A lanky, queer, flat-picking, operatically trained Soprano gone rogue; Lana McMullen is bringing something to West Coast venues that even the talent-saturated Seattle music scene isn’t sure what to do with. A narrative of transience and finding courage in dark spaces, Lana McMullen’s debut album, Traveling Light, showcases Lana’s revelatory songwriting and richly harmonic, honey-smooth vocal acuity. The album came to life over the past year with Seattle producer and multi-instrumentalist Kevin Veatch (Ryan Lewis, Sarah Gerritsen, Courtney Marie Andrews). It is scheduled to drop on May 3rd and will be available on Lana’s website, iTunes, Spotify, and all other major retailers.
Entertwine: Could you tell us about a few of the most exciting or interesting performances you’ve been a part of? You perform either acoustically or with a band depending on the situation, right?
Right! Both are really cool in different ways. Playing the Benaroya Hall Mainstage for the Girls Can Do benefit earlier this year was absolutely unreal. The space seats 2,500 people, is known for its stellar acoustics, and hosts internationally known musicians – so being ask to play there with my band made me feel a bit starstruck. The other amazing show I’ve had recently, and which is probably my favorite show of all time, was at the Tractor Tavern. It was a full band show with Hanna Stevens on keys, Micaela Cooley on cello and Matt price on drums, and everything just gelled perfectly. I’ve been really lucky to find such skilled musicians who are as quirky and as invested in the music as I am.
What experiences and events influenced the writing and recording of your debut album “Traveling Light”? Could you tell us about the album and each of the featured compositions?
The album is really a narrative about change, movement and finding courage in dark spaces. Each song is inspired by all of the amazing people who surround me, touch my life, or tell me their stories and then graciously let me tell those stories to others. I always warn people at my shows: be careful what you tell a songwriter; you never know what might be broadcasted on a stage or album for thousands of people to hear. And of course a good deal of the album comes from my own experiences. Almost all of the songs come from me trying to figure something out or process something. Hence why the album comes across as so introspective.
“Making Plans” was born in the months immediately following my move to Seattle. I was working a full-time, 45-hr/week desk job – a thing that does not come easily for many of us artsy folks. I was also falling in love with my first long-term partner. So you hear a lot of that listlessness and restlessness in the verses coupled with the chorus’ recognition of the love and richness and hopefulness in my life.
“Elizabeth” on the other hand is a reinterpretation of a story a friend told me several years ago. She and her mother had been forced to transplant to Washington to escape an abusive situation, but were ultimately able to rebuild their lives much for the better. I went right home and wrote that song in probably 45 minutes after she told me the story.
“Mission” is a commentary on a good friend of mine who converted to Jehovahs Witness after we graduated from college. I always make it clear that this is not an anti-faith song. It’s instead a meditation on the decisions we make in times of instability, and how those decisions affect our lives and those around us.
“River” I actually wrote in the bathroom of the Jewelbox Theater – the venue where I’ll be having my album release show on May 3rd. the song addresses the idea that things are never quite as definitive as we hope, and our emotions are going to do what they damn well please whether or not it’s convenient for us. This song specifically addresses what one has to do when feelings arise for a third party outside of a pre-determined monogamous relationship.
“Madeline” is a bit of a coming out anthem. I’ve always been really active in the queer community in my daily life, but I’ve never overtly addressed queer issues in my music. Writing and sharing “Madeline”, which is about the first woman I ever fell for when I was 15 and another connection I’ve experienced since that time, was pretty scary and simultaneously very liberating.
Last we have “Reckoning”. This song is about observing family dynamics as a kid from the outside and realizing that those who are older and wiser don’t always have the ability to do what’s best for themselves, despite how selfless they may be for others.
What was it like working with producer and multi-instrumentalist Kevin Veatch at Seahurst Cabin in Seattle, Washington? “Traveling Light” features the contributions of a number of other musicians as well, correct?
I talked with probably 6 different producers before a couple of my musician friends, Kate Lynn Logan and Sarah Gerritsen, suggested I chat with Kevin. I listened to Sarah’s EP, Origin, which Kevin had produced earlier that year, and was instantly struck by the quality, space and the clarity of the sound. The guy is just so damn talented. I would tell him basically where I wanted a specific song to go, share a few artists with him who inspired me, and away we went. We did a lot of the work together in the studio, but sometimes he would send me a track and it would be completely transformed. He also allowed me to be as obsessively nick-picky as I needed to be, he played a million instruments on the album, and he made it clear that my 150% satisfaction with how the album turned out was his first priority. It was always clear to me that he cared about the quality of the project as much as I did.
The album features a bunch of other extremely skilled Seattle musicians as well. Andrew Joslyn and Rebecca Chung-Filice, who just toured with Macklemore and David Bazan; Hanna Stevens, Micaela Cooley, Matt Price, Tim Lopresto, Aaron Fishburn and several others. It was so amazing collaborating with all of these talented folks.
Tell us about your May 3 album release show. Where can listeners find the dates of your live performances?
The album release show will be on May 3rd at the Jewelbox, Redevous in Belltown, Seattle. Tickets are available on my website @ lanamcmulle.com. Two good friends and very talented musicians, Tony Kevin Jr. and Sharis Kevin, will be starting off the evening. For all other live performance dates, and especially to see when and where I’ll be on tour, folks should check out my website, www.lanamcmullen.com or follow me on facebook or twitter @ facebook.com/lanamcmullenmusic and @lanamcmullen.
You’ll soon release your album and then perform in April and May; what else does the remainder of 2015 hold in store for Lana McMullen?
I will be taking off on a West Coast/Midwest US tour on June 5th. I’ll be hitting all of the major cities between Seattle and L.A. with venue shows and house shows, and stopping in some of the smaller towns as well. I’ll then bop up and over to through Texas and on to Nashville. I’m hoping my little Volkswagen is feeling as ambitious as I am.