Volume 75, Number 9 | July 20- 26, 2005

Laura Wolfe
The Bitter End
147 Bleecker Street
Aug. 17
Siren CD available at www.cdbaby.com

The “Siren” singer

Lower East Side native releases debut album

BY Aileen Torres

Laura Wolfe, a native of the Lower East Side, has always been performing. She grew up in a very musically-oriented, politically progressive household, with a mother who is a professional classical pianist and a father who was a member of the Weathermen, a revolutionary group of communists active from the late ‘60s to the early ‘80s, and former history professor at NYU. Wolfe, who is now in her thirties, participated in demonstrations herself as a teenager and college student, but her ultimate passion is for singing.

“I sang gospel music for six years,” said Wolfe, who was a member of the choir at LaGuardia High School. “I kind of see myself in that tradition of singer-songwriter, but a little bit more funk and soul bits in there than the traditional white singer-songwriter, I should say.” Wolfe grew up listening to music from a variety of genres, from pop, funk and soul to classical music, and these influences are evident in her full-length debut album, Siren, released this June.

The album was produced by Steve Addabbo, who has worked with the artists Suzanne Vega and Shawn Colvin. Wolfe was all praises for Addabbo. “He’s so great. I had worked with another producer, and he just wasn’t capturing my voice. I was introduced to him [Addabbo] through my friend. He came down to one of my shows, and he was like, I’d love to work with you. It was a great experience. I felt so excited and at home in the studio. Really comfortable. It also was another affirmation for me—yes, I’m doing the right thing. This is what I’m supposed to be doing.” Wolfe also worked with Dido’s rhythm section on Siren—Alex Alexander on drums and Keith Golden on bass.

Wolfe describes her debut album as the culmination of a lot of things in her life. She had grown up in New York City, where she had been surrounded by ethnically diverse peers, many of whom were from radical families. Then she went away to attend college at Oberlin, which was definitely a big shift from her childhood urban environment.

Although she had been writing songs as a kid, Wolfe really became interested in songwriting during college. Her moment of epiphany came about after she played a couple of her songs at a local coffeehouse. She didn’t take it seriously at the time—“They were just songs I wrote,” she said. “They were fun”—but for several months after being up on that stage, she had people approaching her to tell her that they had been touched by her songs. “And I think that’s when I realized this is gonna be what I did for my life. I was just, like, wow. You know, it’s like when you’re in that little insular moment of creating something, and then you open it out there, and you realize it’s significant because it actually moves people. It affects people.”

Making a difference, contributing something positive to the world, is the essence of Wolfe’s philosophy on art, and life in general. “I guess, you create for yourself to a certain extent, but I was raised with [the mentality] that what you do in the world should be something that uplifts and educates, or causes people to think,” she said.

During college, Wolfe became interested in performance art. She collaborated with a modern dance company in conjunction with her musical activities, but she held on to a traditional core in her music. “I like a melody,” she said, which is clear on Siren, where there is a thread of the torch singer tradition. “I wouldn’t say I’m traditional,” explained Wolfe, “but I kind of like something you can hold on to, either lyrically, or—something that’s not so intellectual that it loses heart.”

Siren itself is a product of an intense emotional time in Wolfe’s life. She began writing it in college—for instance, the songs “Nuclear Love” and “City Child”—and when she returned to New York, she had to deal, as all young adults do, with the process of deciding “what you’re gonna do with your life, contending with the drama of relationships, and all the other drama that comes up in life. I grew up here, and finding my identity [was tough],” said Wolfe, who was admittedly a wild child as a teenager. She did a lot of partying, and, while she had a lot of fun, she felt that she didn’t know herself at the time. Working on Siren was more than just working on music. It was “also about being centered,” said Wolfe. “I think I’m coming into my own making a CD, and knowing that I can hold on to myself no matter how it’s received, knowing I’m happy with the work.”

Thus far, Wolfe has played mostly in New York. She’s done the performance tour of the East Village club scene, including CB’s, 313 Gallery and Fez, and is now looking to play in other cities and also internationally. The official release party for Siren will take place this fall, when Wolfe will be touring as well.

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