Laura Dawn (center) and The Little Death NYC
Understatement #1: Laura Dawn has a great voice. It’s great when she talks, great when she sings. Hell, it’s great when she walks. She performed with Moby early last year in Fairfield on a David Lynch weekend. If you’re familiar with Moby, you know his singers often have that raspy, sexy edge that can melt cement, cut butter, and elevate your soul all in one fell swoop. Laura sang on Moby’s album Hotel, spending seven months in 2005 touring the world in support of it.
Did I mention she hails from Pleasantville, Iowa? Suffice it to say, she left the confines of the 1000-population town at 21 with $300 in her pocket and struck out for the Big Apple, wending her way from YMCA to squatting on a board to successful girl band in relatively short order.
Equal parts producer, political activist, and singer/songwriter, Dawn has been the Cultural Director of MoveOn.org and the MoveOn PAC since March 2004. She will be performing in Fairfield this November 14 as part of the fourth David Lynch Foundation weekend with her band, The Little Death.
The band’s description from its myspace page:
The Little Death NYC is Aaron A. Brooks (drums), Laura Dawn (lead vocals), Daron Murphy, (guitar, bass, & harmonica) and Moby (bass, guitar). Formed in 2007, their sound is like a drunken bar fight between John Lee Hooker and Kurt Weill or the desperate love-child of Big Mama Thornton and Robert Mitchum. Old blues, soul, and vintage psychedelia slamming behind songs about f—ing and despair, blind joy and glorious dissolution, fronted by a white girl with a voice equal parts Bessie Smith and Dusty Springfield. Their packed live shows (featuring tight harmonies from backup singers Jamie Rae and Cherie Martorana, aka The Death Threats) are raucous and passionate—a punk-rock fueled blues revival for hungry souls.
Understatement #2: Little Death is a great band name. La petite mort. A euphemism inside a euphemism, the perfect rock ’n’ roll nom de plume, if you drift my catch, Pierre (wink, wink. . .). God love the French. What would kissing be without them? Recently, the French cultural minister, who came to Roman Polanski’s defense about his old “morals” charges in the U.S. (thirteen, shmirteen), found himself in hot water for writing in his memoirs about buying Thai sex slave boys as a tourist, and the whole thing seemed to blow over. Mind you, the book was out before President Sarkozy tapped him as his cultural minister, and no one batted an eye—besides the sex slaves, I imagine—prior to the international furor over Polanski’s arrest in Zurich by U.S. authorities. To say the French are more relaxed about sex than the U.S. is Understatement #3.
All metaphors, euphemsims, and unresolved criminal behavior aside, Laura’s voice has this divinely lived in, smoked whisky quality that has drawn comparisons to Janis Joplin and Dusty Springfield, among others, but it is much more supple in some ways. As a person she has this light that shines through in her speech, a positive kind of energy that obviously has created bridges into other exciting worlds like her work as a cultural director for MoveOn.org, an organization that is now 10 years old and some 5 million members strong, according to their website, with 20 full-time and 20 part-time staffers. Laura, co-creator of the online ad contest Bush in 30 Seconds, has organized artists, musicians, and filmmakers for MoveOn and executive produced national campaigns like the celebrity-directed “10 Weeks: Don’t Get Mad, Get Even!” ads and the Vote for Change tour, including organizing super rallies across the country utilizing celebrity appearances and rock concerts to push turnout.
MoveOn began as an email group in 1998 by husband-wife team Wes Boyd and Joan Blades, founders of software company Berkeley Systems. It is divided into two wings, one a non-profit primarily focusing on education and advocacy on national issues (MoveOn.org Civic Action), the other a Federal PAC which mobilizes people to fight “important battles in Congress and help elect candidates who reflect our values” (MoveOn.org Political Action). Individuals account for both organizations’ funding.
Understatement #4: Ms. Dawn is a bonfide dynamo and make-it-happen person. Putting the “I” in Iowa, she hightails it to NYC, and does her thing till the Apple sings. With personal influences ranging from Johnny Cash to Patsy Cline to Merle Haggard to Dolly Parton, as well as the Smashing Pumpkins, the Clash and the Pixies, Laura has a patois that encompasses honest storytelling, arching harmonies, and rock architecture. Her mom was an aspiring country singer, her brother a gifted multi-instrumentalist. As a teenager, she scored a summertime Adventureland gig performing six days a week, singing sets from the ’50s,’60s, etc. Great training, she said in an interview on Speaking Freely with Dennis Raimondi at KRUU-FM in Fairfield. (See below for link to archive.)
Believer, her Warner Brothers debut CD on Extasy International Records, was released in 1999. It garnered some great reviews but the label, started by X Japan drummer Yoshiki, folded before the followup was completed. Believer documents the hardscrabble years working her way up the food chain in NY where within a couple of years, she found herself the toast of the town fronting an all-grrl art-punk band and living the crazy life. After a lost period, it was the pure act of songwriting that saved her, she says, that restored her faith in herself, the meaning behind the title of the record.
From one of her bios, Laura states, “Faith is sexy, it’s silly, it’s moving and real and elusive. But it can be dangerous and destructive if it’s not tempered with some experience and wisdom. I guess the main thing I learned from all my adventures is that sometimes it’s important to just keep going on, whether you can find a reason to or not. No matter what life throws you, you gotta stay a believer, you know? We need more of them.”
Little Death is filled with big life. Laura’s husband, Daron Murphy, trades guitar and bass parts with Moby. Milquetoast descriptives aside, Daron is an amazingly nice guy. When I rounded up some guitars for him when they last came to Fairfield, he was frigging delightful. Totally present, genuine, self-possessed, self-deprecating, as far from primadonnaville as can be, he was later quoted in Men’s Vogue as saying he thought there were a lot of beautiful people in Fairfield. He toured with Moby as well in 2005 as his guitarist and has composed musical scores for documentaries like The End of America, and the film short Raving, directed by Julia Stiles and starring Zooey Deschanel.
The long and short of it? If you dig art, intelligent activism, and bluesy retro-soul, lay back, enjoy the Dawn, and get small. (Cue: Explosions in the Sky.)