Let no one say government workers are dull. Case in point: Meet the DMV’s own Lauren Calve, who works for the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office by day while spending her nights performing original music for capital-area audiences. Calve described this Diana-Wonder Woman divide as her “hybrid work life.”
“I call my job my ‘patron job’ because I work from home full time—I have for almost eight years,” Calve said of being well ahead of the curve in terms of remote employment. “I could have never foreseen how much this job has allowed me to continue music, which you wouldn’t think [given] it’s not a creative job.”
Calve’s single “Shift” dropped in May, followed by “Everything at the Same Time” July 7. “Shift” is a dynamic piece of music in the best tradition of the singer-songwriters—and perhaps reminiscent of Dar Williams and Shawn Colvin. Meanwhile, “Everything at the Same Time” and the more recent single “Subtle Alchemy” bear more of the country stamp—unsurprising given Calve’s significant time in Nashville. (More on that later.)
“My music is definitely rooted in, no pun intended, American roots music—whether that be folk, blues [or] country,” Calve said, adding that she’s particularly fond of the Delta blues sound epitomized by Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, Sam “Lightnin’” Hopkins and Elmore James. “I’m big into the storytelling tradition.”
Her full album, also called “Shift,” released September 1. Calve will be co-headlining a tour with Joey Frendo that stops at Baltimore’s Metro Gallery September 14. They will also play DC9 October 18 and the Collective Encore in Columbia, Maryland, October 19.
As mentioned, Calve has spent significant time in Nashville, working with the likes of producer Dex Green on her new album. Calling in several favors, Green managed to rope in Sheryl Crow’s backup band for the sessions—as well as Black Crowes guitarist Audley Freed for a solo shred.
“That was incredible to witness in real time him coming up with that solo, working it out in the studio—take after take after take until he finally got it,” Calve enthused of Freed. “I feel his playing gives it [such a] classic roots rock vibe. I respond to that.”
Calve made four such trips to Music City to record, including during pandemic times. As the release date for “Shift” approached, she returned to Tennessee to appear on local TV spots in the recording mecca.
However, she has no intention of leaving her home in Maryland permanently. Even with the loss of such local venues as Iota—where Calve got her start on open mic nights—there remain many who still believe in our city and its music. (None other than native son Dave Grohl who was there for the ribbon-cutting of the Atlantis, which sits on the original site of the 9:30 Club. Grohl and the Foo Fighters took that stage for its maiden voyage in May.)
“I really love the scene here. I feel it’s finally starting to blossom again after things shut down,” said Calve. “All my best friends in the area I met through music. [Iota] is where I met people I played in bands with. So I really love the community—it’s very inclusive.”
Accordingly, Calve has played with a variety of genre acts in our area, both to refine her craft as well as become more entrenched within the scene. While D.C. can’t precisely be considered a “small” city, the intimacy and camaraderie here is missing from, say, New York, where Calve’s brother, also a musician, has been trying for some time to make his name.
“It’s a big city that has a lot to offer, a lot of venues, a lot of diversity in sound and influences,” she said of D.C. “And also, it’s small enough where you can still have community, which is really important to me.”
Calve says she is meticulous about her songwriting process—not rushing a composition to completion before it’s ready. The exigencies of pandemic recording required her to make several trips to the Nashville studios, so she was writing four or more songs at a time. This allowed her to be, in her words, “more intentional about the arrangements, about the lyrics, about the chords.”
“I normally get a first verse and then the chorus pretty much set, and then I sit down and write the song, with that intention,” she said of her process. “Oftentimes, I’m still writing and editing the lyrics right up until the vocal take in the studio.”
Leading up to the release of “Shift” on September 1, Calve will be posting social media content regarding each song. She wants to ensure her message is properly articulated, not only to express her thoughts and feelings but potentially inspire others who may be going through changes of their own.
“The fact that it’s my first full-length record, I have a great feeling about…being able to tour in the fall [and] tell the stories,” Calve said, adding she is excited to play in new markets, including Ohio, Texas, and Vermont. “Someone made the point that typically you change and then you write the songs about the change. I wrote the songs and then the songs kind of changed me.”
Calve would also like to start a podcast where she interviews musicians about how they make a living, especially as the industry shifted so significantly in the digital age—and so much revenue was lost during covid lockdowns. She herself was fortunate to have that job with Uncle Sam to maintain herself, but that wasn’t the case for so many professional musicians chasing the dream. This led to an odd bit of survivor’s guilt on her part.
“I just didn’t feel legitimate having a government job and trying to do music. I didn’t feel like I was doing it the right way,” said Calve, pointing to her new song called “Late Bloomer,” which addresses that voice of insecurity that bedevils us all. “But I have no regrets about anything I’ve done and about how my career has taken shape.
“So my advice is whether you want to keep your day job or do something part-time or teach or play bar gigs as a supplement, just do it and don’t think about the way other people are doing it. Follow your own path and what feels right and what feels within your boundaries.”
The artist says her compositions continue to improve as she has matured; this is in line with her belief that added perspective changes your outlook, no matter your stage of career. For her part, Calve is facing the co-headlining tour with a singular dedication of purpose.
“Solo performances are such a great way to immerse oneself in a singer-songwriter’s work. I always learn so much about, and gain a newfound appreciation for, my favorite artists when I hear them play solo,” she said. “There’s a level of intimacy and connection that you don’t get from a full band performance.
“If you are curious about songwriting as a craft, and love storytelling, this show is for you!”
Lauren Calve will perform at Metro Gallery in Baltimore September 14, DC9 October 18, October 19 at the Collective Encore in Columbia, Maryland, and the Heist in Bowling Green, Virginia, October 22. Tickets for all shows are available at LaurenCalve.com. “Shift” is out now.
A native of New Jersey, Eric Althoff has published articles in “The Washington Post,” “Los Angeles Times,” “Napa Valley Register,” “Black Belt,” DCist, ScreenComment.com and Luxe Getaways. He produced the Emmy-winning documentary, “The Town That Disappeared Overnight,” and has covered the Oscars live at the Dolby Theater. He lives in Fredericksburg, Virginia, with his wife, Victoria.
Flow-bending artist aSanTIS discusses art, culture, and whether sound can solve the world’s problems in celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month.
My interview with Amy Santis aka aSanTIS began in the most unexpected way. The Maryland-based flow-bending artist and lyrical storyteller came prepared to engage in conversation around questions I had posed – and she also brought one or two of her own thoughtful prompts based on her curiosities around my view of learning.
This practice of taking in her surroundings deeply through observation and inquiry has come naturally to aSanTIS ever since she was a young child. In terms of her early starts in music, she notes that she began as a discerning listener. “Just listening to music from my mom, on the radio, just being a consumer in the world of sound. But I think mainly, my mom has always loved dancing and listening to music, so that was sort of like second nature. We play music at gatherings, we play music in the car, and these songs are sort of like diaries that take us into a specific place.”
Recent Articles Jimmy T’s Place launches on all major platforms Oct 6 True to form, dirty shirt rock n’ roll band One Way Out, originally