Q&A: Vocalist, Writer, Satirist Lauren Lavín
Updated: Dec 4, 2021
By August Edwards
Lauren Lavín has devoted her life to two separate arts: music and writing. After completing her MFA in creative writing, moving from Los Angeles to Seattle for love and music, and securing a grant for an interactive fiction anthology, Lavín finds everything—tentatively—falling into place.
Lavín has written for Reductress, The Hard Times, Sundog, Mason Jar Press, and Literary Orphans, among others; she's also held editing positions for The Hard Times and Hard Noise. Her essay "My Brother Doesn't Show Me His Head," that you should read here, was nominated for a Pushcart Prize this year and Best of the Net. She's played in bands since high school and has lately found herself in recording studios up and down the west coast.
We hope you'll read along as Lauren and I discuss her real, fictional hardcore band, Fluppies; lessons from The Hard Times; and what it truly means to plunge entirely into your art.
Lavín: I got lucky because I moved to Seattle for love, but the guy that I’m with, Mike Sparks Jr. [of Reader, He Whose Ox is Gored, By Sunlight, and many others] is a musician from Sacramento—which is where I’m from. I met him in Sacramento about six years ago. [My date at the time] took me to see [Mike] while he was on tour. Mike was already living in Seattle at the time. Later, in November of that year, we actually spent a week together—we were all tragically in love and shit.
Anyway, fast forward a bunch to last December , I knew I was gonna come up to Washington for a month to stay with a friend and get a change of scenery, and I hit up Mike. He’s still playing in a bunch of bands, he’s playing in Reader—they were supposed to open up for Andrew W.K. recently but the show got cancelled ‘cause of COVID. I’m in Seattle living with Mike now, all because I met him at a show. And we’re making music now, too.
You’re working on a writing project that has materialized a real, fake band. What is the process like of personifying this band, for you?
Well, I can’t take a whole lot of credit for it. I have this anthology project called Los Suelos, CA with a team. It’s me and four other writers, Ian Kappos, Karter Mycroft, Barton Aikman, and Josh Duke, and we created this fictional town [from Josh’s original concept]. Ian and Karter conceived this band. It was in one of Ian’s original story ideas. They’re called Fluppies. The town is cut off, there’s no internet, weird shit happens there. There’s a cult in this town that’s obsessed with the Hollow Earth and all this shit. Fluppies are opposed to the cult in this town, so this record—that now exists—is them mocking the Hollow Earth cult and talking about the town a lot.
The music was all written by Karter. Karter is the genius and the GOAT, they deserve all the credit, they wrote all of the music and recorded scratch tracks for everything. Ian wrote a bunch of the lyrics for it, [Max Pretzer is a brilliant writer and drummer], and I helped. I have been burnt out, so I haven’t been able to put myself into it creatively, which is torturing me. But what I did was help with lyrics and provide vocals.
What would the band look like live? What kind of characters would you get into?
The fun thing was, when we recorded together, it’s not like we had to get into character. But we’ve all been working on this world since January. Now we’re at this cool point where we feel like we know each other’s characters; having spent enough time with it just made it easier. Karter booked two weekends in this recording studio in SoCal—I flew down for the second weekend. The other thing about the band lore is that supposedly they only practice in the boiler room under the baseball field. That kind of forced us to feel like we were in character, is that we were cramming everything.
I can’t speak for Ian but a lot of my stuff is improvised. The song “Lemurian Real Estate,” initially Ian was supposed to do the vocals. So, there is a lot that happens when you’re just there. You get to the studio early in the morning and stay all fucking day. I also, full disclosure, haven’t even fully recovered my voice yet. The fact that we’re on a time crunch for the whole project, I know that that pressure has been pretty good for all of us. It’s focusing all of the heat, you know, like a fuckin magnifying glass, it’s forced us to make it work.
There’s something to say about creating this fictional town as writers, but then casting yourself specifically as members of a band. So, the music to you is inescapable? Is it fair to say that?
