almost everything and toured almost every major country. It was never a “Let’s make a Linkin Park song,” but I think that by working with them and having something that was influenced by the events surrounding them kind of had it pop out that way.
Speaking of collaborations, if you had to choose three other artists that you would like to collaborate with would you do it on a performance basis or a songwriting basis?
Lauren: Such a hard question, because my music tastes differs so much. If it came down to performance versus songwriting, they’re so different. Performing I always think is external because you’re putting on a show. You’re going to entertain people, which is a lot of fun, but for me it’s always been about songwriting. It’s always been my way of expressing myself. My way of telling a story or pretty much saying all the things I can’t find the words to say in daily life. Songwriting-wise, if I had to pick people to work with I absolutely love to work with Sia. I think Sia is phenomenal as a songwriter, as an artist, in everything that she does. Oh, this is hard! Because I literally listen to everything from folk, to hard rock, to weird electronic, to classic rock. I think Dave Grohl is a beautiful human. I’ll perform with him, I’ll write with him, I will serve him coffee. I will do anything to be around him. *laughs*
So Dave Grohl, if you’re reading this. *laughs*
Lauren: Dave Grohl if you’re reading…call me up…*laughs* I told my dad “Hey, if I had the opportunity to have Dave Grohl as a dad, I’m sorry, but…” And he just laughed and said “I don’t blame you.” *laughs*
At least he accepts it. *laughs*
Lauren: Yeah he’s cool with it! *both laugh* Anyways, I also think that Ed Sheeran is an incredible writer. I’ve always been a fan of Paramore and Hayley Williams. I’ve loved what they’ve done throughout the years. Also Tyler Joseph of Twenty One Pilots. I don’t even know! I’m trying to think of all of these artists and they’re all so different! One day I’ll listen to Mumford & Sons and The Lumineers, the next day I’m listening to My Chemical Romance and Panic! at the Disco, and then I’m listening to Cage the Elephant and Tegan and Sara. I’m so all over the board, it’s hard to pick. I’m just gonna have to write everything. *laughs* But that’s the fun part! Testing yourself, and trying new genres, kind of going outside of your comfort zone. I’ve written country songs, I am not a country artist, but it’s fun to kind of experiment and play around a little bit.
If you had to choose between being a performer for the rest of your life, or a songwriter, what would you choose?
Lauren: If I had to choose, I would probably pick songwriter, just because, as I said, that’s how I express myself. I talk a lot. I’m very loud. I’m very verbal. But I’m also very internal, so at the end of the day when I go home, I kind of use that time to sit by myself and write, to condense everything.
Condense the world into words?
Lauren: Condense the world! Yes! Exactly! Condense the world into words! That’s a perfect way to state it. I’m always on the go, so when I stop and actually sit, it’s my moment to get myself together. It’s my time to get all those sporadic offshoot thoughts and bring them together to create something cohesive. I read a lot of poetry. I have, like, nine different journals. I have a journal that’s just quotes of other people that I like. I think that’s where I’ve always found comfort. Performing is great, I would love to do world tours. But if it came down to it, I would go with songwriting all the way.
Do you think the, “Oh, I have to be running around doing this and that all the time” kind of thing has an effect on the songwriting quality that’s been going around? Or does it seem like it’s almost lacking, especially in pop music?
Lauren: I feel like there’s so many people who literally just sit in the basement, or in their studio or whatever, and their job is to create tracks and send them out. They send them to writers, and then writers write over it before they send it to artists. You’re supposed to be a machine. It’s a stop and go, stop and go world, in which I don’t work that way. Rather than writing to a track, most of the time I write the music and lyrics hand in hand. Or I’ll start to write lyrics, and then write music around it, which opens me up to other musical scenarios. Can I crank songs out as fast as these super hit making machines? No. But, I feel like everything is just becoming monotonous, everything kind of sounds the same because you have the same four people doing everything. So, to be able to create something that’s unique and very personal is a lot of fun! I think that’s what we’re missing. I want to get back to having that real heart that we used to see in a lot of pop music, because it’s just not there anymore right now.
It seems like it’s more of a quantity over quality thing.
Lauren: Exactly. I mean, I can write a song a day if I wanted to, but not all those songs are going to be fantastic. Where as if you really sit and work on something to create something special, you’re going to get farther with it in the long run. I’m just waiting for that next artist to pop up, that’s like, “Oh wow! There’s so much heart in this!” When Adele popped up out of nowhere, I was like, “Wow, this is incredible!” Then we kind of went back to monotonous pop for a couple of years. Then Sam Smith came up, and then back to monotonous pop. So I’m waiting for that next artist that’s just gonna shake up the game, you know what I mean?
They’re in the woodwinds somewhere!
