Musicians would be the first to tell you that life's difficulties can provide some meaningful and enduring art. Nashville singer-songwriter Jesse Lafser, burdened by the growing chaos in her personal life recently, worked through this emotionally fragile state by focusing on her songs.

"The past three years I'd gone through struggle with depression and got sick for a while," she said. "I lost my inspiration and zeal for life. I used to find myself writing every day. It was a really scary time. It kind of forced me to work on different aspects of songwriting and learn the skill of my craft more."

Lafser, a resident of Nashville for six years, had released two EPs and two full-length albums since she arrived in Middle Tennessee. Though she underwent many bouts with her shaky confidence, she emerged from that awkward period with a wizened perspective. Her new album "Land in Sight," due on Oct. 16, draws its title from a Mark Twain story about a ship lost at sea. Though most of these tracks carry a reflective quality, Lafser's heartfelt performances convey a muted optimism despite any obstacles.

"I visited his home in Hannibal when I was little," Lafser said. "I've always been a big literary fan, and I loved 'Huckleberry Finn.' I recently read his autobiography, and that story really spoke to me metaphorically."

The album was recorded and produced by Mike Odmark, and features Nashville musicians including Andrew Combs and Spencer Cullum. Sessions took place at South Nashville's Gray Matters Studio, an old art gallery refurbished for musical purposes. Lafser calls the atmosphere "cool and inspiring."

Land in Sight recalls the spare instrumentation and raw storytelling of revered folk artists Gillian Welch and Mary Gauthier. The songs explore a mess of emotions from despair to romantic longing, fitted with no-fuss arrangements heavy on whining steel guitar and mournful fiddle. Odmark wisely scales back the production to allow Lafser's emotive yet stoic voice to stand front and center.

"I definitely feel like this is the most conceptual record I've done," she said. "I didn't plan that, but it all just tied in together. This record was an incredibly magical experience," she said. "I've had trouble in the past, but Mike and I hit it off right away. He's super laidback and we just saw eye to eye, everything from the overall sonics to just the vibe."

Lafser, whose music has been featured on BalconyTV and Lightning 100 in Nashville, will soon go out on the road to support her new music. She expresses a nervous anticipation as she prepares for the demanding schedule of a touring artist.

"We've been doing a lot of underground work," she said. "We're in the process of booking a two-week tour behind the record. November and December is what I'm shooting for. We're looking at going up to Maine and all the way back. So we're lining up different press things right now."

As a gay woman, Lafser has not only had to face society, but her own family. So far, they've voiced disappointment in her sexuality due to their firm religious practices.

"My family is not approving of who I am as a gay woman," she said. "The tension of that is difficult, but it also serves as a great creative outlet. I definitely feel like I hang onto my spiritual beliefs, but not as by-the-book as my family."

Even in the absence of family support, Lafser has been boosted by the generosity of Nashville's GLBT community. She expresses an appreciation for friends and colleagues who encouraged her career.

"The gay community has been great," she said. "We're in the South of course, but especially in East Nashville there's a community of people. There are about ten lesbian couples on my street. (laughs) It's been a great support system for me. I feel like I don't have to be a gay artist; I can just be an artist who happens to be gay."

Lafser will perform at The Basement Oct. 19 with Little Bandit and The Granny Whites.

Photo courtesy of Red Bull

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Photo courtesy of Rumble Boxing Gulch Nashville

Rumble Boxing Gulch, Nashville


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