This January 29th, 2021, Americana duo 3 Pairs of Boots will release their second album, Long Rider, inspired by the true life adventures of Bernice, the Lady Long Rider. The themes on the album are relatable, especially since all of our lives feel like a far journey with discoveries made along the way. Singles “Summer of Love” and “Everywhere I Go” have already made their way into the world, and the wider context of the album only further suggests the ways in which Andrew Stern and Laura Arias have spread their wings in this follow-up to their debut album Down South. Here we find more layered guitars, more nuanced vocals, and permission for the vocals to pick up on those ethereal things in life that mean so much but are so hard to pin down.
Laura Arias spoke with me about her journey into music while growing up in San Francisco, exploring various musical genres to find her identity as a vocalist. We discussed the ways in which discovering musicians in Punk, Hard Rock, and beyond, helped her enact their boldness and the ways in which the songs from Long Rider connect with her as a musician and as a person.
Americana Highways: Can you tell me a little bit about how long you’ve been doing vocal work in music and when your mindset flipped from being a fan of music to being someone who wanted to be a participant?
Laura Arias: I remember that well. I was always in love with music and dance, and I was kind of an artsy fartsy creative kid, but I didn’t have the means, so I had to be autodidactic. I was given piano lessons and ballet lessons for a couple years, and that was nice. But there were always different types of music in the house. My brother was seven years older than me and he was playing Elton John and Led Zeppelin, and I’d always hear Pop and Rock wafting out of his room from an early age. And of course I’d borrow his albums. My Dad would be playing a variety of popular music, and he was into Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass. He was a big dancer and would always be listening to Latin music like Salso and Mambo. I heard some Beatles, too. That all influenced me, but my grandmother, who I spent a lot of time with, was a big fan of Johnny Cash. Every Johnny Cash special was something we watched.
I used to go to the public library and I would rent albums of all kinds, educating myself. But something happened when I was around the age of 12 or 13, when I was listening to the college radio stations, who would play a lot of cutting-edge stuff. I was listening to one out of Berkley and they were playing a lot of Punk music. That was the first time that I thought to myself, “I could do that.” Because there were so few chords involved and it was rudimentary. I didn’t even have a guitar and I couldn’t read music, but I knew that I loved to sing along to the albums.
I got it into my head that I needed a guitar, and a girlfriend of mine who was a little older had just gotten a guitar. I scrimped and saved, and I got a used copy Stratocaster. My friend showed me a couple of chords, and then I could be in my room trying to copy what I was hearing on the albums. Then I started writing my own song, which was horrible, but it was mine. I was about 14 or 15 years old when I decided that I wanted to be in a band. I wasn’t sure how to do that, but as life often seems to work, when you put that kind of stuff out there, you just kind of meet people. I met someone who wanted to put a band together and from that point on I just kind of fell into it. The person I went into a band with started to do cover work for a company, and I got several jobs from him. I remember doing a cover of “Eye of the Tiger” with the company lyrics. Looking back, it is cheesy and cringey, but at the time it was a great opportunity. This was just what I wanted to do, and I figured out how to do it.
AH: I can see how working on an assigned project and being able to get it done can build confidence, too.
LA: From my vantage point, I was actually very shy and introverted. But for some reason, I was so compelled to do it that it was just natural. If I had really thought about it, I think I would have talked myself out of it! But obstacles don’t really matter when you’re having fun and you’re just trying to keep that fun going. I used to tell myself, “As long as no one is telling me to shut up, I’m just going to keep going!”
AH: Looking back, do you think that being in the San Francisco area is something that influenced your interest in music, or even your family’s?
LA: Absolutely. It resonated with young people, and when I was growing up, TV and radio really influenced me. Then there were the teen magazines like Tiger Beat and the Creem Magazine, so we were being fed a steady diet of music, and some of us fell head over heels for that.
AH: Did you end up in a Punk band as per your interest?
LA: Interestingly enough, not really, though I would have done that given the opportunity. But I did end up in a band that was Hard Rock, leaning towards Metal. That’s not really something I was listening to, but I auditioned for it. The music was so “tough” but the guys were all so sweet. I’ve always loved the brotherhood aspect of being in a band, and as a woman then, it was so rare to find a band where there were other female members. Usually, you were it. But because I had an older brother, I got along great with the guys. I was singing Van Halen and Sammy Hagar kind of stuff, but all original stuff, and we’d play out in clubs. When I finally got my own project together with a friend of mine, we didn’t do Punk either, but 80s modern Rock.
AH: Do you think that working with this many types of music over time was good for you, as a vocalist?