Lauren: Hopefully! I’m optimistic.
You gotta be optimistic in this day in age.
On a different note, you just graduated from music school!
Lauren: I did!
And now you’re heading into your masters program.
Lauren: I am! I am!
Would you say that attending music school has kind of helped shaped you into the artist and songwriter that you are today?
Lauren: I think in some ways, yes. Music school is very draining. A lot of people think, “Oh you’re going to music school, that’s easy.” or “You’re going to art school, that’s easy.” It is just as hard as anything else. You are constantly, emotionally, and physically drained. I was lucky enough to do it online, so a lot of it worked around my schedule, my work schedule, and what I was doing. But I know people who are on campus back at Berklee [College of Music] who wake up at 6 AM and have rehearsal immediately. I feel like you learn all these rules and expectations, like, you have to write a song a certain way. Then you throw the rules out the window, and never look at them again. *laughs* I feel like it has helped in certain areas, but at the same time, you just gotta go with your gut. You can’t follow a strict pattern or a rule set, because we fall into that monotonous pattern. That’s why every song that’s pop has the same chord progression. We can literally just play them back to back. You pick up rules, and then you lose them. You have to have the heart. If you don’t have the heart, then it’s not going to be there in the music itself. But it’s been fun, I loved going to Berklee, I just got accepted to USC for their masters program, so I’m gonna be in school for another year. *laughs*
If you only had one year to do music school, which five classes would you say are the most beneficial to include in your schedule?
Lauren: I think everyone should take a publishing class, which is basically is how to get your music to sell to other artists, and how to get into TV and film. Take an instrument class. It doesn’t really matter what you take, you can take piano or guitar, or something that you’re interested in, because it’s fun and you’ll learn how to pick up a skill. Take a Music Business class. It doesn’t hurt. I had to take a couple because my major is Music Business. Honestly, it helps. I took Music Business 101, and then I had to take a couple of legal classes. I can now read a contract and know exactly what it says without feeling lost. So take a legal class or take a business class if you can. It also depends on what you want to do. If you want to be a musician, take as many instrument classes, and arranging classes, and take a harmony class. If you want to do business, which is what I’m doing, find what you really passionate about. If you’re wanting to work hand-in-hand with artists, go take an Artist Management class. If you’re wanting to become more behind-the-scenes, you have licensing or publishing or music supervision, which is my favorite class that I’ve ever taken! Find what you’re interested in first, and then find all the classes that go around that. Again, if you’re a musician, take a production class. You might feel like, “Oh I know what I’m doing,” but you can learn so much more through a learning environment. Plus you’re going to be collaborating with your peers and your professors who are all there to help you. So really just find what your niche is and find what you’re interested in, then find the classes that surround that.
Yeah, you gotta learn in order to get out into the world and learn some more!
Lauren: Right? I just did four years, and I’m going back and do another year and a half because I didn’t get enough! *laughs*
It’s ever-changing in a creative industry. There’s always something new. You blink an eye, and you’re like, “Wait, I just thought this was the way this was, and now it’s completely different!” *laughs*
Lauren: Right? Honestly that’s part of the reason why I’m coming back to school. I just graduated from Berklee and now I’m gonna go get my masters. Why am I gonna go get my masters? I don’t know? But part of it is the relationships and the connections you make. You can do everything on your own, but if you don’t have people that help you, you’re only going to go so far. With going back to school, it might seem redundant. People are always like, “You don’t need a degree to be a musician,” which you don’t but…
It helps. It’s a knowledge aspect…
Lauren: It’s a knowledge aspect and it’s a personal achievement as well. For me, I’m going to get my masters even though I don’t need it, so I can go meet the people that could help me along the way while helping other people as well. We’re all in this together! We’re all trying to make it in this crazy world, so why not try to help each other out?
Exactly. It’s kind of what the local music industry kind of lacks sometimes because everyone is so competitive.
Lauren: That’s why I say, 0% of nothing is nothing, or even 100% of nothing is nothing. So many people are greedy over how much percentage they have. But if you’re not making any money, or if you’re not doing anything, then what are you losing? 50% of a million dollars is $500,000 dollars. But if you can’t get there in the first place, you’re not achieving anything.
Would you say that you’d want to do as many types of different collaborations as possible?
Lauren: Absolutely! I’ve done a lot of different things. Some things work and some things don’t, but you never know until you try it. I’ve had situations where I’m like, “Ugh, I really don’t want to do this, why did I get myself into this?” But then you end up meeting somebody who brings another opportunity along. Or you do something that you think is great, and it ends up crumbling down in flames like a big dumpster fire. You can’t ever expect it, but as long as you going out trying, working, doing, and creating, you’re gonna get somewhere. If you have 9,000 doors open, but there’s gonna be one that will stay open.