Kind of, yeah. Karter asked. It was a thing I remember talking about when we were sitting in some living room talking about the grant proposal. Ian and Karter being like, “And Lauren, you’re gonna be on vocals.”
It’s cool, too—to go back to the thing with Michael, about gravitating and falling into music, which is how I feel. This [Surface Dwellers] project started as a grant proposal I had in my back pocket with this same grant committee. It didn’t end up getting fleshed out because I always have too many things going on at once. So, they gave me the option to back out temporarily if I wanted, and I could reapply to continue later. And then Ian found me and was like, “I’m working on this sci-fi anthology, you should join it as a writer,” and I was like, “Oh! I have this grant thing, maybe we should retool the project together!”
The thing about Michael is that, as this was all happening, I was hanging out with him. And we had a really chaotic year of dating long distance, ‘cause he lived in Seattle and I lived in LA, and there’s a pandemic happenin’. He’s the guy that’s always, constantly in the studio for somebody’s session, even if it’s not his band, that’s just what he does—we found ourselves going up and down the coast a lot. I just found myself in music studios a bunch of times this year, and doing backing vocals on our friend’s record.
I thought I made a conscious decision a couple years ago to quit music because I felt like I wasn’t doing anything significant or meaningful with it, and I felt like it wasn’t going anywhere, and I thought I had to set it aside and focus on writing. And now it seems that my focus on writing has continued to bring me back to the music shit.
You are a musician, you are a writer, and you write about music—to me, it sounds like that’s who you are. But how do those two mediums of art inform or complicate each other? Does it help, does it make things hard?
Yeah, they fuckin’ do complicate themselves. Maybe this is just me being a bad workman blaming their tools. I like to complain that I’ve always been torn between the two and unable to focus, since like high school. That’s when I started playing shows and playing music. It’s also when I decided to pursue writing. It’s very convenient for me to blame the fact that I’m feeling bad about not having a published novel or short story collection, or not having a finished record under my name—I think it’s been easy for me over the years to be like, “Oh, I don’t have the one because I’m trying the other,” or vice versa. I guess I have been feeling negatively about that for like half my life, because that’s when I started playing music.
What felt like a struggle nonstop in this chaotic, meandering sort of thing—it seems like now, tentatively, I have been able to turn those into one practice. I guess my most optimistic reading of this is: on a long enough timeline, everything has a trajectory. The other examples of writing I can give that support this are Hard Times and Hard Noise. Even as a teenager I thought it would be cool to be a music journalist, but it was never the kind of writing I tried to do. I still probably will never try to do seriously. But then I found my way to making fun of music.
It just seems like, maybe instead of beating myself up for lacking the focus and drive to find a career path that looks a certain way, I at least have found all these projects now where the music and the writing are combined, and I should be a lot more fuckin’ grateful for that. And I am.
You were the editor for Hard Noise, where you were able to uplift new and experienced music journalists and bands. Is there something about that experience that you’d like to share, that was surprising to you in your career?
Here’s one thing I’ll tell you right now that I learned—looking back, I felt so negatively about it the entire time. Because I thought I was doing the worst job the entire fucking time. I was like, “I’m never gonna get this right, what right do I have commissioning work from these people who are more experienced than me? I’m terrible at answering my emails. Oh my god, the budget I’m able to offer—” It was my first time ever being an editor for a website. I had editorial experience, which is why I pitched myself for a position, but I pitched myself as a copyeditor. Matt [Saincome]’s original vision for the site was much bloggier. He kept trying to make me stick to that, bless his heart, but I just couldn’t focus.
The same month I became editor for Hard Noise was when I started my last year of grad school, and I also was teaching for the first time. I was also editor-in-chief for the lit mag, RipRap. The number one lesson is: don’t take on too much.
It’s funny because I started writing for Hard Times right before I started grad school, and I learned so much more from doing those things than I did for actual school. That’s not a knock on the institution, it’s a knock on me and my inability to focus on shit. But I don’t know, man—I felt like, “Oh, if only I could focus more on my actual writing career, or on school, without trying to do both.” But if anything, having that while I was in school provided me some contrast. Like, dude, academia has nothing to offer me as an artist. I had to go there to learn that, so that’s also valuable.
