Ira Lawrence is a renaissance man. An internationally produced playwright, a singer-songwriter, a global traveller, a lead in a Fillipino soap opera, and the owner of an inherited, haunted mandolin. Following his acclaimed debut EP “Elegant Freefall” he’s back from some travels with an lo fi album of significant beauty which led Jens Lekman to say “That mandolin does sound haunted in a very good way.” The album is called MAPAGKAWANGGAWA and it’s as good to listen to as it is hard to say at the end of a long night.
With a an air of humility and ambition, MAPAGKAWANGGAWA, is an album of unique and unforced style that cements Lawrence as an artist to be watched. ARTISTdirect caught up with the guardian of the haunted mandolin and asked all the hard questions.
Where are you right now?
Please name your fellow band members and their roles… oh, and who has the best dance moves?
MY NAME IS IRA LAWRENCE
GRANDAD AL is my haunted mandolin.
I received Grandad Al from my estranged grandmother Sylvia (one of my favorite Jens Lekman songs is Sylvia).
Society gives you fewer and fewer opportunities to dance and sing, so it’s important to dance whenever you get the chance. That’s why I accepted the supernatural duties of the electric mandolin.
Tell us about your new project: Who did you work with? Where was it recorded? What’s it about? Is there candy?
I took a trip to the Philippines with my AustraliAmerican Theater Collective Everything Is Everywhere (2 Americans 2 Aussies 2 gals 2 dudes 2 goys 2 Jews 2 legit 2 quit) to write and perform new theater pieces at Sipat Lawin’s Karnabal Festival – Had some really wild experiences, saw some amazing theater, contemplated colonialism a lot, almost became a Filipino soap opera star- and when I got back to the states I used songwriting to help digest and process my trip. The end result is MAPAGKAWANGGAWA- a musical concept album about my trip and a Tagalog word for charitable- and $1 of every album sale will be donated to Sipat Lawin– who are creating some of the most boundary pushing and vital theater in the world right now.
I wrote and recorded the whole thing myself with the strict constraint that the only instrumentation would be from the electric mandolin I received from my estranged grandmother. I was watching my friends’ cats between Christmas and New Years last year and recorded over 20 songs. I mixed it with John Jagos aka Brothertiger, Cloud 9 is a beloved Filipino candy bar, and in lieu of candy, MAPAGKAWANGGAWA will be released as a limited edition 2G Hard drive that fits in your pocket and includes exclusive bonus material, BEST OF ALL $1 OF EVERY PURCHASE HELPS FUND A FILIPINO THEATER COLLECTIVE CALLED SIPAT LAWIN AS THEY CONTINUE TO MAKE BOUNDARY PUSHING WORK ABOUT THE PRESSING ISSUES OF THEIR CULTURE , BUILD COMMUNITY, AND ELEVATE THE DIALOGUE FOR BETTER UNDERSTANDING.
How do you describe your music to new friends?
Well first I roll a joint, make some Guacamole, and buy some Charra’s chips.
Ya know that Jens Lekman song “Your arms around me” with that lyric about “slicing up an avocado”? I pull that up on youtube and play it while the joint passes.
Then once everyone is really high on Swedish pop music and full of Charra’s chips covered in Guacamole I SAY:
DID YOU KNOW I PLAYED A HAUNTED MANDOLIN
AND THAT I WROTE THE CONCEPT ALBUM ABOUT THE PHILIPPINES?”
And they’re like “NO S***? PLAY IT FOR US RIGHT NOW!”
THEN I PLAY THE WHOLE ALBUM AND EVERYBODY’S MINDS ARE BLOWN OUT OF CONTROL AND THEY DONATE MONEY TO SIPAT.
And then they’re like “OMG IRA I CAN’T BELIEVE THAT YOU WERE ALMOST A FILIPINO SOAP STAR” (but then they’re also l like: I can actually totally believe that).
Kinda like that.
How would YOU describe my music to my friends?
Other than CRABCAKES, what should your hometown be known for?
I live in Brooklyn, but I’m originally a Baltimoron. In addition to delicious crab cakes, Baltimore has a pretty incredible music scene- Dan Deacon, Beach House, Animal Collective, Wilderness, Death Set, Videohippos, Lower Dens, Wild Honey, Raindeer, Lo Moda. Frank Zappa even dropped out of my college!
Please look around you right now and please describe the first item or person you see that’s significant to you.
I bought a severed hand at a voodoo shop in New Orleans during my best friend’s bachelor party and it wound up being partial inspiration for my song “Perpetual Bachelor Party”
What first inspired you to pursue music? If it was a musician or a specific piece of music, please tell us all about why you find it so inspirational…
I met my estranged grandmother for the first time in 2014 and she gifted me my estranged granddad Al’s electric mandolin and I decided I oughta write some songs with it, since the universe went a long way out of its way to make sure it was in my possession.
What’s the best advice anyone has given you about pursuing a life in music?
Most people told me not to pursue a life in music… but Edward Albee once told me that when he was an early career writer, and no one would produce his plays in New York, The Zoo Story received it’s first production in Berlin. Then suddenly once he was a big deal in a foreign country, people started wanting to produce his plays in New York. That advice was at least part of the reason I wound up in the Philippines in the first place. R.I.P. Edward Albee.
Not including your current crew, who (alive or dead) would you love to have in your van for an all day drive from gig to gig?
Bowie, Eno, Orwell, Kanye, Thom Yorke, Michael Stipe, Tom Waits, Stephin Merritt, Jens Lekman. Most rides it’s just me n’ Grandad Al.
What song best sums up your life right now?
ALL THE SONGS ON MAPAGKAWANGGAWA
BECAUSE I HAVE TO LIVE THEM EVERY NIGHT
Kate Bush’s “Hounds Of Love” really starts my motor these days.
Because if I only could I’d make a deal with God, and I’d get him to swap our places.
Otherwise I’ve been listening to B-52s, Jan & Dean, “Darkness On The Edge of Town”, Frank Ocean, and nursing my Bowie, Prince, Albee, Wonka, blues like everybody else.
What is the best reaction to your music you have experienced so far?
I sent my album to Jens Lekman and he said that my mandolin “Sounds haunted in a very good way”. Jens is a huge inspiration and a favorite songwriter of mine, and it really meant a lot that he was so complimentary. He seems like a really genuine and fantastic human being.
Take a moment to dream – Where do hope to be a year from now?
On tour opening shows for Jens Lekman?
What’s your next step towards that dream?
I JUST SENT JENS AN EMAIL ABOUT OPENING A SHOW IN BROOKLYN! THINK HE’LL SAY YES?
Thanks for the interview. This was fun!
Purchase Ira Lawrence music on iTunes
For more information visit Ira Lawrence on ARTISTdirect