Laurel Sprengelmeyer, who makes music as Little Scream, named her debut album The Golden Record — which might seem like an act of hubris if you think she means the kind that get framed and hung behind the desks of smug label executives. Fortunately, Sprengelmeyer was thinking more along the lines of the gold phonograph record that was bundled into the Voyager spacecraft in 1977, which bore in its grooves a Carl Sagan-approved playlist of sounds, music and greetings designed to telegraph the richness of life on earth to whichever alien life form happened to find it (regardless of the fact that the lucky beings wouldn't exactly have a hi-fi to play it on, and that the human race would likely be long extinct by then anyway).
That conundrum resonated with Sprengelmeyer, who wrote most of her debut's tracks years ago and began recording them way back in 2009. Though the Midwest-raised, Montreal-based singer/songwriter has continued on her musical orbit in the time it's taken the songs to reach the world, they're no less potent, her chimeric voice leading the charge through the woozy crunch of “Cannons,” the dirt-smudged dreaminess of “The Heron and the Fox” and the Patti Smith-covering-Nancy Sinatra dust-stomp of “Guyegaros.”
eMusic's Rachael Maddux talked with Sprengelmeyer (who's also an accomplished painter) about losing her voice, pistol-packing Catholic priests and what she keeps in her cigar box.
On her recent SXSW debut:
It kind of sucked, actually, because we had six showcases in four days, and on the second day I went out and I started to lose my voice, just from talking to people. Generally how people lose their voices is talking after a show when people come up to talk to you. For the rest of the trip, basically, I had to hide out in the hotel and then just come out to do the showcases and interviews. So my bandmates had a really great time, but I didn't get to do very much. I really didn't get to see any of the shows I'd planned on seeing or any of the talks or any of that. It was a lot of fun but it definitely wasn't a crazy party time.
On real-life urban legends:
I heard this radio story once a couple years back about this priest in Mexico named Gallegos. He's a Catholic priest in this really rough part of Mexico, and so he carries pistols and wears snakeskin boots, but he also plays guitar. And he's really loved by the people in this village but he's really controversial because he carries guns and kidnaps people, but he also builds roads and bridges. He's kind of a one-man social service, which just sounded like a made-up story, completely, like a Tarantino film or something. So I just jotted down some things after I heard the story, I didn't hear his name right or anything — I just made it into a character and wrote the song “Guyegaros.”…And then I liked it better as a character. I didn't want it to be totally referential of this real dude. But I do like that it's based on this thing that's real and fantastic and strange.
On the benefits of procrastination:
I remember the first times people started asking me, “Oh, how do you write songs?” And I didn't really think about how I write, but when I actually started thinking about it, the best songs I feel like I wrote when I was procrastinating while trying to do something else. I feel like that's how my brain works — I like to have a couple different things to work on simultaneously….I don't like to sit down and tell myself to write a song. I like to have something strike me that I find really interesting and start writing, start playing music out of nowhere. I wait until something really strikes me, a mood or an image or an idea, and I start working with it. I feel like better stuff comes out that way than trying to force yourself to do things. I make sure to keep notebooks with me and really definitely follow it when I have an idea. I don't want to waste it.
On her adopted homeland:
I've been [in Canada] for quite a long time now. I'm applying for citizenship this next year and hopefully that'll go through. I'm really invested in being there. I moved up to Montreal for a boyfriend — an ex-boyfriend — and just ended up really liking the city. And I got into school at Concordia and then got work right out of school and I basically have spent almost my entire adult life there. In terms of being an American, I feel like I identify more with being a Midwesterner, if that makes sense. I definitely have the regional sense of identity, but in terms of a national sense of identity, it's like, I've invested a lot in being in Canada and I don't take it for granted, that's for sure. That's where I plan on staying.
On the world's tiniest painting studio:
My mom painted and my grandfather painted and my great-grandmother painted and I learned how to paint pretty young, I guess….The way that I paint, it generally takes me a long time to finish stuff, and I've been involved in so many things over the last couple years that I haven't fully pursued painting. But it's always active in my life. Since I've been on the road I set a little painting studio up in a cigar box, and I've started painting miniatures, which is actually really fun.