Might be tomorrow, or in five or ten years. You never know!
Lauren: Exactly! There’s no road plan, which is frustrating. When you’re doing music, there’s no right or wrong way to do it. It’s wherever the wind blows you, and it can be really frustrating, but it also makes it a lot of fun! Because you have to find your own place in the world. There’s no blueprint. There’s no right way to do it. You just have to do it, cross your fingers, and hope that something happens along the way.
Agreed. The blessing and the curse of being in a creative field. *laughs* So you’ve also dabbled in another creative field – acting. And you got a play a younger Jess, from New Girl!
Lauren: Yes! *laughs*
How did it feel to play Zooey Deschanel‘s iconic character?
Lauren: Oh it was great! It was so much fun! I filmed the pilot when I was twelve years old, and I remember going to the audition thinking I did horribly. I got a call about a week later and they said, “You booked the Untitled Zooey Deschanel Project!” It wasn’t even called New Girl at the time and the show hadn’t been picked up yet. So I went in and filmed the pilot, met Zooey, she’s a doll, sat around, and waited. I was like, “Ok, is this show gonna get picked up? And if it does, that doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m coming back.” It did get picked up, they just finished the series finale with seven seasons, and I was fortunate enough to be a part of three of those. I never thought that I would end up playing such an iconic character. It turned into such a huge show, and I’m thankful to be a part of it.
I mean, the term ‘adorkable’ came about because of the show. *laughs*
Lauren: Oh no, definitely! My Tumblr name was “The Adorkable Daredevil” for awhile because that was what everyone would refer to me as. They coined that term, and created such memorable characters, characters like Schmidt. You could just reference that name, and they know exactly who you’re talking about. The show’s fantastic. Everyone of the cast and crew is fantastic. They’re so talented and funny. I got to be a small piece of history which is pretty cool.
Lauren: Yeah! And people will be like “I know I’ve seen you somewhere,” but I don’t go around being, “Oh yeah, it’s because I was on this show.” That’s just not me. But then they’ll start watching New Girl, and they’ll text me and be like “Oh my god I didn’t know that was you!” I had a friend, we were in a class together, who came to one of my shows, and when I got off stage he came up to me and goes, “I know where I know you from. I knew I knew you from somewhere.” I was like, “What do you mean?” he’s like, “You’re on New Girl, which is my favorite show of all time! You laughed in the middle of your set, and I recognized your laugh from the show, because it’s so loud and obnoxious! I immediately saw you as Jess.” I was like, “I can’t tell if that was a compliment or not? But thank you?” *laughs*
Definitely memorable! Would you say that acting has similarities to being a musician?
Lauren: I would say that it’s a different process. I feel with music you can be more up-front creative because you’re writing, you’re creating and you’re playing. With acting, there is a little bit more direction that goes into it because you have to listen to a director, the writers, and the material you’re given. But if you take it as an opportunity to make it your own, you can still have those fun creative choices with it that ends up making it very personal. I also think it’s helped my writing. I write so much based off of TV and film, situations or story lines that you can talk about in song. I think it’s a really powerful tool to group those two together.
Would you say that acting has kind of fueled your career path going towards music supervision?
Lauren: Yeah! I definitely think so. Music has always been a constant ever since I was a kid. I always wanted to be a part of music. When I was acting, it was great, I loved being on set, I loved watching movies, I loved the whole realm of acting. When I had time off, I would write music because it was always there. So looking at film, the creative choices that are made, and the music that is made in film kind of sparked this passion for it. Like being able to take a super dramatic scene and put a rock song behind it to make it less dramatic. It’s all about the right kind of pairing, kind of like what we were saying, in order to make it fit perfectly, like wine and cheese. *laughs* I’m a big music and movie nerd, I could talk about it for hours. *laughs* I definitely feel that being an actress helped fuel that fire a little bit.
And would you want to compose or write anything for film and television?
Lauren: Absolutely. If I could pick what I would want to do with my music, I would love to place music in TV and film. I’ve written for a couple of shorts here and there. Had a couple of sync licenses, where they were like, “Oh we might use this song in a TV show, we’ll let you know.” But to be able to write for something would be amazing. You look at Simon & Garfunkel writing all the music for The Graduate. Or something from Sufjan Stevens for Call Me By Your Name. I would love to do something like that, because you could really put your own personality into a film. Or even if it’s a TV show with one song. I think that would be really cool. That’s kind of where my music supervision love also comes from. From a songwriting standpoint.
Cool! And if you could choose the genre of film or television to write for, and you got the chance to do all the music for it, what kind of genre would you want to do?
