Cheers for Veirs

Songwriting cheerleader Laura Veirs and her quietly beautiful Year of Meteors

"I'm the ultimate songwriting cheerleader -- everyone can do it!" exclaims Laura Veirs with more gusto than anyone should be able to muster at 8:30 in the morning. For the briefest of moments, an amusing vision comes to mind -- the 32-year-old singer/ multi-instrumentalist in pigtails and pleated skirt, pompoms shaking furiously over her head as she chants, "Two, four, six, eight, your second verse is really great! Gooooo, chorus!"

Back to reality, where the bookish, bespectacled Veirs is relaxing in the kitchen of her Seattle home, slipping back into her usual collected manner of conversation as she explains that, for the past few years, she's been supplementing her income between tours by teaching the craft of songwriting -- as well as giving guitar and banjo lessons -- to self-doubting locals.

"This one really repressed 45-year-old German guy came to me and was like, 'Ach, I vill nevah write a song,' and I was like, "Ohhh yes you will, you'll do it ... in fact, let's write one right now!' So we sat down and wrote it -- it was just some silly song about the tree outside, but he got a sense of, like, 'Oh yeah, it actually is just a few chords and some words put together with a melody.' And the next week he came in and was like, 'I feel like my glasses have been cleaned off!' He had this new song he'd written, and he felt like he was seeing the world in a whole different way."

She concludes her story with a sigh and a chuckle. "And then, of course, he got frustrated and became obsessive about his songs and wouldn't finish them -- he became one of those people. He was a classic case."

Veirs, however, has no such problems. Despite getting a relatively late start in the music business -- she only began to seriously pursue a professional career about five years ago -- she's already got five albums to her credit; the latest is Year of Meteors, released in August to the best reviews of her young career. Her prolific streak has come not only from a wealth of terrific ideas, but also from a steady, workmanlike approach in making them come to life. Though Veirs says she's habitually compelled to write music, and cares deeply about it, she far from fits the profile of the tortured singer/songwriter for whom life, death, and validation hang on every single couplet and melody.

"Growing up, I was never one of those people for whom music is the be-all and end-all of everything," Veirs says, explaining that during her formative years in Colorado Springs, she was never particularly interested in going to shows or spending hours in her room listening to records, instead spending her high school days immersed in her studies, as well as in photography and captaining her swim team. "That really worked to my benefit because now I'm not precious about my songs. I just try to get them out, and I love when a song is done, because then I have a sense of accomplishment, and then I do another one. I take them each as a little project, a little fun thing, and not something that I'm crazy obsessing about."

Even if Veirs' creative process seems dispassionate, the 12 songs on Meteors hardly come up short in the emotional heft department. If you've never heard her sing before, though, you might think otherwise when her voice arrives over picked nylon guitar strings on opener "Fire Snakes" -- neither breathy sweet and sensual nor cracked and desperate, hers is a dry, husky, somewhat flat delivery, one that at first encounter seems a bit glacial. Yet as the album progresses, a gamut of feelings punctures that curtain of detachment, from her joyful outbursts on "Magnetized" to the pensiveness inherent in "Spelunking" and the gutsy determination that bursts through "Black Gold Blues."

The bed of instrumentation on which her voice rests is similarly wide-ranging and just as compelling. "Fire Snakes" pulls off the neat trick of surreptitiously adding layers of stuttering machine beats, organs, upright bass, viola, and harp to its acoustic beginnings until it reaches a climax that's both dense and floaty -- like Stereolab without the metronomic pulse. "Secret Someones" is a breezy bit of urbane dream-pop that wouldn't be out of place on an Ivy album, while the jagged, electric guitar-centric rock formations on "Galaxies" and "Black Gold Blues" -- the former intersected by squiggling synth lines, the latter by tenacious strings -- align Veirs with Cat Power and Helium's Mary Timony.

Where Veirs truly distinguishes herself from the pack is with her lyrics, all vivid imagery and the music of language tumbling together in stunning bits of poetry that never come off as pretentious. So much of it is drawn from the natural world -- her songs are packed with skylarks, bears, eels, "white spider stars," and "the cliffside's heart bubbling red and deep"; water is everywhere, and gravity, as she sings more than once, is dead. Simple ruminations on romance are transformed into peculiar and fantastical things -- on "Spelunking," cave exploration stands in as a metaphor for the uncertainty of revealing one's foibles and flaws to a lover: "If I took you, darling/ To the caverns of my heart/ Would you light the lamp, dear?/ And see fish without eyes/ Bats with their heads hanging down towards the ground/ Would you still come around?"

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