Get to know a Colorado musician: Lara Ruggles

The perfect tune for the holiday season, Lara Ruggles’ “All the Christmas I Need” is just one of the many catchy, soulful, and beautiful songs this Colorado folk singer/songwriter has masterfully crafted. Ruggles recently completed her upcoming album, Cynics & Saints, and has sent it off to be mastered. She’ll be performing at the Strings & Wood Five Year Anniversary Show at the Soiled Dove Underground on Saturday, December 27. In the meantime, you can better acquaint yourself with Lara Ruggles in this exclusive AXS interview.

AXS: Are you a Colorado native? If not, where are you from originally?
Lara Ruggles: I was born in Richmond, Virginia, and my family moved to Tucson, Arizona, about halfway through my childhood. I grew up some in both places. I always say Tucson was the city I lived in when I was old enough to learn my way around a city.

AXS: What inspired you to start playing music solo?
Lara: I started getting serious about it when my sister started getting good at violin, so I guess what originally inspired me was competition. I would have loved to have a band but I grew up homeschooled in the middle of nowhere, so my situation kind of lent itself to writing super personal solo stuff.

AXS: How long have you been performing music?
Lara: Since the first small-town karaoke night my friend Jennifer dragged me to when I was sixteen. The creepy older guy who ran the night wanted to sing a “duet” with the two of us but she backed out and he switched the song at the last minute (I kid you not!) and I ended up singing “Let’s Make Love” with this old dude. Oddly enough, I was hooked after that, and then it was always open mics and women's nights. Before that I would only sing if I thought no one was listening.

AXS: Where was your first show in Colorado, and what was the experience like? Who else did you play with at the show?
Lara: I was working at TEENS, Inc. in Nederland, and a coworker asked me to sing at his wedding. He asked another friend, too, so we decided to meet up and learn a whole set together. After the wedding, we learned all the sad songs you can’t play at a wedding and played a show together at the Shining Star Cafe in Nederland. Me and David Banas. It was awesome, and packed. It’s so much easier to get a crowd to come out in a small town. We ended up co-writing a couple of the songs that will be on my new album. He’s got a really good sensibility for what lyrics are too cheesy and which ones walk the line but get away with it.

AXS: Have any Colorado musicians inspired you?
Lara: Of course! There are so many great bands and musicians in Colorado! When Elephant Revival was just getting started I’d go see them at the Shining Star or Whistler’s in Ned and I secretly really wanted to ask them if they ever felt like they needed someone who could play keys and accordion. But I never got up the nerve. They’ve been incredibly inspiring. I’ve also been admiring Megan Burtt since my first couple years in Colorado - that woman is a force! I’m competing with her right now in a Face-off counting down to our album releases. And more recently I’ve been really impressed with Chimney Choir, not just their music but their approach. They keep things super fresh.

AXS: What projects are you currently working on?
Lara: I’ll be releasing my new album, Cynics & Saints, on Immersive Records in the spring - we’re about to send it off to be mastered. That’s a really big deal to me - we’ve given these songs so much energy and time, and I’m so ready to birth them into the world! We started recording in February of 2012, so by the time the album’s out it will have been a 3-year process. I’m so grateful to all my fans and kickstarter backers for trusting me and being so patient! And then Megan and I are competing in the MvL Countdown to CD Release Faceoff, which started out as kind of a joke, but eventually we started asking each other, “so are we really gonna do this or what?” The idea is that we face off in a series of challenges leading up to our albums. One week we announce the next challenge, and the week after that we have to post a video of us doing the challenge. So far we’ve written holiday songs and covered a song from each other’s new albums.

AXS: What else are you involved in locally?
Lara: I lead songwriting programs in schools through Think 360 Arts, and I’ve also led a couple of awesome summer programs at Lighthouse Writer’s Workshop. I have this goal of eventually giving 10% of my income to organizations that empower youth to have a voice through the arts, so I started the Give:Voice Project and donated 10% of my CD sales to organizations in each city I just toured to on the West Coast. I have too many day jobs to count. I nanny, I substitute teach, I drive for Lyft, I do weird odd jobs when they pop up. The difference is that a couple years ago I had a job I had to work music in around, and now I work my jobs in around my music. I don’t have any day jobs I can’t just suddenly drop for a month or more if I need to.

AXS: Do you have a goal in mind for the sound the you produce? Are there certain influences or themes the you try to inject into its own music?
Lara: I think the best way to describe what I go for is big-yet-still-vulnerable. Something that captures the lyrical craftiness of folk music and the big, nothing-held-back choruses of mainstream-ish pop songs that have just enough emotional truth to draw you in. And if you’re not experimenting with each little sound you can produce from instruments and objects, then you’re not having enough fun.

AXS: For someone who has never seen or heard you, what would you tell them to entice them to watch your set?
Lara: I always say I play dark-yet-quirky folk-pop somewhere between Ingrid Michaelson and Florence and the Machine that aims to share the transformative power of emotion.

AXS: What would your ideal live show look like? Where would it take place? Any particular time of year? Would a specific band/musician share the bill with or open for you?
Lara: I have this dream of opening for one of my musical heroes for a CD release show. Maybe this one, maybe another one. I’d love to invite Ani DiFranco or Sarah McLachlan or Brandi Carlile to come play an intimate sold out show that only seats four or five hundred people in a really beautiful old theater like the Holiday in the Highlands.

AXS: What shows are you looking forward to over the next few months?
Lara: I’m really thrilled about Strings & Wood Concerts 5 Year Anniversary Show with Seryn at the Soiled Dove on December 27. Looking forward to the Bluebird show with SHEL and Rob Drabkin on January 17. I know Megan Burtt will have an awesome CD Release. I always love catching Gregory Alan Isakov when he plays in Denver. And I’m working on figuring out my own CD Release Show in the spring so I’m keeping myself a little bit scarce until then.

AXS: What do you enjoy most about Colorado’s music scene, and why?
Lara: Even though Denver’s got that big-city vibe (if you disagree with me, keep in mind I’m a small-town girl at heart), it’s really welcoming. I felt more a part of the Denver music community than any other community I was part of even before I moved to Denver. There are so many artists here doing it for the joy of it, and it creates this space where experimentation is welcome and bands are trying five new approaches in the space of five shows and anything goes to a certain extent. I think that’s good for all the music and art that comes out of here.