Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Lauren Coleman of Pebaluna

Pebaluna's Lauren Coleman at the Rose Bowl Flea Market



At the Rose Bowl Flea Market

1001 Rose Bowl Drive, Pasadena

Although Lauren Coleman spent most of her years growing up in Las Vegas, she has a few fond childhood memories of coming to Pasadena for the Tournament of Roses Parade when she was young.

"I was born in Torrance, and we lived there until I was 5. My mom says I was still in diapers the first time we went to the parade. I remember coming back when I was a little older and seeing one of the stealth planes over our heads. It was so close that it scared me."

The singer-songwriter and frontwoman for Pebaluna currently resides in Long Beach, but Pasadena is home to one of Lauren's favorite places to visit when she comes up to the L.A. area, the Rose Bowl Flea Market. With over 2,500 vendors, the shopping extravaganza attracts thousands of people, from antique collectors to hipsters looking for unique clothing, every second Sunday of the month (The next one takes place on Jan. 13.).

Even though I lived in Pasadena for several years and heard about the shopping extravaganza, I had never been before, so I was excited that Lauren could show me around. There was plenty for us to peruse as we chatted about her neighborhood haunts, her passion for music and Pebaluna's debut album, Carny Life, which released in September.

Lauren confesses that she usually never buys anything for herself at the Rose Bowl Flea Market. Instead, she often finds pieces of jewelry for friends. As we admire some art-deco furniture, light fixtures/art pieces, phonographs and random knick knacks, I hear her sing, "I'm going to spend all my money here," under her breath. We come across some sort of electrical contraption, and I ask Lauren what she thinks it is. She hilariously replies, "It's a projector … or a time machine. I'm not sure."

One specific item consistently attracts Lauren's attention to booths when she spies it: a vintage telephone. She admits to being obsessed with phones when she was little and always taking them apart to see how they worked. It's evident that the devises still pique her curiosity as she stops, picks up their receivers and puts them to her ear each time we come across one.

The entire flea market is a bustle of activity, and with colorfully costumed unicyclists and stilt-walkers meandering around the front entrance area, it seems like the perfect setting to talk about Carny Life.

"The songs on the album are all so different that I couldn't find a theme other than chaos. I had gone through a few different relationships, lived in a few different places, had a few different jobs and traveled a bunch in the six years it took from when we first started recording to when we finished, so it felt like a traveling circus in my head. If you listen to the title track, the part with whistling and kazoos, that's how I feel on a good day, that's what's going on inside of my head," Lauren says with a smile. "At first I wanted to name it No, I Can't, after the single because I'm extremely hard on myself. I thought, why not come out of the gate self-deprecating. But Matt was like, 'That's too negative.'"

Lauren met Matt Embree, Pebaluna's guitarist, when her band at the time opened for the group he fronts, RX Bandits, in Las Vegas.

"I met Matt when I was 16 at the Huntridge Theater in Vegas. Back then, I had short blue hair and I would wear a prom dress with combat boots for shows. I listened to RX Bandits and had gone to see them, but I was always so busy dancing that I didn't know what they looked like." she remembers with a laugh. "I saw Matt on the side of the stage, not sure if it was him, and said, 'Hey, are you in RX Bandits? I really like your music and your lyrics,' and he was just like, 'Oh.'' As I was walked away he asked what my name was, and I told him. Then, two years later he was recording our band's album. That's when we started playing music together, and he let me do more jazz stuff. He said, 'If you move here to California, you can use this studio.' So the day my band broke up, I was in my car driving here."

Once she landed in So Cal, Lauren took different odd jobs – such as being an adverse loan processor, veterinary technician and currently working on guitar pickups – did some vocals for Matt's other band, the Sound of Animals Fighting, and even performed with a Zombie Pop Rock Opera before forming Pebaluna with Matt, drummer Jessica Lankford and bassist Jon Grillo and settled into an apartment in Long Beach.

When I tell Lauren that I go down to Long Beach to take my dog to Rosie's Dog Beach, the subject of how the band got its name comes up. Pebaluna is named after her beloved Chihuahua Pebbles, who was hit by a car. Since then, another animal has come into Lauren's life, a cat named Loki, whom she met at the vet clinic she used to work at.

