Returning to yourself is about listening to your truth and being authentic.

Interview by Isabel Marquez

Photograph by Monika S Jakubowska

In her debut recording, Laura Lantano presents a collection of original, contemporary tunes influenced by her love of jazz standards and song writing. I wanted to get an idea of how Laura approaches song writing, and what inspired this idea of returning to herself…

Firstly, what does it mean to ‘return to yourself’? What inspired this album title?

When we were children, we knew who we were, we weren’t afraid to be ourselves. We were playful, curious, and carefree. However, as we grew up and became adults, we learnt to conform to social and cultural rules to fit in, hiding who we really are. Returning to yourself is about listening to your truth and being authentic.

Can you tell me a bit about your musical journey and how you got to where you are today?

I started learning the piano at 4 years old and progressed through the grades during my school years. Song writing has always been something I’ve done for fun – I wrote my first song when I was 8 years old, and as a teenager, I would entertain my siblings with silly songs, and also school friends would listen to me perform original songs on lunch breaks.

I recorded my first song at a studio in Carnaby Street, London at the age of 14, which was arranged by a classmate of mine. When I left school, I spent a year working with a South London-based music producer and wrote a self-titled EP.

In my early twenties, I studied a BMus (Hons), specializing in Music Technology. I also studied classical piano and had voice lessons. During the summers I worked as a studio assistant at Sony Music Studios, which is where I was introduced to the music of Carole King – one of the music producers had told me to listen to her album ‘Tapestry’.

In my late twenties, I discovered Anita Wardell’s music, and I was very impressed with her vocalese and scat singing. I wanted to learn how to do that. So, I began taking lessons with Anita, transcribing ‘So What’ from Kind of Blue, and also ‘All of Me’ by Sarah Vaughan. A year later, I was studying Jazz Performance and Improvisation at Trinity Laban, which was a very fruitful time for me as a musician.

I studied with some inspiring teachers, such as Nia Lynn, Pete Churchill, and Simon Purcell. I also performed at various venues such as Oliver’s Jazz Bar, The Vortex, The Hideaway and Ronnie Scott’s Bar. I started up the ‘Jazz Singers’ Jam’ at Oliver’s Jazz bar, I had guest singers such as Heidi Vogel, Anita Wardell and Emilia Martensson perform the main set and the house band changed every week, musicians such as Sam Crowe, and Bruno Heinen, Martin Speake and Corrie Dick to name a few. It also gave upcoming singers and to perform with a great band and the evening ended with a Jam.

I always wanted to write my own album of songs but felt creatively blocked – I could sing other people’s songs, but when I tried, I’d start songs and never finish them. During the lockdown, I started reading ‘The Artists Way’ by Julia Cameron – which helped to unblock my creativity.

I decided that I also wanted to work on my song writing skills and enrolled on an MA in Song writing with Bath Spa University. The songs on my album were the result of the course. I recorded the album with Greg Dowling at his studio called Elsden Music Studio last summer.

What does song writing mean to you and why/how did it become such an important part of your life and musical process?

I like telling stories in songs, sometimes I draw upon my own experiences, and sometimes it’s completely made up, but I enjoy the exploration of the story in both lyric and melody. Sometimes the music comes first, I’ll sit at the piano and start with a chord progression I like the sound of, and then I’ll improvise a melody.

Then an idea of a lyric might come to the surface. Actually, for most of the album, the lyrics came first. On the MA, we were taught various techniques for generating lyrics. Song writing can be therapeutic, one can explore their feelings about certain life experiences, and write through the pain or even the joy of something.

Which track on the album stands out to you the most?

I love performing ‘I’ll Never Fall in Love Again.’ The ‘Colla Voce’ intro verse and building up of emotion across the course of the song. It’s about the impermanence of love. When you are in love, you think it will last forever, but sometimes you are wrong. It’s a heartbreaking song. I’ve always loved to sing sad songs.

How did you go about writing the album and bringing all the musical parts together?

This album is the result of an MA in Song writing with Bath Spa. Some of the songs started with the lyrics, and some with chord progressions and melodic improvisation at the piano. I learnt various techniques to generate lyrics to songs, from free writing, exploring poetry and writing from photographs, so most of the songs on this album started as lyrics.

I have a lyric notebook where I keep snippets of lyrics and ideas that I can go back to when writing. So, I wrote the lyrics and music myself and when it came to the rehearsals and the recording, Sam and Duncan used my chord charts and improvised their parts. They are both incredible musicians, and I am thrilled at what they’ve played. They took the music to a place I couldn’t do on my own.

How did you go about choosing the musicians to work and play with you on the album?

I had worked with Sam Leak in the past, and he’s such a brilliant pianist and improviser, so I knew that I wanted him to be part of the album. Sam recommended Duncan to me, who is also a brilliant musician that I had heard of but had never met or played with before. I feel very blessed to be able to work with such wonderful musicians.

Who are your most distinct influences and have you channelled them at any point on the album?

Listeners of my music have picked up on Carole King and Bacharach, who are two of my main influences for this album. Carole’s ‘Tapestry’ Album was introduced to me by a record producer I was assisting at Sony Music Studios – I was a studio assistant for the summers of my undergraduate degree.

He was saying to another musician, songwriters don’t make songs like they used to – all the greats – Carole King and Bacharach. And so, the first thing I did was buy their albums.

What can we expect to hear from you in the future now that you have released your debut album?

I hope to get more opportunities to perform my album at Jazz venues in London and the UK. Get my music out there. I have already started working on the second album, I’d like to release another album in Autumn next year. I can’t really say much about it as it’s still in development, but I’m really pleased with the direction it’s taking at the moment.

For more information visit Laura’s website

Click here to read our review of Returning To Myself