A Conversation With Laura-Mae

August 8, 2020

Having completed a national tour, Laura-Mae has already made a big splash within the New Zealand music scene. From winning big at the nation-wide Country Music Awards early in her career, to competing on the X-Factor, to her debut single “Betsy” being released to critical acclaim. Laura-Mae has solidified herself as one of New Zealand’s top young rising musicians to watch. 

We caught up with her ahead of the release of her second single “Rug of Numbers” to discuss early beginnings, touring the country, and competing in New Zealand’s X-Factor. 

You have quite an interesting mix of indie and country music. What was the inspiration behind crafting that specific sound? 

“Well, I started off doing country: I did country music awards, I did competitions all across the South Island. But, then I went to Uni and that meant moving to Wellington and everyone there is super alternative, super cool, and super indie. So that’s where I was like “okay, I need to get into this indie vibe,” and I kind of ended up being this little hybrid. I tried to sound indie pop but I still have those country roots behind me.” 

Who produced “Rug of Numbers” and “Betsy?” 

“Well, they’re two different people. “Betsy” was a fella in Golden Bay which is where I live at the moment. He’s really lovely, he records stuff for kids’ songs. “Rug of Numbers” was done by Toby from Tiny Triumphs. He’s a tutor at Massey, and he’s done stuff with Salmonella Dub, Stare, Halfcast, and heaps of people around Wellington.”

Did you play all of the instruments on the tracks yourself?

“No. For “Rug of Numbers” I sent Toby a demo of what I wanted, and I definitely had recorded stuff on there all by myself. But, when it came to the studio Toby was really good with guitar and piano so he did a lot of that, which was cool, so I just rocked up in Wellington ready to record and it was fantastic.”

You have three planned releases for this year, right? 

“Yes. There is “Betsy” which is already out, “Rug of Numbers” which has just come out, and then my next one which is interesting again because it has a jazzy sort of vibe. Like a jazz-pop mixture, and that will be coming out probably around September sometime, just before I do a little tour of New Zealand.” 

 So are you gearing up to release potentially an EP or an album next year? 

“Yeah, definitely. For this tour that I am doing, I’m planning on meeting up with people all across the country and recording songs with them. So, by the time next year comes around, I will have quite a few songs to get through. So definitely, an EP is on the table for next year.” 

Do you have any names of any specific people in mind that you want to record with? 

“I definitely will do Toby again because he was so fantastic. There is a fella in Auckland who I am keen to hook up with, one in Tauranga, and potentially one in Christchurch but I can’t tell you the name, it’s all secret for now.” 

Were all of these songs written in a similar period? Or, have you been working on each one individually? 

“They’ve all been done individually. “Rug of Numbers” was written two years ago. I just wrote it and put it down for a while and then I came back to it about six months ago, and did a recording for YouTube and people seemed to really like it. Whereas “Betsy” was instant. It was at the start of this year and I was reflecting on some old flatmates I had and so I pumped out this song in about an hour. I really liked it, it was catchy and so I just decided to record it straight away.” 

With the original “Rug of Numbers” track on YouTube, was it hard to take that original idea and flesh it out with full instrumentation? Or did it just happen quite naturally? 

“Well, with “Rug of Numbers” I wasn’t really sure how I was going to develop it and I just started playing around on my computer. This was early in lockdown when I started playing around and it sounded alright. I was actually keen to record a different song and so I sent that one to Toby and he asked: “do you have any other songs?” So I sent him “Rug of Numbers,” and he said, “I want to record that one with you.” I had no idea what it was going to sound like but Toby did such a good job with it that I was really keen to record that. So just after lockdown I flew up to Wellington and got that done, but I had no idea what it was going to sound like.” 

“You’ve said that “Rug of Numbers” is about society’s downfall in measuring worth in statistics. Do you feel in two minds about it a little bit? As in to be a musician in the modern age, you have to build quite a strong online social media presence, so just how you’re just a number to somebody else then somebody else could be just a number to you.   

“It’s quite a strange one. At the end of the day, we are all statistics right now, we’re all just numbers, we’re a team of five million in New Zealand. It’s strange because we all don’t want to be a statistic but we still are, it does feel weird. On social media, you are always trying to grow your following and get as many people as possible to follow you, and sometimes it just does feel like I am being the numbers a little bit. As a musician, you do need to appreciate them, and I do appreciate the followers who come to my gigs, it’s really nice.”

What set off the initial inspiration for it? Was it someone you admire? Were you feeling like they would never notice you? 

