Tuesday, November 21, 2023

Interview with Laurie Cameron: A Merry and Bright Exclusive

In 2011, Scottish singer/songwriter Laurie Cameron released her first single, "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)", b/w "One Christmas Fall".  The song and and accompanying video quickly made the rounds through the Christmas music collector community.  I found Laurie's striking interpretation of "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" to be completely mesmerizing, and felt that she struck through to the heart of the song and the sadness in the lyrics.  For me, it became the defining version of the song.  From that moment, I became a Laurie Cameron fan, and have followed her musical journey ever since.

In July of 2015, Laurie released her first album The Girl Who Cried for the Boy Who Cried Wolf, with nine original songs and her arrangement of "The Slave's Lament" by Robert Burns.  Laurie's brilliance as a songwriter paired with her heartfelt singing made The Girl Who Cried... a strong, auspicious debut.

November of 2015 brought Laurie's Christmas EP Merry Christmas from Scotland, featuring three songs for the holiday season.  You'll find out more about this EP in the interview.

In January of 2020 Laurie released Something In Us Never Dies, nine Robert Burns works arranged and sung by Laurie.  Robert Burns is one of Scotland's most beloved figures, considered by most to be the greatest Scottish poet in history.  Laurie's love of and devotion to Robert Burns' poems and songs is evident in Something In Us Never Dies.  The album is magnificent, Laurie's vocals are incomparably beautiful, a fitting partner to the words of Mr. Burns.

Laurie Cameron, born in August 1989 in Perth, Scotland, now resides in Crieff, Scotland, only a short distance from her hometown.  In recent years Laurie has continued to make music, and spent several months living in the US.  Now back in her homeland, she hints at a new EP in the works. 

Laurie's voice is enchanting, beguiling, and pure.  Her songwriting is soulful, her interpretations of Robert Burns deeply reverent.  Her musicianship in creating complete, beautiful works is masterful.  And, fortunately for me and for Merry & Bright readers, she is a wonderful, friendly human being who happily agreed to this interview (not knowing how many questions there would be!).

So, thank you Laurie for your time spent crafting these thoughtful responses, and for sharing your talent with us.

To my readers, please enjoy this career-spanning interview with Laurie Cameron.

Merry & Bright Interview with Laurie Cameron

Merry & Bright:
Laurie, thank you for taking time to answer a few questions with Merry & Bright. You are one of my absolute favorite artists, and I am thrilled to learn more about you and your music.

Laurie Cameron: Thank you for the kind words, Aaron! I’m delighted to spend some time with Merry & Bright.

MB: Most of us in the Christmas music collecting community first learned about you with your rendition of “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)”. Far from a cover, it was a complete re-imagining of the song thematically, from the uptempo song we all know popularized by Darlene Love (and others) to a melancholy, heartbreakingly sad song of loneliness and lost love during the Christmas holiday. Can you tell us how you took this holiday standard and created such a different musical experience?

When you listen to the lyrics of Christmas (Baby Please Come Home), there’s a deep feeling of someone experiencing loneliness around Christmas time. While I still love the original upbeat classic, I felt like the lyrics would lend itself well to a slower, more melancholic version and after playing around on the piano with my bandmate, Ross, we really liked the sound of a stripped back version with just minimal piano, vocals and an old tambourine!

Your interpretation made the verse “They’re singing Deck the Halls/But it’s not like Christmas at all” intensely emotional. To me, your version of this song is the new standard, and the way the it is meant to be sung. What kind of reactions did you get when you released it?

LC: That’s lovely, thank you. We had great feedback when we released the song – some commented that they’d never actually realized how sad the lyrics are. That was a great compliment as people were appreciating the song in a new light. I do remember one radio show that weren’t the biggest fans of our miserable version though, after playing the song they said something along the lines of ‘god, if that’s what’s waiting for you, I don’t think I’d want to hurry home for Christmas’, which is quite funny!

MB: “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” isn’t readily available anymore on the usual platforms (at least in the US). Is there a chance we will see a re-release at some point?

LC: I would like to re-release it again in the future and perhaps record a live version. I do love a Christmas release so there’s a good chance!

MB: Next in your Christmas catalogue is the EP “Merry Christmas from Scotland”, with three original songs, “Merry Christmas From Scotland (Lulled Wi a Stiff Drink)”, “One Christmas Fall”, and “Holy, Holy, Holy”. Can you tell us a little about the inspiration and creation of this record?

