Kara Laudon making her voice heard
South by Southwest tour
Singer-songwriter Kara Laudon of Burnsville started learning guitar and writing songs at 13.
Singing solo to an audience was another matter. At a friend’s suggestion, Laudon, now 21, successfully auditioned to sing the featured song during the homecoming assembly in her senior year at Burnsville High School.
Nailing “Collide” by Howie Day in a packed gym began a confidence-boosting process that set in motion a fledgling career.
“I think people were a little bit surprised,” said Laudon, who is studying vocal performance at McNally Smith College of Music in St. Paul and plans to finish her bachelor’s degree next year. “But hearing positive feedback from friends and stuff kind of made me more comfortable with the idea of singing in front of people.
“From there I started to play at little coffee shops and stuff, kind of diving into it slowly. Now I think I’ve gotten to the point where I’m comfortable with it, and that’s what I hope to do forever.”
Laudon is just back from her first tour — a state-by-state caravan with two other McNally Smith performers that led to the famed South by Southwest music festival in Austin, Texas.
Performing individually, the trio was part of an all-star Minnesota lineup at the Rock the Cause Day Party at Austin’s Liberty Bar on Saturday, March 17.
Party sponsors included 89.3 The Current. McNally Smith music-business students planned and promoted the event. The road-trippers — Laudon, alternative violinist David Gerald Sutton and hip-hop artist Danami — played early on a bill that included Minnesota stalwarts such as the Honeydogs, Pink Mink and Night Moves.
“Seeing our names on the set list with all those bands, it was just crazy,” Laudon said. “I was like, ‘Are you sure my name’s supposed to be on there?’ It was kind of surreal, but really cool.”
Equally memorable for Laudon were performances the trio gave at mostly arts-themed high schools on the way to and from Austin.
Selected for the trip through auditions and Smith McNally faculty recommendations, the performers visited schools in Iowa, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Tennessee and Chicago, Laudon said.
The musicians also chatted with students about making a life in music. Laudon, who plays guitar and piano and played percussion in the BHS Concert Band as an underclassman, revealed her initial reticence to sing in public. She joined the school’s all-girls Bel Canto choir only as a senior.
“I was telling the students that this is something I’m still getting used to doing,” Laudon said. “It takes practice, and it gets a little easier each time. I still have a little bit of stage fright in me.”
But her voice is sweet and pure, and her music is influenced by singer-songwriters such as Ingrid Michaelson, Sara Bareilles and Meiko.
“I’m sure (confidence) is something that she personally struggles with,” said Rachel Holder, Laudon’s personal vocal instructor for her first year and a half at McNally Smith. “However, it’s not always something that her teachers see as an issue because her attitude is always so positive. I don’t really see it as an issue for her because she’s willing to do absolutely anything. She’s been performing since she started school (at McNally Smith). She’s one of the students who immediately started to do her own thing and started getting gigs right away.”
Through school, Laudon has expanded her singing palate — tackling everything from native-language Brazilian music to funk and musical theater — which has broadened her own songwriting, Holder said.
“Her voice is very smooth,” the instructor said. “It’s very warm and engaging. She can have a conversational kind of style that’s very relatable, very lyrical.”
Overcoming obstacles is a recurring theme in her music, said Laudon, whose first digital EP, “Worth Fighting For,” was released in 2011.
“I try to write some upbeat tunes that can make people feel good,” she said. “It’s just kind of whatever is inspiring me at the moment.”