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Laura Minor goes for major play

By Rick Bell, August 2002

There has to be a certain bug-eyed innocence the first time a performer commits his or her voice to tape.

Surrounded by gadgetry it seems only a handful of people can understand and operate, in a room with people studying every motion, analyzing each note, that first recording session is a crash course in quelling the butterflies while trying to stay on key.

Laura Minor admits as much. Now with her debut album on HighTone Records securely under her belt and on the shelves, the 28-year-old Florida native looked back at her initial sessions with a little laugh of sheepishness.

"I was wide-eyed and nervous," says Minor during an interview from her home in Gainesville. The February recording sessions, which lasted about two weeks, were produced by Cracker's David Lowery at his Sound of Music studio in Richmond, Va.

"I'm my own worst critic. I wanted perfection. Luckily, there were 20 other people there who were relaxed."

Perhaps it's shy of perfection to Minor's ear, but early results indicate others are positively bullish on "Salesman's Girl," her 11-song debut. Several critics from her home state are heaping praise on her initial effort. It's not hometown hucksterism either.

Primarily culled from Minor's poetry, the songs are smart, but not aloof, and her voice has a bluesy, backwoods rasp that speaks of vulnerability yet reveals uncompromising honesty.

Guitarist Jared Flamm helped massage several of Minor's poems into songs for the album. In fact, it was through Flamm's encouragement that prompted Minor to look toward music as a career.

They met at a party, Minor says, and they wound up hanging out.

"Jared turned to me and said, 'Can you sing?' So we sang Gram Parsons' 'Return of the Grievous Angel,'" she says of the country rock legend, who also came from Florida. "For me, it was like, well, that's over. Then Jared said, 'Practice is on Tuesday. We're going to be in a band.'"

From that point on, Minor says, she and Flamm began writing songs, coming up with one of the album's cuts, "Rust of the Carolinas." Minor was working and taking a class at the University of Florida at the time.

"We'd e-mail each other," she says. "That's how we wrote a lot of our songs."

Ultimately they decided they needed to play in front of a crowd.

"He said, 'We have to play out,'" Minor recalls. "I was so innocent at first. When I told my friends I was going to sing, they were like, 'what at karaoke night?'"

Flamm made a demo tape, and Minor compiled a wish list of record labels.

"Larry Sloven from HighTone called back," she says. "He knew the angle, knew I hadn't sung before. Yet he flew out and took all the backroads to get here. It's weird that HighTone would take a chance, that someone would be that risky. Labels pick so many bad people, that it said something to me about HighTone. They keep reinventing themselves, and everything always works out for them."

Minor put everything aside - she had an important paper due that day - for her session with Sloven.

"I told the professor the dog ate my homework," she says. "And she was like, 'What?' I told her I had an audition that night, and she gave me an extension on the paper. It turned out she liked my music a lot."

It also turned out Minor had to quit school and, like the other band members, quit her job.

"We 'Beverly Hillbillied' it up to Richmond," she laughs. "We were such a poor operation."

Yet, that phase of the operation turned out to be a success. And it's a long way from a period of time when she lived in New York.

"I wanted to sing," she says, "But I didn't know anything about music. I started singing in New York, but it was scary. I tried a few things with friends, who are now in an abstract hip-hop band."

Scary, indeed.

"Loretta Lynn over hip-hop bands," she describes it, adding "it was a strange version of Patsy Cline meets hip-hop."

Minor realized any pursuit of music on her part needed structure. Despite a hesitance to fall into a mainstream sound, Minor sought structure in her music.

"You can't just jump in; you've got to start somewhere," she says.

Her success to date is based on her chance meeting with Flamm. Yet, it also has to do with some uncompromising standards she's set for herself.

"I'm not weaned like Alicia Keyes or how Mandy Moore prepped in the Disney Club," she says. "It's scary how entertainment can raise a child. It's just not believable music. Not like Loretta (Lynn) or Aretha (Franklin). It's just sincere, with grief and stories and full of life."

So Laura Minor - that's the band's name, she noted, emphatically adding that the band collectively makes decisions - is heading out on the road. They will do some shows with Cracker, booking this first tour themselves.

"We'll be going up to New York," she says of herself, Flamm, Devin Moore on bass and Aaron Carr on lead guitar. "We have no fan base outside of Florida. Now the big task is getting people to hear us."