When exposed to the sound of Montreal-based artist Le Ren, one easily tends to feel like entering a time capsule, on the way back to the roots of so-called classic guitar folk. It’s not that Lauren Spear is in any sense trying to imitate or reminisce the golden era of the 60’s and 70’s – or the sound of beloved songwriters Joni Mitchell or Karen Dalton for that matter. But still, her very first studio record Leftovers uncovers a love for intuitive melodies and sweet acoustic arrangements that breathes these spirits of old. This must be what nostalgia sounds like today, and it comes with a warm and fuzzy sentiment, touching on the different shapes that love can assume.
“These songs are from my past, though every song that you write is from your past. Because the moment you write it, it is like already in the past. I think that was the way I thought about this collection.”
“Leftovers feels like I imagined how it would sound”, Lauren emphasises early on. “I really went into the recording process, wanting it to be very stripped-down.” More than that, at times, it even feels like you are in the very room, as the songwriter plucks the chords on her guitar and raises her voice. Leftovers is a bedroom-folk-pop record that took its shape all during the pandemic, although it is fair to assume we could have expected a similar acoustic intimacy, if the circumstances would have been any different.
The Aftertaste Of Memories
That Leftovers may for some evoke the notion of sorted out material, only did strike Lauren in the aftermath of finishing the record: “I didn’t think that upon hearing that, people would think of Leftovers as B-sides. That wasn’t my intention at all”. Well, “leftovers” does have something of a connotation with food, the songwriter admits: “I feel it kind of has a bad connotation at times. When you’re like… oh, I’m just having leftovers for lunch. I am making a lot of soup recently and I feel like it’s so fun in a meal context, when you make something and then it tastes better the next day. Or you make it into something else, like when you add left over chicken into a soup.”
“I picked songs I’d written over the last three years, so some of the sentiments aren’t recognisable to me right in the moment I’m living, but at the time they were so pressing.”
Her songs are another thing that are a product of change and progress, as she analyses: “It is something that is changing form and isn’t what it once was” – and as true as that may be for an enhanced meal the day after, as fitting it is for the creations of Le Ren. In itself an examination of love and friendship through various lenses, the songs on Leftovers reflect the very forms into which memories have morphed over the years. Life changes, people change, relationships evolve and often break apart, but memory persists. And this record is a precious documentation of a fairly personal take on that matter.
“Who’s Going To Hold Me Next?”
Who is going to be there for you, if romantic relationships fail you? Your friends and your family, right? Well, to be honest, the lot of popular music seems to stop at the bittersweet sentiments of (disenchanted) desire or pain that love may bring. To look at other perspectives of love is what Le Ren has set out to do on Leftovers, as she emphasises:
“I think I write a lot about love and I think it’s really easy for me to write about romantic love, but in this album I wanted to make sure to write love songs about my friends and my family as well. Just because romantic love’s got so much air time, which is great and I feel like people really relate to it. But yeah, love was definitely at the centre for me.”
A clear focus on close friends and your loved ones, the range goes from a passionate “ode” to the grace of her mother on Dyan. “She’s just such a bright light and so charismatic and she kind of blows, so I wanted to match that with music”, Lauren is quick to assert and it doesn’t take long to fall in love with the tune indeed. Coming on like odes as well are several other dedicated songs, such as the penultimate Friends Are Miracles, which reaches back to Lauren’s early twenties and a close group of friends at a certain stage of working at a bar next to artistic and creative occupations. This one is “a celebration of them”, she underlines, “during the hard times you kind of carry each other, and I really felt that these last couple of years. We really got each other through the ups and downs”.
“I wonder where I start and where you end /
Yeah, I wonder, where you stop and I begin” (Your Cup)
Who Wants To Be Timeless?
All the while, the pure-hearted and uncompromising folk spirit gleams through the tracks, shining like an old truth into our very times. Heartbreak, nostalgia and coping with the times may stand as a lyrical topos, the serene acoustic grace with which Le Ren adorns her melodies have something of a sublime experience. But yet, the art may just lie in the simple magic of sitting down in a bedroom and carve out the words, which is how Lauren starts her creative process:
“I usually start with words first. I write pretty consistently. Just like usually little chunks, or if I think of a word that I like I just write it down throughout the days. When I sit down to write a song, sometimes I’ll gather all those words and try to figure out what I want to talk about.”
“I feel like I don’t know what I sound like and I don’t set out with an intention of sounding like something, or like wanting to fit in a certain category”, she continues. “I am really fortunate that the songs I write feel really close to my heart and close to home.” Naturally being a fan of the folk business herself, Lauren is “excited to see how it all is developing and how to expand the genre. I think that’s so necessary, to break people’s expectations of what it’s always been. It’s not interesting if people just copy and reiterate what’s been done over and over again. You have to expand”.
“I think the way I make music will also change. I don’t want to do the same thing forever.”
“I wouldn’t really feel comfortable in any other domain than folk music”, Lauren admits. And yet, change is a necessary factor for her, and it will be thrilling to see in which direction she will be evolving. “On Leftovers, I was really resistant to having drums, because I wanted it to be stringed instruments only. That was my initial vision. Then we added a bit of percussion on some of the songs and I really liked it. I think I definitely want to have a full band on the next record and for it to be a bigger sound.” Let’s leave it at that for now. Until then, we have these Leftovers to savour – and that should be more than enjoyable.
Le Ren‘s debut album Leftovers is now available everywhere via Secretly Canadian.
Check out all editions of Andreas’ For Folk’s Sake series right here.