Emerging In The Nashville Music Scene With Lauren Conklin
Lauren Conklin is a live/studio musician from Nashville Tennessee who loves music of all kinds but specializes in country/bluegrass.
She began playing at age 6 and graduated with a Bachelors of Music degree in Commercial Violin Performance from Belmont University in May 2014.
We interviewed with Lauren regarding her musical background, inspirations, and how to get ahead with a specific niche such as the violin.
Where is your artistic home? What city, neighborhood or country helped inspire and inform your art?
I was born and raised in Nashville, TN. Even though I don’t come from a musical family, growing up in Music City meant I was around live music, and the best musicians in the world, all the time. I always loved the violin, and started taking lessons as a kid. Then when I was about 10, I was at the Farmer’s Market with my dad and there was this bluegrass band playing. The banjo player, Red, asked me if I wanted to play a song with them, and I went for it. I was terrible—no fiddle experience and only barely knew how to play my instrument, but they were so kind and encouraging and after a practice or two let me join the band.
They all had about 50 years experience on me, so I definitely learned a lot from them. They were dictionaries of old bluegrass and country tunes. I played with them every Saturday at that Farmer’s Market from when I was 10 until I went to college. In that time, I learned to play my instrument, to love bluegrass, and to never be afraid to improvise my way through music and life. Nashville is home to countless opportunities like that one, and I feel so fortunate to have grown up and honed my craft in a place full of inspiration and collaboration and creativity.
What was the last thing that inspired you?
I’ve been really inspired lately by Sarah Jarosz—I love her use of harmony and how creative the chord progressions and structures of her songs are. They’re beautiful and catchy, but also do a lot of things that are unusual and unexpected. I’ve been trying to incorporate that into my writing—to try and push myself away from predictable changes and resolutions and into a more free-flowing, melodic space.
The past, present, or future. Which period would you like to recreate in a form of art?
The future! The most exciting thing about the future is that you have no idea what it holds—there’s so much possibility. That’s how art should be, you start listening to something and it could go anywhere or do anything, and you don’t know. You have to believe that there is hope and excitement and things that you could not have imagined out there, and there’s infinite possibility. It’s exciting.
What medium or instrument is your favorite to work with and why?
The violin is my favorite instrument to work with—probably just because that’s what I’m best at. But I heard somewhere once that it’s the instrument closest in timbre and range to the human voice, which I have always felt like is one of the reasons it’s so easy to connect with emotionally. I feel like my fiddle is an extension of my voice, but one I can do so much more with. I can express myself better through my instrument than I can in any other way.
As an emerging artist today, what would you say are some of the challenges you face?
I feel like the biggest challenge right now for musicians is trying to reshape the way our business works with the huge changes in technology that have happened recently and are happening all the time. The digital age has changed the way people consume music, and the way musicians are paid for their work. That’s making it increasingly difficult for musicians to make a living via their music, and we’re having to come up with new and creative ways to market ourselves and sell our music. It will be interesting to see what changes the next decade brings, and if the music industry is able to restructure itself around the digital age we live in.
Art is all about expression, what do you like expressing in your work?
If I had to pick just one thing to express through my work, it would be hope. Since I primarily write instrumental music, it can be more difficult to convey an expression without using words, but I try to put a feeling of something exciting coming over the horizon into my work. That’s how I feel about life right now, like the future is opening up into hundreds of new and exciting avenues and there’s always another adventure around the corner. I play a lot too with a gospel group, Highroad, that I absolutely love, and hope is a big theme in those songs too. Hope for redemption, for new life, for healing and peace. That’s something that this world needs more of!
Many feel that art is always political, just as many others feel it should stand apart from politics, does your work involve any politic statements?
As someone who is primarily an instrumentalist, my work doesn’t really contain any political themes. It’s not like people listen to a fiddle line and think “oh, she’s definitely against this new bill. I can tell from that diminished chord she used.”
What motto, quote or words to live by do you use to stay motivated when you aren’t feeling inspired?
My favorite quote right now is by Vincent Van Gogh—he said about his work that “Great things are done by a series of small things brought toghether.” This is so true—you can’t make great progress all at once, and so many times it feels like what you’re working on is insignificant, or isn’t going anywhere. But then looking back, it becomes clear how all those little projects, those days of practicing when you don’t feel like it, all comes together to bring you to something much bigger and more exciting.
I can see this when I look back at my life, how often things I’ve done that I thought in the moment were a waste of time, eventually led me to accomplish things and go places I never dreamed of.
Has music always been your career plan?
Music has not always been my career plan—in fact, it kind of just happened to me. I always wanted to be a scientist, I thought I was going to study physics and work with nuclear energy. But from an early age, people kept hiring me to play concerts or do sessions or work on music, and I ended up playing in different bands and in movies and on TV, and in orchestras—and then before I knew it I was going to Belmont University because music had taken over my life and was something I felt like I couldn’t walk away from.
Now, I can’t imagine having any other career. I am thankful for all the people who believe in me and hired me and pushed me into this back before it had even crossed my mind to pursue it professionally!
The Fox Magazine is all about inspiration, what/who inspires you the most?
It’s so hard to narrow that down, because I feel inspired by something different every day! But I’m most inspired when I’m collaborating with other musicians; getting in a room with other creative people who often have such different preferences and backgrounds and inspirations of their own is challenging and stretching and leads you to create things you would never have come up with alone.
My biggest inspiration, musically and otherwise, is my husband, Ben Johnson. He’s a brilliant songwriter and instrumentalist, and I love getting to work with him. He’s also the hardest worker I know—he starts writing early every morning and when I’m out on the road and not there to tell him to take a break he’ll work until 2 in the morning. Living with someone like that really pushes you to evaluate your own work ethic and commitment to creating!
Name a few artists would you love to do a song with and why –
There are so many! I talked about Sarah Jarosz earlier, I’d of course love to do a song with her. And I adore the Punch Brothers, I’d love to do a song with them. They’re all such incredible instrumentalists and their music has that unexpected, out of the box quality I love.
I feel like doing a song with them would be incredibly challenging on both a technical and creative level. And Gabe Dixon—I love his music! It’s so hopeful and his writing is incredible, and I would love to play with him some day.
What’s something people would be surprised to learn about you?
I’m an avid scuba diver. I love ocean animals and got scuba certified when I was 10. I especially love sharks! I think they get a bad rep—they’re really smart and aren’t just mindless eating machines. I’ve done shark dives where you go down and swim around with dozens of them and feed them, and have petted a couple sharks too!
What’s your best advice for aspiring musicians?
Never give up! Another of my favorite quotes is by Harrison Ford, who talks about how he became a successful actor. He said:
“I realized early on that success was tied to not giving up. Most people in this business gave up and went on to other things. If you simply didn’t give up, you would outlast the people who came in on the bus with you.”
I really believe that—music is really hard, and most people quit because they thought it would be easy and glamorous and they’d be riding around on a tour bus with a private chef and signing autographs all day. But that’s not the reality of it, the reality is that you work hard to do something you believe in and if you stick with it, you’re left with the other people who believed in their work and didn’t give up either.
Follow her journey!