Lauren Ruth Ward had a beautiful life. Settled comfortable into Baltimore, Maryland, the hairdresser was making “a shit-ton of money,” had a man who loved her, an apartment, friends, and hundreds of clients but despite all of this, Ward made the decision one day to throw it all away, pack up, and move to Los Angeles—and thank god she did.
Ward isn’t just good at cutting hair. Away from the clippers, Ward is a vocal powerhouse with a raspy range that’s instantly comparable to Janis Joplin; though she’s so much more than that. While she still cuts hair in her backyard between three clementine trees, the singer has moved on from the small city life in Baltimore, embraced her queerness alongside her fiancé/pop musician LP, and developed a brash and unfiltered lyricism that culminated in this month’s release of her first album, Well, Hell.
We caught up with the singer to talk about the albums that shaped her childhood, repressing her sexuality in Baltimore, and the story behind her self-love song, “Make Love to Myself.”
OUT: Before you started your music career, you were a hairdresser for weddings, right?
Lauren Ruth Ward: I was working a salon six days a week, and then most weekends that seventh day I’d do weddings, so I’d do both.
Do you still cut hair? Or do you do solely music now?
I do! I do it on the DL. Just other artists and clients that I really connected with out here. I worked at Rudy’s in Studio City for two years, so I met some really sweet clients. A couple of months ago, I started just doing it in my house, in my backyard, and I cut hair under three clementine trees and I literally just nailed those old mirrors to a tree and I have a couple of hooks hanging where I put my blow dryer and clippers and their coat and I’ve been cutting under my clementine trees for a couple of months.
It sounds like half of it is a haircut and half of it is an experience.
Yeah, you know my friend, she just named it “Nature and Nurture.”
I love that! Now, in terms of your music, what first album really shaped you?
My first picks obviously are Physical Graffiti and Rumors—but they were put in my hands by my parents. The first albums that I wanted to buy and that I devoured and that really made me want to start playing guitar were Michelle Branch’s The Spirit Room and Nelly Furtado’s Whoa, Nelly! I was so stoked on both of them and it’s not very rock and roll, but there you go.
You’ve got to start somewhere. Tell me about your partner, LP. You’re still together, right?
Of course I am! We’re engaged.
Oh shit! Wow, congrats! How did you meet?
I met her first briefly at a show in Baltimore in June of 2014. I was still living there and six months later, I moved to California and met her again in a less formal outing through mutual friends. We started chatting and…yeah.
Do you feel like nowadays our generation is a lot more open and free to exploring our sexuality?
What it is for me, personally, is environment. When I was [living] in Maryland, I knew maybe seven lesbians. Three of them were older and my clients, and the other four were my friends. I’m not that picky, I love humans, but there wasn’t really much to make those wheels turn. No one’s going to be like, ‘oh my goodness, I’m going to go do this thing that’s unsafe.’ No, if you want a safe space to experiment…I don’t know if I would have had an outlet then. I don’t know how comfortable I still would have felt talking to my very sweet, non-judgmental friends in Maryland about it.
Yeah, you want to not feel judged for who you’re into.
Totally. I had about 300 clients in Maryland but for some reason, I felt very trapped in that life. I have been doing hair for nine years and these clients had known me through Joe and Ben and Al and Chris, you know? I can do whatever I want and they’re so sweet and supportive, but I didn’t know how to take a step back from how close I was with all those people and still be able to explore my sexuality. At 26, I was like, ‘I want to move to California, I want to date a woman, and I really want to pursue music and quit my fucking career.’ It was a trip.
I want to talk about the song “Make Love to Myself” because, based on the title, it sounds like a song about female masturbation. Was that intended?
It’s funny because it’s not about masturbation at all; that’s just a tagline to remind the man that I can do that. The story is, “Buddy, I don’t need you, I can make love to myself. If you think I’m lonesome, then you’re lying to yourself ‘cause I’m something else and you’re a renegade. Don’t even talk to me.”
You’ve got a very carefree style. Have you always been that way or were you getting into trouble a lot as a kid?
No. Not at all. My mom’s superpower is unconditional love because I was such a bad teenager. The older you get, the more you, ‘Did I do that? Oh my god, I did that. I did that at what age? Holy shit.’
I calmed down at nineteen because I had done everything. I was ready to calm down.
How would you describe your style in one sentence?
Transcendental nostalgic from the ‘50s through the 70’s. That’s kind of where I like to go with my style. Recently I’ve been finding some pieces from the 1800s, though. I got this killer jacket from Dublin two weeks ago, that’s a hundred and thirty years old.
What’s your proudest moment on the new album?
I think it’s well-rounded. We’ve got heaven and hell and some Americana in between. I managed to stick a diary entry song in there called “Those Letters” that’s about moving forward with my lover—being okay with physical and mental droppings from her ex that hadn’t been cleaned up yet. She had a really traumatic breakup with her ex so that song was hard for me to put on there. I’m not cryptic. I’m just going to say, ‘go fuck yourself.’