Gemma Laurence’s Lavender is a honeyed collection of quiet and awkward moments that slowly tell the story of great personal growth. It’s hard to overstate how sweet Laurence’s voice sounds, how well the accompanying instruments contribute to the mood, or how real and precious the flawed love stories feel slipping through her hands. And with positive, tender songs about the queer and trans experiences, Laurence immediately shows that she’s a vital part of the growing queer country movement.
“Adrienne,” a love song about one of Laurence’s first queer experiences, is notable for the way it holds up awkward details as something that contributes to the romance of the night.
“First dates are always so awkward,” Laurence said on a recent episode of Country Pocket. “There’s such a beauty in that awkwardness. It’s universal for any person on a first date but it’s also quintessentially queer too.”
Laurence credits the pandemic for giving her a unique chance to reflect on moments like the one in “Adrienne” and write songs about them. She does not make many mistakes during Lavender’s eight track runtime. The capturing of fleeting a moment in “35mm” is delicate while the earnest insecurity of “Watchdog” gathers a bit more energy. “Canyon Moon,” the only track that doesn’t sparkle lyrically, contributes plenty through its deep, layered, earthy sound. The album’s slow, rich instrumentation and attention to intimate details throughout makes it a consistently great listen.
Lavender’s title track, which Laurence says she’s most proud of, isn’t autobiographical like most of the other stories. She wrote it as a song of joy for a friend who was coming out as trans.
“It’s just meant to be a love song to a friend saying I see you, I hear you, and I know that coming out is really difficult, especially for people in the trans community,” Laurence said. “I sent it to her, it meant a lot to her, and I thought it might be worth putting out for other folks who aren’t getting that message elsewhere.”
While the words in the song and the building music show clear compassing and as solid of a grasp on the metamorphosis that any cisgendered person can have, it’s Laurence’s decision to write the song in the second person that I found particularly effective. It’s a great thing to tell an inspirational story, but it’s so much more important to speak directly to a person and tell them that they’re seen.
The album closes on a song called “Rearview,” which is the first to capture Laurence outside the paradigm of a relationship. She sings about learning to dance with the person in the mirror.
“It’s really hard being alone.” Laurence said. I’m sure we’ve all felt that. It took me a long time of being by myself to kind of know how to be by myself and not feel like I was incomplete without another person.”
Though she wrote the song a couple years earlier with instrumentation that wouldn’t quite fit on Lavender, Laurence knew it was the right way to conclude her album and celebrate her personal growth.
“When we rerecorded this song I felt this triumphantness,” Laurence said. “I just felt so excited to finally be getting back to New York, to be ready to embark on this mission and have this album about to come out. It really felt in that moment when I was writing that song that there were just bigger things than romance.”
Above is the full episode as aired on WUSB’s Country Pocket, including both my interview with Gemma Laurence and the songs we discussed, starting with Lavender, which displays remarkable encouragement. The interview begins afterward. You can hear the show live every Monday at 11am on WUSB 90.1 FM or check the blog to watch it as a YouTube playlist. Visit http://www.WUSB.fm and https://gemmalaurence.com for more.