Laura Veirs was concerned about how her new tourmate would respond to the rigors of the touring life.
Turns out Tennessee Veirs Martine, who turns 6 months old this weekend, was a born road warrior.
“He's a really sweet person. He's up for everything,” Veirs said last week from her home in Portland. “I was really worried, of course, before going out on these tours. I just didn't know if it was going to work, because the tours were booked before we had a sense for what his personality is like.”
In his short life, little Tennessee — whose dad is Laura's longtime sweetheart, the well-known producer Tucker Martine — has already made runs around Europe and the United States. He's visited 20 states and eight countries, according to Veirs' blog at www .lauraveirs.com.
He has slept under tables backstage and on pillows in closets. He has traveled more than most babies his age, blissfully calm whether in the arms of mom, or mom's tour manager/nanny, or mom's touring partners, twin-sisters recording act The Watson Twins.
“He can go with the flow a lot,” Veirs said. “I'm sure that will change as he gets more of his own personality and is mobile and everything, but for now, he's really a pleasure to tour with, which was a really nice surprise for me.
“He's a more flexible baby than I thought,” she continued, with a cat meowing in the background, “and I'm a more flexible parent than I thought.”
Such is life when you're the first child of one of the Northwest's most quietly successful solo artists, a singer-songwriter who'll stop in Bend on Tuesday for a show at the Tower Theatre with Portland indie folk band Weinland (see “If you go”).
For years, Veirs has made her living from music, with seven acclaimed albums to her name, including 2010's “July Flame,” which drew raves from publications ranging from Entertainment Weekly (“A-”) to online indie tastemaker Pitchfork (“a record that's easy to get into and just as easy to stay with”) to New Musical Express: “Here is a winsome, lady-driven response,” opined NME reviewer Leonie Cooper, “to the wood-chopping likes of Midlake, Fleet Foxes and My Morning Jacket that remains refreshingly sweet.”
Indeed, “July Flame” is a beautiful record, and a return to the sparse, folksier roots of Veirs' second album (“the first album that I like,” she said), 2001's “The Triumphs and Travails of Orphan Mae.” As always, the natural world dominates Veirs' lyrical themes. Her past work revolved around fire, glaciers, meteors and oceans; the new one is Veirs' ode to summer, with “Sun is King” and “Summer is the Champion” and “Little Deschutes” among its tracks. “July Flame” — named after a variety of peach — was released in January, but it would make an ideal soundtrack to warm, sticky, stargazing evenings on the beach, around a campfire, or idling on a front porch.
Stripping away some of the fancy production of past albums was the goal from the beginning, Veirs said, for two main reasons.
One, she wanted to challenge herself.
“This last album was quite a challenge for me to write because I'd written seven albums,” she said. “I'd played these chords hundreds of times, so it was like, ‘OK, I need to change the tuning on my instrument. I need to write on a different instrument. I need to surprise myself.' I think that's where the good art comes, when you yourself feel surprised and engaged in something new, because that's what resonates with other people.”
And two, she wanted the songs to stand on their own, both in the studio and live.
“(‘Triumphs') really stands up,” she said. “The arrangements are really sparse and I really like that record, and Tucker and I both thought it'd be fun to nod to that with the new one and go back and try to do that again, where the lyrics are strong enough, the melodies are strong enough, and the guitar parts are cool enough that you can basically go out on tour and do it yourself and not feel like you're letting everyone down.
“It's like, ‘OK, these songs have to stand up on their own. We can't get fancy with the production and add thousands of overdubs,'” she said. “'That's not the route we're going to go on this record.'”
Of course, Veirs is already thinking about which route to take on her next record, and while Tennessee has been a great tourmate, a new baby does tend to occupy a lot of space in a woman's mind. Between her current West Coast run and a February trip to Europe, Veirs is determined to begin in earnest the songwriting process for her eighth album.
“One of my ongoing challenges in motherhood, I think, is carving out the creative space to write more music,” she said. “I've written some, but ... I just find myself not having enough (mental) space for that yet.
“The artist mind, for me, is noodly and kind of, like, the pitter-pattery, puttery mind ... that depends on you being very free and not caring about success or money or responsibility. Like a kid's mind,” she continued. “It's not (an) adult, responsible, mother mind. So I have to get out of that ... when I go back to my workspace. I have to discipline myself to work on new music, and that's always been a challenge for me to set the time aside, but now it's like, ‘OK, you have four hours of day care. You have to go back there and work.'”