“I fucking nail second chances,” says Lauren Ruth Ward, benignly reflecting on the time she got expelled from high school in her junior year. With aged wisdom beyond her years, she reminisces about her hometown of Baltimore, where her upbringing was what the songstress lovingly refers to as a “cocktail for being an artist;” She grew up splitting her time between a bohemian mother — “I’m very pragmatic, and she would call that cold and intense” — and some weekends with her father — “He’s a ‘healthy republican,’” she says with a laugh. From a young age, she also had a natural drive for creativity, with the talent to back it. “I was wearing a beehive every day in sophomore year,” she says, describing how she’s always had a knack for doing hair. “Junior, senior year, ‘scene’ was really in and I was like a ‘scene’ queen. I had a splash of blonde over here, splash of blonde over there.”
Meanwhile, Ward also taught herself to sew clothes, as well as sing and play guitar, taking cues from the music of her childhood — ‘70s rock and her mom’s old disco compilations — and the music of her teens: Mirah, Elliott Smith, basically anything “emotional, folky and dismal,” she says. (If you’re curious, that combination lands Ward somewhere between Janis Joplin and Courtney Barnett.)
When graduation rolled around and it came time to pick a career, Ward took on hairstyling. By 19, she had a fully booked calendar with cancellation backups at the salon she worked at and was running her own wedding updo business. She was ambitious, successful, and doing work she loved, yet something was missing. “I saw the music then, but I was behind a chair six days a week,” says Ward about coming to terms with pursuing another career. “To be honest, I wanted a band,” she continues, “every time I found someone to play with, they had a day job — they didn’t have the dream. And you really gotta fuckin’ have it to live in a world that’s musical.”
So in 2015, Ward packed up her life and road tripped to her new home of Los Angeles. After a challenging, perfectionistic pursuit, Ward came together with a band: Liv Slingerland (bass), India Pascucci (drums) and guitarist and fellow songwriter Eddie Rivera. “They all call me ‘Mom,’” she says with a laugh. “It’s like getting three new best friends that you’re giving the most personal part of yourself. The only thing they haven’t seen is, like, my vagina.” They’ve even got matching jackets.
Together, they created Ward’s debut album, Well, Hell, a nine track sampler of what she calls the band’s “four modes.” There’s the “heaven of the album,” “Did I Offend You?,” a sweet, airy, swiftly cadenced track which crescendos into a powerful chant: “You’re only breaking down/ you’re only breaking down/ you’re only breaking down.” Then there’s the “hell,” “Blue Collar Sex Kitten,” a full-throttle rock song that dives head first into distorted chords, sexuality — “I’m a dyke/ dated guys/ ain’t a crime/ won’t apologize for my tribe,” sings Ward — and a psychedelic breakdown that sounds like lucid dreaming. There’s the band’s acoustic mode, made up by breathy tracks like “Travel Man” and “Burden,” and finally Ward’s poppier side, heard on “Sideways” — a funky, retro take on soul-searching and feeling lost — and “Sheet Stains,” a bluesy ode to her fianceé, indie pop mega-star LP, who sings backup vocals on the track.
The band’s chameleonic moods are punctuated by Ward’s playfulness with her bandmates on stage, dancing with audience, the occasional appearance by LP, and her signature silver dotted eyeliner. Ward’s music has even gained her a dedicated international fanbase — in fact, three fans flew from France to be at the Well, Hell record release show in Los Angeles.
In some ways, Well, Hell is Ward’s second chance at a career doing what she loves most: creating. “I could totally have done a version of this in Baltimore, but not the way I’ve done it here,” Ward says of making music in Los Angeles. In others, Ward hasn’t changed a bit — you can still catch her doing hair, though now it’s under a batch of clementine trees at her house. “I had four clients at my house today,” she says with a laugh as she preps for a show. “I just picked the hair out from underneath my nails.” Either way, one thing’s for sure: there’s no telling what’s in store for Ward and company. “This is definitely a different life for me,” she says. “This is Lauren 2.0.”