A lot has happened for Baltimore native Lauren Ruth Ward in a few short years. After moving to Los Angeles in 2015, she has received glowing write-ups in the Los Angeles Times, become engaged to lauded indie singer LP, and now released her first, full-length record, Well, Hell, filled with raspy vocals and Americana-tinged rock melodies.
Before her show at the Ottobar on Saturday, we talked with the singer about her musical upbringing, being compared to Janis Joplin, and finding an unlikely matchmaker in WTMD’s Sam Sessa.
You lived in California for three years but are from Baltimore. Were you making music here as well? I’ve only been an active musician for about three years. I played guitar as a hobby and sang at some talent shows in high school, but then didn’t touch the guitar again until I turned 18. At 21, I started writing songs again. At the time, I had a partner and we had a little folk band called Whet Whiskers. We were inspired by the Hagerstown band Cotton Jones. We played maybe 10 shows, at friend’s house parties and local restaurants. It was cute. But they were no more than diary entries and having sweet old friends who would say, ‘Oh, play us one of those songs.’ Now it’s very serious, like morning, noon, and night.
What was your musical upbringing like in Maryland? Oh, my sweet parents. They love music. I got a lot of disco and R&B from my mom, and a lot of classic rock and Motown from my step mom and dad. My first memories are being in my dad’s truck, every other weekend when he had us, playing the most random rotation. He loved ’80s glam rock—White Snake, Poison, Mötley Crüe, Aerosmith—and then he’d turn on The Jackson 5, The Carpenters. Even The Cranberries and Garbage. I embraced all of the bands, and especially loved ’60s and ’70s bands like Fleetwood Mac and The Doors.
Is it strange to be compared to a legend as iconic as Janis Joplin? It’s the coolest fucking thing in the world. Like what compliment would you want? That one, right there. But I don’t consciously or subconsciously embody any one legend.
Janis’s lesser known songs have that Americana edge to them. Folk music, by definition, is folklore. I love telling stories and that’s just how I write. When I first started making music, I was definitely a singer-songwriter, a folk player. But now, there’s just a band behind me and it’s a whole other thing.
How did you find out you were a performer? A wireless microphone. I’ve always loved dancing, and I had already started jumping into the crowd, using the longest microphone cable we could find. I’m not reinventing the wheel but my intention is to convince the people who like dance music that they also like rock and roll.
Why Los Angeles? It sounds kind of cheesy, but I feel like California chose me. I felt a calling, which I’d never felt before. At the time, I was getting an itch to really do music. It happened a couple of times before, but I never fully scratched it, and then it would come back tenfold. Finally I was ready to make a move and take it seriously. There was a super sweet supportive manager who was interested in me out there. My life had gotten complacent in Maryland, and in California, I could feel my brain changing. I knew that this place was going to make me grow. I didn’t have any music out yet, but before long, my manager put me in writing sessions and I released a five-song folk EP in fall 2015.
Now you’ve got your first full-length album, Well, Hell. How did that all unfold? I’d say my big break was any time a booker who didn’t know who I was put me on a show. They thought I was going to be something, and when something like that happens, you start to believe in yourself.
You’re also now engaged to the artist LP. You met her in Baltimore? I met her at Canton Waterfront Park at WTMD’s First Thursdays on June 5, 2014. This is so small-town Baltimore. I had put a couple of songs up on a Soundcloud, and then Sam Sessa hit me up on Facebook, asking me to be on his radio show, the Baltimore Hit Parade. I was like, ‘Oh my god, absolutely!’ Afterwards, he asked if I wanted to be a VIP guest at their next First Thursdays. I was living in Patterson Park at the time and I looked at the lineup and realized, fuck yeah, LP is playing! I’d been listening to her music for about three years at the time. I went there to go see her and almost missed her. I caught her last two songs and then there I am, just sitting in the back of the VIP section, and she comes over to me and we start talking. All the while, all these people kept coming up, being like, ‘Excuse me, would you mind taking a photo of her and I?’ Which is total foreshadowing to my life now. [Laughs.] But when we finished up talking, she asked if I wanted to take a photo, so now I have this selfie from the first day that we met.
That’s a truly Baltimore story. Sam Sessa is your matchmaker. Mhm, and he knows it! Then I met her again in L.A., just two days shy of a year later at the Roosevelt Hotel.
In full circle, you’re now returning to Baltimore, with your own Live Lunch at WTMD and now this weekend’s show at the Ottobar on Saturday. What do you miss about this city when you’re away?
I miss my family, and all the people, and the overall energy. I actually just recently found a bunch of old photos from when the Ottobar had that black-and-white photo booth. I used to go to there all the time, ever since I was 14. But my nostalgic spots are Fells Point and Hampden. I always have to go to Bertha’s, and visit my friends at Brightside Boutique. I’m just excited to walk around. Baltimore is full of so much life and culture and history and good food. And, of course, there’s the music scene!