For this week’s Artist Interview Series, we had the pleasure of chatting with this vocalist, composer, violinist and guitarist, Jo Lawry. Lawry is best known for her work as a vocalist in Sting’s band which she toured with from 2009 – 2015. As a result of her work with Sting, she was featured in the 2013 Oscar winning documentary, 20 Feet From Stardom. Lawry also has had and impressive solo career, I Want to Be Happy, was released in 2008 was selected it as one of the “Best CDs of the 2000s by Downbeat magazine which was followed up by Taking Pictures in 2015 and her highly anticipated new album, The Bathtub and the Sea is due out this year.
What is your earliest memory playing an instrument?
Sitting with my big brother at the piano, playing the melody to “C Jam Blues” while he played the chords.
When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I was a total “bookworm”, and I wanted to be an author of fiction.
When did you fall in love with music?
I can’t remember a time I didn’t love music. I am the “baby” of a big family, and everybody played an instrument and/or sang. But I think I primarily fell in love with making music through my eldest brother, who would play me records and talk to me about the music, or play the piano while I sang. He used to have me sing “Puff The Magic Dragon” over and over, while he played the piano in a different style each time. I think a big part of loving music was loving hanging out with my cool big brother.
Did you have important teachers along the way that helped shape your musical exploration, if so how did they help you?
I have had studied a few different instruments and had lots of different teachers, and I’ve learnt important lessons from all of them. My favorite and most influential teachers have been those who have retained their childlike love and wonder for music. It can be hard when you study something so intensely, to keep that “magic”, but I think that makes the best musicians, and the best teachers.
How has learning an instrument helped you in your life, besides obviously giving you a hugely successful career? In other words, what are some of the positive “side-effects” you see in your life because of music?
There are no short-cuts to playing an instrument. I’m not a naturally patient or disciplined person, but I have had to develop both of those qualities in order to hone my craft. Also, I have learned that no work or experience is wasted; I have been so surprised at how early experiences (like studying violin as a kid, or being in youth choir) have come into play in a huge way later in my career, in a really unexpected way. I think that holds true for life in general, and it makes me try to make the most of every life experience that comes my way, even if I can’t immediately see how useful it may become.
Did you ever want to give up playing? How did you overcome that?
You can’t be inspired all the time, and when I haven’t felt that inspiration for a while it gets difficult to stay motivated. Usually at that point I try to do something brand new – such as pick up a new instrument, or collaborate with someone I’ve never worked with before – and that helps me get my enthusiasm back.
What would your advice be to parents and/or students who are thinking about learning to play an instrument? And any advice on how to bring more singing and music into their lives at home?
Do it! And especially don’t NOT do it because you think it’s too late! I started teaching myself guitar at over 30, and now I use it as my main songwriting tool. Find someone else to play with. You’ll learn a lot more than you will by yourself, and you will have a lot more fun!
And for all of our 3yr old readers, if you could turn yourself into an instrument, what would you be and why?
I think I would be a trumpet, because you get to play all kinds of different musical styles, and I would be able to play really LOUD and be heard, even if lots of instruments are playing at once.