Singer and songwriter Laura Veirs blends the poetic sensibilities of contemporary folk music with the more ambitious melodic frameworks of indie rock. With a gentle, expressive voice and guitar work that makes room for acoustic simplicity and a more angular electric attack, Veirs' songs are literate and emotionally intelligent, and her vocals are nuanced for all their soothing sweetness. She first earned the attention of critics and discerning listeners with her third album, 2003's Troubled by the Fire, made a celebrated major-label debut with 2004's Carbon Glacier, took a detour into music for kids with 2011's Tumble Bee, and collaborated with Neko Case and k.d. lang on the 2016 project case/lang/veirs.
Laura Veirs was born on October 24, 1973 in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Her parents were both educators -- her father was a professor in college-level physics and her mother taught at middle school. As a youngster, she took piano lessons for a spell, but had only a casual interest in music, soaking up the folk, international, and classical sounds she heard at home and with the pop music she listened to with her friends. She attended Carleton College in Minnesota, where she majored in geology and also studied Mandarin Chinese. She developed a new interest in music at Carleton, and after friends introduced her to the challenging sounds of Bikini Kill and Sonic Youth, she joined an all-female punk rock band, Rair Kx. During a geology research trip to Northeast China, where she served as a translator, she was often left alone to look after camp while her fellow students were out looking for specimens, and she wrote songs to keep herself occupied and sort out her feelings, with a cheap guitar for accompaniment. Folk-oriented material became her new interest, and after graduating from college, she moved to Seattle and started appearing at open-mike events, eventually recording a demo in 1999 that earned her a spot at the city's annual Bumbershoot music festival. Later that year, she recorded her self-titled debut album, which was tracked and mixed live in just three hours, and she released it on her own.
In 2000, Veirs was introduced to musician and record producer Tucker Martine, who would become a close musical collaborator, working on her subsequent studio material. He produced her second album, The Triumphs and Travails of Orphan Mae, another project that she released herself. The album earned enthusiastic reviews in the Pacific Northwest, and after completing 2002's Troubled by the Fire, Martine sent a copy of the album to Simon Raymonde, who ran the British label Bella Union Records; Raymonde loved the album and arranged to release it in the U.K., while Kill Rock Stars brought it out in the United States. Troubled by the Fire was a hit with critics and won Veirs a larger audience, which attracted the attention of Nonesuch Records. The label signed her for 2004's Carbon Glacier, one of the best-reviewed albums of the year. After cutting two more well-received records for Nonesuch, 2005's Year of Meteors and 2007's Saltbreakers, Veirs returned to the indie ranks with 2010's July Flame, which she issued on her own Raven Marching Band Records. By that time, Veirs and Martine had married, and they welcomed their first child that same year.
With kids on her mind as a new parent, Veirs recorded an album for young people, 2011's Tumble Bee: Laura Veirs Sings Folk Songs for Children, which included guest appearances by Colin Meloy of the Decemberists, Jim James of My Morning Jacket, and bluegrass/jazz legend Béla Fleck. In 2012, Veirs and Martine became parents for the second time, and being a mother was one of the themes that informed 2013's Warp & Weft. Two of the guest vocalists on the sessions were Neko Case and k.d. lang, a tip-off to the fact the two noted singers and songwriters were collaborating with Veirs. The three recorded a full album together, 2015's case/lang/veirs, released by Anti- Records and followed by a joint concert tour.
Veirs returned to her solo career with 2018's The Lookout; the album included a cover of the Grateful Dead's "Mountains of the Moon" as well as guest vocals from Sufjan Stevens and Veirs and Martine's young sons. The same year, she debuted a podcast, Midnight Lightning, in which she interviewed fellow musicians and parents on creativity and juggling the responsibilities of raising children with a life in the arts. She also published her first book, Libba: The Magnificent Musical Life of Elizabeth Cotten, a story for youngsters about the legendary folk musician. In November 2019, Veirs revealed that she and Martine were separating. For Valentine's Day 2020, she posted a rough version of a new song about her broken relationship, "I Was a Fool," that she spontaneously recorded on her smartphone. In October 2020, Veirs brought out My Echo, a set produced by Martine that she described as her "'my songs knew I was getting divorced before I did' album."
© Mark Deming /TiVo