Don’t try pulling a fast one on Laura Love. She’s not the gullible type.
The Seattle-based singer-songwriter was convinced everyone was in on an elaborate joke over the holidays, leading her to think that former Olympic figure skating champion Katarina Witt was using “I Am Wondering,” a bouncy track off Love’s Mercury Records debut album, “Octoroon,” during her Stars On Ice routine.
You are so wrong you can’t be right, Love would tell friends. She went to the Internet to prove them wrong.
“I was doing a search to find out what music she was using,” Love said recently. “It wasn’t an updated search, so the only song that came close to sounding like mine was Melissa Etheridge’s ‘I’m the Only One,’ so I thought, ‘This is a big ol’ lie.’
“I didn’t think much about it until my publisher called me up and said, ‘Laura, dahling, I’m sitting here watching television and I’m watching the lighting of the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree and Katarina Witt is skating to ‘I Am Wondering.’ Laura, this is so wonderful.’ “
Then came a phone call from Witt herself shortly before a Stars On Ice performance in Seattle last month.
“I’m just sitting here reading or something,” Love said, “and the phone rang. I said, ‘Who’s this?’ She says, ‘This is Katarina.’ ‘Katarina who?’ ‘Katarina Witt.’ I was like, ‘Get out of here!’ She invited me to the show and we had a really nice time. I got to meet all these skaters, like Scottie Hamilton, Kristi Yamaguchi. I’m used to meeting rock stars, but not Olympic skaters. It was so bizarre.”
Bizarre, maybe, but not too farfetched.
“I Am Wondering,” its rapid-fire word play wrapped around what Love calls an “Afro-Celtic pop” rhythm, is just the kind of offbeat, thoroughly enjoyable treat that Witt’s choreographer was looking for.
“It turns out her choreographer was in a record store in Connecticut,” Love said, “and she asked the guy behind the counter, ‘Hey, what’s hot (in music)? What do you like?’ He put my record in her hands, and she listened to it and loved it. So that’s how it got all started.”
The Witt influence, a recent stint opening for Rusted Root and a renewed push by Mercury has led to a long-overdue groundswell for “Octoroon,” released last May to instant critical acclaim but a mere blip on record store cash registers. It has sold more than 50,000 copies.
“By my own standards, it was doing great before all this,” Love said. “On my own, I never could’ve sold this many records. I don’t think by record company standards it has been a huge success, by any means. They roll on hits, that’s their big thing.
“I mean, (fellow Mercury act) Hanson probably sells 50,000 a day. That seems horrifying that something like that could even happen. It’s kind of an axiom that if you are successful very quickly, you’re also discarded very quickly, and I want to have a career. I want to do what I’m doing until I’m 80, you know. I don’t want to be on every single channel and in everyone’s face for six months to a year and then be reviled. And that’s record companies’ definition of success, more so than my own.”
At age 38, Love is a late bloomer in big-label terms. She was perfectly content releasing her funk ‘n’ folk material on her own label, Octoroon Biography, until the Mercury deal surfaced and was too good to pass up.
“I wasn’t really looking for this at all,” Love said. “In my early teens and 20s, I really wanted to be on a major label. ‘I want a record deal, I want a record deal, I want a record deal. Oh, God, please sign me.’ In the meantime, I thought I needed music in my life, regardless of whether or not a record company is involved, so I made my own record company and I just went on and did my thing.
“I learned all the facets of the industry and assembled this team of people around me who booked me, managed me and promoted me. It was a healthy living, and we were very successful at it. We were playing all these shows, and people who were on big labels were coming up to us and saying, ‘Man, the way you’re doing it is the way to do it. As soon as I get out of my contract, I’m doing what you’re doing.’
“I resisted for a long time. I had some label interest, and then Mercury came up and said, ‘Look, we’re not interested in controlling you. We’re going to let you make the records the way you’ve been making them and stay out of your way.’ Right on.”
If the popularity of “Octoroon” continues to spread, that’s fine with Love. It will allow her to carry on her mission: to save a pollution-ravaged creek near her home.
“I work on this creek in my spare time,” she said. “It’s threatened by development, by people that don’t know the value of the creek. This is a very economically depressed neighborhood; people are dumping their oil into it, using bleach in it. It’s so delicate and so fragile. I’m taking every cent I make and buying bits of land along this creek. It’s very cheap land, because this is a very poor area. It’s been known as Poverty Gulch.
“I put out a newsletter, and I have community meetings and I talk to the kids. … I go around this neighborhood and act like a bag lady. I’m in bib overalls and I go with a shopping cart and pick up trash, and people ask what I’m doing.”
It would be great to have a hit record, Love said, “so I could really buy that land outright and not have to make these monthly payments that scare me to death.”
BWF (before we forget): Laura Love is in the air on the Web @ www.mercuryrecords.com/mercury or via e-mail.
More updates: Avalon, Tami Neilson, Beach Slang, BRKN Love, Mary J. Blige, Bing Crosby, Change, etc
More updates: Joe Henry, Marcus King, Lily Kershaw, Poliça, Sarah Brightman, Jerry Leger, Simple Minds, Grateful Dead, etc