For an artist whose music tends to be more on the relaxed end of the spectrum, it's surprising to hear how quickly Laura Jane Vincent and her band were able to create her debut record, For a Sweetheart from the South.
"We ended up doing it in about two days," Vincent says. "We wanted to do it quickly because the musicians lived in different places, and we were all coming together just for this weekend to make the record."
But while the process only took place over the course of one weekend, getting to that point is not something Vincent rushed into. In fact, it took her well over a decade to decide to record an album — and for good reason.
"I'm 30 years old now, and I've been performing in front of other people as a serious, guitar-playing singer-songwriter since I was about 15," says Vincent. "And of course when you're on stage at 15 years old, you're a horrible, sweaty, nervous mess! It's awful!"
Fortunately, despite those early struggles, not to mention the anxiety she felt performing personal songs in front of other people, Vincent grew more comfortable as time went on.
"At first you're just terrified because you think everyone thinks a song is about them," Vincent confesses. "It's very scary. But the more I did it, the more confident I got."
That confidence shines through on Sweetheart, as Vincent fills the album with tales of everyday people looking to maintain their sense of humanity despite the struggles they encounter. Sometimes they aren't strong enough in the end, as the protagonist in the mid-tempo country track "Warfare" proves, but at least they don't go down without a fight. And sometimes, as the more hopeful folk rock song "Believer" suggests, people have the power to make you believe that love is really worth it.
Vincent's laid-back delivery has a way of keeping the album on an even keel despite the many ups and downs the LP explores. At times the record seems autobiographical in its recollections, as though coming from someone who has benefited from time and hindsight. But this is not simply a series of musical journal entries.
"A lot of things I write come out of experiences I have had," says Vincent, "but I also hear stories from other people, and I try to put myself in a first-person narrative when writing a song about that. I like to put myself in the character's place, so that's why it tends to come across as autobiographical sometimes when it really isn't."
Vincent's ability to make every song seem autobiographical is both a testament to her songwriting ability and the passion she has for her music, even if she doesn't express that passion by belting out her vocals left and right. God knows she could do that with these sometimes wistful, lonesome songs and be justified in her decision. And of course, there is always a danger in laying your work out there for all to see because once you do that, anybody can interpret the material however they please.
"It's always risky," Vincent admits with a laugh. "For example, I play in this band with my boyfriend [drummer Dave Tippetts], so I would never want him to think, if I'm writing this very angry song, that it's about him. But thankfully he's also a musician, so he never takes it personally. With my songs, it's not one of those things where anybody could say, 'Oh yeah, she was telling me that story last night. I know who that one's about.'"
Taking time to get ready to make this record has paid great dividends for Vincent. It helped her get to a place where she was finally ready to share her music with the world.
"It took me so long to actually put something out because mentally I had to figure out whether I thought I was ready to support a product and say, 'This is me. This is what I want to do. This is something I want to ask all my friends and family and all you people to continue to pay money to see me do,'" Vincent says. "Then I finally realized, 'You know what? It's been this long, so I'm just going to put these songs out, be proud of them, and that's how it's going to go.'"
For Vincent, creating songs is more than just about expression. Music fascinates her, especially because of its ever-changing nature, and as long as that continues to be the case, music will continue to call out to her.
"There's always a way to get better," says Vincent. "You're never done. No song is ever finished. You can think you are done with a song and put it on a record, but then realize you're not done with it. You can take that song, play it a hundred different ways on a hundred nights in a hundred different venues, and it still means something to you."