Interview: Ira Lawrence

 

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Earlier this month I interviewed Brooklyn Based Indie artist Ira Lawrence about his upcoming project titled “MAPAGKAWANGGAWA”. Listen to his song “All My Fake Friends” as you read the interview:

First off I love “All My Fake Friends,” it’s bold and you lay it all out there. Can you take me through the inspiration of this song?
Thanks a lot! I contracted an awful stomach bug and was quarantined at the Yuj Inn in Manila, when I discovered that BACK IN NEW YORK, my roommates were squatting in my apartment. They were supposed to have moved out weeks ago, owed me a lot of money, were still racking up utility bills, stopped returning my emails, and I had to hear about the whole mess through a mutual friend. My cellphone got fried in Camiguin (Filipino electrical sockets may look the same as American outlets, but that doesn’t mean you should charge your Iphone overnight during an electrical storm), so I had a desperate Skype call over janky youth hostel wireless with Time Warner Cable that mostly involved me screaming ” CANCEL MY SERVICE, MY ROOMMATES HAVE STOLEN MY APARTMENT”. Ironically, the Time Warner representative worked at a call center located in Manila, so he showed me some mercy.
Once I got back to America and eventually got my money back, I had to stop and ask myself: why did I go so far out on a limb for folks who obviously couldn’t reciprocate? Then, I had to deal with the nagging friend-shaped void of absence that’d been left in the wake of the whole debacle. Thankfully these messes make for great songwriting fodder…
You are involved in the art scene as a playwright, how did you find your start in music and theatre?
I acted in tons of musicals and plays in high school (drama nerd alert)- I was even president of the drama club- and I took a guitar class that taught me how to play Smashing Pumpkins, Nirvana, and Jethro Tull songs during school hours (hands down the best class I took in high school). When I got out of college, I realized that I wanted to be a creator instead of an interpreter, so I quit acting, started a band and wrote my first play. For a while there, stuff with my playwriting seemed to be moving a lot faster than my music, so songwriting moved to the back burner and simmered in my subconscious (despite several failed attempts at starting new bands and solo monikers).  All that changed in 2014 when I met my estranged grandmother for the first time, and she gifted me my estranged grandad’s electric mandolin. I took that as a pretty huge sign from the universe to start making music again…
Tell us about your upcoming album “MAPAGKAWANGGAWA”, and the influences behind it
I quit New York, and headed for The Philippines with my AustraliAmerican Theater collective EVERYTHING IS EVERYWHERE (2 Aussies, 2 Americans, 2 Gals, 2 Dudes, 2 Goys, 2 Jews, 2 Legit 2 Quit). We were in residence in Manila creating a new theater piece for The Sipat Lawin Ensemble’s Karnabal Festival. In The Philippines, I visited bombed out hospitals from World War II on the island of Corregidor, snorkeled through a sunken cemetery on the island of Camiguin, and almost wound up as a lead in a Filipino soap opera. MAPAGKAWANGGAWA is hugely influenced by my trip as well as the audacious work of The Sipat Lawin Ensemble. At Karnabal, I saw a participatory theater piece called Gobyerno- where the audience is literally placed in the role of a city planner. I saw theater pieces that incorporated live animals and elegant shadow puppetry, as well as an American Idol style contest featuring HIV positive drag queens and former military sex slaves singing Beyonce.  MAPAGKAWANGGAWA  is the name of the street where so many of these performances took place, and it’s also a Tagalog word for charitable.  A dollar of every album sale will go back to The Sipat Lawin Ensemble so that they can continue to make work which is vital vital vital vital vital to their community and the world.
When I got back to the States I immediately began channeling my trip into music.  I gave myself the strict parameters that the only instrumentation to be featured on the album would be sounds created by the mandolin. I subconsciously had a sense that MAPAGKAWANGGAWA would be released during an election year, so I hope that this album can be a lens by which American audiences can consider the ongoing impacts of colonialism, war, and corporate power on the health of the rest of the world.
I wrote a bulk of the songs in transit- at the Filipino Dream Casino in Paranque, my parent’s backyard in Baltimore, jetlagged as fuck in my cousin’s house trying not to fall asleep, my girlfriend’s apartment in Brooklyn- and recorded them at Ryan and Molly’s apartment between Christmas and New Years 2015 while watching their cats. It’s mixed and Mastered by John Jagos aka Brothertiger and available on a custom limited edition USB Flashdrive.
How does moving from Brooklyn, NY to the Philippines help your creative process? 
 
The pace of New York can really start to wear on you, and it’s hard to get perspective. During my first few years there, I had kind of a nervous breakdown identity crisis. I needed to shake off the residue of all that psychic damage and come to terms with my present self (inheriting the mandolin was a big part of that). When Everything Is Everywhere got the residency at Karnabal, it was a really good excuse to get the hell out of dodge and cut some of the dead weight out of my life. If I hadn’t left all that bullshit behind, I honestly don’t know what my life would look like right now, but I can assure you, I’d be a much sadder person.  I’d reached a burnout point startlingly similar to the one Joan Didion describes in her essay “Goodbye To All That”. I was open to the possibility that maybe Manila could wind up being my future home… but when I was offered a shot to audition for a lead role in a Filipino Soap Opera, it just didn’t feel right in my gut… and I knew that maybe there was a lot of stuff that I was avoiding back in New York, and it was probably time to face it instead of running away. Thankfully my play Billy Bitchass got accepted into the 2015 Samuel French’s Off Off Broadway festival and that was a good enough excuse to give New York another try. I’ve been very fortunate in that my art has taken me to some really amazing places, but the indecisive “WHERE DO I EVEN BELONG?” pacelessness I felt during the whole period from New York to Manila and back was the fire that helped me write so many songs. New York and I are on better terms now, but I wouldn’t have gotten to that place if The Philippines hadn’t opened my heart and broadened my mind.
What are some of your biggest influences in the artistic community?
Brian Eno, Guided By Voices, R.E.M., The Mountain Goats, Bowie, Sipat Lawin, Everything Is Everywhere, Applespiel, Boho Interactive.
Ira’s Bandcamp:
Talk to you fuckers soon
Music is life,
Chewb
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