“Okay, so “Rug of Numbers” actually began when I was in Uni. I was just studying in my room and my ex-boyfriend texted me, completely out of the blue, we hadn’t talked for about six years. He was like “hey what you up to?” and I thought “what the heck?” and that was when I started thinking about how I was his first girlfriend, or whatever, and I was like “oh my God, how many girlfriends has he had since then?” I was like “oh I’m just a number to you now” so it kind of spiralled from that and just grew.”

“Rug of Numbers” is quite old so do you have plans of re-recording some of your older songs like “Naughty Ken” or “Me and Tennessee”?   

“Probably not, just because they are so old and so country. In “Me and Tennessee” there is a line in there that mentions wearing country boots. It’s so country that I probably wouldn’t re-record it, I might re-write it though. My auntie and my mum absolutely love that song. When someone loves a song that much it’s like “oh maybe I should re-record it” but I don’t know, probably not. I’m trying to go the indie route rather than country because not a lot of people like country music.”  

You started taking guitar and singing lessons at age twelve so when did you start writing your own music?

“Well, when I started singing lessons at twelve my teacher was really into getting me to do songwriting and creating sounds with my voice. So after six months, I was busking, and within a year I was writing songs. They definitely sounded like nursery rhymes, really repetitive, really bad, and all about my crushes, but what else are you going to write about at thirteen? I started writing really early but when it came to actually thinking about songs to record professionally that only sparked my interest within the last year. Because that was after me finishing Uni and having a little bit of money to spend and having just done a tour of the North Island, so I thought “maybe I can do this full time,” and started to take it more seriously. Especially because in lockdown you can research all the good ways to write songs and market yourself.” 

Was it cool seeing your first official release “Betsty” receive such great reception? 

“Yeah. that was during lockdown as well and it was really really nice because it was just really exciting to officially have it on Spotify. I was so nervous about what people would think, but I think it went pretty well, considering it was my first song. I got over a thousand streams so I was like “yay I beat that mark.” My mum and I popped some champagne and got quite drunk, which you’ve gotta do. We popped a prosecco as well; we had champagne for the release date and prosecco for when my first song got onto national radio, and it got onto The Hits! So we popped some prosecco that night as well, I was real happy.” 

Do you come from a musical family?

“There are a few people in my family who are very musical. My aunty, or my mum’s aunty, well someone in Scotland was a professional Opera singer. People on my mum’s side play the piano and my step-dad, he plays in a brass band. He’s pretty musical as well and he’s been in my life for about fourteen years. So I have been surrounded by super musical family members, which has been nice. But, again, I grew up in Golden Bay, so I mean the school has about 300 hundred students in it from year seven to year thirteen, so it is very small and there are not a lot of musicians at that school to collaborate with or bounce off. That’s why I love the Country Music Awards because I could go to these competitions every second or third month and socialise with friends and family in the music scene.”

 You were on the X-Factor as well, what was that experience like? 

“It was honestly like a big fat holiday, it was really nice. Because you have the pre-audition and they come around to the little towns and I auditioned there. I didn’t think anything of it because I auditioned for the X-Factor the year before and New Zealand’s Got Talent and didn’t get anywhere. So, I was like “oh yeah it’s just another audition,” but they put me through to the live auditions, which was very cool. So for those, they fly you up to Auckland and put you in a hotel for a couple of nights. I met some absolutely hilarious and cool people, so that was fun. Anyway, boot camp was the best part and that is pretty much as far as I went. Boot camp was fun because you got put into the groups of eight people around your age. My group got along really, really well, we went out for some drinks, we partied and just had a good time for a few days. We practised a few songs as well. But, I think the most rewarding part of all of that is seeing behind the scenes and also creating those connections with other musicians. Paige, for example, is smashing it on the charts and she was a part of my X-Factor boot camp group. I also have my friend in Sydney who is smashing the country charts and is doing amazing, and it’s just so inspiring to see those people doing well and do different musical things. I think that is the most rewarding part, keeping those connections through X-Factor.”

So what are the dates for the upcoming tour?

“South Island is kind of October, November, December and the North Island in January, February, March. I’ll be stopping off and seeing friends here and there as I go along. I’ll be living in my big red van which will be fun, trying to make it self-contained and be one of those freedom campers. But, that is the plan, to do as many gigs as possible. My last tour was around the North Island and my main focus for that was actually to see the country because I thought I was going to move to Melbourne this year. So, I just wanted to see the country and I just booked gigs along the way, I actually broke even which was amazing. So this time the focus will be more on the music and I have a little more confidence to be able to book in these gigs and feel comfortable on the road by myself. It’s just so freeing to be able to drive around the country and do that, I just feel so lucky. Even though you’re on the bones of your ass with a really messy home, it’s the best feeling, I’d recommend everyone to do that. I want to do this thing one step at a time, see New Zealand first, then Australia, and then Europe and take my music with me.” 

You can stream Rug Of Numbers below.

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