LA: Without a doubt. A friend of mine, who was a drummer, gave me the gift of a singing lesson as a birthday present one year. This is going to sound really horrible, but I felt really put on the spot. I was so nervous. The teacher was very nice, but I just felt like I was back in high school or something. The teacher was trying to make me sing like she was singing. I guess it’s my rebellious nature or something, but it just wasn’t my cup of tea and I decided not to go back.
AH: That’s not terrible to say at all. Of course, plenty of people really benefit from vocal coaches, but it’s not for everyone. One of the most famous stories like this is about Johnny Cash. His mother scrimped and saved to send him to singing lessons as a child, and after a lesson or two, the teacher gave him back the money and sent him home. He felt he’d failed in some way, but she was just very perceptive. She told him, basically, “Don’t ever let anyone teach you how to sing. Your voice is too unique.”
LA: I love that! The one thing about being introduced to Punk at an early age is that it gave a million kids permission to just go for it and have fun, saying, “You can do this.” And this was for every girl, too, because the guys were doing it too. You could say, “I want to sound like that guy.” You didn’t have to say, “I want to sound like that girl.” There was no battle of the sexes or limitations, it was all just information.
AH: That’s a really great way of looking at it. I’ve heard before that Punk female musicians wanted to work in a non-gendered way and not to be so easily classified. Now I get what you mean, vocally, too. The big show was the music, so the people could create that as the focus, rather than it being about gendered vocals or gender at all.
LA: I think you’re right. As you were saying that, I had a vision of Patti Smith, who I listened to a ton as a teen. She really went for it. She was totally inspiring to me because she was a poet, and wasn’t even coming at this thing, saying, “I’m a singer.” If you’re looking to make arguments to get yourself out there, you had people like her. Even Chrissie Hynde was not really a femme fatale, but she was tough. It wasn’t an act, she wasn’t playing a tough girl. She had to be to be a journalist before she was in the band [The Pretenders]. I didn’t feel courageous myself, but I thought, “If I can pretend to be, maybe some of their awesomeness will spread to me.” Sometimes when you admire somebody so much, you can do it too. Those people gave me so much permission and confidence.
AH: By enacting those things, you can discover that you are capable, for sure. How did working in a group of people, in a band, give you confidence, and when did you realize you could do things in a much smaller group, or on your own?
LA: It was kind of scary for me to break it down to the two of us with Andy. I had never done that. That relates to the brotherhood thing, because if you’re in a band with several other people, there’s some cover there. You’re not sticking out like a sore thumb. To be a solo performer is something I give a ton of credit to. I think it’s one of the craziest things you can do to put it all on you. But it was like all those other times to try something new, “Let’s just jump out this window and see.”
AH: How does the music on Long Rider compare to your previous album Down South?
LA: With this one we let go a bit and artistically we threw caution to the wind and went for some stuff. The first time was like being freshmen in high school and it was so new. The second time around, I felt like, “We got this. We’re going to have fun.”
AH: That’s great to hear. I think this album does sound confident and has a relaxed aspect to it. One of my favorite songs on the album is, “Angels of the Trail,” which is of course a very hopeful song with an uplifting feeling. How did you approach that song?
LA: I love that song because it’s blending the ethereal with reality. For Bernice, the Long Rider, this actually happened to her. There were times when she was in a really bad place and people just scooped her up, took her in, and took care of her. Then the ethereal side of it is also interesting to me. I’m not a person that believes in happenstance, as the song asks. I believe in something bigger, but we’re not putting any labels on it. You never want to do that. Everyone has their own belief system, but to me, I feel like I’m tethered to something bigger, and we’re all tethered to each other.
We’re all going to fall down sometimes, and thank goodness, someone is going to be there to pick you up. It might not be someone you know. It might be a total stranger. But when the chips are down, all our notions and opinions don’t matter anymore. What matters is the humanity in all of us. That’s why I love that song because in all of our lives, there are angels of the trail, and that’s the truth.
AH: It’s easy to see looking back over one’s life, realizing the turning points, and the times when other people did small or big things to help us in big ways. That sort of thinking also encourages gratefulness, to notice the good things that we do have in our lives.
LA: I couldn’t agree more.
AH: I noticed in some songs there was a possibility of spirituality, but I agree that it’s left very open for people to interpret however it is most meaningful for them. The song “I Am The Map” is really mysterious in that way, too. It’s really haunting musically and in terms of the lyrics.
LA: I love “I Am The Map.” Andy wrote the music for that, and our friend, Wren Winfield, wrote the lyrics for that. I remember when she sent them over, and I loved them so much that I wanted to work with her again. That’s the one song on this album where we didn’t write the lyrics. Wren directed the movie Long Rider. It was just so appropriate that she write one of the songs. When I saw the lyrics, they were just staggering. They are so poetic and beautiful. Andy definitely wrote the music to that in a quick turnaround.
We enjoyed this conversation. To find more, click here: https://www.3pairsofboots.com