Interview : Chatting with Laura Oakes about music, the UK country scene and Cornbury Festival

Laura Oakes is a UK country singer/songwriter from Liverpool. With a huge and loyal fanbase which includes many other artists and Radio 2 Country man himself, Bob Harris, Laura is one of the busiest and talented artists in the UK country scene today.

Laura has been heavily involved in creating and building a huge UK country music community by playing various gigs, taking part in many festivals, songwriters shows and supporting and championing other country artists in both the UK and the US. She has played C2C: Country 2 Country Festival, London and Time Out Presents: Rising Stars of Country at The Jazz Café – Camden, and has landed support slots on some amazing tours with Americana US act Andrew Combs, UK superstars The Shires, Colm Mac Com Iomaire (The Frames) and Ward Thomas.

Laura recorded and self-released her first single ‘Don’t Let It Hit Ya’ in September 2013 which reached the top 20 on the iTunes Country Chart. Her second single ‘Snakes and Ladders’ followed in 2014 with just as much success and has become one of her most memorable and much loved hits.

Laura released her debut Self-Titled EP to iTunes in the summer of 2015 which has given her fantastic praise and ongoing support from Bob Harris as well as other BBC Radio DJ’s. Laura’s music has also received a large amount of air play from digital radio stations such as Chris Country, Amazing Radio and 2 Country. Bob Harris included her EP in his Best of 2015 retrospective on BBC Radio 2.

Laura also gained the attention of the BCMA (British Country Music Association) and won the award of Female Vocalist Of The Year.

I caught up with Laura to discuss her music, the UK Country Music scene and being a part of Cornbury Festivals Big Finale.

Hi Laura, how are you?

Good, thank you.

Have you been busy lately? Talk me through your week?

Yeah, lots of writing and lots of gigging; it’s been good.

Growing up, you struggled with friends understanding your love for the genre and passion to start a career in Country music – is that right?

I sing Country and as a teenager I grew up as a Country fan. My story of how I got into it and people not understanding it at first, is really similar to other fans’ stories. It was just one of those things I had when I was about 14. I heard the music and thought, ‘Oh, my god! This is just amazing’. Everyone was listening to R ‘n’ B and Pop music, and kind of didn’t really get it, because it had a bit of stigma attached to it – it was horrendously uncool. I think anyone who hasn’t listened to it will think that, but that’s what the amazing shift has been over the years. People, British people, are really starting to embrace it – artists and fans. Now it’s like, actually, you can be from anywhere and like Country music. Obviously it came from American life, but I think in the last few years UK Country has done really well. Yes, it’s Country, but we are writing about things that are going on in our lives that other people can relate to, which is the most important thing for Country, to be relatable.

You are playing a fair few festivals this summer, which is nice to see, one being Cornbury. Have you ever been there before or played there?

It’s the first time I have ever been, which is really exciting, because they have been great supporters of Country since they have been going.

That’s nice and how did the performance slot come to be?

We were pitched and invited, which is lovely because it’s a bill I have looked up to in the last couple of years and it’s been great since I can remember. Cornbury has really incorporated Country amongst other genres really well and not made a statement like “Ooh, this is a different thing”. They have just put styles of music out there and gone with it quite boldly, which is nice because, like we were saying, people don’t think they like Country and then they hear it and now love it. Festivals also, are really good at showcasing various styles of music because it’s the one time where you can discover new music, because there is so much going on. Cornbury have done that really well with Country, because it’s been woven in amazingly well, which has really helped the UK Country scene massively.

As you said, over the last few years Cornbury seem to be heavily supporting UK Country music, which is fantastic. How do you feel to be part of such a great family festival which has been so supportive of UK Country music? This will be the last ever Cornbury festival, so it will no doubt be one of the most memorable Cornbury’s ever. As well as being quite emotional for many guests and artists, it must be pretty exciting.

It really is. When I was reading through the promo of it, I was like, ‘Oh, my gosh!’. The names on this list are all amazing people – and it’s the last one, as you say. There’s going to be a party I reckon!

