At a recent house show, Lauren K. Newman—who by the end of her performance was wearing nothing but flesh-colored panties—momentarily ceased swirly-banging to throw her guitar at a fan who drunkenly sat in the front row. Such activities have gained Newman, who performs as LKN, a reputation as a musical madwoman. But throwing instruments is only one facet of Newman's music-making life. She is also committed to writing at least one song every day and recording it on her four-track, as she did on April 24 when I dropped by her house to witness a session.
Newman likens her daily four-track recordings to journal entries that, instead of recounting the day, "capture a mood or a rhythm." As she sits down to compose, the 27-year-old explores her guitar's aluminum neck to get a general sketch of the song. Then she sits down at her drum set and hits "record." Her powerful snare strokes and overflowing tom rolls seem especially lucid in the cool, otherwise silent basement. "For me, the drums are central," Newman says. She began playing them at age 5, and they're still her preferred instrument.
After recording the drum track, Newman moves on to the guitar. Without even listening to the drum track, she records two guitar tracks back to back. Astoundingly, she nails everything on the first try. In fact, she never tracks anything more than once—even on her albums. "There's something to be said for quickness and stark realness," she says.
As we move upstairs to track vocals and bass, Newman tells me about her recent obsession with "nasty gangsta rap" and soul music. She lays down the bass part with the same ease as the other tracks, amazing me with her ability to keep track of the changes. She says she makes mistakes sometimes, "But they usually sound like they're supposed to happen."
At this point, Newman begins to express dissatisfaction with the song, saying, "This is some shit, but it's a sample." The song is one of many that will likely never have a life beyond the day they are recorded, and that's probably a good thing. But the subpar effort is not entirely Newman's fault. It's pretty hard to be at your creative best when there's a photographer and writer watching you. Newman says she's going to have to be tongue-in-cheek if she's going to write lyrics under a microscope. She settles on a gangsta-rap motif, writing, "Girl, I want 2 sex u/ Girl, I'm gonna wreck u," for the first two lines of the chorus.
As she prepares to sing, Newman, who seems to have limitless confidence, surprisingly says, "I don't know if I can sing this with you guys watching!" Maybe she's just being coy, but photographer Brian Lee and I agree to share in the embarrassment by singing backup on the chorus.
Newman mixes everything down in about 20 minutes, and about an hour and a half after I showed up, I've got a CDR in my hand labeled "Wrecking Crew." Newman's tune du jour for April 24, 2006, is admittedly a dud (the backing vocals really aren't helping anything), but if you listen to the drum fills and finger-tapped guitar melody, you can see how on a different day everything could fall into place just perfectly.
Listen to "Wrecking Crew" at www.wweek.com/media/7497.mp3, "Wishing Waiting" at www.wweek.com/media/7497-1.mp3 and "Nathan" at www.wweek.com/media/7497-2.mp3.
LKN plays with Vanishing Kids at Sabala's on Thursday, May 4. 9 pm. Cover. 21+.