The third track on Lara Michell's newly released Ruby Red starts out predictably enough. The song, "Outside the Inside," begins with a delicately fingerpicked, symmetrical pattern akin to the material found on her last solo effort, 2001's Somniloquy. Then Michell takes a bounding leap out of character, transforming the song into a throbbing rocker, with Michell defiantly repeating, "I'm standing outside the inside." It's clear that Michell has moved beyond the introspective slant of her early work, and, from the sound of things, getting there has been quite a trip.
It's not as though Michell has been creatively idle in the four years since her last release. In fact, she is currently a member of no fewer than three local bands, not including the ensemble that will help her introduce Ruby Red to the public at Mississippi Studios Friday night. She's also organizing a Duran Duran tribute at the Fez later this month. Plus, she's been a regular participant on multi-artist bills and songwriter nights, as well as a frequent guest vocalist on the work of her peers.
But to arrive at this busy, rewarding phase, she did indeed face a powerful journey. And, she confirms, that shift can be heard in the difference between her two solo albums. "I got tired of being really quiet and careful, both musically and in my life in general, and wanted to do something more aggressive," she says. So she began to withdraw from her marriage and her full-time career as a lawyer. "I had put all my effort into having this perfect life, trying never to hurt anyone else, and when this picture in my head of how to be happy broke apart, I realized I wasn't very happy."
In the midst of all that change, she also lost the band that had first opened doors for her in Portland, Carmina Piranha, when collaborator Nancy Hess relocated to New York. But finding herself suddenly detached from all these roles she had once been so comfortable with helped Michell redefine herself. "I'd been playing since I was 7 years old," she says, but until the past few years, "I didn't see myself as someone who was going to be a musician. These days, I've established a life where I'm free to do music."
Today, Michell supports herself through a bit of part-time legal work, teaching guitar and piano lessons, and performing with her bands. Michell and Piranha vocalist Lisa Stringfield reformed as the more reflective Carmina Luna, allowing Michell to retain her louder compositions as solo material. And the songwriters' collective Dirty Martini marries Michell's talents to those of fellow sirens Lea Krueger, Stephanie Schneiderman and McKinley. Plus, next month she'll be debuting a classy collaboration with her sweetie, Pete Krebs, on complex vocal jazz arrangements in the Stolen Sweets.
But Friday night, Lara Michell claims center stage herself, laying bare and brashly all the struggles that she has endured to turn the inside out.
Lara Michell plays with BALA (Bel Air Liberation Army) Friday, Jan. 14, at Mississippi Studios, 3939 N Mississippi Ave., 288-3895. 8 pm. $8. 21+.