"I was thinking about getting a cat because they're very independent. I wanted a black-and-white cat for some reason, and this person came in who had found these kittens in a box. There was one left, and I was like, 'OK, if it's black and white, I'll take it,' She comes out, and she's the tiniest runt. She's all white with one black spot on her head, and I took her home. I still have her, and she appears in some of the early Pebasodes," she says. "There's a dog park I'm going to later today that's off 7th Street [Recreation Dog Park]. I like to take my aunt and uncle's dogs to this enclosed one because they're very fast. Their white German shepherd is like my wolf dog; she doesn't leave my side when we're out. But their border collie just adopts new families every time we go out."

A Rose Bowl Flea Market stilt-walker
Besides Recreation Dog Park, you can often find Lauren at Viento y Agua Coffeehouse in Long Beach.

"It's pretty much the one place I go. There's Portfolio as well, but I'm very much the kind of person who, once I find my comfort zone, I pretty much stay right there. I've gotten to know the people at Viento."

For shopping, Lauren loves Buffalo Exchange.

"I got to the Buffalo Exchange on 2nd Street, and then you've got 'Retro Row' on 4th Street, which is across from the Art Theatre, an awesome venue/independent movie theater," she tells. "My friend works at Lola's Mexican Cuisine, and there's 4th Street Vine, a great little wine place. They're just great nooks."

Overall, she loves life in Long Beach.

"There is always something awesome to do: There's free yoga on the beach; you can ride your bike any where all the time; there are a lot of cute cafés; people are really enthusiastic about playing music as a community. In Vegas when I first started playing with people who were not in my band, I felt like I was cheating on the relationship. I would say, 'You guys should play with other people, too. It's just going to make us better,' but they were afraid of the band breaking up. Here it's like, 'Oh I've got this band and this project and that, and everyone just enjoys playing together."

After walking around the Rose Bowl Flea Market looking at booths for a while, we take a seat near some rose bushes, and Lauren pulls out her ukulele and starts to sing. It seems like everyone around us stops to listen, as she transforms from a regular shopper to performer, and the fact that music has always been a part of her life is a big reason why the transition is so effortless.

"We listened to oldies all of the time. We would always listen to the oldies station in the car on the way to school. My mom would always sing [Frankie Valli's] 'I Love You Baby' when she picked me up, and my dad would always mimic the crooners with a silly voice. But nobody knew that I could sing until eighth grade. I had this anti-attention disorder," she laughs. "If they came home and I was practicing – I would put on Mariah Carey's Daydream and try to get every lick that she did – if I didn't hear my family come home and I was singing, I would lock myself in my room and not come down for the rest of the night. I was just horrified. Now I just sing wherever I'm at and have fun."

Her mom enrolled her in singing lessons with their church's choir teacher, and Lauren joined her first punk band when she was 15.

"That probably broke some barriers. I played with a band that did a lot of rock/ska punk stuff. Even during the songs I didn't like doing, I would put my hair up in a ponytail and make it my goal to, by the end, have my hair fall down. That's how I kept the energy up," she remembers.

"I still am a little self-conscious; I still have social anxiety. If I'm walking down the sidewalk and there's just one other person, until I pass them I'm like, 'Oh my god, do I look them in the eye, do I say hi or do I do anything? Even when I play music, if it's a room full of people it's more difficult than with a big audience. It's very personal, it's like, 'Hey, I'm going to read my diary to you about one of the hardest times in my life.'"

While performing in front of crowds is a skill that didn't always come easy to Lauren, writing lyrics and poems is something that she has been doing since a young age.

"I have a huge suitcase full of notebooks from high school and have my grade school notebooks in storage. I used to love making videos, too, pretending I had a TV show. When my friends slept over we made a fake set. One of us would be the host, and the other would have to be three different characters. We had commercials and everything. I was always doing something creative."

Even though she cultivated her singing and writing skills, Lauren never picked up an instrument until a certain song inspired her to grab the ukulele Matt had given to her as a gift and teach the song to herself.

