Cutting other people’s hair uses a different part of the brain than cutting one’s own. So says indie rocker Lauren Ruth Ward, for whom cutting hair is a passion equal to making music. Ward’s first customer was herself, and over more than a decade, she learned to cut her own hair just as well as she did for her many clients in her hometown of Baltimore.
“Some people can do others’ [hair] and not theirs, and vice versa,” says Ward, who still loves cutting hair but is focusing on her rising career in the Los Angeles music scene. “But yeah, fortunately for everybody else, I’ve experimented with a lot of things on my own head, and I’ve done my mess-ups on myself.”
Ward had been styling hair since much earlier than when she started her own styling business at 19. Following high school, she went to hairstyling school. Fast-forward a bit, and business was booming. Although she played folk music on the side with a boyfriend, it was just a hobby, and she really did love the job.
She felt comfortable cutting hair five to seven days a week, and many of her clients didn’t even know that she sang or played guitar in her free time. Ward began to feel tied down by what she now refers to as “my previous life.”
In 2015, an artist manager discovered one of her music videos online and eventually convinced Ward to move out to Los Angeles. Although they only worked together for a year, she fell in love with the SoCal lifestyle.
Leaving home was not an easy choice, because Ward wasn’t running away from anything but rather to something. The physical move, while difficult, was an opportunity for Ward to break from the routines that she had been in, force her to do something that she was uncomfortable with, and to reinvent herself.
“You know when you step into a place and you’re like, ‘Oh, this is my tribe?’” Ward says. “This is what people mean when they’re really happy with where they are.”
Ward met her bandmates, Eduardo Rivera, Livia Slingerland and India Pascucci, a few months after moving to L.A. A mutual friend introduced her to Rivera, formerly of East Coast indie rock band Paperhaus. The two of them started writing together—Rivera is now Ward’s main songwriting partner—and playing acoustically. Ward recalls a specific opening slot at the Bootleg in L.A. She and Rivera played only four songs, but it was “our claim to happiness for a minute.”
Ward met Slingerland at a party, and the bassist introduced her to Pascucci, a drummer. Last fall, Lauren Ruth Ward—the group’s band name—returned to the Bootleg and sold out a headlining slot.
It should be noted that by this time, Ward had taken a hard turn away from the folkie tendencies of her songwriting in Baltimore. In its place was a visceral snarl that oscillates between Janis Joplin and Joni Mitchell. The sound the band settled on is itself a combination of ‘70s psychedelia, Southern blues-rock and craft power pop (depending on the song). Ward has credited Rivera for building the band’s sound, but the lyrical component, a sort of stream-of-consciousness reflection of herself, her friends, her family and her life, with raunchy undertones (sometimes overtones), is a joint creation by the writing duo.
There’s a strong sense of self, or at least a sense of self still in development, on songs like “Did I Offend You?” “Make Love to Myself” and “Blue Collar Sex Kitten.”
“My brain has a mind of its own,” Ward says of writing the latter. “I don’t know which way it goes. It’s really neat just getting a bunch of shit off my chest about my childhood, and my sexuality [she’s reportedly engaged to singer-songwriter Laura Pergolizzi, who records as LP], and my occupation, and just kind of being playful about it, not being too serious about it. But when I sat down to finally get that off my chest, I was like, ‘Oh my goodness. I have so many things that I’ve thought about recently that could fit into this song.’”
The interaction between Ward and Rivera has affected her songwriting by changing the perspective of the songs. She’s no longer singing as herself; it’s a hybrid of the two, now, she says. That’s what inspires some of the “potty humor.” But she’s still just as open as before.
Ward says the songs are sometimes too honest for their own good, and that the people who know her know immediately who she is singing about. She considers whether she should be more cryptic, and acknowledges that some of the people close to her aren’t taking so much honesty very well.
“I’m having a moment in my life where some people can’t handle that,” she says. “They’re dropping like flies; people around me. It’s not really understanding that I just can’t help my honesty.”
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
Lauren Ruth Ward had to earn her place in the L.A. music scene. She arrived, after all, with few connections. Those first few months were spent playing every offered gig, going to every party and trying to connect with as many people as possible.
It was Ward and her guitar, singing her stories, convincing other people to care about them. She refused favors and refused to change what she wrote about. Then the pace began to pick up, and it got interesting when she had to start saying “no.” Last spring, her band signed with a booking agent. The band signed with Weekday Records. The venues got larger, and demand increased.
Lauren Ruth Ward went from being a hairdresser who played music to a musician who cut hair. Her band’s full-length debut, Well, Hell, drops Feb. 9. She’s excited about the prospect of buying a tour bus, building a stage set with some groovy flowers and hitting the road as much as possible in 2018. Just don’t expect her to stop cutting hair.
“I’ve got five clients tomorrow,” Ward says. “I’ve been cutting underneath clementine trees at my house.”