Originally from British Columbia, bassist and composer Lauren Falls has spent time in New York studying at the Manhattan School of Music but has now been living in Toronto for a number of years, becoming an active member of Canada’s jazz scene.
Falls has just released her second album A Little Louder Now. She joined us to talk about the new recording.
Tell me a little bit about how you got started in music.
Both my parents were high school band teachers, so that definitely made it easy to access a lot of music growing up. They were very encouraging. My brother’s a drummer, and I asked if I could play drums, too, and they said no, we can’t have two drummers in the house. It was rightly suggested I try out the bass, and I just fell in love with it. They encouraged both of us to go to music school, and it grew from there.
What do your parents play?
My dad plays trombone and my mom plays piano, but they both play a ton of instruments, too.
Your brother actually plays on the new recording, as well. Has that always been something you’ve gravitated toward, wanting to share the music together as family?
Definitely when I write the music, I’m always envisioning who I’d like to play the music and who it’s written for, and he’s always in the back of my mind. I really enjoy playing with him.
Tell me about the title, A Little Louder Now.
It’s about being more outspoken, more outgoing, and more confident as a musician. It grew out of my first album’s title, The Quiet Fight, which was about building up the courage to be the leader of a band. This second one is a little bit bolder. I’m trying to be more confident.
The experience of going to New York seems petrifying to me. Being in that environment has got to be part of that process of gaining confidence and feeling strong in your musical abilities.
Absolutely. You get thrown in the deep end, for sure… but in a good way. Going to the late-night sessions definitely toughened me up and taught me so much. It was an incredible experience that opened my eyes and made me want to work real hard at my instrument and at composing. It was a good experience — a scary one, but in the end, a good one.
I’ve heard you talk about how the longer you were there, there was something pulling you back to Canada.
I always loved living in Toronto. When I moved here from B.C. I really enjoyed it. I knew I wanted to spend time in New York, but I think I always knew I wasn’t going to live there forever. It was just going to be a stepping stone. Toronto seemed like the right place to come back to.
Are the compositions influenced by the title? Does everything reflect those themes of confidence-building?
I would say mostly, yeah. They were written during a time period when I was figuring out the next step, trying to build upon what I’d done. They’re mostly coming out of a really inspired period where I just wanted to move forward. I think there’s a cohesiveness between the tunes.
Is the process or writing these tunes easy, or is it laborious? Does it happen in chunks or all in one go?
Sometimes I’ll write just a little tidbit, and then I’ll either get frustrated or just decide to leave it, and I’ll come back a couple months later to this little line, and sometimes the whole tune will just come out all in one go.
You’re not necessarily a traditionalist when it comes to composition. You’re okay letting in some influences from different types of music, whether that’s rock, pop or folk.
I listen to all types of music — something different every day. I’m definitely influenced by a vast array of artists. A lot of jazz, but everything from Joni Mitchell to Prince to… I don’t know, all over the place. It all has a little piece in there.
You’re an educator now working at the University of Toronto. When you sit down with students, is there something you get as a teacher? Does your growth and learning process continue while you’re showing other musicians what to do?
Oh, absolutely. I find that so true. I work with an ensemble, so I get to work with a group of kids, and I love hearing their experience at that time in their lives. I’m like, “What are the tunes the cool kids are playing?” It gives me new life as a player. I love hearing what they’re being inspired by. It’s so great. I am always learning from the students.
This interview has been edited and condensed.