LC: I’ve always loved Christmas music and every year I have this desire to write a new Christmas song. This EP is a combination of my old and newer releases from over the years - my most recent, ‘Merry Christmas from Scotland’, the much older ‘One Christmas Fall’ and an instrumental, ‘Holy, Holy, Holy’. At the time, I remember thinking about releasing a full album of original Christmas songs, but I decided on a smaller EP – perhaps it will be a stepping stone to a full Christmas album one day.

MB: The title track “Merry Christmas From Scotland (Lulled Wi a Stiff Drink)” seems thematically similar to your “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” – Christmas apart from someone special, or formerly special, perhaps, with lingering emotions. The verses “Wherever you are now, whatever you’re drinking/Who lights up your life like glitter-dipped tinsel/I send my love from a frostbitten street” tell a tale of distance and perhaps trying to move on. Can you tell us more about the story and song? (And let me know if I got it right 😊 )

LC: You got it right! I spent a little time living in New York in 2010 and when I wrote this song, I had moved back to Scotland and was thinking a lot about people I’d grown close to there. It’s a song about how the festive season has a way of making you reminisce, the feeling of missing people you were once very close to, but at the same time appreciating where you are now and the beauty around you – and hoping the best for them wherever they are.

MB: Your lyrics for “Merry Christmas from Scotland…” are beautiful and poetic, as they are in “One Christmas Fall”, which has a gorgeous melody, paired with a beautiful wintry, dreamy atmosphere.  I especially love the verse “The road is gone, the snow escalates/And you should stay, you should stay”.  There’s a different story here – can you tell us more about “One Christmas Fall”?  Who is the subject of the song, who came ‘quiet to the door and left behind a trail of broken footsteps’ and told ‘the tales of the winter lands when you were young’?  

LC: Growing up as a kid in Scotland my family all lived close to one another (aunts, uncles, cousins), all just a few streets away. ‘One Christmas Fall’ is a song reminiscing on the many years we had white Christmases and big snowstorms – I remember trudging through the snow late at night on Christmas Eve to visit family. I also have vivid memories of my cousins coming to our door an hour or two before New Year and their shoes would be covered in snow and seeing their footsteps left all the way along the road. I’d sit playing cards and videogames with my cousins and my parents would be chatting and laughing with their siblings in front of the fire while a snowstorm was blowing outside. My childhood gave me a lot of inspiration for this song!

Photo by Joe Lafferty

MB: The EP closes with “Holy, Holy, Holy”, a wordless piece that envelopes the listener with layered expression. There are no sleighbells or the plucky strings of sleigh ride songs, but still it feels ‘Christmassy’ in the sense of the long, dark nights of Christmastime and the Winter solstice, and one’s personal spirituality during this season. What is the story of “Holy, Holy, Holy”?

LC: My brother, who’s a photographer, was using a clip of one of my songs to use in one of his videos. He had slowed the song way down until it wasn’t recognizable anymore, but it had a really cool ethereal sound to it. I thought an instrumental track with that sort of sound would be a nice addition to the Christmas EP, so we took the ‘Holy, Holy, Holy’ section of ‘Merry Christmas from Scotland’ and slowed it down to create a whole new track. I loved how it came out – like the sound of being swept away in a snowstorm.

MB: Before I move to your two albums, I’d like to ask another Christmas-related question. Can you tell us a little bit about the Christmas traditions in Scotland? Are there any special celebrations or traditions in your hometown of Perth?

LC: Generally I think Christmas in Scotland is fairly traditional and not too dissimilar to the US (although, I’ve never seen houses on the outside decorated quite as extravagantly as they are in the US!) Some of my favorite family traditions including making homemade mulled wine every December so the whole house smells of cinnamon and orange, and my mum baking her traditional Christmas cake every year. New Year in Scotland is called ‘Hogmanay’ and we often celebrate with ‘first footing’ - the first person to enter your home after midnight is called a ‘first-footer’, an old Scottish tradition whereby a dark-haired male brings with him a coin for wealth, a lump of coal for warmth, a black bun (Scottish fruit cake) and a dram of whisky to give your home good luck for the year ahead.

MB: Your first full album was “The Girl Who Cried for the Boy Who Cried Wolf”, released in 2015. This album featured nine original songs, highlighting your haunting arrangements and rich, poetic lyrics. Can you share a few thoughts about making this music?

