It’s been an eventful four years between Lauren Pratt’s debut album and the new Young American Sycamore, which comes out Sept. 13 and is premiering exclusively below.
The 10 songs on the album were written after, and in many cases reflect upon, an April 2016 fire that gutted the apartment complex where the singer-songwriter was living in Nashville. The wake also included “a closing-off period” of more than a year when Pratt didn’t sing or write songs but did begin a master’s program in clinical mental health counseling and expressive art therapy at Lesley University in Cambridge, Mass. “I took (the fire) as, excuse the Monty Python term, the holy hand grenade thrown into the mix,” Pratt tells Billboard. “I didn’t understand the nature of trauma, and I just wasn’t prepared. Instead of reaching out for help, which is not usually the first option people go with anyway, I decided to close in on myself. I always wanted to be a minimalist and live out of a bag with my guitar. I traveled a bit and saw some family and had to ‘find myself’ out there.”
But Pratt was not surprised that she ultimately returned to songwriting and recording. “I ended up saying, ‘Y’know what? The thing that drew me to music is the empathetic connection that’s created between songwriter and audience,'” Pratt explains. “There’s usually some pretty universal truths that are shared, if not a universal something more than one person can give to another, or to others. So I thought that maybe I should be focusing on studying that and helping other people express that side of them they can’t get out through normal talk therapy. It’s been really rewarding, and I’m excited to see what happens with it.”
Meanwhile, Pratt is pleased that she followed some of her own counsel in getting back to her own music. Recording Young American Sycamore with Don Bates, who lived in the same apartment complex that burned down, Pratt came up with new songs she says “are about trying to reevaluate identity — that loss of identity, searching for meaning, the typical heart-rendering, not rending, thing. It was quite lovely to get back to Nashville last summer and record (the album) with the guys. It was a really great experience, a very positive result of this kind of rather long journey. It all came together like a flood, everything coming out.”
Young American Sycamore ranges from plaintive ballads to rockers such as “Twenty-Five.” The track “Doubt,” meanwhile, came along while Pratt was working with Patty Griffin at Richard Thompson’s songwriting camp in the Catskills. “She’s one of my top inspirations; She actually was the one that got me thinking, ‘Oh, maybe this is something that could be part of my life in a permanent, consistent way,'” says Pratt, who also did a workshop with Mary Gauthier in Nashville. “(Griffin) gave me some great advice and a lot of incredible compliments. I was just really encouraged by that, so a lot of songs came after that as well.”
As she nears the album’s release, Pratt is weighing her future pursuits. She continues to perform, with shows booked most weekends. But with her degree due in May, she’s torn “between moving back to Nashville and trying to do music full time and…stay in Boston,” where, as the child of a military family herself, she’s working with active and veteran service members through Massachusetts General Hospital. “We’ll have to see how this writing process goes,” she says. “I’m hoping my life can be a mixture of helping people and creating beautiful music at the same time. I really have a passion for both.”