Analogue Music | Le Ren

Le Ren

By Matt Conner

Lauren Spear's entire life has been about making music, yet it's only recently become a public-facing venture.

For all the reasons you might expect someone to keep their creative endeavors to themselves, Lauren told us that music was a deeply personal connection point for her. It was a way to work through experiences and a healthy way to channel emotions.

It's not surprising, then, that the work of Le Ren is so affecting. Leftovers is the debut LP (Secretly Canadian) offered up this fall after some self-released EPs and her Morning & Melancholia EP from 2020. It's plaintive and pensive and always personal. It's also resonant in ways that so few artists can ever achieve, likely because they allow barriers in the way between artist and audience.

We found Lauren willing to chat with us between loads of laundry and administrative tasks around the release of live dates. She told us about her journey to becoming Le Ren, her bluegrass background, and why the music still feels as fragile as ever.

Analogue: Some people are just finding you now, but from what I can understand, you’ve been leaning in this direction for most of your life.

Lauren Spear: It’s funny because I’ve always been doing it. I’ve always been in bands. But I don’t think recording was ever part of the picture up until recently. I just loved playing live shows and coming together and playing with people.

I played bluegrass music when I was quite young, and I feel the structure of that is very community-based, where you just play the same tunes over and over with different groups of people with different skill sets. That was a nice base because I feel like I really learned to listen in that environment. You give people their moments. I also feel like starting with old standards by Bill Monroe or the Carter family or whatever it was, gave me a good baseline understanding how to how to write a simple yet effective song.

"Once I decided I would put myself out there, it kinda snowballed in a really lucky, positive way where people responded."

Since a young age, I wrote in that style but I only started publicly sharing music a couple of years ago. It never felt like I was good enough as a musician. It always felt like something so central to me as a person and working through things, but it never felt like something I could really own as a job. But once I decided I would put myself out there, it kinda snowballed in a really lucky, positive way where people responded.

I think honestly through a lot of good luck and a lot of good friends, I found myself in a position where I have the supports around me now to give it a go as an actual career. Even though it’s very touch-and-go, but I feel really lucky that I get to be able to put songs out and write more and have people actually listen. [Laughs]

Analogue: Was there a just a moment of confidence, then, when you were like, ‘Screw it’?

Lauren: It was less a moment of confidence and more a total moment of breakdown. [Laughs] I was working this office job and dating someone who I thought I would end up with and then everything went to hell. I quit my job and broke up with my boyfriend at the time. There was this trip to Europe we’d booked together, but I just went alone.

It was the only thing that was there for me as a way to help myself. I was writing a lot of songs at that point. I also realized I always wanted to play music in a real way, but I had nothing to lose. I was just like, ‘I’m doing this. I don’t know what form it’s going to take.’

So I wrote a bunch of songs while I was away and came back and recorded two EPs and self-released them kind of in a sneaky way where I was still scared to put things out publicly. I did it in the form of a zine where if someone bought the physical zine, then they would get the downloads.

Analogue: [Laughs] So even then, it was still this shrouded thing…

Lauren: Oh my god, it was very half-hearted. I was just terrified. It’s such a vulnerable thing to do. [Laughs] But now it’s too late. I’ve done it.

Analogue: You said something snowballed from there. Was there something that let you know things might feel fragile but it’s largely you?

Lauren: Well I still feel fragile throughout. I went on tour with Orville Peck, which I feel was a turning point because his career just kind of blew up. He’s always tried to take developing artists under his wing. Mainly through a friend of a friend, he came to one of my small Toronto shows. He showed up in a cowboy hat and was so sweet. He said, ‘I wanna play a show with you.’

He exploded and took me along to the biggest shows I’ve ever played. It was so overwhelming and exciting, but I feel like he was definitely a big part of me being in front of audiences that I absolutely would not have had access to at that stage of my career—and still don’t. I’m definitely grateful to him.

Analogue: You didn’t say it this way but you’ve described songwriting as a cathartic act. So when it comes down to releasing or playing some of these songs live, is there a line that you just can’t go there?

"I think a lot of my songs are really sad because I write when I’m sad as a way to help myself..."

Lauren: Totally. There are a couple of songs on the record. I mean, they’re all deeply personal, but I think my feelings around them change as time goes on. The more I can separate myself from the moment in which I wrote them, the better my relationship is with them because I can approach them from a different angle.

There’s one song that’s the closing track I just released as a single called “May Hard Times Pass Us By.” It was written for my partner and it was during a time where we were really going through it in a long-distance relationship during the pandemic. It was super hard, so that felt extremely personal.

I remember when we were making the music video, me and my friend Allie Vanderkirk, who directed it, were trying to figure out a concept. Anything that we were trying didn’t feel genuine enough. I was like, ‘This is so close to my heart. I don’t know how to pair something visually with it. I just can’t even begin to explain how personal this feels.’ But she was great at coaching me through it.

I have a very emotional relationship with my songs. I think that’s a good thing, but I’m just getting to know how to think about music in multiple ways and how to write from different access points and not have it be so reactive all the time. I think a lot of my songs are really sad because I write when I’m sad as a way to help myself, but I’m realizing I can write about different things when I’m in different moods and not have it be a crutch of sorts.