It’s been a busy couple years for Laurel Sprengelmeyer, the body and mind behind Little Scream. With her debut album, The Golden Record, gaining considerable buzz with its folk canvassed art-pop, she began touring North America and Europe pretty steadily, opening for numerous bands, including Jose Gonzales. So, it’s to be forgiven then, that she might be taking it easy before her upcoming tour with Beirut, which finishes at the Calgary Folk Fest.
“I’m just back in the midwest, working on some music with my little sister,” says Sprengelmeyer, who was raised in Iowa before moving to Montreal. “Lily co-wrote one or two songs on the last album. We usually work on music for a little bit, or come up with little fragments, and then turn them into songs.”
Surprisingly, it wasn’t Montreal’s thriving music scene, which attracted Sprengelmeyer in the first place. “I got involved with a lot of different types of activities. Music wasn’t really at the forefront when I first moved there.” After finishing university, she began to get involved in many of the cultural facets of the city and formed a number of connections. “A lot of different artists, filmmakers, visual artists, but also activists, social justice people — that was really the kind of community that inspired me and held me there.”
It would be easy for an artist, whose debut album hit the long list for the Polaris Prize in 2011, to feel overwhelmed, but, for Sprengelmeyer, it’s all about balance. The Golden Record’s cover is actually a painting she did herself as a way of refocusing on the project. “I love that is uses different parts of my brain. If I feel like I’m getting burnt out in one area, then I can go to another one, and it leaves space so I can do what I want to do.” Another output, which also is a main cause of inspiration, is literature. “I like to read a lot,” she confirms, “and that will often influence what I paint or write music about. What I’m reading often becomes the main influence for what I end up working on.” Sprengelmeyer then goes into the motivation of the album while noting, she “was reading Margaret Atwood this time last year and a lot of dystopic future subjects came into view.”
With an appearance at SXSW just fading out of the rear-view mirror and the Calgary Folk Fest approaching steady, Sprengelmeyer reflects on the highs and lows of festival playing. “I find that they can be the best or worst places to play or hear music. I generally just kind of find that it’s an all you can eat buffet of music, which is kind of not really my style.” The level-headed songstress later brings up the positive aspects while declaring, “I’m definitely looking forward to the folk festival,” and, after hearing of Jeff Mangum’s appearance on the lineup she agrees, “I’ve really wanted to see him.”
The Folk Fest itself has historically featured an eclectic mix of genres, so it’s easy to fit in Little Scream’s expansive sound, which can be a bit hard to categorize. “I feel like genre has changed so much. For me, I think ‘guitar’ is a genre. Whether it’s folk or rock or indie, I play instruments and have some synth elements, but I’m very much rooted in that as a tradition.”
As the conversation comes to an end, Sprengelmeyer reminisces on her initiation into the touring life. “In retrospect, some of the hardest stuff was some of the most interesting stuff, for sure. You get these little vignettes of all these different places, because you don’t get to stay long, so you get these interesting snapshots.”
Little Scream plays at this year’s Calgary Folk Music Festival on Saturday, July 28.
By Cory JonesAB, Alberta