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  • Interview with Blues Blast Magazine

    The title of her latest recording, Desire, simply hints at the passions that drive Lauren Mitchell, a commanding singer from Florida’s Gulf coast. Nominated for two Blues Blast Music Awards this year – Soul Blues Album and the Sean Costello Rising Star Award – Mitchell is proud of her work on a disc that finally captures the full extent of her talents. She explains, “You are asking me to talk about the curse of an artist, whether you are a writer, visual artist, or musician. Do I feel it is a wonderful album – do I feel that it is the best representation of me to date? Yes! I am very, very proud of it. But I still listen to it and think, man. I wish we could have done this better. Just being overly critical of myself as an artist, that curse, propels me to work harder to achieve my goal to grow and evolve. Looking back over the last six years, this record shows that I have evolved, so I am doing my job”.

    Getting to this point has been proven to be a path with many twists and turns. Born In Columbus, Ohio, Mitchell was placed with adoptive parents when she was seven days old. It was fortunate that her parents had a love for music and the arts. Her maternal grandparents met when her grandmother auditioned as a singer for her grandfather’s country & western band. Both sang in the church choir, as did Mitchell’s adoptive mother and father, who also played some guitar. “I listened to a lot of great music while I was growing up. Dad had an impressive record collection, half of which is now in my possession. I got the sixties soul and cool rock & roll. My brother got the rest of it, the weird stuff like Frank Zappa”.

    “There was always music in our home. I remember hearing Ray Charles and Sam Cooke, a lot of Motown. My Dad was really in to Motown, like the Four Tops and the Temptations, and especially Gladys Knight. He took me to my very first blues festival, the Tampa Bay Blues fest, when I was in high school. It was fortunate that I grew up in a school district that I lived in had a performing arts school that I auditioned for and was accepted into in fourth grade. It was part of the public school system, so there wasn’t any extra tuition”.

    “I started professional voice lessons at age nine. Mom found me an incredible teacher in Canton, OH, Michael Canastraro, who I studied with through most of high school. He taught me pretty much everything I know about the voice and the mechanics of singing. He was very strict. I wasn’t allowed to sing in his studio in English until I mastered singing in Italian. We worked on a lot of opera and art songs. But I was still hearing soul music at home plus blues from Muddy Waters, Leadbelly and Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee. So I was doing Mozart, Puccini, and Verdi in Micheal’s studio, then going home to listen to gut-bucket blues”.

    “The lessons taught me a good portion of singing is your breath, being able to use all of the available muscles to raise and expand the rib cage. The cage opens, giving the lungs more room to expand. Then you have to fully breath into the diaphragm, using the muscles in the lower abdomen to control the airflow that comes up through the esophagus to the vocal folds. They are very thin and extremely fragile, like tissue paper. That is why singers have problems from abusing their voice. Controlling the flow of air through the vocal folds is what creates vibration and sound. I also learned ways to shape the mouth, move the tongue, and adjust the soft palate to create different sounds.

    “An important point to learn is that you can not sing a pitch on a consonant. You have to learn to form your vowels correctly. Your sinus cavities are like the bell of a horn. That is where the sound comes out, so if you can change the shape of the bell, then you can change the way a word sounds. I can do some things on stage that allow me to abuse my voice a bit because I have technique to back it up – and I have good vocal health habits that allow me to do that five nights in row without losing my voice.”

    lauren mitchel photo 2 Mitchell continued to study and perform while in college, doing musical theater, sang in choirs, and did solo work singing arias and art songs. Another voice instructor, Steven Monroe, re-introduced her to some of the hip music she heard during her childhood, and had Mitchell listen to Nina Simone, Sarah Vaughan, and Ella Fitzgerald.

    ‘When I was younger, I was singing in the lyric soprano range, way up in the rafters. That is not the case any more. The female voice does not typically mature and become what it is supposed to be until around the age of forty. So it is no shock that my voice now is in the basement. I sing lower than most women, and even a few men! Steven was into the fact that I had that lower register. He thought it was unique and encouraged me to develop it. I also identified a bit with Janis Joplin. I discovered that I had really big lungs and had lots of power behind my voice”. Out with some girlfriends one night for some under-age drinking, Mitchell was convinced to participate in a karaoke contest, singing one of the Joplin tunes she knew. The broke college student ended up winning the contest and the $100 prize.

