Dead Covers Project Profiles: Lauren Barth
Moonbeam mama Lauren Barth's acoustic version of "New Minglewood Blues" really plucked at our heart strings. Check out what the psychedelic California folk singer-songwriter has been up to lately and find out why the Grateful Dead community means so much to young upstarts like herself.
Visit Lauren Barth's official website at Laurenbarth.com.
Tell us a little bit about your musical background.
I started playing guitar when I was about 11. I was really into classic rock when I was young, The Doors and Cream and The Beatles. I was super into that world. I wanted a Strat like Eric Clapton. So my parents got me this little Strat. I learned to play "Hotel California" and all these tunes. It was actually tragically stolen out of the back of our truck during high school. After that, I never got another electric guitar. My guitar teacher sold me, for super cheap, this old Yamaha that he had; it was an acoustic, an FG 160 or some FG model. It totally changed my whole view of music. Also at that time, I started listening folk music, Dylan, Townes Van Zandt. I just fell in love with it. I started writing little folk songs at the beginning of college and then I started playing small shows. Then I moved up to San Francisco and played with other bands. I started playing mandolin, banjo, and all sorts of other instruments, and singing harmonies. Over the past 2 years, I've really been focusing on my stuff. I spent a lot of time earlier this year working on an EP of about five songs with my good friend Connor Hill, up in San Francisco. "Annie" is my first real release of all my own things. I'm really excited about it.
Were you a part of any notable bands that we should know about?
I just played around the San Francisco folk and psychedelic music scene. It's kind of a street scene. I played a show with, the last show I played up there, was with Steve Taylor and Grahame Lesh and his band. That was the most awesome little bash. My send-off. Grahame and I sung "Ophelia" together.
Now that you are down here in L.A. do you think that will affect your personal sound or style?
I've always referenced Southern California. The desert is a big influence. That's like my second home. My grandma's lived in the Coachella Valley my whole life so I'm out there at least once a month. It's a huge pull for inspiration for me. Southern California as whole - the desert, the beach, the mountains. It's such a rich well to draw from. I don't think it's going to change much. It's pretty set. I'm open to playing with new people and experimenting and playing different styles but as far as my musical personality goes, there won't be any drastic turns.
Any shows anytime soon?
My facebook page, bandcamp, and my website are always good ways to find me. One show I'm really excited about is on my birthday, which is June 7th. It's at a place called The Witzend in Venice. It's a really mellow spot. There's a little listening room. I'm hoping since it's my birthday and my E.P. is done, I can just get a bunch of friends and bunch of people who dig the music, and we'll have the show. It's early, it's 7 p.m. and then afterwards, we can hang out in Venice for my birthday.
Let's talk about the Grateful Dead and your first exposure to their music.
It was kind of a long, strange road. It started when I was a kid. Like I said, I was really into classic rock. Classic rock stations were always bumping, driving me to school, they were on. At night, under the covers, I had my little radio. So of course I heard "Truckin'" and "Touch Of Grey." It was on my radar. I was groovin' on it but it wasn't until I was 18 or 19 and I started diving into the whole history... I read Electric Kool-Aid and it just blew me to pieces. It was so amazing.
Going to Santa Cruz, they have all the Grateful Dead archives there and they had a Grateful Dead class. I'd already been pretty deep into it but I took the class and that's when a really magical thing happened. It was finals, the last week of school and someone in my class raised their hand and said they had one ticket to see the Dead in Mountain View. It was the 2009 tour. I was like "I'LL TAKE IT! I gave the guy 20 bucks. I had no car, no money. I was broke college student. I got a rideshare with a bunch of dudes. Went into the show by myself and that was my first real... I was hooked at that point.
After that, I started learning all the songs and it became my love, you know?
Sounds like a good first show...
I'd seen Phil & Friends a few times at Santa Barbara and at the Greek Theatre. That was another really big deal because seeing the songs live for the first time was next level. It really resonated with me. I started to piece together how it's this beautiful American folk story. That started the weaving of the tapestry so to speak - that and seeing The Dead show. There aren't even any words for it. It was just unbelievable. And meeting all those people and starting to understand the community. When you love the Grateful Dead, you know people everywhere you go all the sudden and you have things to talk about for hours. You have songs to pick. I've driven across the country and stopped in random towns and picked Dead tunes with people from everywhere - Louisiana, Georgia, North Carolina. It's incredible. It's like a religion but a whole lot cooler!
How did you choose "New Minglewood Blues" as your cover?
Connor and I started planning way ahead. We were going to do the most bad ass cover and the best video. We recorded the song which is done and well produced. I'm really happy about it, but we never got around to the video. We just got so distracted in the studio and we started working on my EP.
Then it was the last day in February and I was down home in Santa Barbara. I went to Ventura to visit some friends. We decided to bust out a video. One of my friends, Angela Izzo, she's a great photographer/videographer/documentarian. We just went into her neighbor's yard. Her neighbor wasn't home and we filmed that video. It was sort of just whatever rolled off my tongue, the song I'd been playing most recently. I just love that song. For a long time, I have loved it.
I've been kind of playing around, in my own music, with the persona songs and not changing pronouns and instead singing from another person's perspective. I was really into that. So we filmed it and I was like,"Let's just throw it up on the internet. Let's see what happen." It was the 28th at 11pm or something. And I thought nothing's really going to happen, but I'm glad I put it up. And then a month ago, a friend of mine called me and said "I'm so proud of you. It's so awesome." "I don't know what you are talking about." He said,"go to Dead.net." It was very cool to know someone heard it, someone saw it even though it squeaked in there at the last minute, just crossed the finish line. That's the story of the "New Mingelwood" video.
What was your original cover?`
The one we started with, that we put all this work into, was a "Ship Of Fools" cover. We never did the video. But you can hear that version on my bandcamp site!
How do you feel your generation views the Grateful Dead, the sort 18-30 range that wasn't necessarily exposed to it in the moment?`
I think in every generation, there's a moment where everyone figures it out. It's part of coming up. People my age think it's very hip, at least a thing to be hip to. As far as real down-home Dead Heads, I know a few. It's like we speak our own language among our generation. It's really fun. And also it's been really amazing to connect cross-generationally. I can talk to people twice my age and have a conversation as equals just about loving music and connecting to music.
I definitely think the Grateful Dead is an anomaly in that, as much as you can still listen to all the old classic rock, you can still almost fully experience the Dead through the scene and the culture that's still carrying on.
That's so important. I can't even tell you. Living in San Francisco and being able to shoot over to Marin any night of the week and see Phil play in his own place with his family - it's incredible. It's so accessible. I saw a few shows at Sweetwater with Ratdog. It's mind-blowing to be in this tiny, beautiful little bar. It's like Bob Weir is serenading me solo, acoustic.I'm 5 feet away from him. And to chat with him afterward and everyone's hanging. I don't know if there has ever been an instance of this happening in rock'n'roll or folk music, a band becomes gigantic, they are one of the biggest bands that ever existed, and yet they've gotten smaller. They've taken it back home. It's inspiring. I love it. I love the way that they view the fans and their career. It's all about the people and the connection.