Lauren Tate is a Barnsley musician, known for her outstanding voice – initially caught on youtube singing cover versions of famous raspy-voiced crooners like Robert Plant, Pink and Linda Perry and watched by hundreds of thousands of viewers around the world; and most recently backed by The Lauren Tate Band, writing and performing original material, referencing the likes of Hole, Amanda Palmer and Katie Jane Garside.
I was always aware of that voice and its potential, but it wasn’t until I saw her perform at the 2013 Live in Barnsley festival that I really started to take note.
She has a unique, nervous energy, in both her voice and her on-stage performances. When you listen or watch, you’re seeing someone revealing a part of themselves. And while Lauren is still a teenager, there is also an element of seeing her evolve and grow publicly, which is both interesting and captivating.
2015 is the start of something new for Lauren. Her ‘Lauren Tate Band’ is no more. With three new songs now out in the ether, Hands Off Gretel, Lauren’s new band takes centre stage. In March, on the weekend of International Women’s Day, they will make their live debut at the Barnsley Rock and Blues Venue. I caught up with her to find out about how she got here and where she’s going now.
• You started singing at quite a young age, Can you tell me about your first memories of singing and performing?
I’ve sang all my life and never shut up. I was always this loud ‘everyone look at me’ ball of naughtiness, yet mostly this timid little shy girl on stage that would play with her fringe and feel so bare and awkward. But the night I flicked that switch was the night of my school music and arts show where for the first time in my life at the age of 15, I brought Lauren to the stage; not this insecure shy girl performing made me. Before I got on stage to play, with a band I hardly knew, a bunch of older girls told me they were going to hit me after the show. As if it couldn’t get better than that, many teachers came up to me to tell me the crop top I was wearing was inappropriate and if I didn’t cover up I would be excluded. As my name was read out nobody cheered like they did for everyone else. I remember this lump in my throat, when right at the back of the room I hear my Nanan shouting, “Go girl” in the silence. The music started and as I watched people snigger and laugh, I held my eyes to the girls in the front row (the ones who would hit me later) and I sang the angriest, most punk version of a Girls Aloud song in history. I wish someone had recorded it! I got this massive buzz, all my energy at boiling point. And in that moment when I stuck up my middle finger in front of the school, the teachers, the governors and the girls laughing, I felt a feeling of power, a feeling of ‘I can do anything and all they can do is watch me’.
• Your youtube cover versions got picked up pretty quickly by many thousands of followers. Was there much demand for you to take the dreaded X-Factor/The Voice route?
Ohh yes, it was all people said to me, as though that was the only way to go. Simon Cowells A&R team once got in touch after seeing my online profile, offering me a ‘fast track’ onto the X factor. I was given the news with such excitement when I was 16, but I didn’t think twice about saying ‘no way am I doing that’! I have turned a lot of stuff down like that. People couldn’t understand why I’d said no, but if music is a competition, I’m out.
• What was the turning point for you? When did it click that writing and performing your own music was your way forward?
The real change for me was when I met my guitarist Seán McAvinue and I shyly showed him a song I wrote when I was 14, that I struggled like hell to get sounding anything like what was in my head. That song was ‘The Black’, the first track off my EP. I finally heard a style of guitar I was trying so long to describe, ‘more crazy, more wrong, less melodic and less Guns ‘n’ Roses’. Nobody else understood what I meant but Sean, he took my songs and made them mine. That summer was filled with many acoustic gigs and writing sessions and for the first time ever, I felt the happiest I had ever been. I had found my soul-mate musically and personally and I knew with this fresh excitement and confidence I was ready for a full band and dying to play more gigs!
• You went from recording with session musicians to performing as a duo with your current musical partner Seán McAvinue. Then after much searching, you played for a year with a full band and released your debut EP.
That’s right! Once the EP was finished, we auditioned people to join the band. We’d only did about 5 or 6 gigs, then on the night of our first band video, my guitarist Sean fell down the stairs and broke his hand. At the time, it felt like the worst thing to ever happen. We all thought Seán was broke for good and instead of being there for him, the rest of the band tried to replace him with anyone who could play anything with strings. Eventually after the drummer quit and we auditioned for another, the band fell apart. I tried to hold it together for weeks but what I was fighting for was already dead. I was tired of the project and secretly I’d been hoping for a fresh start, a new band and a newer, less beige musical experience.
• However, you recently took time out after that group disbanded and now, still alongside Seán, you have a new band, with records and gigs due soon. I sense that you are somewhat settled now.
It was hard to walk away from The Lauren Tate Band because with the relationships I had there, I kinda felt like everyone was looking to me to lead the way, so telling them I was actually quit my own band was difficult. But I picked up my dad’s old Westbury Guitar and played and played while Sean was starting to say he might never regain strength in his hand. It hit me that I had to grab life with my own hands; that if I wanted something, I couldn’t wait for someone else to suggest it and tell me what to do. I had to go do it myself. So I did. I came running downstairs after hours of planning, thinking and writing lists, shouting “I want to start a new band and I need to do it now”. Settled however… I’m never settled and that keeps me both frustrated and excited.
• Up until now, you – regardless of who you’ve played with – have always performed under your name. Does now working under the name Hands of Gretel signify a particular change for you? Maybe in the way the band gels or writes together? Or was there a particular needs to work under a different name?
