As a straight-A student at Palmer High School, breakthrough singer-songwriter Laura Veirs never even considered a career in music. Journalism maybe. Or maybe swimming in the Olympics.
“I remember thinking, ‘Wow, it would be cool being in a band,’ ” said Veirs, who plays Venue 515 in Manitou Springs on Saturday. “But I didn’t see any girls playing music.”
What she did see was her brothers’ friends having fun in a tough-boy rock band.
She filed that away until her own yearning for self-expression pushed her onto the stage.
While studying geology and Mandarin at Carleton College in rural Minnesota, Veirs started an all-female feminist punk band called “Rair Kx!” But she still didn’t look at music as a career.
After college, Veirs served as a translator on a Chinese geological expedition. Not that exciting. So, to keep boredom at bay, she wrote songs, and her music began to veer from punk toward traditional country and folk.
In 1999, she released a self-titled acoustic album.
Veirs says the CD’s focus on nature harkened back to the hikes with her parents in and around Colorado Springs.
She has since released six more acclaimed albums, some solo, some with her band the Saltbreakers, with producer and husband Tucker Martine.
In 2004, she signed with Nonesuch Records, which has represented such luminaries as Emmylou Harris, T Bone Burnett and David Byrne.
But last year she left Nonesuch. Her latest album, “July Flame,” an intimate, sweet, sweaty, evocative homage to summer recorded in her home in Portland, Ore., was released in January on her own label, called Raven Marching Band Records in North America and Bella Union everywhere else.
“Overall, it feels good to have my own little team behind this,” Veirs said. “It’s my friend who’s secretly working behind the scenes to get attention for the album. I love that.”
And her friend has done well.
The album debuted at No. 1 on Billboard’s Heatseekers and Folk charts.
Critics have raved.
The Washington Post gushed: “Laura Veirs’s new CD, ‘July Flame,’ may well be one of the best releases of 2010, but more important, it represents a major rethinking of the singer-songwriter album.
“In a field where rhythm and harmony have atrophied in the shadow of the all-important lyrics and where those lyrics have tended to prosaic confession rather than poetic economy, Veirs’s break with usual practices seems as radical as Joni Mitchell’s shift from ‘Court and Spark’ to ‘The Hissing of the Summer Lawns’ in 1975.”
Veirs agrees that “July Flame” represents an artistic breakthrough for her. She sees her songwriting getting richer and her breathy voice less fragile.
Her voice has developed a vulnerable-but-strong, girl-next-door quality reminiscent of The Roches, Natalie Merchant or Suzanne Vega.
But while she’s optimistic about where her talent is going, she’s not so sure about the recording industry.
“It’s harder in the sense that record sales in the world are plummeting,” she said. “But I think we’ll make our money back.”
Meanwhile, at 38, she’s thinking about other things than becoming the next big folk sensation.
She volunteers at the Rock ’N’ Roll Camp for Girls in Portland, so that girls won’t see rock music as just something for their brothers’ friends.
And she and her husband are expecting their first child in six weeks.
“I certainly don’t know how I can make this work,” she said of her continued touring plans. “We have friends who tour with babies, but it’s certainly not the most family-friendly thing. Right now, I feel OK, and it feels like the right thing to be doing.”
She has a European tour planned for the fall.
Laura Veirsin concert
When: 7 p.m. Saturday
Where: Venue 515, Business of Art Center, 515 Manitou Ave., Manitou Springs
Tickets: $15-$25; 473-4801; ticketweb.com