Laura Veirs' 'The Lookout' Is A Soundtrack For Turbulent Times NPR's Scott Simon talks to Laura Veirs of Portland, Ore., about her new album, The Lookout. She says it addresses the fleeting beauty of life in a chaotic post-election America.

Laura Veirs' 'The Lookout' Is A Soundtrack For Turbulent Times

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Last time we heard Laura Veirs, she was collaborating with Neko Case and k.d. lang on a critically acclaimed album. Now she's returned to her solo work.


LAURA VEIRS: (Singing) Out in the yard...

SIMON: Her new release, "The Lookout..."


VEIRS: (Singing) ...The kids pull your sleeves.

SIMON: ...Is described as a soundtrack for turbulent times and a concept album about the fragility of precious things.


VEIRS: (Singing) ...Light up the gutter leaves. Everybody needs you.

SIMON: Laura Veirs joins us from the studios of Oregon Public Broadcasting.

Thanks so much for being with us.

VEIRS: Thanks for having me, Scott.

SIMON: We're listening to the first single from the album. Out in the yard, kids pull your sleeves. Your turquoise beams light up the gutter leaves. Is this talk about the precious fragility of everyday things?

VEIRS: It is. It's almost about that mystical feeling you can have spending time with children who are seeing the bright side of things and the almost surrealistic side of things - the turquoise beams, like, someone's blue eyes are looking at the gutter leaves, which are so boring. But through a child's eyes, there could be worms. There could be exciting things lighting up the gutter leaves. So it's - yeah, it's about the conflict a lot of us feel being parents trying to balance and juggle everything and also artists trying to straddle the line between holding down jobs and raising children and also needing space and time to dream and be imaginative and free in our thinking.


SIMON: I forget who said it - that the pram in the hallway is the enemy of art.

VEIRS: I would disagree with that. I'm only eight years in to being a pram pusher.

SIMON: (Laughter) Yeah.

VEIRS: But I do feel there are a lot of things that work together, being an artist and a parent.

SIMON: Constant sense of rediscovery when you're - yeah.

VEIRS: A constant sense of discovery, a constant sense of, look at these artists that I can be inspired by because as you get older - and I think was the Picasso quote - it's a challenge to be an artist as an adult. All children are artists, and you can seek inspiration from their wide-eyed wonder at everything.

SIMON: Let's listen to a bit of the title track, "The Lookout."


VEIRS: (Singing) I can't read these people. I can't read their eyes. But man alive, I'm glad I have you, my lookout on the ground, making music...

SIMON: That's a beautiful song.

VEIRS: Thank you.

SIMON: You got a lookout?

VEIRS: That's about my husband, Tucker, who has produced all my records except for the very first one. And he produced this new one - Tucker Martine.


VEIRS: (Singing) What if you had never stumbled into me? The world as we know it simply wouldn't be.

Yeah, he's my lookout. He looks out for me. He looks out for our kids. And it's a reassuring feeling to have someone like that because there is so much in my life and in life in general that is unstable and feels threatening, especially in the kind of divided country that we're living in right now. It can feel like a threatening place. And to have someone that you feel is there looking out for you feels great. And I wanted to honor him in that song.

SIMON: You seem to have a call for civility in a song on this album. Let's listen to a bit of "Seven Falls."


VEIRS: (Singing) So cold like a planet with no sun floats in the black. I'm old now. And I try to be kind, but still, sometimes I'm as cold as that.

SIMON: I try to be kind, but still, sometimes I'm as cold as that. Is it getting harder to be kind?

VEIRS: I think for me, honestly, that song's kind of embarrassing because it's about how I do have this coldhearted side to me that can be very short and blunt and harsh. And I would never show that to you, of course.

SIMON: What the hell did you say?


SIMON: That's a joke.


VEIRS: Right? Yeah, I'm done with this interview. I am out.

SIMON: (Laughter) Boy, I'd heard that you had a cold side, but I thought that was just a song lyric.

VEIRS: I think I was just grappling with, like, why can't I stop yelling at the kids, you know? I don't yell all the time. I'm not abusing them or anything. But there are times where they really make me snap, and I wish I could rein it in and be more Buddhist or Zen and just chill. But I kind of, like, snap in this coldhearted way. And growing up, you know, kids would be mean to me, I would be mean to them, and there's references to that. So for me, it's getting easier to be warmhearted, but I'm still working on it.


VEIRS: (Singing) Follow Polaris on the northern route. When it grows darkest, the stars come out.

SIMON: This is a midlife album, isn't it?

VEIRS: Yes, it is.

SIMON: This is your 10th.

VEIRS: Yes. And I worked very hard on these songs. I worked four hours a day, four days a week for about a year because I was really determined to just keep writing so many songs. I made these songwriting cards for myself where there was a lyric prompt, and then there was a music prompt, and then there was a mood prompt, and I would grab them at random. So one lyric prompt might say, stop making sense. And then the music prompt might say, write in 5/4, like, a different time signature than you're used to. And then the mood prompt would be like, make it dark. And so I'd have to stick within those parameters and just do, like, little projects, homework projects throughout the weeks.

SIMON: I mean, that could be a course at Juilliard.

VEIRS: Well, you should call them and tell them that.


VEIRS: I'll go.


VEIRS: (Singing) When it grows darkest, the stars come out.

So I get very focused on the writing, and I'll do it for about a year - and almost, like, maniacal obsessed. And then I'll just totally stop. It's almost like the floodgates get chopped off, and then the dam builds up again. And then you open the floodgates, and then - whoosh - they come out. And then you stop it up.

SIMON: So you're building up the reservoir.


SIMON: Well, we'll look forward to when the floodgate - when it begins to spill over and you have to write again.

VEIRS: Thank you.

SIMON: Laura Veirs. Her new album - "The Lookout." Thanks so much for being with us.

VEIRS: Thanks for having me.


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