Every now and then you meet a deeply impressive individual that leaves an indelible mark on your own psyche. Laura Kidd is one such person.
The one-woman music industry behind She Makes War (she released an excellent second album, Little Battles, in April), Laura is a multi-instrumentalist who writes, records and produces her own music. Kidd designs her album artwork, makes her own promotional videos, runs her excellent website and manages every aspect of her career. She describes herself as a “socialist, pacifist feminist” and is constantly championing an eclectic range of hugely worthwhile causes. In her spare time, she runs half marathons. I’ve become fatigued by merely typing this paragraph, let alone attempting to live its content.
I first met Laura at ths year’s Great Escape festival in Brighton. I’d invited her to watch the band PINS, and I was immediately struck by her warmth and energy. We talked about She Makes War and how “the project” tied into her political views. “I’m a proper pacifist to the point where I don’t think there should be any violence in the world,” she told me. “It’s an interesting counterpoint to my upbringing because my dad, my brother and various other family members were in the RAF.”
Laura was right – her background is a fascinating juxtaposition to one of the central tenets behind She Makes War. A few weeks later, we ‘meet’ up again via a Skype video link. I’m keen to immediately pick up the conversational thread from Brighton. “I’ve not talked about this before,” Laura tells me, while nursing a cup of tea to soothe away the final remnants of a hangover. “But being a pacifist doesn’t mean that I don’t respect my dad’s or my brother’s choices to do what they do,” she continues.
“We used to have lots of debates when I was in my early teens, with me getting annoyed at various things, but it was never really about my dad being a soldier. I suppose it gives me a little bit of a nuanced view on war because I have seen my dad have to go to places like Afghanistan and be there for a long time. He was in the parachute regimen so it was quite dangerous work. My brother is a fighter pilot so that is pretty dangerous too. So, alongside the disagreeing in general with violence and war, I still care deeply about my family and want them to be safe and wanted them to do what was best for them.”
However, it doesn’t take the most insightful amateur pyschologist to suggest the link between her pacifism as a reaction against her military upbringing. Laura isn’t so sure; “When I came out with the name She Makes War, I really wasn’t thinking of anything to do with my family. Maybe it was a reaction in my subconscious; maybe I am opposing it and doing a big rebellion, I don’t know. But, my family, very kindly, have never quizzed me about it. They are super-supportive of my music.”
She Makes War is Laura’s solo project. She’s released two cracking albums (2010’s Disarm preceeded Little Battles) of her self-christened ‘gloom pop’. I suggest to her that the name She Makes War evokes thoughts about the patriachal nature of war and the well-rehearsed hypothesis that if the world was populated solely by female leaders, there would be significantly less war-mongering. “I think there would,” Laura says, “because we are also mothers or have the potential to be mothers. To take life away is completely against our whole mode of being. We grow life and then we nurture it. As animals, that’s what women are for. Obviously, we can choose not to, which I totally support. It’s much more horrifying when a woman kills someone because we give life – people were much more shocked about Myra Hindley than Ian Brady.”
Laura’s music is an intoxicating mix of glistening indie rock, pared-down ballads and infectious left-field pop songs. The ‘gloom pop’ tag is apt (Laura tells me she originally called her sound “grungey, dystopian gloom pop but people latched onto the word ‘grunge’ and got confused – I’m not grunge, unless Kurt Cobain had a ukulele and a vocal loop pedal”) as, lyrically, the vast majority of her words seem a bit, well, gloomy. “My songs are all a bit heartbroken,” Laura admits when I ask why they aren’t shiny and happy. “I’m quite a dramatic person and they are all little snapshots of things that have happened. The songs can be about ex-boyfriends or people who I have loved that have died – key moments in my life. They are buried under layers of poetry so that people don’t know which one is about them.”