    “Up until then I had only been paid for a few theater gigs, as a chorus girl because I used to dance. I had never been paid for just singing. So I started singing with a couple bands around Columbus. Then in 2003, a really, really bad break-up made me decide to move to Florida. My parents had split up and my Dad had fulfilled his dream by moving to Florida. I had a girlfriend who was moving to Orlando, so we got a bigger truck. The night we moved, there was a foot & a half of snow. Moving a box of books, we both fell down in the snow. All we could do was laugh as we realized we would never have deal with that again”.

    The singer worked as a bartender in a series of clubs, some of which featured live music. She began to meet local musicians and slowly put herself out there as a singer. But restaurant business was good money that paid the bills. In 2010, she was bar-tending at Tommy Bahama’s when she got an offer for a management position at a restaurant on Siesta Key. The singing and music had been there but it was a struggle to get a project of her own started. She decided to take the offer. After nine months, the owner of the company unexpectedly let her go.

    “I didn’t realize at the time how miserable I was. It took getting out of that situation to make that clear. After nursing my bruised ego for a few days, I called my long-time friend, Michael “The Professor” Hensley, a great Hammond organ player. He encouraged me to take charge. We had enjoyed working together in several cover bands and had a mutual admiration for each others’ talent. We began rehearsing in April of 2011 – our first gig was in August of that year. It has been six years since I stepped out on the stage under my own name and I haven’t another job since then. Michael insisted that my name was out there, saying that I would be the reason people came to hear the band. I am very grateful to him for that encouragement”.

    There is one singer that has always been a major influence on Mitchell’s singing. “At the top of the list is Etta James. She had that low register which I identify with. She had a way of presenting a song that really got down to business, digging in and touching the emotions and the meaning of the song. She was able to interpret brilliantly. On her Live From San Francisco album, she did a cover of the Eagles “Take It To The Limit” that gives that song a whole new meaning. That is the way the song is supposed to be sung, as far as I’m concerned. For Desire, a bunch of the guys I recorded with had worked with her. They told me some stories, how she didn’t take any prisoners. I don’t do that either. Other favorites are Otis Redding, Aretha Franklin, and lately a newer artist doing modern neo-soul, Anthony Hamilton. He has a killer voice”.

    Mitchell released her first album, Please Come Home, at the start of 2013, getting lots of praise from her growing fan base but many felt that the disc did not capture the energy of her live show. In May, 2014, she recorded a live show at the legendary Bradfordville Blues Club in Tallahassee, FL that documented the energy of her show to the delight of her fans.

    Since then, life has been a series of ups and downs. Her partnership with Hensley came to an end, leading to a decision to change her approach to the band. “I had never been on stage over the years with out a keyboard. When you work as a classical soloist, the piano is always there to accompany you. That was a really scary thing. It changed to whole vibe of the band’s sound with guitar, bass, and drums. I was hearing things I had never heard musically before. It worked out but I really enjoy it when I can add a keyboard player. You miss having those big, fat chords from the Hammond organ. It was a scary leap. But I learned that maybe I was holding on to some things, that I am a lot stronger than I thought I was”.

    lauren mitchel photo 3Fair or not, there are some who take Mitchell to task because the line-up of her band went through plenty of changes in the last few years. She readily admits that she can be a tough band leader. “Part of that is the nature of the business. Some musicians don’t want to dedicate themselves to a long-term situation. They are fine working with me on a Friday night, then they get a call for another gig for more money, so they bail. I am looking for the right people because I ask a lot of my band members. They need to be dedicated, show up on time, be sober for the gig, and have a good work ethic. Sometimes that gets in the way of the music”’

    All of pieces came together for her latest album, recorded in Los Angeles with Tony Braunagal producing. She had been working on songs with Hensley while searching for a producer who could help her articulate her vision. Discussions with numerous people went nowhere due to various reasons, including scheduling. That all changed after a performance at the 2015 Suncoast Blues Festival in Sarasota.

    “To stay relevant, I knew I needed to put out a new record, to give your fans something to listen to. Our set at the Suncoast fest featured a lot of my original material. My friend Jack Sullivan, the publisher of Blues Music Magazine, was there and told me that he was going to contact Tony about producing my new record. I thought, yeah, right, Tony doesn’t know who I am. Several months later I saw Jack again. He handed me Tony’s phone number and e-mail address, telling me to call him. It something like six months for me to get the nerve to do something. I finally decided to send Tony an e-mail because it was safe. I didn’t have to open up, be vulnerable. To my surprise, he answered me about thirty minutes later. I was so excited that someone of Tony’s stature was interested in working with me”.