I think it will be quite a different atmosphere and will be quite emotional. Ward Thomas and The Wandering Hearts are also on the list, which is exciting.
Yeah. Tim from The Wandering Hearts and I have written a little bit together and he messaged me when he saw the Cornbury line up and said ‘Cornbury together – amazing’. That’s really nice because the best thing about doing UK Country is the community that you end up being part of; everyone is really lovely and it makes it so much better. You’re playing music you’ve always wanted to play and you have loads of friends who can also play Country music really well. It’s such a difference from hearing, ‘Oh, I am not sure about Country music’, to ‘Oh, you listen to Country music?’

It’s not really a competitive genre, which is nice.

No, and what it is, is that all of us who are doing it realise that. If it’s going to sustain and be heard, we need to champion each other, because that’s the only way people hear about other artists. I have been really lucky and grateful to people like Ward Thomas and The Shires, who have had me out supporting them over the years, because it just opens you up to people who might have heard of them and other Country. I think it’s really important to always make a big deal of sharing the music of people I love.

Bob Harris has been involved with Cornbury over the years which could well have influenced the festival organisers’ support for Country music. Do you think that UK Country music would be where it is today without the help of people like Bob Harris? Do you think he has had a huge influence?

Oh, massively! We’ve got so much to thank Bob Harris for, because he has championed the genre when it wasn’t so big and he has just carried on pushing it, because he knew that it was stuff worth listening to. He, and Radio 2 in general actually, has been one of the biggest supporters and has really given it a national platform. I think it has helped with people who have previously said, ’I don’t like Country music’ to then say, ‘Oh, but I like the sound of that’. We have a lot to thank Bob for – he is great.

It’s funny because it used to be such a big thing if you heard a Country song on the radio and you would freak out.

I know, sometimes I can’t believe it; sometimes I think how can it be about ten years ago when a Country song came on the radio and I would be like, ‘Oh, my God, there’s a Country song on the radio’. How cool that people know about it now.

You were in The Voice and did really well, but you did not perform any Country songs. Was the audition before you chose that musical direction, or did you feel it would have gone against you?

No, I went in as a Country artist and said ‘This is what I do’ – but it was a while ago, so it wasn’t that acceptable. They were like, ‘Ooh, we’ve got a Country singer, so you kind of need to do something else’. It was the first time I had ever done anything like that, so I was like, ‘Oh, ok – as long as I’m singing’.

Do you find that the judges seem to be a bit clueless when it comes to Country music? The US version seems to have all their successful contestants coming from Country music. I think the UK Voice needs a Country contestant.

Yes, I think it would be great if there was more Country on it, especially now because it is getting more recognition – and now that BBC Radio are playing more of it – I think people would be much more accepting of it. But again, as it’s Country, I think people think of the general stereotypical things which are still there. We are glad for this in a way, as that’s what Country was built on, but there’s a lot more to it which could be shown -maybe now, because it is moving on. I would love to see more Country on The Voice.

What’s it like having the chairs turn?

Pretty weird. The whole experience was pretty weird. I loved it; I really enjoyed doing it because I learned so much from it and, even though I much prefer the way I am doing it now, I don’t regret for a second going on it. It’s weird though, because you feel like you’re actually inside your own TV when you’re on the set, which is really strange.

You have an EP out, which is great, with the song ‘Snakes And Ladders’. Tell me about that song, and the inspiration behind it. It’s such a stand out track for me, because I remember during C2C last year, I was walking past The Big Entrance Stage and stopped in my tracks thinking, ‘Wow! What is this song?’

Aww, thank you!

It’s an old song now, but I still love playing it. That idea came from when I just left University. I’d spent the whole time from being at school just generally being a kid and a teenager, thinking ‘Oh, by the time I get to leaving University I will be about 21, and I will know just how to be an adult’. It’s hilarious to me now that I used to think that. So then I got to 21 and I was like ‘Oh, er…yeah, that adult thing still hasn’t happened yet’. During that year I realised that actually you don’t just become an adult overnight. You think that you’ve got to where you’re going, but then, you get to the top of one ladder and then find yourself at the bottom of another one. In a positive way, you are constantly going and changing and knowing that no one is never really where they want to be; they always want to try to do more and be more.