Musicians write songs for a multitude of reasons. Some do it to make a political statement or as a calculated attempt to appeal to the masses. A few songwriters use their craft as a means of catharsis, and it would seem Laura falls into that category. “I want to make something beautiful out of something that is bad,” she reveals. “A friend of mine was stabbed and died about seven years ago. It was awful. I’d never had someone young and close to me die before and was dealing with it really badly. I tried to go to therapy and I went for one session and found it really uncomfortable. So, I wrote ‘GhostAndShadows’ [from Disarm] instead which is about dealing with awful things from my past and the song really helped me.”
This honesty and willingness to soul-bare is inherent to the charm of She Makes War. Laura is resolutely open about her motivations, “The project is very genuinely about who I am. My whole philosophy is that we need to be more and more human and that we are in control of that. We can still do good things and effect people in positive ways. That is a big part in what I try to do. I do feel I am on a bit of a quest sometimes to make the point that you can be an independent artist with no money to speak of and still do stuff that is good quality and get it out to people, as a human being and not a wannabe rock star.”
Due to her father’s profession, Kidd’s childhood was a spent in a variety of military towns and army bases, “By the time I had made friends, we moved again and it was always a massive wrench and really upsetting but probably really good for making me who I am.” She played the violin and saxophone as a child, but by her early teens had moved onto guitar and had her ambition sparked by Brit Pop. “It was bands like Republica, Echobelly and Sleeper that made me think ‘I want to do that’. I wanted to be on stage and have a cool haircut like Louise Wener. I was obsessed with Blur – I had 52 posters of them on my wall. I’ve since met all of them apart from Damon and played in Dave ’s band, The Ailerons, very, very briefly.”
I ask whether the poster situation was ever mentioned to Dave. “I was on a panel with him at a music festival and I mentioned it then. But it was on the panel and into a microphone, so it wasn’t weird.” Absolutely. Telling him in front of a roomful of strangers is not weird at all. “He hasn’t been back in touch since.”
Laura is a veritable veteran of industry panels and is particularly passionate about how women are portrayed in music. “If I am asked to play a benefit for female issues, I will always play and when I am asked to talk on panels about women in music, I will always go. The reason I will always go is that there are so many women who turn things down because they don’t want to have an opinion or they don’t want to stick their necks out. It is part of my job to stick my neck out. I’m a feminist and I don’t think women’s perspectives are very well represented in music. However, I think it is fucked up that you will have a ‘women in music’ panel and the rest of the panels are all guys. My actual reason to do these things is to challenge why there aren’t women on the other panels. I’m fighting for my rights to be a human, not just a woman.”
“Also, I think it is really important to have spaces where women can have a good gig and be presented positively. There is a thing called Clit Rock which I am involved in which is about raising awareness of, and funds for, an organisation that is against female genital mutilation – which does happen in this country. The audience is mixed and we try really hard to get guys to come along to those shows. While I support things like Clit Rock, I think it needs to be incredibly inclusive.”
Laura has just completed a tour with Chris-TT and the day before our interview had directed a video for her single ‘Minefields’. I’m trying to imagine what it is like to be Laura Kidd – the woman requires so much energy day-in, day-out. “It does take a lot of energy. Every bit of She Makes War is me expressing a part of me. So, for example, I wouldn’t want someone to make me a website that looked cool because it doesn’t mean anything. It’s not that I think that I am the best at everything; it is because this project is about communicating my personality. I’m very inspired by people who sound like themselves and whose personalities are right there in the centre of the music.”
Laura will be back on the road in September, and already knows the title of her third album and when she will record it (“but it’s all a secret,” she teases). She’s the sort of artist who creates an intense loyalty in those who fall for her music and Laura is happy for her fanbase to grow slowly but surely. “I do have more people coming to gigs which is lovely, but, essentially, if you don’t have a big budget for PR it will be a slow journey. I am happy to have the slow journey. Chris-TT said recently he sees me as a ‘career artist’ and that I will be making albums until I drop dead. I truly believe in what I do and I will keep doing it no matter what.”
Little Battles is out now via My Big Sister Recordings.