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Senior Spotlight: Laura Johnson

Laura Johnson is self-described as “[a] super weird person who pretends to be normal because society is the worst.” Carrying with her a blend of confidence, anxiety, and excitement. Her most recent endeavor sees her writing five original songs: This is her senior project at Camas High School.

She expresses a desire to create all original music, writing parts for a slew of instruments: mentioning “guitar, piano, drums– and hopefully a brass section, but we’ll see.” Johnson states she has “a bunch of friends that are also musicians who help me out that can play the instruments for me: because I can sing and I can kind of play guitar, I can kind of play piano, and I can kind of play ukulele, but that doesn’t mean that I’m good at it… I just sort of… try.”

A photo of a guitar
A photo of a guitar.

At the core of this experience she hopes to convey stories and messages about a variety of topics; topics which, as Johnson states, aren’t always covered, particularly by female artists. She says, “The album itself– there’s so much music today that most female artists will write about relationships or just being insane: And that to me– it doesn’t have any depth to it. I’m writing an album that has more to do with just life in general. So it has songs about friendship, it has songs about toxic– not necessarily relationships– but family members and friends; there’s a song that specifically talks about anxiety, and how I personally cope with that… So it’s just going to be a bunch of real topics that have depth.”

Following that, Johnson was asked about inspirations. She stated: “Inspiration-wise, I have a Spotify playlist. My mentor, Lisa Adams– she’s a musician in Portland that’s currently on tour in Europe right now with her band called Sama Dams– She encouraged me to just write what I feel, and to write every day… Just write down things that work. And she encouraged me to create a playlist of just female artists that talk about what I want to have in my music. So I take a lot of inspiration from that.” Johnson mentions Regina Spektor as one such example.

In terms of musical style, she expresses difficulty with picking genres: Stating how they can be quite broad, but she mentions: “I like to think that it’s alternative-ish; kind of on the side of– not necessarily like pop music, but more like bop music…” Continuing with, “not bop, stay bopping.” A more upbeat tone is something Johnson hopes to convey in the album. In regards to naming the project, she states: “I’m thinking of calling it ‘Sweaters and Ring Pops’ because that’s cute and I like it… So that’s a question-mark title– There’s a bunch of other work-in-progress titles, but we’ll see.”

Currently, she has 1 full song written, as well as halfway recorded: meaning that she had a demo recording, but didn’t like it, and intends to redo the vocals. She summarizes her progress by stating: “So I have half of a song already recorded, and then I have another half of a song written; and then another three-quarters of a song written; and then another quarter-song written.”

A photo featured on Johnson’s Instagram account.

As far as the day-to-day process is concerned, Johnson talks about a number of practices she has employed: mentioning her appreciation of listening to music, she states: “…it’s something really important in my life. So every time I’m listening to music I have my notebook right next to me. If I hear a lyric that I really like or I like the message of it, I write it down. Then I’ll take ideas from that and turn it into my own thing, and put them together. Ya’ know; it’s kind of like a collage of multiple different things…” She goes on to mention her affinity at coming up with melodies. She explains that, in order to find chord progressions to build melodies atop, she will sometimes just sit at the piano, playing through chords until something works.

Most projects are not free of difficulties, and this is no exception. For Johnson, she does sports, has school, and works; that combination leaves her writing music at two in the morning: not aided by the fact she is a night owl. Her mentor has told her “about a thing that she does: she’ll just take a full Saturday, and take eight hours, and try to write 20 songs in eight hours. It doesn’t matter if they’re good, it doesn’t matter if they’re bad: chords, melody, lyrics, 20 of them, in eight hours.” Johnson continues: “which is a lot considering that there’s 3 of those per hour. She puts a lot of pressure on writing every day, so getting myself to sit down and write every day is pretty difficult– just because of the  busy schedule… and ADD– whoo, fun.”

On top of that Johnson discussed more personal stretches that she faced in the compositional process: “I’ve written a couple songs before– I generally stick to easy chords… Just your typical C, G, Em, F situation– and there are so many chords that follow that. And I feel like if you can find a good kind-of funky rhythm for it, you can pull it off, but at this point, it’s been done so many times that I’m trying to find new stuff. So chords themselves are relatively easy to put together, and melodies are relatively easy– And thankfully I’m surrounded by a lot of people that are musically inclined. So I have a friend to plays guitar and sometimes we’ll just FaceTime, and he’ll play guitar, and I’ll record it and try to find melodies to go with that. The hardest part is lyrics– Because I used to write, as every teenager does, poetry: because I was edgy. It was all super dark and I want to use music as an inspiration for other people.”

The cloudy mix of Em7b5’s and Dmaj9’s can prove to be daunting: that, and at times, quite pointless. When asked about composition and music theory Johnson stated: “when I was younger my mom tried to teach me how to play piano and I got bored– With music theory. So here’s the thing… I know the basics of music theory: like I’m in choir and we do sight reading all the time and stuff, but I much prefer to just play it and see how I feel about it, just like the emotion that it strikes in a person. Cause there are minor chords which are considered sad chords, and then there are major chords which are the happy chords, and then there are seventh chords– then there’s so many different things… Just playing notes and putting them together, it feels very collage-ey, and I think that makes it original.” That motif of a collage seems to play a lot into the process she has taken in the project: patching different ideas and concepts together, just finding what fits nicely.

When asked for his thoughts regarding recording an album as a senior project, Jaryn Lasentia, a sophomore and musician at CHS stated: “I think it’s a really good idea, because it deals with a lot of the facets of music creation… It just demonstrates a lot of musical knowledge.” He continues, “time-wise I think that’s (5 songs) is a small fish to fry– to me it seems. But I think with the recording process, and I know that we’re all in high school so it could be a little harder. I think it’s a good goal.” Lasentia has been asked to play bass, so it is possible that he is featured as part of the project. Katie Seidl, Laura’s English teacher, states: “I think creating something original is an awesome senior project, because it’s something Laura has always wanted to do. This is an opportunity that– she’s forced to do a project of some kind, and so she gets to choose to do a projects she’s wanted to do, and learn how to write, mix, record and market an album.”

Johnson states her end goal is to record the full album and release it, promote it, and get it out there. She mentions the possibility of a music video or participating in the talent show. However, she is generally unsure of whether she will ever perform the album in the future as a live set. When asked what support she might want from the community Johnson stated: “I would always love support, but I’m super socially anxious. So the chances of me going to the school and saying ‘hey do you want to promote my music’ are very slim. And the other thing is that just this school in general– I don’t feel comfortable in. I don’t feel comfortable being myself… I work in Portland; and that’s part of the reason I love working in Portland, nobody cares, and everybody’s weird, and it’s great.”

When asked about anything else she had to add, Johnson stated, “If anybody is a drummer (laughs), I need one.” Along with that, she mentioned her artist name: Lorelai Shae. For her, she states: “I’m at a point in my life where I need something that’s upbeat and kind-of outgoing. And so I’m trying to make my music more upbeat and outgoing– to inspire other people… I go to concerts and it’s crazy because you feel the bass in your soul. I swear it’s there. Even just sitting in the back it’s present. Just the emotional connection you feel with everybody else watching, I want to have that effect on people. I want to make them feel connections… to feel things.”

 

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