    That began the process of selecting songs, setting up budgets, and getting finances to make the project possible. Once everything was set, Mitchell flew to Los Angeles for a week of recording in October last year, an emotionally taxing experience made easier by the by the consummate professional musicians she was working with, including numerous members of the Phantom Blues Band and Josh Sklair, guitarist and the leader of the Etta James band for twenty-five years. “Tony brought years & years of experience. The way he orchestrates things, and deals with people, is genuine. He is incredibly gifted, has a cohesive vision, and hears everything. He knew exactly which musicians to use. His best attribute is that he cares and understands you as an artist as well as a person”.

    Learning about her heritage was another desire that finally generated some action. Last year Mitchell took a 23andMe DNA test. “When the results came back, I learned half of the story, because they don’t test all of your DNA. I am French, German , and Scandinavian, plus my genes are pretty healthy. But I recently found another section on my profile that lead me to a man’s name, stating that we shared about 14% of our DNA, and were likely first cousins. I reached out to him, told him my story, and we have had discussions regarding the possibility that one of his siblings may be my biological father. From what I have learned so far about the family, they are more into sports than the arts. If I had stayed with my biological family, who knows if I would have had the same chance to nurture my voice. Guess that it is all part of the plan…..”

    Check out Lauren’s website at: http://laurenmitchellband.com/

    Interviewer Mark Thompson lives in Florida, where he is enjoying life without snow. He is the President of the Board of Directors for the Suncoast Blues Society and the past president of the Crossroads Blues Society of Northern Illinois. Music has been a huge part of his life for the past fifty years – just ask his wife!

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    Rock Legends Interview with Lauren

    rock legend vid

    We had a great time on Florida’s East Cost this past Memorial Day weekend.  The LMB was invited to play at the 8th Annual Earl’s Fest , and it was a blast! While we were there we ran into the folks from Rock Legends Magazine, and guess who they wanted to interview?  Here’s the interview in it’s entirety, along with a video of one of the new original songs we’ll be recording on our next album!

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    West Coast Woman | Lauren Mitchell

    Lauren Mitchell mixes a great voice, talent, and a good band, but she’s a smart businesswoman as well. The popular blues and soul songstress seen locally mainly, but not exclusively, at the Blue Rooster in Sarasota, performs steadily throughout Florida from Naples and Fort Myers to St. Pete, Tampa and on to Orlando. They recently performed as far north as Ontario, Canada, but also at gigs in Michigan, Delaware, Virginia and Ohio.

    Lauren sings with confidence...confidence in singing the blues about a broken heart, being letdown. If you’ve seen her perform people listen intently as they also seem tuned into the message and the emotions.

    Lauren Mitchell mixes a great voice, talent, and a good band, but what she’s also good at is economics. In the challenging world or art and commerce —singing ‘cause you love it and still making a decent wage, she is the master of supply and demand.

    The popular songstress seen locally mainly, but not exclusively, at the Blue Rooster in Sarasota, performs steadily not just here, but all points in Florida from south to Naples and Fort Myers to north in St. Pete and Tampa and on to Orlando. It doesn’t stop there. She and her band frequently hit the road and head north. In June, one of their multi-stop sojourns took them as far north as Ontario, Canada, but also to gigs in Michigan, Delaware, Virginia and Ohio. The latter was significant and meaningful as Lauren played in her hometown of Canton for the first time when she performed at the city’s community center.

    The travel explains the economics: you supply ‘em a performance in one place, but you’re not back again for a while. The result: they demand more. And when you do return, you pack the place. So dispel immediately any kind of living out of a suitcase or car, singing in dives for a few bucks here and there. Lauren is a businesswoman. She recently hired a booking agent which reduced just slightly the things that she does to keep the Lauren Mitchell Band singing and playing over 250 gigs a year.

    This past January, sponsored by the Suncoast Blues Society, the band went to the International Blues Challenge in Memphis
    where, according to Lauren, they scored high, competing against 255 acts from around the country.

    Locally, the intimate nature of the Blue Rooster suits her and the band well. They’re close to the audience, but not so cramped that servers pass by the stage and people talk over the band. And how could they talk over Lauren? She sings with a confident bluesy soul sound. Her formerly soprano, opera-trained voice is now grittier, slightly raspy (she calls it
    “texture”) and possibly more interesting when not confined by the strictures of opera.

