While Bobbie Lancaster may not tell you herself, her self-titled, debut album from last year contained some of the prettiest, gospel-tinged and heartfelt pieces of Americana music released in 2010. Instead, she’s more likely to look forward than back. Though you might catch her pride of performance on that first album when it whispers into her conversation, she’s a woman who lives in the moment as best any of us can, and takes the now and applies it, with a spiritual flair, to her future.
Besides her role in the John Prine Tribute show in Chicago over the winter, Bloomington Americana singer/songwriter Lancaster spent the past months writing songs, being a wife, and a mom to her two (ages 5 and 3) kids. The benefits and tribute shows she has been playing give way to her own music this spring. She takes her sultry, ringing voice and gutsy and elegant mandolin playing to her own shows, including an April 30 show at the Players Pub in Bloomington.
RN: Tim Grimm took the version of the John Prine show that he debuted here in Indianapolis to Chicago, and helped it evolve into a tribute concert. You sang in it through the entire run of shows. What did you take away from that experience to help you with your own material and performances?
BL:Tim has brought me into several tribute shows – for Dylan, Springsteen, Johnny Cash/Hank Williams, and now John Prine. Every time I start digging into the writing of these iconic artists, it leads me to find a new love and respect for them and I think performing their material has influenced the quality of my writing. John Prine’s music has a way of bringing up serious subjects and bringing out the very human side of a story. On the flip side, he also has a delightful habit of letting go of convention and letting his silly side shine. That’s the lesson I took away from John Prine – be silly, be hurt, be vulnerable, don’t be afraid to laugh, or cry. Just be genuine.
The show itself, in it’s new format, welcomed the audience to participate in a bigger way. We were playing to full houses by the end of the run. Our last weekend came just after the big blizzard, and Chicago didn’t stay in. They put their big boots on and came out for some fun with us.
I had the pleasure of riding up each weekend with Tim Grimm and Jan Lucas Grimm, and honestly, what I miss most about the show was knitting in the back seat with Jan while Tim drove us around. We laughed a lot.
RN: You had said in an email to me that you are working toward a new album for 2011. Does it have a direction and theme yet?
BL:I went on a serious writing spree last year; love stuff, political stuff, talking to God. I’m not sure exactly what the album’s overall sound will end up being. My big plan, if there is a plan, is to work these songs in rehearsal with Nick, get them where we want them, add some bass & maybe some banjo and pedal steel and fiddle, and see what we get. I have this alt country/bluegrassy concept in mind.
I’m a big fan of letting go, working with awesome people, and seeing what happens. Some would say that’s irresponsible, but I don’t think so. I like to think of it as organic. In producing the last album, I had ideas and heard things a certain way a time or two, and it was easy to communicate with my player friends. Sometimes what I heard really worked and was right for the song, while other times they just did what they do and added beauty that only they could. I think that’s why I love that first album so much.
RN: What doors did the debut solo record open?
BL: “The Tragic Tale of Maggie Donovan” and “What You Do To Me” got the attention of the Kerrville Folk Festival and the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival, so I was able to do some traveling. I’ve gotten good radio play in Indiana and the Chicago area. I feel like this album has really made a difference in launching my solo career. People hear my name and say, ‘hey, i’ve heard of you’. That feels pretty good.
RN: Is it worth the time and money required to release a CD these days? I mean, the business is so different than even 10 or 15 years ago. Do artists even have to put out albums? Or is there another way to get an audience?
BL: Oh, I don’t freaking know and that answer applies to all three questions. I think, on a personal level, it’s worth it for me. I feel that getting new music into the hands of my existing fan base is a good thing. Knowing that I’m going to do another project pushes me to write smarter and to tap more deeply into the emotional vein. The business is different, and will be different 10-20 years from now, and honestly, I really don’t know much or care much about the business end of music. I’m rewarded when I can find that peaceful space and a song comes together like a puzzle, or when a lingering idea or emotion is released through song. I’m rewarded when someone comes up to me and tells me that my music has touched their spirit and then shares their story with me.
Business is business. It’s distant from the spirit, and I’m never really excited about getting down to business. I’ve been telling myself for years now that all I need to do is just keep moving, keep writing, keep playing out, and above all, just be me, whether I have a microphone in front of me or not. I’ve wanted to believe that if I can stay true to that, everything else will just work itself out and my life will be as it should be. I’m not passive about my career; I work at it and keep my books straight and make sure I stay out of the red, but I mostly just want to keep my eyes open for those little windows that seem to open just when I need them to.
RN: Any new kids songs for your library shows this summer?
BL: I do quite a bit of songwriting with kids. I’ve been writing with my daughter’s kindergarten class here in Bloomington. We incorporate what ever they’ve been working on in their lesson plans, and I’m making an effort to use the words they are learning to read and write in class. They are all so engaged in the songwriting sessions and I just love watching how excited and creative they all are.
I’m also really excited to have joined the roster of artists with Young Audiences of Indiana. That organization has been bringing the arts into schools for 50 years, and I was one of three artists in Indiana to be welcomed into the organization this year. I’ll be doing a songwriting workshop through YA and it’ll work similarly. Teachers can present me with any topic, from history to biology to whatever, and I’ll study up, come to class, brainstorm with the students and together, we’ll write a song that incorporates the vocabulary and bullet points of their teachers lesson plan, and at the end we’ll have created their own mnemonic device. It’s effective, it’s exciting, and I’m really looking forward to a long relationship with Young Audiences.
RN: What music that you are listening to that you like from others?
BL: I’m kind of obsessed with Steve Earle, and love the Mumford and Sons album. I just got some old records from my parents basement which included some Emmylou Harris, Kenny Rogers, Kris Kristofferson, George Jones and Waylon Jennings. There’s nothing like that old scratchy sound of a real record, and I’m really enjoying listening to the songs that were the soundtrack for my childhood. I’m singing along, and didn’t even realize that I know the songs. It’s just been stored up there with my memories.