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Laura Cortese

Connection and Tension

Songwriters Monthly - July 11, #138

Laura Cortese plays a wicked fiddle. She is precise, explosively dynamic and delightfully enthralling. Her mesmerizing cascades of percussive rhythmic intricacies are as stunning

when I listen to instrumental music I go internal, my mind drifts and I often end up thinking about dicult ideas and emotions.
as her sweet and warm vocals are soothing. Cortese is an artist with numerous skills and talents residing in her nimble fingertips. She is as impressive as she is entertaining. Songwriters Monthly had a chance to ask the artist a few questions about her EP series, specifically ACOUSTIC PROJECT. Songwriters Monthly: Could you give our readers a brief overview of the EP series and the inspiration behind the ACOUSTIC PROJECT? Laura Cortese: The EP series was born out of a desire to take a snapshot of a few different inspiring musicians and music communities that have helped me develop as an artist. The ACOUSTIC PROJECT specifically came from growing up with and making music with Natalie Haas, Brittany Haas and Hanneke Cassel at the Valley Of The Moon Fiddle Songwriters Monthly - July 11, #138 Camp. The fiddle sound and stylistic vocabulary that we have learned over the years and developed is unique and only exists when we all come together. I identify equally as being a fiddler and a singer. I hear fiddle at the core of all my songs. Having the lush fiddle ensemble magnified that core that I hear in my head as I write. The two other EPs, TWO AMPS, ONE M ICROPHONE , a duo with Jefferson Hamer and, SIMPLE HEART, a vocal EP, capture similarly unique musical settings that I explore. SM: How did you approach writing for this particular ensemble?

LC: Interestingly enough, the only track I really wrote for the ensemble was the arrangement of "Women of the Ages," which was a co-write between me and John Beaton. He wrote the words and I set it to music. I sat down and worked out string parts for the first verses and chorus and then let the g i r l s d e ve l o p them as the song continues. The rest of the songs were all pre-existing and I wanted to hear them realized in fiddle quartet context. The ACOUSTIC PROJECT is part of a 3 EP series, each share some songs and have some unique material. In that sense I often let the ensemble take the lines and ideas established in my sparse demos and organically develop their version. Since the recording sessions, I have performed with various versions of this ensemble and each line up interprets the music a bit differently and I love the evolution of the parts. We record every show and build on the Songwriters Monthly - July 11, #138

arrangements as we go. I am currently writing some songs with the ACOUSTIC PROJECT in mind and hope to debut them as we tour. id=hyTjEIK1pMo&offerid=146261&type=3&sub id=0&tmpid=1826&RD_PARM1=http%253A %252Falbum%252Facoustic-project %252Fid401768099%253Fuo %253D4%2526partnerId%253D30

SM: Do you find that you communicate better with words or strings? LC: Communication is a funny thing. I usually take the writing process in several stages first catharsis/ brainstorming where I come up with the song topic and later I craft/explore the telling of the possible story. As I craft, I try to examine emotions that I may not have felt on the surface in the autobiographical version of the idea, but that someone else may feel in a similar situation or that m ay h ave b e e n bubbling under the s u r f a c e . Processing and crafting lyrics allows me to explore and communicate these ideas clearly. That said, when I listen to instrumental music I go internal, my mind drifts and I often end up thinking

Perfect Tuesdays was me thinking through the sassy, irty, sexual, exciting and sometimes dark emotions around hooking up.

about difficult ideas and emotions as I listen. In this way, it is possible that a lister could find more meaning through an instrumental track rather than taking the journey I lay out for them lyrically. SM: How do you decide whether or not a song needs lyrics?

LC: Great question! I actually don't usually decide. For vocals, a short melodic phrase with a lyric idea pops into my head. From there, I create a chord structure and melody and full story from that little Songwriters Monthly - July 11, #138

I felt like being a solo artist meant you couldnt collaborate, but I have found the opposite to be true.

seed. For instrumentals, I usually have a similar process with a small fiddly melodic idea and develop it into a tune. Often the chord structure comes after the melodic/lyric seed, but before I perfect the melody. SM: How do you come up with the titles for your instrumental tracks?

