Laura Veirs: A 'July Flame' In Winter With much of the country currently in a deep freeze, it might be good therapy to daydream about summer. July Flame is the summery title of the new album from Laura Veirs. It's a stripped-down affair with guest vocals from Jim James of My Morning Jacket.
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Laura Veirs: A 'July Flame' In Winter

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Laura Veirs: A 'July Flame' In Winter

Laura Veirs: A 'July Flame' In Winter

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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With much of the country in a deep freeze this week, it might make for good therapy to daydream a bit about summer.

(Soundbite of song, July Flame)

Ms. LAURA VEIRS (Singer): (Singing) July Flame, sweet summer peach, high up in the branch...

KELLY: July Flame is the summery title of the new CD by Laura Veirs. Veirs is known for writing and singing songs about nature, the great outdoors. And this new album, her seventh, is no exception. She joins us from the studios of Oregon Public Broadcasting in Portland. Welcome.

Ms. VEIRS: Hi, how are you?

KELLY: Hi, were great. And thanks so much for joining us. So I want to start by asking you about this title track, July Flame, which I gather is actually named after a peach.

Ms. VEIRS: It is. Its a variety of peach thats grown in Oregon, and I was at the farmers market a couple of years ago and saw the title for the variety and thought, thats a good song title; I should write a song about that. And then I did, and it turned out to be a good song, and ended up being the title of the record as well.

(Soundbite of song, July Flame)

Ms. VEIRS: (Singing) July Flame, Im seeing fireworks, they're so beautiful...

KELLY: Im told you grew up in Colorado, and then studied geology and Mandarin Chinese at college. Thats quite a combo.

Ms. VEIRS: Yeah, I started off with the Chinese, because I took a year off before college and went to Malaysia to live with my family for a year. So my Dad, hes a physics professor, and he was teaching at a college over there. And I decided to go and teach English, and poke around and travel around Asia. And I ended up in China, where my cousins were, and became fascinated with the language. And the written form in particular, I thought was so beautiful. I decided I wanted to pursue that in college and so I did, and went back to China several times and got pretty good at spoken Mandarin. I learned about 2,000 characters, and now I feel like I probably only know about 20 because these things go -

KELLY: It happens with foreign languages, doesn't it?

Ms. VEIRS: Yeah, if you dont use them, they go and so at that point, I was a geology major, and I decided it would be cool for my senior project to put my interests of Chinese and geology together into one project and go over to learn about geology and field assist in the Taklamakan Desert, which is in the northwest part of China.


Ms. VEIRS: I ended up not really feeling very great about the geology side of things, and I wasnt a very good translator either, because no one there speaks Mandarin Chinese. So - and I didnt know that ahead of time.

(Soundbite of laughter)

KELLY: A fatal flaw in your plans there.

Ms. VEIRS: Totally fatal.

KELLY: But you did get something out of it. You bought your guitar and...

Ms. VEIRS: I did, I bought this really crappy guitar in Beijing. It was like, $5 and the strings - action was really high, and the strings were way off the neck, but I was able to push them down and write some songs. And it was the beginning of my feelings, though, that I want to be a writer. But ultimately, I realized that working with melody and words was my favorite thing, not just words alone on the page. And so I started taking songwriting more seriously after that.

(Soundbite of song)

KELLY: And I understand you wrote these songs on - this is another crappy guitar, apparently, as you call - this a theme for you, the crappy guitar.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. VEIRS: Yeah.

KELLY: Tell me why? Describe the process for me.

Ms. VEIRS: Its a guitar. Its a nylon string Goya. Its probably not terribly crappy. If I try to sell it, Id probably get a couple of hundred bucks. But its a guitar that Ive had...

KELLY: Youve moved past the $5 days.

Ms. VEIRS: Yeah. Up to 200.


(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. VEIRS: But it was a guitar lying around the house growing up, and I started playing it during Christmas holidays when I started to write songs, like in my 20s, I would come home and play it. And I realized, wow, there are a lot of songs in this guitar. Like I just would sit down to play it and songs would come out, and I realized I needed to take it off my dads hands and bring it home.

And since then Ive recorded it on every album, and written tons and tons of songs on it and it just, I think it was Neil Young who said songs - certain guitars have songs in them. I hope its Neil Young, Im not sure - but that one has a lot of songs in it.

(Soundbite of song)

Ms. VEIRS: (Singing) She can really play it, she can really lay it down. Smile, good vibrations. Help me Rhonda, homeward bound.

KELLY: Tell me about another song on the album, Carol Kaye. Of course, this is Carol Kaye, the famous bass player and session musician. Was she an inspiration of yours?

Ms. VEIRS: Yes, she was. She has an amazing presence on so many different records. Shes the most recorded bass player of all time, and she grew up for part of her life in Everett, Washington, which is close to where we live. And I was just fascinated with her story. And then when I started listening to her bass parts, I was blown away. I mean, shes just so inventive and creative on the bass, and its no wonder she was called upon as like, the number one session player in much of the '60s and '70s.

(Soundbite of song, Carol Kaye)

Ms. VEIRS: (Singing) Mission impossible, oh, she's out of this world. Ten-thousand sessions from an Everett, Washington, girl.

KELLY: Were speaking with singer and songwriter Laura Veirs about your new CD, July Flame. One of the songs on here, Little Deschutes. Am I saying that right?

Ms. VEIRS: Yes.

KELLY: Thats such a rich, lush sound in this song. Is that what you were aiming for?

Ms. VEIRS: Yes, I mean, I think most of the songs on this album hold up pretty well on their own just with an instrument and a voice, and that was my goal going into it. But this one we piled a lot of stuff on, various drone sounds on the strings, sounds of Stephen Barber, whos an arranger who lives in Austin. And I love the way it turned out. I think its a really beautiful piece of music that captures a canoe trip that we took to the Little Deschutes River a couple of years ago.

(Soundbite of song, Little Deschutes)

Ms. VEIRS: (Singing) Peace I've known floating along, deep green river with you and a song. Something light - peace, I hope, to make with you my whole life long. I want nothing more than to float with you.

KELLY: Now, you are on your way to touring Europe later this month. Do you find the experience touring overseas different from touring here in the States?

Ms. VEIRS: Honestly, you get better treatment over there.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. VEIRS: They - especially in France, I love to tour there because at the venue, youll come in and do sound check, and then theyll clear the room and bring in these big, wooden tables. And the whole staff, including the ticket sellers and the merch sellers and the lighting people and the band, and everybody whos involved in the show will eat dinner together in the room. Its a very bonding thing; it makes it feel like a special show.

KELLY: Right. More of a team effort.

Ms. VEIRS: Yeah. And here youll often, you know, were not playing theaters yet, so youll walk into the bar, and theyll give you your $10 buyout and then youll go find a place to eat, and then youll come back. And its very more individual. But its just, Ive focused more on Europe, honestly, because I got my start there and I had momentum there. So I have some catching up to do here. But I feel optimistic about this record and people in this country responding well to it as well.

KELLY: And well see you on tour here in the States in February, right?

Ms. VEIRS: Yes.

KELLY: Great. Laura Veirs, talking about her new CD, July Flame, which comes out Tuesday on her own record label, called Raven Marching Band Records. She joined us from the studios of Oregon Public Broadcasting in Portland. Thanks so much.

Ms. VEIRS: Thanks for having me.

(Soundbite of music)

KELLY: You can hear Laura Veirs' complete album as part of our exclusive, First Listen series at This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. Im Mary Louise Kelly.

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