More recently you released the song Dreamin’, which was named one of Amazon UK’s best Country music songs of 2016. How did that feel – and is it something they inform you about, or you just have to stumble across?

My manager got in touch with me and messaged me with the link, so I knew nothing about it up until then. It’s so nice. There’s been moments over the last few years when you kind of think that I know I’ve got a long way to go but, even still now there’s been ‘pinch yourself’ moments – like Amazon putting me on that list. It’s also funny that it happened with the song Dreamin’, because that’s what Dreamin’ is about. It’s about hoping and praying as a teenager that Country would take off over here and so to me that is the song that documented what was actually happening in real life. It’s really weird, but it makes it even nicer.

Well, it’s lists like that that help us fans discover artists such as yourselves; iTunes’ recommendations, friends’ recommendations – and I know that, especially with the UK fans, there is massive support behind you – for example, people like my friend Claire Shekle, who you know.

Yes, I do.

And Jamie Gardam, who always champions you – these are the people who got me to listen to your music, and for that I am grateful.

That’s so nice to hear, thanks!

Will you be releasing an album soon?

I am writing so much at the minute, so there should be something coming out really soon – it’s just deciding when to do it and what’s best to put out. It’s really exciting, writing all these songs and knowing we can do anything with them, so that’s kind of the stage that I am at, at the minute. So, soon. ‘Till then we will be doing as much live stuff as possible.


Where else are you playing?

So Cornbury – we also have Camp Bestival, Buckle and Boots which I love! It’s a great festival. It was the first one last year and as soon as they asked us we said YES straight away. We are doing Cycle Fest at the Isle Of Man, which kicks off all the festivals for me in May. Then we are doing Cottingham Folk Festival and a couple of other gigs dotted around – and cute family festivals that I am really excited to play, so it’s building up to be a really nice year.

If you could go on tour with any Country artist in the world, whose tour would it be?

That is like the most difficult question ever, haha! Brad Paisley. I am absolutely in love with him and have been my entire Country listening life. I think just everything about him is on the same level. His songwriting is amazing, his voice. There is a humour throughout everything he does.

You wear some very nice and stand out clothes – where do you like to shop?

I browse the internet and everywhere. I am constantly on the lookout for anything that shines or anything that has got a sequin attached to it. There’s a company called A Star Is Born which does evening dresses in winter and amazing body suits that I wear on stage sometimes. They make the most amazing sequin clothes. It’s a pain though, because as soon as you put one on or take it off, beads fall everywhere, so I am constantly tripping over or standing on little beads or sequins. A sound guy at a gig we did a while ago said every time you come and do a gig, for weeks after I am finding bits of what you had on.

Haha, that’s called making your mark!

That’s it yeah, haha!

‘I have been here and I will be remembered forever’ – good idea, ha!

Who are you listening to in music right now?

Ooh, I am loving Ryan Hurd right now. I think he is great – he just wrote Lady Antebellum’s new song. Aubrie Sellers’ album; no matter how many times I listen to it, it’s not getting old. Catherine McGrath is amazing; her EP One, I have played over and over again. Maren Morris, like the rest of the world, because she is awesome. I have only recently just started getting into Kelsea Ballerini; I kept meaning to, but now I have had a proper listen to the album and it’s great. It’s proper feel good Country pop, which is right up my street.

Well, thank you so much for talking to me today, it’s been lovely.

Oh, it’s a pleasure.

You can download Laura’s music here;

Dreamin’ – Single by Laura Oakes
https://itun.es/gb/xW0Kbb

Laura Oakes – EP by Laura Oakes
https://itun.es/gb/zPmr8

Follow Laura on Twitter  @lauraoakesmusic

http://www.lauraoakesmusic.com

 

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