Milan’s Lauren Blackford Releases Debut EP

Seated comfortably at The Owl in Milan, Michigan, Lauren Blackford would likely be considered a “regular.” A native of the small town, Blackford’s first experience performing original music was in this very venue, a coffee shop by day and a local watering hole by night.

The 2023 Washtenaw Community College graduate learned the ins and outs of the music business a mere 15 miles away. But the real magic happened even closer to The Owl, where we sipped on coffee and mused on the state of the music industry, the challenges faced by independent musicians and the frequency emitted by crickets – that last bit is not a typo.

Regardless, the debut masterpiece that is Lauren’s One Too Many Times EP, released on April 12, was conceived, written and recorded just minutes away from our caffeinated conversation.

Growing up listening to Taylor Swift, Sara Bareilles, and P!nk on her purple Hannah Montana Walkman, Blackford got the itch to perform at an early age, singing in choirs and theatre productions while taking piano lessons for several years. In her teens, Blackford began to teach herself music production, a talent on full display throughout OTMT. Blackford’s earliest forays into songwriting were released as demos under the moniker “lauren grace.” Those experiences would lay the groundwork for what would become the One Too Many Times sessions.

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“I started producing it at the beginning of 2023, so it was about a year of production work,” Blackford explained. While a session drummer performed on the title track, every other sound you hear on One Too Many Times was written and recorded by Blackford herself. “In my bedroom,” Blackford continued. “This is bedroom pop at its finest.” There’s not a hint of arrogance in her words. When she says, “at its finest,” it’s a reference to the DIY nature of the body of work she crafted.

“I worked with an engineer based in Atlanta. He mixed and mastered everything. And that was a great experience. He’s great,” Blackford beamed. “I ended up being really grateful for that because I feel like this was the right person for it. And I want to work with them again at some point.” While the project was a fairly massive undertaking, commencing when Blackford was a mere 19 years old, the question of why she chose to completely self-produce the EP eventually came up.

“I don’t want anyone in the future of my career questioning how much of it is me,” Blackford explained. Often accused of becoming dependent upon outside songwriters to craft powerful, commercially-viable songs, Taylor Swift wrote the entirety of Speak Now on her own, with no outside help. But this was Swift’s third commercial release. Some damage had already been done, tarnishing the reputation of yet another young talent.

Blackford is mindful of this particularly misogynistic trope: the young, female singer/songwriter needing “professionals” to help make her sound nice. While she was quite literally a “broke college kid” with limited resources to book studio time, Blackford’s decision to create One Too Many Times alone further established the young artist’s many talents. Building upon her formally trained piano skills, Blackford taught herself to play guitar. This was the catalyst for playing her original songs, with some covers peppered in, to ever-growing audiences.

Lauren Blackford in front of Culture Clash Records in downtown Toledo. Image by Attila Hardy (@soniclivemedia on Instagram)

From her beginnings at The Owl, Blackford has since performed at the Ann Arbor Art Fair and will return to play the 2024 edition on July 19th. Blackford is also slated to play the Bitter Jester Music Festival in Highland Park, Illinois, Ann Arbor Summer Fest, Milan’s own Lavender Harvest Festival, and Walk The Beat Music Fest in Grand Haven, Michigan. While Blackford’s talent alone undoubtedly opened doors for the rising star, she’s quick to credit others, at least partially, for kick-starting her career.

“I got a lot of opportunities through a class I took in college because the professor (Dr. Rod Wallace) had a lot of connections and runs a nonprofit for music. I got my first Ann Arbor Art Fair show through him. And again this year.”

Although Blackford may have had some assistance with getting in front of audiences, the songs that comprise OTMT can only be credited to her experiences and the retelling of those experiences in her own unique way. The six tracks on her debut EP are carefully-crafted compositions that tell a tale of dating, heartache and healing. While the songs are relatable enough for any listener to feel a connection, Blackford hopes that they resonate with other young girls who have experienced the ecstasy and the agony of love in early adulthood.

“This is for you. You can get through it,” Blackford added. And she should know. The process of writing and recording the material proved to be a cathartic, healing experience for Blackford. “I don’t think I would have been able to put it out if I wasn’t over it,” she explained. “When I play those songs live, it’s fun. Instead of when I first started playing them live when I was like, ‘Oh, I’m still deeply hurt by this.’”

Within our very eclectic conversation, one of Blackford’s most notable qualities is that she wears her heart on her sleeve. She is unafraid to love what she loves, say what she means, and embrace emotional growth as a natural progression as a songwriter. While she is currently performing her material solo, Blackford is very excited about the prospect of playing the songs with a full backing band, further utilizing music to forward the narrative she’s crafted.

“I’m so excited. I need it now more than ever,” Blackford beamed. “I’ve been wanting to play with a band for years. But now that I have composed instrument parts, I’m hungry. Within the past year, I’ve gotten a lot more comfortable on stage. Playing solo is great. I love doing things acoustically. I love that interpersonal banter that you get with a soloist. But there’s also a big part of me that just…. I want to jump around. I don’t want to be trapped behind an instrument. I want to have people playing so I can… go in, so to speak.”

In the meantime, Blackford is learning to be patient and enjoy each moment of the journey. “I try to be present as much as I can, but it’s difficult because I’m always thinking ahead.” And what’s ahead is a bright future for this multifaceted storyteller as well as a bunch of exciting updates. New merch and a new music video can be expected from Blackford in the very near future.

Tanner Wertz
Tanner Wertz

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