Lauren: I love indie movies, specifically indie coming-of-age movies. Lady Bird, I thought was fantastic! My favorite movie of all time is Almost Famous. I love any Cameron Crowe movie. People are like, “Ah, there’s not really a plot.” There’s a plot! It’s living! It’s what you do in life!
And they show personal growth.
Lauren: Exactly! It doesn’t have to have a big action sequence. It doesn’t have to have a love triangle. It can be about life, because that’s what we’re doing. I would definitely say independent, not artsy films, are something that I would want to work with. Something that’s more subtle.
So no Twilight-s, and no Superheroes. *laughs*
Lauren: I will put this on record, I think that the Twilight soundtracks are fantastic. I love them! I will admit that 100%. I will guilt binge watch the Twilight movies if I’m really having a bad day, because, come on, there’s an appeal to them. *laughs* It’s why they got so big. No one said that they were good, but they’re great to binge watch. *laughs*
It’s ok, one day they’ll be rebooted and maybe they’ll be slightly better.
Lauren: Right! I mean, I was a kid when the books came out, so I read all the books. But if I ever need a good Ben & Jerry’s ice cream eating sesh and just feel sorry for myself day, Twilight. Side note, I thought the music was incredible. I liked every single movie. I have all the soundtracks. I listen to all the soundtracks. I think they did a great job, because they were kind of going for that ‘coming-of-age’ feel to the music. But with, you know, a lot of vampires and werewolves, and weird, army fight things. *laughs* I would definitely do something more subtle than that.
What kind of audience do you think your music appeals to the most? What do you hope that they take away from your music?
Lauren: Audiences are weird, because I feel it always belongs in one category. But then my Spotify numbers and Facebook numbers say something else. I always feel like they’re people in their young 20s, mid-20s, mostly females are are into my music, because most of the songs are dark, relationship, heart-breaky type songs. *laughs* But I also have a lot of people in their 30s who love my music, and I love all of you guys! Thank you! I feel like I can connect with people on a bunch of different wavelengths, regardless of age, regardless of gender, regardless of where you are in the world. I’ve always wanted to write songs that were very open and vulnerable, that people can relate to in a sense that they can apply their life to it. What I hope that they take away from it is that we’re all human. My last EP was called Perfectly Flawed, which is my mantra for life and will get tattooed at some point when I stop being a chicken. *laughs* We all have our flaws, we all have our rough patches, we all have our family dramas, we all have stuff that makes us less perfect. But you have to embrace it, accept it, and let it be part of you. I’ll be like, “Yup! I am loud. I am obnoxious. My friends have to tell me to stop talking frequently, but I’ve accepted that, and I know that’s a part of me.” Some people look at it as endearing, and some people not so much, but I’m very confident in who I am and I want people to feel confident in themselves. I want them to know that bad things happen, but it doesn’t mean that it’s a bad life. I want them to find their own personal inspiration and to go do great things in the world, whatever that means for them.
That’s the nice thing about music is that it’s a universal language.
Lauren: Exactly! Music and math! And I don’t like math, so I’m stuck with music. *laughs*
Me too. We’re on the same page here! Anti-math! *laughs*
Lauren: Anti-math! So props to anyone who can do chemistry, or math, or any type of science, because that’s not my strength.
*laughs* Alright, kind of to end off here, what big plans should we be looking forward from you in the near future?
Lauren: I’m working on new music and hopefully will have something out by Fall 2018. I’m trying to pick what’s going to be the best option for a new single. And, I would love to do another EP. Perfectly Flawed came out in 2016, so it’s been two years now. I’m just ready to put together a collection of songs that can tell a story all the way through. It’s hard because I’m going through this whole school thing, but I want to get things done before I get swamped with that. But there will be new stuff out, I know for sure, by late 2018, and mid-2019. But that’s all I can say right now, because I’m still figuring it out myself! *laughs*
About Honu Coffee:
Tucked away in a cozy, Colonial-esque strip mall area of Santa Clarita adjacent lies the family-owned Honu Coffee. Once you step through the door, you’re immediately welcomed by not only by a kind staff and the aroma of fresh brewed coffee, but the home-y rustic decor highlighted by tastefully placed windows. Ample seating inside, outside and in their upstairs loft area paired with relaxing indie music make this the perfect place for meetings, studying, and coffee dates.
Honu Coffee’s menu features your classic coffee and tea staples with an island twist. Specialty drinks were appropriately themed from the ingredients (coconut, pineapple, and macadamia nut focused) to their names (i.e. Ono Chai, The Surfin’ Honu, and The Nutty Hawaiian). Due to my coconut intolerance, I played it safe and got myself a Cortado as a refreshing little pick-me-up. It was smooth, creamy, and didn’t taste burnt – exactly the way I like it!