It’s been two years since Lauren Mann won CBC’s Searchlight competition and four since she put out her last full-length album, Over Land and Sea, which featured the contest-winning song, “I Lost Myself.” In that time, the Calgary native built off of the success of her Searchlight win by touring and cultivating fan bases across the country. When the folk singer-songwriter wasn’t on the road, where a number of new song ideas began forming in her head that would eventually find a home on a new album, she planted new roots in Pender Island, B.C.
Both the blissful and whirlwind moments have made their way into the songs on Dearestly, a new 16-track album that Mann has decided to surprise release today. Following the footsteps of artists like Beyoncé, Radiohead and Dan Mangan, Mann wanted to skip over the build-up period and hand the album over to her fans immediately. CBC Music spoke to Mann earlier this week to talk about her decision to surprise fans with a new album, dropping her extended moniker of the “Fairly Odd Folk” and how Searchlight has changed her career over the past two years.
To download Lauren Mann's new album Dearestly, and to check out her upcoming tour dates, head over to her website now.
What made you decide to put out Dearestly as a surprise release?
These days, it seems like there’s not really one way to go about releasing an album and a lot of different artists have been experimenting with ways of doing that. We had planned on doing a big, long lead-up and announcing a release date, and we were going to work with a publicist but that didn’t work out. So, we were on our own and we were like, what do we really want to do? The last time we released music was four years ago so our fans have been waiting a long time and I figured we should just put it out there and let our fans be our publicists and help us get the word out. We took a look back at when we were in Searchlight and how fans really got onboard and helped us by sharing and voting and we thought we could use some of those ideas for a record release. That was kind of our approach to it.
As you said, a lot of different artists have played around with the way they release albums nowadays. Were there any particular artists you looked to as an example or inspiration?
Just recently, Dan Mangan released his EP as a bit of a surprise, so that’s been fresh in our minds. Radiohead did a really cool lead-up to their latest record. In true Radiohead style, they put out very cryptic images and sounds so we kind of took these ideas and looked at how we could make this fit with our demographic and our fans and make it work for us.
Right, I noticed you’ve been posting snippets on your social media, sort of like teasers.
Yes, we’re doing a series of photos throughout the day just to kind of introduce the idea.
How important have your fans been to the success of your band?
Oh, that’s been huge for us. Over the years, we haven’t had a ton of industry support. We’re not on a big record label or anything so our fans have been our core since we started. That’s always been our goal. We just toured and made connections with people and that’s been really rewarding and it’s one of the main reasons we won Searchlight. We really just want to keep them close and we just want to give them the music and let them spread the word.
You even have a very elaborate fan club system in place.
Yeah, that was kind of an extension of building our fan base. I think every artist is on the journey of, well, how do we make this career sustainable, and we decided to do a monthly subscription. People can sign up and there are a few options but the lowest one is six dollars a month and every month we send out something exclusive so usually it’s a couple of songs, some demos or various other things. We’ve had lots of people in Canada who are friends or fans of us sign up, some people in Australia. It’s been a cool way to connect a bit deeper with people who have been supporting us for a long time.
That’s great that you have fans in Australia, have you ever toured there?
I haven’t. The few people we have signed up there found us on a website called NoiseTrade. We had Over Land and Sea up for a free download there and I guess they really liked it!
Sustaining your career and making money is obviously an important part of being a musician, so what was the reason behind putting Dearestly up as a pay-what-you-can album?
I guess it’s kind of counterintuitive to make it pay-what-you-want when you’re trying to make a living from it, but at the end of the day we really wanted to get it to as many ears as possible and make it accessible to people. We’ve kind of experimented with this in the past. We put Over Land and Sea up as a free download where people could tip and we did pretty well with that. I think some people will download it and not pay anything for whatever reason, but I think a lot of people who see value in it and like the music and really connect with it will want to pay more. We’ve seen cool things happen to it in the past so we’re going to give it a go with this and I guess the main goal is exposure, allowing people to share it.
Dearestly is under Lauren Mann and not Lauren Mann and the Fairly Odd Folk – where did the latter part of your band name go?
The Fairly Odd Folk has always been whoever I’ve played with live and it’s always been a rotating cast of friends and musicians. So we just figured, to keep it cleaner and easier for shows and marketing, we dropped the Fairly Odd Folk part. It will always be whoever’s playing with me though – they will still be fairly odd!
What was the writing process like for this album?
I started writing some of the songs a few years ago. A lot of the songs were kind of born from touring and being on the road and those experiences. It’s been a really long writing process but I really started to focus on it more at the beginning of 2015. The album lyrically and musically kind of chronicles the journey of the past few years culminating in our journey of moving out west and a lot of ideas come from spending time on the road and finally finding this home. A lot of highs and lows. It was a really fun process and it was really fun getting to dig into the songs and spend time working on them in a very collaborative process, just making them the best it could be.
Was this your first time working with producer Howard Redekopp (Tegan and Sara, The New Pornographers, Mother Mother)?
Yeah, we met him through the Peak Project that we were part of in 2014. He did a session at the boot camp that we went to and then we started to talk about maybe doing a record together and it worked out to have him and Josh Rob Gwilliam produce it. It was a match made in heaven.
Did you learn anything specific from working with him?
I learned a ton. I love Howard because he’s such a humble and down-to-earth guy but he’s got this great ear for crafting really good pop songs. One of the big things that I learned while doing this record with him was just working on vocals. He taught me to pay attention to the rhythm of the vocals which I never really thought of, but how you sing something can really enhance the rhythm and the dynamic of the song, so making really sharp staccato syllables can totally change it if you’re elongating the words and joining everything together. It was one of the big things that he always pushed me to focus and work on and it made some of the songs 100 percent better. That was just one thing. I learned a lot!
You’ve mentioned Searchlight a few times already but how has the contest changed your career over the past two years?
Searchlight was awesome and one of the biggest things that came out of all that was the exposure because CBC is all across Canada. We noticed, while doing a small tour after we won, that a lot more people came out to the shows because of CBC and that was really huge. Even though we kind of took the following year off, people have stuck with us and it was really significant for us to get that boost going into a quieter season and now that the new record is coming out, hopefully we’ll see some of those people on tour.