Film and TV

Lauren Lakis Sculpts a Music Career

Lauren Lakis
Lauren Lakis Photo by Joe Welkie, courtesy of Lauren Lakis

Lauren Lakis thought back to her first encounters with all things artistic.

“I’m lucky because I had a mom who definitely encouraged all of that creative energy, as well as one of my mom’s sisters, my Aunt Marian — super encouraging in that regard. I mean, they had me with paints, with clay, probably that was like the earliest type of creative project I would work on,” Lakis recalled. “I do remember being in plays from a really young age. One of my first plays was Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. I’ll never forget that I got to play the one that turns into a blueberry.”

Those were the blueberry-sweet, humble and significant beginnings for Lakis, who’s building an impressive career in the arts. She’s a photographer, writer and an actor. If she looks familiar, you might have seen her in any number of roles, in films like the Eric Stoltz-directed Confessions of a Teenage Jesus Jerk or television shows like HBO’s powerhouse drama, Big Little Lies. Most recently, she’s devoted her off-set energies to music. She’s bringing her brand of shoegaze indie rock to Axelrad this Saturday evening.

Photographer, actress, musician - of all the titles she’s amassed, she’s sort of proud of the latest she’s added - Texan. Originally from Baltimore, Lakis now resides in Austin, by way of a decade in Los Angeles.

“I just spent 10 years in L.A., but I drove (to Texas) when the ‘Snowmageddon’ was happening in February. Literally when that was happening. It was really intense but I made it. I was like all right, this must be an omen. I don’t know if it’s good or bad, but here we go,” she laughed.

“It was time for a change. I’ve loved Texas so far, so I’d like to stay there for a long time. I want a better quality of life.”

For now, that begins with fully exploring her growing music career. She knows Austin is a good place to nurture these pursuits, which began in earnest only five years ago.

“I didn’t really get serious about writing music until I was already in L.A. and I moved there primarily for acting. I started just singing in a band and that band, we did a lot. I was in it for about a year and we toured a lot, we recorded, so it was kind of like band boot camp and I got to really see what the reality is,” she said. “I think that I’d always had this idea that you have to be a perfect musician in order to start writing music and I learned that’s not true, that’s not the case at all.

“I definitely had a dark night of the soul in 2016 and my ego was just completely obliterated, in a good way,” she continued. “So, I finally got out of my own way and decided I’m going to write my own album and I don’t care if it sucks and that’s honestly the best place to write from because you don’t care about the external approval.”

Armed with that freedom and the raw emotions of a recent breakup, she crafted 10 songs for her debut album, Ferocious. The album was well-received, with reviewers noting “Lakis’ emotional bloodletting made for dark rock theater,” and “Lakis hits us right in the hole where feelings once resided.”

“It’s funny, after writing that first album I started to care more about what people thought when it came to music because people were listening, I was receiving external validation, so I started to like it. I still have to remind myself I have to do things that are coming directly from my soul and not just things I think other people are going to like or go in the direction that I think other people want me to go in.”

click to enlarge Lakis is now a fellow Texan who moved to Austin during "Snowmageddon" - PHOTO BY  FÉLIXE DE BECKER, COURTESY OF LAUREN LAKIS
Lakis is now a fellow Texan who moved to Austin during "Snowmageddon"
Photo by Félixe De Becker, courtesy of Lauren Lakis

It's a hard balance but one she’s maintaining, much like the balance between her DIY music efforts and the stability acting has afforded her. When we chat, Lakis is in Oregon, enjoying an off day from the set of an A24 film being directed by Kelly Reichardt and starring Michelle Williams. She’ll be in the upcoming comedy The Sex Lives of College Girls, an HBO Max series created by Mindy Kaling.

“I would say with the acting it’s less personal than the songwriting because it’s not my words,” she said. “I have much less control over it than I do with my music.”

That brings us to Daughter Language. Songs from the album, which released in January, figure to be prominently featured in Saturday evening’s set at Axelrad.

“All of those songs were written in 2018 and 2019, so over a couple of years, and I would say the common theme is just what it means to be a daughter. So, again, it’s intensely personal. I think Ferocious, my first album, was kind of like that dark night of the soul, heartbreak kind of album and then Daughter Language is coming from a more stable place of just taking a look inward,” she said. “It’s like, okay, things are okay, I can go deeper and look at myself in a deeper way and look at my behavior and ask myself where does that come from? Does that come from my childhood, does that come from society, does that come from my lineage, like is it genetic? Why do I do the things that I do?”

They’re good questions, the kinds we’ve all asked ourselves. Lakis said she grew up in Catholic school. She played the Virgin Mary three times in school productions. So, a song like “Fear of God” from Daughter Language “touches on that — what does it mean to be a daughter of God and what did it mean to me as a kid? What does it mean now? Being a daughter of my father versus my mother, it’s like two completely different characters almost. So, I guess just getting to the core of that.”

And, we suggest, she’s also daughter of the arts, one who literally grew from the clay and is sculpting her own impressive career. She said she’s just completed recording six new songs for an EP. And, she’s getting used to the music terrain of her new home state.

“Actually, my drummer from L.A. is flying out Thursday and we’re going to practice for two days and then come down to Houston Saturday,” she said. “We’re just doing that one show right now. You know, I’ve been kind of just holding off, seeing how everything’s gonna go before trying to book any sort of tour or anything like that. This part of the country, living in Texas, is totally new. I’ve done West Coast tours and now I get to explore a different area, so that’s pretty exciting.

“I’m learning, I’m still learning, but I will say this right now, this summer, feels like my dream life,” Lakis added. “Like, if I could just keep living like this for the rest of my life, I would be so happy. It’s just such a dream, to spend three weeks working on a film that I’m really proud of, really grateful to be a part of, and then as soon as I get home I get to go play a super cool venue and play the stuff that’s from my heart, my words. There’s nothing better than that.”

Lauren Lakis, with DJ Mom Jams and DJ Mr. Castillo, 7 p.m. Saturday, July 17 at Axelrad Beer Garden, 1517 Alabama. Free.
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Jesse’s been writing for the Houston Press since 2013. His work has appeared elsewhere, notably on the desk of the English teacher of his high school girlfriend, Tish. The teacher recognized Jesse’s writing and gave Tish a failing grade for the essay. Tish and Jesse celebrated their 33rd anniversary as a couple in October.