With the release of her highly anticipated debut solo LP The Golden Record, Montreal’s Little Scream (a.k.a Laurel Sprengelmeyer) is ready to, as she puts it, “do her job.” And this involves a jet set city blitz as she embarks on her North American Tour this month.
Little Scream’s soft phoenix-like rise began not long ago, when she started playing regular solo shows in Montreal, opening for various bands such as Bell Orchestre who took her on mini-tours in early 2009. She wrote songs intermittently, culling material for what would eventually become The Golden Record: “I had never envisioned being a solo artist, but that’s just kind of how it worked out in the beginning. So I would often find myself singing to fill in the parts where I had imagined other instruments would come in. A lot of the vocal parts in my songs stem from that experience of performing where I was trying to approximate other instruments with my voice. So that performance experience definitely fit into the shaping of the songs.”
Early buzz came out of BBC radio in late 2010 as The Golden Album’s finishing touches were being minted, while earlier this year, the poetic siren landed at The Horseshoe Tavern in Toronto to officially launch her album, returning a month later for a show at The Opera House for Canadian Music Week. At both shows the crowd was more than a little excited, anticipating what Montreal had already long known: this was going to be something memorable, and the glint of a new jewel in the expanding crown that is Canadian music.
By the middle of her set at The Horseshoe, the once wall-flowered, reserved, and somewhat chamomiled crowd began to encroach the stage and scream sweet nothings at the smiling singer, blowing her kisses in gushing awe, completely out of character for a weekday night in Toronto.
Little Scream, who just recently got her Canadian citizenship, arrived from Iowa and Mississippi a decade ago and now calls Montreal her home.
“Where I come from, birds sing, and there is always music,” Sprengelmeyer muses, revealing that it was her grandmother who taught her how to play piano at an early age. “I pretended I could read notes, but actually just played by ear until the pieces got too complicated for me to bluff it anymore. I learned guitar from friends of my parents mostly. A guy named ‘Country’ Jim Nakashima, for example, taught me to finger pick in the style of Elizabeth Cotton.”
At first listen, Sprengelmeyer’s sound appears simple, traditional, yet the nuances flare out in just the right pockets to let you know you’re inside a unique emotional state. During our chat, I pointed out to her that her name “Little Scream” has the same initials as her real name. Never asleep in the department of wit, Little Scream serves me the following notice, “Did you know that Britney Spears is an anagram for Presbyterian? Hot damn! I didn’t know that when I named myself. Had I known that then, I would be going by the name of Nolita Reves now, which is an anagram for Revelations. As it stands, the only clever thing about my stage name is that it has the same initials as my given name.”
A minor but effective part of Little Scream’s charm is her understated but odd state of dress. At The Horseshoe she appeared to be wearing a billowing alchemy of Angela Bower (mother from 1980s television show “Who’s The Boss?”) and “Jem and The Holograms.”
“Yes, I was channeling both Angela Bower and Synergy, the computer from ‘Jem and the Holograms’ in that show. If I had been really on it, I would have also had bottle caps on the soles of my shoes, ‘Who’s the Boss?’ style, and done a little tap dance number. I am quite a visual person, so when I’m inspired to I like to be conscious of what I’m wearing, and think about different personae. It is all part of the fun of it for me. I’m really into wearing dresses by Enfant Sauvage right now. Amazing West African prints with really unexpected bling in them, tailored in interesting classic ways…yes, that’s a plug. Her stuff’s my favorite! I’m going for a vaguely futuristic French cinema from the ’60s-style look.”
The Golden Record, out now on the Secretly Canadian label, features work that is a decade old and as young as six months: “At least two songs were ones conceived in their original format by my little sister and [myself] for our first band, Big Unit. So the writing is all over the place. I kind of like to think of this album as a greatest hits record of my first three albums of unreleased material.”
As for recording, Sprengelmeyer confesses that the process took up a lot of space.
“It was a very long, stretched out, creative process. I had a lot to learn about the vocabulary of recording to try to describe what I envisioned for specific songs. I would often have Richard [Reed Parry, who co-produced the album with Sprengelmeyer] listen to a song and say, ‘I want it to sound like this.’ He would then often say something like, ‘I understand that you want it to feel like this, but I don’t think you actually want it to sound like this.’ Those are two different things and sometimes it is hard to separate the two.”
Sprengelmeyer says she found recording to be a bit intimidating at first, but gradually got the hang of it: “I learned a lot about how to articulate myself in it by the end. It makes me really look forward to starting work on my next album, which I hope to start working on this year.”
Nathaniel G. Moore is the author of the novel Wrong Bar. He is at work on a book of essays called When The Laughter Stopped (Part Two and a Half). Visit him online at www.nathanielgmoore.net