LOE is 21 years old. It says her birthdate is August 17, 1994 right on her driver's license. But hsxwqser age shouldn’t tell you that she’s been heavily influenced by the likes of Björk, India Arie and Anthony Hamilton. Or Korn, for that matter. She was finally granted the right to purchase beer legally, twist and wiggle out of most clubs of her choosing and light up various spaces without any hassle. She chooses comfort the same way you and I may choose a particular T-shirt. It fits her, even when she pulls her music out of some of the darkest spaces in her life.
When we met last month at Agora, a brick enclave nestled in the middle of Montrose, LOE's self-described vibe of the place sells it a bit short. “A chill spot,” she tells me via message. “Like coffee & import beer and pastries & stuff.” When I arrive, she’s already seated inside, tugging on a faded black Monster hat and lifting back on a green bottle of beer. Her comfort is being surrounded by people who may not know her or bother her but once they do, they become enamored with her. One would argue that it's the eyes — green, piercing orbs that could make you feel trapped in her power or even her voice, childlike yet still able to emit shrieks and leverage.
I crack jokes, and she laughs while downplaying everything around her. She’s eyeing someone who may have a cigarette for her to bum, but her focus is quite clear. She’s here to talk about herself — and deny me any story she feels necessary to do so. Although she’ll quickly tell me that Agora's strawberry smoothie is a favorite.
“When I was seven, my mother started bringing some crazy music home. She would bring home India Arie, Björk, Sade. A weird mix of music I was into at a young age,” she says. “Just the way 'Possibly, Maybe' by Björk starts with the telephone ringing, it’s crazy. You gotta hear it.”
Born in Brownsville and raised in Missouri City, Laura “LOE” Reyna found herself in what she describes as neutral ground, Elkins High School, to find her musical voice. To her, Brownsville was an entirely different world, a land connected mostly by Selena’s influence and no other actual musical identity. A mutt by description, she says her mixed black/Mexican heritage led to her getting teased by other Hispanic kids for her curly hair compared to their straight, jet-black, matted bobs. Over time, she lost her commitment to her Spanish, her first love, but her accent kicks up in brief moments. She shifted back and forth between her mom and her dad, divorced yet never officially split for good. A self-professed weird kid, she found her corner of the world by pulling on her headphones and blasting alternative music like Slipknot and Radiohead while everyone else fell in love with the sounds of the time, mostly Dallas party music.
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“I remember I used to run up to Travis [Scott] and them and they’d be like, 'No girls around,' LOE says. “Him and Jason [OG Che$$]. That kind of fueled me.”
When she would go back home after school, she wrote in her notebook and recorded in her bedroom. The DIY approach to crafting music came mostly from her mom’s hand-picked records, by sirens who could sing and bring attention to every note like klaxons. “I closed myself off to create this style...whatever you could call it,” she says. “I can’t record something twice. I can’t re-record a song over.”
The original night LOE found her first solid taste of hometown love came last April. The Hive Society, the philanthropy brand with the large bee emblem, partnered with LOE for their first spotlight show inside Warehouse Live. Inside the venue's Studio room, LOE held her own idea of church: low lights, deep pianos and organs acting as walls surrounding her. She peered outward into the crowd, asked them questions, gauged whether or not they were feeling the music. They all nodded vociferously. “Christian church” she likened it to.
When questioned about love, LOE pauses a bit, highlighting how nobody has it all together. Her music, sauntering like smoke after a long drag on a cigarette, conjures up those emotions. On a record like “Smoke Me Up,” with producer Bobby Earth, she hints at being touched and grasped like a spark. “Hold me down when it's cold, optimal blow, I’m alive…” It’s a smoker’s anthem disguised as a lover’s ballad, and she relates to cherishing connection far more than just one-night occurrences.
“I used to have a great relationship with my dad, before he and my mom split up,” she says while tapping her foot. It's one of the few subjects from a past she feels readily able to approach. “I’ve been through some shit now,” she laughs. “But that one messed me up. He and my mom split when I was eight, and he wasn’t around as much. I was the favorite of the family, and it just didn’t work out like I wanted it to. He wasn’t there for years at a time.”
“I’ve been through some shit now,” she laughs. “But that one messed me up. He and my mom split when I was eight, and he wasn’t around as much. I was the favorite of the family, and it just didn’t work out like I wanted it to. He wasn’t there for years at a time.”