"It was 'Tonight You Belong to Me.' I was trying to get Matt to learn that song, but he was busy with a lot of different projects. I printed out the tabs and started playing it on ukulele. When I started playing that song there were so many different chords, and I realized I could play it by myself," she says. "Then, I started having a writing spree. That's when so many songs with the ukulele, like 'Tell Me Baby,' 'Waking Nightmares,' 'Sunshine Lullaby' and some that we haven't even released like 'Penguin Island,' all came within a matter of months. Once I got that, I started playing the piano and guitar and realized, 'Oh, this isn't so hard.' I suggest the ukulele to anyone who has never played an instrument. It's like once you learn another language it gets easier, less daunting. If you love something, you're just going to get better at it because you're going to want to do it all the time."

The songs on Carny Life are as varied in style as Lauren mentioned when talking about naming the album, embellished with hints of Motown, reggae, country, gospel, folk and funk.

"We do some covers live, too: Motown stuff, we love the Band, Sam Cooke, and we played 'Chain of Fools' at the last show. I'm trying to get them to do the Jackson Five's 'I Want You Back.' Mostly our shows are energetic; we don't usually do the mellow sings. When I play solo shows, I do the mellower material there. We definitely pull out 'Please Me,' 'Sunshine Lullaby' and 'Carny Life.' 'Sunshine Lullaby' is funny because we could be at a bar with a bunch of adults and they will sing along if you ask them to, especially if you pause and look them right in the eye," she laughs.

"I used to be really shy on stage, but now if I'm having fun it's like monkey see, monkey do, and the crowd will have fun, too. And Matt's been doing this for so long that he's really good at engaging the audience, being one on one with them, that it has rubbed off on me."

As for some memorable concerts that she's attended since she moved to Southern California, Lauren mentions seeing Mumford & Sons at the Hollywood Bowl in November.

"That was pretty awesome. Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros at the Greek Theatre was memorable. Alex Ebert went out into the crowd and looked up at the moon. He said, 'Whoa, everybody look at the moon. You've got to see this.' He made the whole band come down and look, it was great," she recalls. "I went to see a screening of Big Easy Express about the Edward Sharpe, Mumford & Sons and Old Crow Medicine Show train tour. It was beautifully done but I wanted to see the actual road life. I wished they showed more of the grittiness, like in the Festival Express documentary with Janis Joplin, the Grateful Dead and Buddy Guy. They did a train tour through Canada, and they showed everything – how they would buy out liquor stores, put a bunch of acid in the bottles and everybody would be drinking it would be playing music all the time."

Lauren actually took on her first film role in Destin Cretton's I Am Not a Hipster last year and enjoyed the experience immensely.

"You have to get up really early, but not having to wear makeup and being able to wear your pajamas to work then sit in a chair and have someone do all that was great. I felt super aware of myself, conscious of my posture, but then you have to act natural and ignore that there's a camera just staring at you. It was a lot of fun because of the people who were working on it. I would love to do it again," she says. "I feel like that's the down side of living in Long Beach: It's so nice there, you can just chill, and then my motivation, my drive is a little bit mellowed. At the same time, I really want to be traveling. That's what I'm saving for."

Yearning to perform has always burned in her heart, even if she was too shy to pursue it at a young age.

"I wanted to do musical theater, but the closest I got was being the spotlight girl. I tried out when I was a freshman, but the great parts went to seniors. We did 'West Side Story,' and I was like, 'I could be Maria!' Then I got my GED and went to college, so I never got the chance to do a school production. Once I got to college, I was like Van Wilder I took every course. I still do. I'm like, 'Next semester I'm going to take sewing and German,'" she laughs. "As long as you're excited about learning and doing something with your mind I think that is the point, because, who knows where that can lead. I've done enough things I don't like for enough time that I know what is just a dead-end road for me."

She pauses to recall a road trip up the California coast when she ran out of money and had to resort to busking for some gas funds to return to Long Beach. She says that the experience reminded her of a man she had met who told her that you could travel around the globe and make money if you could either play music or do hair. After listening to Carny Life and witnessing Lauren captivate the Rose Bowl Flea Market crowd with her voice and ukulele live, I'm quite certain that one of her upcoming courses at community college will never need to be hairdressing.

Carny Life is currently available. Pebaluna performs Jan. 4, 11, 18 and 25 at the Hotel Café. For more information, visit

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