    Dispel too, the drama and excess when it comes to bands. Hey, her guys wear suits— yes, suits. And they’re expected to be on time. Maybe that comes from wanting something so much. Lauren has studied music most of her life. Opera was where she was leaning, but life had other plans. Though Florida based, Lauren is not Florida grown as she hails from Canton, Ohio. After her folks split up, her dad moved to Florida. On one of her visits with her him, he took her to the Tampa Bay Bluesfest and she “kind of got hooked.” Finished with school, over a boyfriend and basically “done” with life in Ohio, Lauren moved to Sarasota.

    To support herself, she started as a bartender and worked her way up into managing a restaurant. Working 70 hours a week gave her little opportunity to sing, however. While she was admittedly “miserable” it got worse when she found she’d been fired from her job. Lauren can laugh (somewhat) about it now —this was back in 2011— and she promptly calls it a “lemons moment” for her. But still, it was a blow.

    Upset, she left work that day and called her buddy Michael Hensley who is also her keyboard player. Sarasota was mired in its most recent recession then and work was hard to come by. Michael gave her some advice: “Now you have time. I don’t want to hear you say you don’t have time.” He got some musicians together in his living room and they were ready to play.

    In April of 2011 she was out of work— by August of 2011 Lauren and her new band were playing and, as she puts it she, “never looked back.”

    Lauren started voice lessons at nine. As she got older she thought opera was “it” but “it” wasn’t meant to be even though she still loves it. That explains why on her facebook page she has among her favorites Maria Callas along with Etta James. She also admits she loves Lady Gaga and laughs a hearty laugh at the paradox of that trio of favorites.

    But like opera singers you need to—as she calls it—“take care of your instrument” by avoiding germs and dry climates. You also have to practice and just plain sing a lot to stay in form—something she clearly loves to do. There isn’t a lot of down time and if there is, that’s not good. The goal is to sing just about every night if possible. And of course, the money is better as well when you do.

    Lauren sings with confidence...confidence in singing the blues about a broken heart, being letdown. If you’ve seen her perform people listen intently as they also seem tuned into the message and the emotions. In person, she’s friendly, but serious at times, especially about her music. She is after all, the band’s manager.

    Her music is still evolving. The trip to the International Blues Challenge made Lauren think her music was really more soul—and not quite fitting in with the new definition of blues. Fans should not be concerned. “We call ourselves a blues band, but maybe we’re more soul,” she says reflectively, but adds her music harkens back to R&B and music from the 50s and 60s.


    It’s “all encompassing,” she explains, “I’m more Etta and Aretha,” referencing two goddesses of soul Etta James and Aretha Franklin. James—the woman whose music Lauren especially likes—was known as someone who could perform all types of genres from blues, R&B, soul, rock, jazz and gospel. Lauren deepened her understanding of blues music by making two trips to the “Mississippi Blues Trail” which makes it possible to GPS places in the birthplace of the blues, rural Mississippi.

    The open road beckons in many ways, but Lauren will be around Florida most of July— from Sarasota (two performances at JR’s Old Packinghouse Café; one at the Blue Rooster) to Sanford, Tallahassee, Lakeland. Punta Gorda and New Port Richey. “I have awesome hometown [Sarasota] fans and the ‘road’ gives you energy.” She clearly enjoys both.

    Lauren released her first CD in 2003 called “Please Come Home” and that’s been followed by her “sophomore” album, “Live from the Bradfordville Blues Club” (Bradfordville Blues Club is an historic juke joint in Tallahassee). The release party back in May at The Palladium Theatre in St. Petersburg was packed. The Lauren Mitchell Band is: keyboardist Michael “The Professor” Hensley, Howlin’ Bob Fieberts on guitar and Willie Miller, Jr. on drums.

    Stay in touch with Lauren on her facebook page or at www.laurenmitchellband.com.

    Story: Louise Bruderle
    Photo: Evelyn England

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    Show Review by Blues 411

    First off a big thank you again to the town of Port Royal, South Carolina and The Arts Council of Beaufort County for bringing the blues to the streets of Port Royal another fine, fine show.

    This week it was the opportunity to see Ms. Lauren Mitchell and her band from Sarasota FL. I had met Lauren last year at Jack Sullivan‘s place in Bradenton, and then saw her perform at this years’ International Blues Challenge. So when we learned she was gonna be a mere 30 minute drive from us we headed northeast to see her show.

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    Booking

    Piedmont Talent
    (704) 399-2210
    info@piedmonttalent.com
    www.piedmonttalent.com

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    For all press materials, please visit our Press Room page.  To request additional materials, please email your request to Booking.

    Contact

    I love to hear from my Believers, so if you have a question or comment, send an email to Lauren.