Most of these stories get tucked away. To LOE, people are listening. She doesn’t want to be, in her words, “a fucking open book,” and chooses to keep her music that way. Every project offers a new key to a new story in her eyes. If there’s a password to LOE’s life, her ups and downs in between studio essentials of good smells and good weed, she’ll pass it out. She did two months ago with the collaborative Blue Moon project between her and L.A.-based producer Nedarb Nagrom. It's been her most beloved project to date.
In her travels, excluding one brief stint at Texas Southern University — it felt more like a bore as opposed to fulfilling her tastes for knowledge, she says — LOE has come to appreciate the stages outside of Houston. “My first time ever picking up a mike publicly was in San Antonio,” she says with a laugh. “San Antonio loves their weirdos, a lot more supportive than Houston, and it's apart. Dallas loves the weirdoes; they rage for them. Houston is a little apprehensive to them. I get more love outside of the city, but that’s kind of common knowledge.”
“My first time ever picking up a mike publicly was in San Antonio,” she says with a laugh. “San Antonio loves their weirdos, a lot more supportive than Houston, and it's apart. Dallas loves the weirdoes; they rage for them. Houston is a little apprehensive to them. I get more love outside of the city, but that’s kind of common knowledge.”
Her first time performing in San Antonio brought up one of the more intriguing aspects of her career so far: performing a song she didn’t know. Even though she compares her performances to church — spiritual moments of revival, confession and reassurance — none of that was evident that night. “I had to sing a song I didn’t know — Bill Withers’s 'Ain’t No Sunshine'," she recalls. "I didn’t even know I was performing. I had to pull up the lyrics on my phone, and I was playing with a live band. That band comes to the venue every so often, and the person I was with, my aunt, basically threw me up there! I didn’t know the lyrics word for word, but...it’s pretty simple until you get to the bridge and stuff. But they were really supportive, giving me an encore and shit.”
“I had to sing a song I didn’t know — Bill Withers’s 'Ain’t No Sunshine'," she recalls. "I didn’t even know I was performing. I had to pull up the lyrics on my phone, and I was playing with a live band. That band comes to the venue every so often, and the person I was with, my aunt, basically threw me up there! I didn’t know the lyrics word for word, but...it’s pretty simple until you get to the bridge and stuff. But they were really supportive, giving me an encore and shit.”
She pantomimes for a cigarette, to no avail. “Usually when I get a beer, I’m craving for a cig.”
Performers in Houston, especially the young, are constantly fighting the crowd for attention and approval. Normally, Houston crowds for up and comers aren’t filled to the brim with genuine fans. It’s mostly homeboys and family standing next to or at a distance from other performers. In a way, it’s closer to being in a seminar that doubles as a talent show. No one wins when the crowd is too stubborn to clap or acknowledge the performer. LOE knows this; it's why she sucks her teeth when thinking about the last local concert she attended that actually gave her a good feeling.
As time progresses, she’s finding it harder and harder to shield her thoughts on social media. “I’m a very nice person but at the same time…” she trails off.
The Warehouse stage for LOE wasn’t an outlier. Soon she’ll be there again and again, performing her brand of fusion to an audience that not only appreciates it but still wows her when they sing the words back. One of those in the crowd may be her mother, whom LOE considers to be one of her biggest fans. “Oh, she’s always trying to give me little tips and stuff,” she laughs. “She can sing and she’s the one who put me onto all that music. But she, she doesn’t really like my content too much. ’Cause it’s dark! And I talk about women a lot and she doesn’t like that.”
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A strong Christian woman who wishes her daughter weren’t as honest as she is, that’s how LOE pictures her mother’s description of her. LOE laughs when she looks over at her girlfriend, eyes focused and heavy into Tumblr. “She bought me my first iPad,” LOE gushes. “She’s the one who introduced me to making music.”
She’s freeing, fidgeting only when thinking about the kinds of structure she has to command onstage. When she performs, outside of knowing her lyrics and not slipping, everything else is freestyled: mannerisms, conversations and inside jokes. Most of the time, she just wants to slink back into her own little world playing video games and loathing Christian Bale’s version of Batman. He can barely command attention with those tiny lips, she thinks.
“I gotta get you into Call of Duty!” she professes. “At first I didn’t like it, but then I got into it and started whupping ass. It’s gonna be around for a minute, so you better just come around it.” I relent, but much like everything else with LOE in regards to creating and moving in her own head and space, she urges me to follow along as if she’s life’s Mad Hatter.
“You’ll like it.”