LC: 5 Tune is in 5/4 meter. The other two on this EP, I didnt write. Greasy Coat is traditional and Du Petit Sarny et Reel Deux were written and named by Eric Favreau, a fiddler from

Quebec. Sometimes the tune title comes first and I write a melody to fit the idea. SM: You have incredible skill and amazing flexibility on the instrument

I often feel transported as I deliver a song . . .

plus a really impressive sense of phrasing, what kind of focus is going on inside while you perform? LC: Ha ha. Thank you. It is hard to explain what is going on in my head as I play and sing. Sometimes it is almost on auto pilot and I can really get into the emotion or story of the lyric. Sometimes I have to separate my brain and identify 3 distinct notes at once. One: my voice, the other two: my fingers on the fiddle. I often feel transported as I deliver a song. When I come to the end reality creeps back in. SM: Do you utilize alternate tunings? LC: Yes, two of the tracks on the record are recorded in alternate tunings AEAE (Greasy Coat) and GDGD (Du Petit Sarny et Reel Deux). The tone is very different. AEAE is bright and punchy and GDGD is warmer. I have also tried ADAF and AEAC#. AEAE, GDGD and AEAC# are pretty standard fiddle tunings in certain genres. SM: Which musicians/music inspires you? Songwriters Monthly - July 11, #138

LC: An incredibly long list. There are the many friends and colleagues that I enjoy playing with (Rose Polenzani, Aoife O'donovan, Jennifer Kimball, Natalie Haas, Brittany Haas, Sam Amidon), the performers I've worked with (Band of Horses, Jefferson Hamer), and Americana and pop music both old and new (Paul McCartney, Otis Redding, Neko Case, Fleet Foxes, David Bowie). The list is constantly growing! SM: Several of your tracks on this EP ride along the edge of chaos because there is so much tension and counterpoint but the melody never falls into the abyss, it holds strong, but creates a great deal of tension. Do you like tension? LC: I love tension! Both note wise and in the arrangement. I was very pleased on the ACOUSTIC PROJECT where the ensemble builds and almost swallows the vocal in very intense moments. I

When I come to the end reality creeps back in.

think that tension conveys the emotional ideas of the song as much as the lyric. SM: Which is your favorite track on this EP and why? LC: Wow! That is tough. I don't have one . . . Overcome, I love the tension of the strings engulfing my voice it is a very reflective song and the strings really convey that. Perfect Tuesdays is always a blast to play with other

people. It brings the party element to the disc. Women of the Ages is a fave because of the space, sparkle and meaning of the lyric. Wade On In is may fave to sing both in the studio and live. SM: Speaking of P e r f e c t Tuesdays, that is my current f a vo r i t e . W h a t inspired that track? LC: I live in Watertown, MA (the Boston Area). We have an incredible music scene. There are a few venues that we sort of revolve around. I had been going to see a band called Session Americana at The Lizard L o u n g e e v e r y Tu e s d a y w i t h m y housemates, friends and fellow musicians while I was home one winter. The music moved us every week. I dont have words to describe just how it feels to be a part of this community. As we listened to the music, we would watch people flirting and courting. I, in fact, met my husband there one Tuesday night he was doing sound there. Perfect Tuesdays was me thinking through the sassy, flirty, Songwriters Monthly - July 11, #138

sexual, exciting, and sometimes dark emotions around hooking up. SM: What is the d i f f e r e n c e between violin and fiddle? LC: There is no p h y s i c a l d i f f e r e n c e between the instruments. Some fiddlers choose to have "lower action" which means the strings are closer to the finger board and the arc of the bridge is more slight, but it usually refers to the style of music played by the artist. SM: Were there any challenges you faced when putting together this project that you didnt anticipate? LC: It all went pretty smoothly. I went through a bit of stress around my own fiddle sound, but in the end I bought a new bow and the sound coming off my instrument now matches what I hear in my head much more closely. SM: Is there anything youd like to mention about any aspect of your career/music/life/etc.?

LC: Hmmm . . . I used to want to play ONLY in band settings. I felt like being a solo artist meant you couldn't collaborate, but I have found the opposite to be true. As a solo artist, you are much more free to collaborate with as many people in as many different settings as you can schedule. I find being a solo artist is really about connecting with people who inspire you and who are inspired by you. The connection and tension of collaboration is one of my greatest pleasures. SM: What are your plans for the upcoming months? LC: As if making and releasing 3 EPs in two years was not enough, I have been

working on a secret collaborative project to find an ultimate artistic sound for 12 original songs and a few covers. Some of the songs were recorded on the ACOUSTIC PROJECT and TWO, AMPS ONE MICROPHONE in more spare arrangements that suited those ensembles. My goal is to release the record and tour with the full band for four months or so beginning in October. For more information on Laura Cortese, visit: Note: Laura just opened her kickstarter campaign for this project and it closes on August 19th! If you would like to get involved, visit:

As a solo artist, you are much more free to collaborate with as many people in as many dierent settings as you can schedule.

Songwriters Monthly - July 11, #138