Embracing the natural 'Saltbreaker' 

Laura Veirs discusses her new album

She’s embraced the elements on all of her albums — from songs about air on Year of Meteors to songs about oceans on her newest release, Saltbreakers. Laura Veirs prefers her music au naturale. Her metaphors are vast, but the connections she reaches with audiences with references to her dreams and the world are very real.

“I find it hard to escape to nature while on tour,” Veirs says, “but I’m walking in New York right now, and there’s a beautiful sun coming through the trees … You have to enjoy these things as they come.”

Whether admiring a city garden or wild sunflowers, the natural world mystifies the singer-songwriter and bleeds into her lyrics. Saltbreakers may have many oceanic themes, but its words reflect human nature, not just the whales and sea salt she sings about.

“Nature is a good tool,” Veirs says. “Everyone can relate to how seeing an ocean wave makes them feel … I use it to talk about the struggles people go through.”

The Seattle native spent 10 years exploring the natural world around her, humbling her into introspection. “I love Olympic National Park,” she says. “The sea is there. It’s so stark and grey.”

Veirs and her band, the Saltbreakers (formerly the Tortured Souls), recorded their new album in Seattle before she moved to Portland, Ore. “That [old] name was a joke,” she says. “We’re really not that dark! But the [band] name change is symbolic, as this is a band, not just me.”

Though heading a melodic group that covers genres from folk to rock, Veirs still values her time spent alone. “I love to garden,” she says, “and I helped design the renovation of my garage, so I have a place to write.”

In her new creative space, Veirs can pursue her other hobby: writing short stories.

“I was asked to [participate] in a book of collected short stories in England,” Veirs says. “The one that’s being published, ‘The Bird Feeder,’ is about an old man who’s depressed and lonely. His wife is dead. One day, he sees an infomercial about a birdfeeder and gets one.” Veirs says the feeder draws the man to face the outdoors, greeting birds and squirrels in his backyard. It gets him away from the television, and he connects with nature, which helps him overcome obstacles in his life. Again, nature reigns over Veirs’ writing.

Expanding on that theme, Veirs and her band also explore transcendence with an eight-person Baptist Cedar Hill choir on “To the Country” (Saltbreakers), recorded in the Nashville Cash cabin. “It was like being in their house,” Veirs says of Johnny Cash and June Carter’s studio. “These people are legends to me.”

On the song recorded in the legendary studio, Veirs finds her restlessness channeled with call-and-response, inspired by ’60s soul. It becomes clear that although she has no background in choir or in soul, she appreciates the power of singing in groups.

“I have GarageBand on my Mac and was able to do a lot of multitracking,” Veirs says. “I love when people sing together … I think we yearn for that at some level. That’s why people sing loudly together in karaoke rooms.”

Drawn to her material, another choir — this time of 45 French middle schoolers — recently rearranged Veirs’ songs and recorded them with her on a limited-edition disc.

Veirs’ admiration for such harmonious singing even shows up in her personal music collection.

“I like the new album by Midlake [from Texas],” Veirs says. “We shared a tour with them once … The album was influenced by Fleetwood Mac. Again, it’s the singing!”

Veirs hopes to include more “people singing together” on her next album, which is still in its planning stages. “I’ve already burnt out all the elements,” she says. “Maybe next time I’ll continue with that, or, who knows — maybe I’ll write an urban hip-hop album!”

WHAT: Laura Veirs and Mirah, presented by the IUB Union Board
WHERE: Buskirk-Chumley Theater, Bloomington
WHEN: Wednesday, July 18, 8 p.m., $15 general admission, $8 IU students, all-ages

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