Oh it feels like a weight has lifted. I always wanted to have a stage name, Luna or something, something that means I could escape to somewhere else. There was no escape being Lauren Tate all of the time. I stood on the stage as her, sang about her, being asked questions about her, and I got drained so easily with everything being me, me, me all the time.
Nothing’s changed drastically though. I still write all the songs and have the same voice. I just sing to escape now, to feel free from what I’m feeling rather than singing about it over and over. I’m not just a teenage girl in an alternative band singing about feelings. I’m an artist and I’m creating a brighter vision, my own vision.
• Why Hands of Gretel? It sounds very Riot Grrl – almost Babes In Toyland-esque.
Babes In Toyland, Riot Grrl you say? Ah! A lot of people fear feminism and angry girls even now. I love it, I’m quite addicted to these women. I wrote a lot of names out. I was originally going for ‘Mowzer’, my cat’s name but my mum kept reading out ‘Hands off Gretel’. It’s playful and cute, but holding a clear sign that’s says ‘HANDS OFF’, ‘Don’t touch’, like ‘I’m my own person’, ‘don’t mess with me’. I’m not Gretel or anything, Gretel is just a fairytale character. It’s about being that unrealistic fairytale, escaping and getting what you want. A lot of my songs are from the perspective of a little girl who cannot have the world she’s created in her room, it’s about running away from the real world and I’m having so much fun being a little girl again!
• Tell me about your song-writing process? Do you take your ideas to the band still, or it more balanced than that?
The band only formed early October 2014 and by then I’d wrote the entire set. I had a vision of what I wanted and I didn’t really have the time to be equal about it. I took the leadership role and arranged the band, told them to play harder or lighter, and just bring the songs to life, which they did! I’m not usually controlling, but Sean jokes about my megalomania which is proving to be true! I just know what I want this time and I’m pushing the band as hard as I can with my newly found enthusiasm.
• You’ve spent the last five years trying to musically and artistically find yourself; constantly experimenting and changing direction. Do you think you’re closer to finding yourself or is it a continuous process?
Since the start I think I’ve been trying to describe the same thing. I got closer to what I wanted the day I found Hole. I was searching for hours finding more and more female fronted bands, Bikini kill, Babes in Toyland, L7 and I understood further the rawness I was on about. I wasn’t looking for nice girl, I was looking for a loud girl, a girl that competed vocally with the distorted guitars, a girl with integrity and stubbornness. I’ve found where I stand; I just need to find what I stand for. There’s this woman I’ve been searching for, I’ve described her a million times hoping I find her band. It’s frustrating not finding the music you want, so I took on a mad task; to become the woman I’ve been looking for, I’m climbing the steepest mountain for sure.
• It seems that you constantly immerse yourself in your art and your music. That and your lyrics seem very personal – a real extension of yourself. Now you have a new band and new songs, what do you think of your EP ‘My reflection’ now in hindsight?
After recording the EP I didn’t really listen back to it. I’m the same with everything I do, I move on quick. I remember while recording the EP I was never happy with my vocals, I wore myself out singing over and over for days with ‘Trapped In My Skin’, frustrated that I couldn’t get across even half of what the words meant to me. Listening to my EP now, my opinion on it hasn’t changed. It’s raw and exactly how I wanted it musically. The atmosphere on the EP was perfect thanks to producer and great friend of ours Pete Thompson of Flat Wave Studio. He really captured everything we wanted in the recordings! I’d just write different songs now, playing them live made me realise energy and drive was what the next batch of songs would need.
• What records are you listening to at the moment? Have you made any new (or or classic) discoveries?
When I find ‘new music’ I get all excited then read they’re either dead or from the 90s! I’ve worn my CD player out recently playing old L7 Cd’s. My favourite album being ‘Bricks are Heavy’. I’m always in the mood for some loud women! Haha! But yeah, 7 Year Bitch, Babes In Toyland, Hole, The Gits, Bikini Kill, The Distillers, Joan Jett, Janis Joplin, they’re my ultimate favourites! I do like boys too, it’s just that girls resonate with me more.
• I’ve booked you to play a show for International Women’s Day. Who are your inspirational women?
Oooh this one is hard. I have so many! Recently I’ve been reading a book by Sara Marcus called ‘Girls to the front’ which has been a massive inspiration to me hearing about all the powerful women of Riot Grrl. It hit me in a soft place and I instantly felt cheated that I was never there during that time. Amanda Palmer connects with me deeply too; her book ‘The Art of Asking’ is another one I’m reading. I love that woman, her work and art is beautiful. The list goes on and on, so many women have awakened me through their music and I really want to do the same for girls searching just like me.
• What can we expect from the new recordings?
The new stuff is from a complete new place in me, a place that I’m finding it so exciting to explore. I’m so excited about putting my energy into performing and so excited about hearing all the songs on an album. The 3 tracks are such a tease for what’s to come: it’s more upbeat, more energetic, just loads of fun and I want people to join and have fun too! I want to take Hands Off Gretel up the mountain and I want the whole world to watch a silly girl get what she always wanted.
Hands of Gretel play Barnsley Rock And Blues Venue (formerly The Polish Club) on Saturday 7th March in celebration of International Women’s Day, on a bill that also includes Aztec Doll, Laura Kelly and Harriett Rose Grant. All proceeds go to Breast Cancer Care.
To keep up to date with all future announcements from Hands Off Gretel, follow www.facebook.com/handsoffgretel and www.handsoffgretel.co.uk.
And for another other news regarding music and art from Lauren Tate, visit www.facebook.com/LaurenTateBarnsley