CHICAGO – Mention the name Harry Lennix, and images of his many character roles are bound to emerge – Harold Cooper in the TV series “The Blacklist,” General Swanwick from “Batman v Superman” and Commissioner Blades from Spike Lee’s recent “Chi-Raq.” The deeply knowledgeable Lennix brings his years of dramatic expertise, as he directs the Congo Square Theatre Company’s world premiere stage play “A Small Oak Tree Runs Red.’
Interview: Emotive Rocker Lauren Wolf to Outlive Today’s Digitized Dance Fad
CHICAGO – You can’t tune into top-40 radio today without hearing a host of new and previous artists all converging on the same fad: digitized dance music. While the club scene’s eating it all up for now, time has proven again and again that real music prevails over fancy studio theatrics. That’s why artists like Adele will have much richer and longer careers than someone like Pitbull who’s in vogue today but might not be tomorrow.
And that’s why Chicago artist Lauren Wolf – who’s been brewing her entire life all the secret ingredients for a lifelong singing career – is rising so swiftly on the Chicago and soon-to-be national music scene. The explosive rock/blues pipes on this upcoming Hard Rock headliner are here to stay. HollywoodChicago.com speaks with Lauren Wolf to understand her back story and success.
Photo credit: Joe Arce of Starstruck Foto for HollywoodChicago.com
HollywoodChicago.com: Where did you grow up and how did that influence your style of singing or musical tastes?
Wolf: I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago. I still feel all the music from there. The blues and rock scene influenced me. But also my sister, who was six years older, was so into the Rolling Stones that I was in awe of her and her older friends listening to that style of music.
HollywoodChicago.com: What instances with singing from when you were a child made you feel you were meant to perform music?
Lauren Wolf: I knew I could sing when I was five years old. I used to lock myself in my bedroom, put on my Michael Jackson albums when I was little and pretend I was the one singing. I grew up around music because my dad was in the music business for a short time. He was huge into rhythm and blues such as Earth, Wind & Fire and Lou Rawls. He would take me to the concerts when I was younger. That was a huge influence on me.
HollywoodChicago.com: What was the most significant singing event you experienced before you were 20 years old and what made it so right?
Wolf: It’s hard to pinpoint one because I can remember singing back to when I was a little kid. There would be the “triple-threat camps” and this was way before I was 20. They wanted me to audition and sing “Memories” from the Broadway show “Cats”. It was then that I realized I was a little further along because most of the other kids were doing simpler songs.
They would do “Tomorrow” from the show “Annie” and I would sing something like “Little Girls” from the same show. [laughs] I thought it would be funny. Also, in high school I got to sing the national anthem around the same time Whitney Houston did it at the Super Bowl. I remember singing it right after that and the moment meaning a lot to me.
HollywoodChicago.com: What started you on the path to your current song quest?
Wolf: I did a 2009 competition called Road to Fame, which was a six-week singing event. But I had never stopped singing before that. I worked for the Chicago Kids Company for several years and did musicals at night. Once I had Sydney [Lauren’s daughter], I didn’t do it as much but I still kept up with it. Because my musical theater blended with rock, I often got cast for my rock voice in shows like “Hair”. That’s what inspired me to become a rock singer.
I found the Road to Fame competition on Craig’s List. They started with 100 people. I kept getting through the weeks and that’s when I met [two-time, Grammy-winning producer] Rob Christie [formerly at Capitol Studios for 15 years]. They flew him into Chicago from Los Angeles. The song he heard – cheesy but true – was Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’”.
HollywoodChicago.com: You took a detour in your life through marriage and becoming a mom. How did your love of singing stay with you through those times of life’s responsibilities? When did it come back to you most profoundly?
Wolf: It never left. I got Sydney involved with so much music practically from the minute she was born. I would sing to her all the time. She probably has more pop culture knowledge than I do. [laughs] She knows about every song on the radio. That part never really left.
I also had a friend who wrote the successful independent film “Were the World Mine” on the gay circuit. It was based on “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” ran the festivals and was on the Logo Channel. The filmmakers asked me to sing the French song ‘Mon Homme’ since they couldn’t afford the Edith Piaf version. I remember being in the studio, recording it and thinking,’this is what I should be doing.’ I never looked back from there.
Image credit: Lauren Wolf
HollywoodChicago.com: How did the dissolution of your marriage motivate you toward this next phase of your life?
Wolf: That was part of it – because of the independence. But after my musical theater experience, it became more about the singing. I always knew I would be in a rock band. On my debut album “All My Secrets,” some of the songs were chosen because of the timing in my life – especially my original ‘One Day’.
HollywoodChicago.com: What was most exhilarating about getting in front of that recording microphone? What challenges were most apparent after you started recording the album?
Wolf: Aside from having my daughter, the week I recorded at Capitol Studios in Los Angeles was one of the great experiences of my life. It couldn’t have gone better. It cemented the idea that this is exactly what I should be doing. It made me feel less nervous about the process. With theater, I was always wondering where I was going. With the album and my current band, I don’t feel that way because I enjoy it so much. I feel more confident and independent.
HollywoodChicago.com: Is the “All My Secrets” album title about exposing those secrets or acknowledging those secrets?
Wolf: It’s more about acknowledging them. It’s more for myself. It’s about confirming those secrets and saying it’s OK. It’s part of my past, my present and my future. And it’s good to express them outward. Sometimes I ask myself why I waited so long to do this. But I can’t change the past. It came to me when it did. If I didn’t have all those experiences, I wouldn’t be where I am right now.
HollywoodChicago.com: You are described favorably in comparison to Janis Joplin and even open your album with a cover of one of her songs (“Move Over”). What connection do you have to Joplin’s life?
Wolf: I grew up more around R&B. I was introduce to Janis right around high school. I connected to her energy right away more so than other artists. Even when she was represented in the Bette Midler film “The Rose,” I knew it was part of what I should be doing. It was an immediate connection. I auditioned for “Love, Janis” )a Janis Joplin musical) in Chicago. Her original guitarist was there and really liked me.
HollywoodChicago.com: What are you trying to say to the your audience and yourself in expressing the songs on ‘All My Secrets’?
Wolf: For me, this is a culmination of what my life is about. My father passed away about 10 years ago, but I think if he came back, this is what he would say I should be doing. As long as I have memories, I remember wanting to be a recording artist. So, it’s on the path to exactly where I should be. For listeners, good music has been lost with today’s overly digitized dance recordings. That’s why I recorded live in the studio track by track. It’s important to show people what I’m really like – raw and real – with no vocal theatrics.