Gypsy Girl


Listen UpLara Landon makes music.

by Lindsey Lowe 

Photo by Beau Gustafson

 

If you started asking people on the street the things they love about Birmingham, you wouldn’t get far before you ran into someone who named the music scene. Birmingham has a number of terrific venues that draw in a mix of acts; in the past year, I’ve seen the Local Natives, Phosphorescent, and Langhorne Slim and the Law and missed B.B. King, Lord Huron, and the Arctic Monkeys. But something even more stunning—and perhaps surprising to some—is the way Birmingham’s local music scene is barreling forward. We decided to delve into that local scene and tell the stories of the people who are making it great.

Meet Lara Landon. She tells the story like this: She had just tagged along. Nine-year-old Lara Landon had tagged along with her two older sisters to an audition for the musical Annie. While Landon’s dark hair and olive skin didn’t resemble the red-headed orphan, her voice was undeniable. A shy kid, she’d never sung much. But that day she did, and everyone was surprised at what they heard. “They let me sing and out came this big voice,” she says. She got the lead role.

Landon’s parents put her in voice lessons after that; then, as a teenager, she stumbled across some albums that really helped her to understand the power of music—Joni Mitchell’s Blue was one of them. “You feel like she understands you,” she says. “And she speaks the things that you want to say but can’t say. That always really inspired me.” She wanted to make music like that, music that reached across the distance between her and the listener and told them she understood. While she wasn’t quite sure how to make that happen, she knew the first step was learning the craft.

During her sophomore year of high school in Riverside, Ca., where her family lived, Landon began to take audio recording and music classes at a community college. She spent her days in the library, reading books on music history and musical legends. “Albums became my friends,” she says. “Music became my friend.” Around that time, she won a coffee shop singing contest; the prize was recording time in a studio and 100 CDs of her music. She recorded three songs and sent the demo to Nashville. The feedback was good enough that she decided to move to Nashville. Once there, she attended Belmont University and signed with a label, Whiplash; in 2009, she released her first album, Beloved, with the help of Grammy-Award-winning producer Michael Omartian.

Landon had always imagined herself as a singer-songwriter of secular music, but in 2007, she experienced some powerful worship that served as a pull into that genre. Once in Nashville, she was invited to lead worship at the Salvation Army and decided to give it a try. And she found that there was something about it that fulfilled her. “It wasn’t big, it wasn’t a stage and lights. It was a few broken people singing together,” she says. Though she soon parted ways with Whiplash, “Closer,” a song from Beloved, received a good amount of radio recognition and launched Landon into a tour. “I loved getting to go to new places every night,” she says. “It reminded me of the way musicians used to be. I’ve always related with the gypsy, traveling troubadour thing. I like to [come somewhere and] leave my music behind.”

Landon produced her sophomore album, Overcome, which was fan-funded, in 2012, still based in Nashville. But at the beginning of 2013, she decided to take some time off.  “I thought a lot about getting on the same page as God,” she says. “I didn’t want to do what I wanted and say it was for God. I wanted to be doing whatever God was doing.” That same day, she got an email from Paul Hughes, the director of the Birmingham Prayer Furnace. They needed a worship leader. Landon spent the better part of a year at the Birmingham Prayer Furnace, where she served as director and overseer of music. “[Birmingham Prayer Furnace was] not our thing—it’s the city’s thing,” she says. And she says it was an honor to pray and sing with the city of Birmingham. “What I like about Birmingham is that it’s literally colorful,” she says. “You see a lot of colors. You see different people from different backgrounds. I made some of the truest friends.”

She is now recording her third album, Free, in Nashville, but she still spends many of her days in Birmingham. “Birmingham will always mean so much to me, and I’m glad I got to live there and now sow into it from Nashville,” she says.

 

 Upcoming Events 

4/24: Katie Herzig at Workplay. For fans of Ingrid Michaelson, Andrew Belle, and the Weepies.

5/8: Wake Owl at Bottletree. For fans of the Head and the Heart, Ben Howard, and Milo Greene. 

5/6: M. Ward at Iron City. For fans of Neko Case, Monsters of Folk, and, of course, She & Him. 

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