LC: I have such fond memories of recording that album. While we had a rough idea of how we wanted it to sound, we ended up improvising a lot in the studio and many of the songs are quite different to how we anticipated (in a good way). Some of the songs are quite atmospheric – it was recorded in a studio converted from an old mill which added to the feel of the album. We experimented a lot in the studio – some of the funnier memories include throwing ping-pong balls onto the strings of an open piano and recording the sounds, which turned out very cool and eerie. It opened our eyes to what was possible – from writing the songs at home on an acoustic guitar, to recording them using instruments like old church-like organs, accordion, cello and violin. Some of the songs are personal or inspired by family members (‘Foreign’, ‘Thomson’, ‘Fare Forward’) and others such as ‘Leave Us, Leave Us’ and ‘The Girl Who Cried for the Boy Who Cried Wolf’ are purely imaginative. The days we spent recording that first album hold a special place in my heart.

MB: There is one more song on “The Girl Who Cried…”, “The Slave’s Lament”, a Robert Burns poem set to your music. This turned out to be a preview of things to come. Why did you choose to include “The Slave’s Lament” on this album?

LC: I grew up reading and listening to the work of Robert Burns through my mum and dad, and ‘The Slave’s Lament’ was one of the first I learned to play. I used to perform it at gigs now and again, the lyrics are melancholic and really beautiful and it felt like a nice addition to the album.

MB: Your next album, “Something In Us Never Dies”, is a masterpiece. Nine songs of Robert Burns’ poems, letters, and songs, musically interpreted and arranged by you. How did you choose from Mr. Burns’ tremendous legacy of work to find the ‘right’ nine songs for this album?

LC: Thank you! I spent many months reading the complete works of Robert Burns over and over, highlighting pieces that I felt spoke to me most. I was drawn to pieces I could relate to – Burns wrote often about being away from Scotland and missing his homeland – when I worked on the album I had just returned from living in Canada for two years, so I found his work talking about home relatable. Other themes in his work I loved were around the idea of life being fleeting and making the most of the time we have.

MB: How challenging was it to find just the right music to fit Mr. Burns’ words?

LC: Typically, Robert Burns songs are set to more traditional, folksy music and while I grew up loving those songs (and still do), I wanted to showcase some of his lesser-heard work in a modern light. Leading up to recording, I was really enjoying playing around with synths and electric keyboards, probably inspired from watching the likes of Stranger Things! It was such a different sound from my earlier folksy music, but I’m so happy with how it all turned out. A modern take on Burns understandably won’t be to everyone’s taste, but I hope it reached the ears of some who ordinarily wouldn’t have come across his work.

MB: Robert Burns is credited with writing, collecting and popularizing the verses of the much loved “Auld Lang Syne”. He also wrote the Winter-themed “Winter: A Dirge” and “Up in the Morning Early”. Have you ever considered recording these to add to your Christmas/Winter song catalog? And if not, would you please? 😊 I for one would LOVE to hear Laurie Cameron perform “Auld Lang Syne” (all five verses please!)

LC: If there’s one thing I’d love to do, it’s record more Burns songs! I adore the full version of Auld Lang Syne and worry I may not be able to give it the justice it deserves, but that’s a song I would love to record.

MB: Just a couple more questions, Laurie. Who are some of the musicians who inspire you? Do you have any particular Christmas music influences?

LC: I have to give a shout out to my fellow Scottish musicians and bands who are a great inspiration – Admiral Fallow, Frightened Rabbit, Kris Drever. I’m a big Christmas music fan, too. I love Sufjan Stevens’ ‘Sister Winter’, Sara Bareilles and Ingrid Michaelson’s ‘Winter Song’ – you can’t beat a melancholic Christmas song.

MB: What is on the horizon for you, Laurie? Do you have any plans in the works for new music?

LC: I do have plans for a new EP in the near future and I’m excited to get back into recording. I have a bunch of new songs inspired by my time living in California over the last few years. Maybe another original Christmas song next year – I haven’t released one in a while!

MB: Laurie – thank you so much for treating us to these insights about you and your music. It’s a great privilege to learn about the thoughts, creative processes, and inspirations from such a talented musician. I wish you much happiness and success!

LC: Thank you so much, Aaron. It’s been a pleasure and I truly appreciate your support. Wishing you a wonderful festive season ahead!

Laurie's video for "Merry Christmas From Scotland (Lulled With a Stiff Drink)"

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