Interview: Lauren Kinsella

Lauren Kinsella

As a composer, vocalist and lecturer, Lauren Kinsella is doing her utmost to push the world of jazz further than ever.

Awarded UK vocalist of the year at the 2016 Jazz FM Awards, she calls a wide array of artists as collaborators including Snowpoet, Swiss vocalist Sarah Buechi, pianist Kit Downes and Roamer, a multi-national ensemble.

When not composing and performing, Lauren also holds a principle lecturing post at Leeds Conservatoire, helping nurture the next generation of jazz talent. 2017 is also a big year for her after being named recipient of The 2017 Arts Foundation Fellowship for Jazz composition by the PRS Foundation and The Arts Foundation. We caught up with Lauren to uncover the roots of her musical life as well as how she stays inspired…

How did you first get into music?

I was 12 when I played my first concert. It was an ecological musical (!) called Ocean World and I sang a solo song called Shadow of the Prow.

I can still remember how nervous I was but found the experience thrilling. I went to a school in Dublin that had a great music department and it was there that my curiosity was nurtured. I sang in choirs and as a soloist and had the opportunity to be taught by some amazing mentors.

At school I studied music for my Leaving Certificate, took singing and piano lessons and had the chance to focus on wonderful classical, folk, gospel and popular song repertoire which gave me a solid grounding in technique.

My nanna, mum, brother and dad can all sing and hold a lovely tune but it’s not their profession. At the same time, my family are so encouraging and supportive of my path and I am forever grateful for that.

Congratulations on winning the the £10,000 Jazz Composition Fellowship – how important is this kind of support to helping you sustain your career as a musician and composer?

Thank you very much. I was honoured to be shortlisted with Percy, Tori and Chris – they are all musicians that I respect hugely. This kind of support is crucial for artists and for developing ideas, supporting new collaborations and new ways of working.

You’ve worked with the likes of French saxophonist Julian Pontvianne’s Abhra, Turkish composer Onur Turkmenn’ and trumpet player Laura Jurd – how did you find these projects? And what do you think needs to be in place for a good collaboration to work?

I started performing with Swiss drummer Alex Huber in Switzerland in 2009 and here is where I met Italian bassist Matteo Bortone. Matteo was living in Paris at the time and performs a lot with Julian and Alexandre Herer, who run the Onze Heures Onze Collective. We then played some concerts in Paris and shortly after, Julian formed Abhra with myself, Matteo, Alexandre, cellist Hannah Marshall and guitarist Francesco Diodatti. It’s a lovely group of Irish, British, French and Italian players and we have a lot of fun. We are never short of good wine or food!

Working with Onur was a real pleasure. We originally met through saxophonist Nick Roth who is based in Ireland and runs an amazing ensemble called Yurodny. Onur wrote the piece for Yurodny and I was asked to join them. Myself and a few other musicians including violinist Diamanda La Berge Dramm, pianist Elif Önal Çubukçu and Scottish harpist Catriona McKay among were part of the ensemble that premiered Onur’s of Sailing to Byzantium. I hadn’t performed in Turkey before and it was a great experience, I loved Istanbul and want to return!

Laura and I have been working together for a good few years. We originally met in London and have performed in Paris, Dublin and toured the UK in various different projects including former groups like Thought-Fox, Blue-Eyed Hawk, Chaos Orchestra and her quartet, now called Dinosaur.

Which artists are you enjoying at the moment?

I’m working with several contrasting projects at the moment and each project lies in a different area of head space if you know what I mean.

I am reading Cherry Smyth, a great poet based in London originally from Antrim. I am also reading an autobiography written by the choreographer and dancer Yvonne Rainer. Music wise, I’m listening to Fini Bearmann’s Burn the Boat, also Bjork’s Vulnicura, Radiohead’s A Moon Shaped Pool and going back in time to Tim Berne’s 2002 Science Friction.

Where do you look for musical inspiration?

Nature, books of all kinds, films, solitude, space, going to hear new music, checking out albums, talking to other artists … the list goes on!

What I find most liberating about being a musician is that your influences change as you grow as an artist. You can be a sponge for a while soaking up audio, visual and written stimulus, then you have an output through composition, performance, improvisation, recording and a dialogue with the audience and the people you create with. For me, influences are always changing and they should be. I don’t want to have a fixed idea about myself, my music or anybody for that matter.

What are the biggest challenges for emerging jazz composers in 2017?

It depends on the individual and what’s going on in your life at that moment. Things change, you grow from your experiences and hopefully you bring this into the music you are writing at the time. Each year is different.

Have you any thoughts on the health of UK jazz? Is the scene in good shape?

There is so much music being made by jazz artists in the UK. And the music could be categorised in many within many different genres.

I get tired of labels! What I am interested in is new music regardless of its categorisation and I feel that London has so much of that new music to offer all the time. It’s an exciting scene to be part of and I have met some really amazing artists and friends since moving here seven years ago from Dublin.

Have you any advice for new and emerging artists?

Be yourself. Love yourself. Work hard. Rest easy. Keep going.

What does the rest of 2017 have in store for you?

Hopefully lots of sunshine! But yes … I’ll be working on my Arts Foundation Fellowship and developing the project with the artists who are involved and there are also some gigs coming up.

I’ll perform at Hidden Rooms, Cambridge with Tom Challenger on saxophone, Dan Nicholls on piano / electronics, Conor Chaplin on drums and James Maddren on 8 June.

I’ll be performing at the High Notes Festival in Minucciano, Province of Lucca, Italy with cellist Naomi Berrill and saxophonist/clarinetist Matthew Berrill in July – can’t wait for this. There will be gigs with Snowpoet in and I’ll also be touring with Julian Pontvianne’s Abhra in December which I can’t wait for. We have been performing his wonderful compositions based on excerpts of Henry David Thoreau’s diaries. I love singing the text.

Visit laurenkinsella.com to find out more about her current projects.