COOL UKE: Can we have a little guitar in the mix?
Sometimes a little guitar can lead to big things.
The artist who calls herself “LP” might not be where she is today had she not adopted the humble ukulele – and there’s your joke.
But it was no joke, according to the singer who wowed the crowd at Sonic Boom 2012 – a modern rock festival, and surprisingly not the only act that day to wield a ukulele – and is now making what would appear a giant incongruous leap to play a prime mainstage spot at the Edmonton Folk Music Festival: Saturday night at 9:45. This sort of thing doesn’t happen every day. Then again, someone this amazing doesn’t come along every day, either.
“I’m not going to go out on a limb here and say, oh, wow, it’s so original, but it’s hard to categorize. It’s folky music that rocks,” she explains in a phone interview. “But it has a pop element as well. I’m shamelessly into the big booming hooks and choruses.” Following her successful EP “Into the Wild,” LP’s Warner Brothers debut album comes out in 2014. And here we have more evidence beyond Mumford and the Lumineers and their wee guitar-strumming, drum-whomping ilk that folk music has invaded the mainstream with a vengeance.
After thwarted record deals and false starts, LP says she abandoned her ambitions to be a performing artist, having worked her way up the ranks first in New York and then Los Angeles, and was all set to work behind the scenes as a professional songwriter. She’s written material for the Backstreet Boys, Rihanna and Christina Aguilera, among others, and could’ve made a comfortable, relatively stress-free living – but then she bought a ukulele. It was a $60 model, nothing fancy. LP was already a big fan of Ed Sheeran, who had been working hard to make little guitars cool for the first time since Tiny Tim, as the various other musical heroes before him did for the accordion. Ukulele sales soared.
“I started playing what I call bedroom melodies,” LP says. “I’d just sit on my bed and make up these little songs, whistle along, two or three chords to it, and I was enjoying myself really hardcore for the first time, just deep. I feel like the ukulele really reconnected me to loving music, like a kid.”
Artists will often say “I write on guitar” or “I write on the piano.” You can tell when music was written on the computer. LP wrote on the ukulele. She always had a huge voice. When she was 10 or 11, she joined the church choir and says the church ladies would turn around and exclaim, “Who is this loud kid with this fucking vibrato?!” They probably didn’t put it quite like that. LP says she enjoyed the juxtaposition of her big voice accompanied by such a tiny guitar. So did the listeners. The ukulele, she says, “became the whole thrust of this bunch of new music and everything that’s happened to me in the last year or two.”
On getting that “big break,” LP says it’s not always the way it’s depicted in the movies – as in one fell swoop.
“It doesn’t always happen like that in real life,” she says. “Sometimes it’s a series of small things that come from just working. Just keep writing. You can’t just write a couple of songs and expect someone is going to buy them.”
LP is one of a number of artists at this year’s folk fest that cater to the younger audience. Balancing the Canadian folk veterans like Bruce Cockburn and Loreena McKennitt are acts like Feist, Neko Case and the indie folk “buzz” band The Head and the Heart. Coincidentally, this is also the year that seniors have to pay admission for the first time, and there may be less of them since they don’t seem to want to – even for $20 for a day pass. Everything else is sold out, but senior’s tickets are still available.