But I was learning that because I was going to school all day, and then running home and going to comedy shows that Hard Times guys were on in LA, and hanging out with them and collaborating on projects together. All of that was already happening around me. I was like, “I’m in school to try to make something like this happen.” So Hard Noise was good. It was about the sheer volume of reading that I did because of it. Reading other people’s work all day, it doesn’t matter if its in a rough state or if it’s way better than anything you’ll ever write, you’re gonna learn so much from that.
I know that you’re in a break from Hard Times right now. Do you have plans on returning when you’re ready for it?
This is the least I’ve ever written for them, this year. I started copyediting for them in the beginning of this year, and I fucking loved that, so that’s what I’d like to go back and do for them. As I was copyediting, I was in editorial meetings with them to talk about the headlines each week. Just having those arguments and discussions is so fucking enjoyable. I don’t have another word for it. It feels like, when I get to sit down and talk about this stuff—I guess because of the meandering path I’ve taken to get here—there are a few places where I do know I can contribute something. Even if all I’m contributing is a fucking backboard to bounce the other ideas to make them stronger and even more confirmed—that’s what an argument does in a collaborative space, that’s what an argument is for. And I love arguing. Even just looking at a draft—I’ve spent enough time on this now that I can see the moving parts of a joke, or a sentence on paper.
What’s something that you’ve learned with the Hard Times that you think everybody should know?
I wanna say this with nothing but joy and love and no cruelty, but you’re not as funny as you think you are. And that is such an important lesson to learn. I know this because I submitted to the Hard Times two times, the first time in 2017—I had just written for Reductress for the first time, and I was feeling really, really like, “Oh, I’m fucking funny.” I sent them a packet and never heard from them, and was like “Fuck the Hard Times.” I waited a year before I submitted again. And that first packet was so bad! There wasn’t a single joke in it.
Actually, that’s the thing—I wouldn’t say that it’s not that you’re not funny. Laughing and experiencing humor is so rad, but it’s not the same thing as a joke. When I looked at my first Hard Times packet, there were ten ideas and ten concepts there, but not a single joke on the entire one. I’ve done such little standup in my life, but I loved doing it, so I’m giving myself license to talk about it. But—the job of the writer and job of the comedian, the job of the musician—I think the job is to make the other person see through your perspective, just for a second. It’s a precise lining up of sights. Maybe it only happens once or twice in a set. But that’s all you’re trying to do. All of the construction around it, all of the great commas and metaphors, or all of the great riffs—those are the mechanics and those are the accessories and those are the parts that make it all come together, but to me it’s just that one thing.
What is something that you love about music criticism?
My favorite part of looking at CDs as a kid was looking at the liner notes. It’s because you were learning all of a sudden, “Oh! I recognize these five names from three other CDs I have, I should find out what their connection is.” Those rabbit holes have always been the most exciting to me, and that’s in any medium or any artform. Music criticism is exciting to me for that reason. When it lets you in to the spaces in between what’s already there. You have to put yourself in there in order to [fill] those gaps. You can create that same sense of discovery for somebody, you’ve presented them with something new even though all you’re working with is a preexisting work. And the missing ingredient there, that’s the music critic. To me that’s basically magic.
Is there anything I missed that you’d like to talk about?
I’m excited about this project I’m working on with Michael. I’ve not worked on anything like this before. I mentioned he’s in a bunch of bands, he’s got a solo project that’s called Noonmoon that’s electronic and ambient and moody. We’re doing a project like that but with a spoken word element, and we’ve been going back and forth. There’s a narrative to it, it’s supposed to be two performance artists at the end of their lives and one of them has just died and the other one is continuing and revisiting the work. It’s been cool as an experiment.
I’ve got a podcast coming out called Diceland. It’s Dungeons and Dragons playthrough but instead of being set in a fantasy world, it’s set in the fantasy emo Midwest in the 90s. We’ll launch that in January. The Los Suelos project is also going to launch sometime in February.