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About Letitia

Baltimore City

Letitia VanSant's picture
Letitia VanSant’s lyrics are as personal as they are political, tracing questions of power into the human heart. With sparse indie folk arrangements fortifying a distinctly intimate vocal style, her down-to-earth stage presence has been described as vibrant and approachable.   Paste Magazine named her among 10 Artists to Watch in 2020, BBC Radio says she is “a fascinating new artist,” and PopMatters called her “a consummate reflection of a rising Americana star.” Her songwriting has earned... more

Letitia VanSant's portfolio

Circadian

Circadian rhythms are the natural cycles occurring within a period of wakefulness and sleep, of light and darkness. Across the nine-song spectrum of Circadian, the newest full-length collection by singer-songwriter Letitia VanSant, her luminous voice mirrors the rich emotional quotient of her themes, breathing life into songs that balance contemplative compassion with righteous fury.

VanSant’s debut album Gut It to the Studs established her as an emerging talent on the Americana scene and propelled her onto her first UK/European tour, where she was met with enthusiasm by audiences and critics alike. PopMatters defined her as “…a consummate reflection of a rising Americana star” and BBC Radio calls her “a fascinating new artist.” Among her additional accolades she was named a winner of the Kerrville New Folk Songwriting Competition.

“My last album introduced me to the world of songwriters. I gained a greater respect for the craft, but more importantly I learned a reverence for the creative force that moves through art. I stopped trying to ‘steer’ and rather tried to do greater justice to the songs that force their way out of me.”

With a few such compositions in hand, VanSant approached Nashville-based producer Neilson Hubbard (Mary Gauthier, Caroline Spence), whose production work struck her as lush, inviting soundscapes that never lose their intimate, down-to-earth nature and rock-solid grooves.

“I fussed a lot about making my last recordings painstakingly perfect, but this time I just wanted the songs to speak for themselves. My motto for this recording process was ‘if the groove is good, you can’t go wrong.’”

This approach was a perfect fit for Hubbard, who encourages his artists to trust their first instincts. He assembled an all-star cast of session players including Will Kimbrough, Michael Rinne (Miranda Lambert), and Juan Solorzano. Hubbard sat in on drums. They holed up with engineer Dylan Alldredge at Skinny Elephant, the studio that Hubbard created out of an old garage. Harmony vocals were later added by her friends Mia Rose Lynn and long-time collaborator David McKindley-Ward.

She went in with the intention of recording a 2-song EP, but the chemistry with the musicians was so immediate that she came out at the end of the week with a 9-song album. Many of the songs were recorded live with just 2 or 3 takes. Several of the vocals were lifted from scratch tracks--a bold move, as VanSant’s voice is what often first pulls people in. “I just figured that people are going to either like my singing or they’re not, and splicing and dicing to get the perfect take would probably hurt more than it helped.”

The result is an album that feels as natural as it is compelling and beautiful. “Every song is a small, glittering jewel” said Thorben Bull of the Kieler Nachrichten during her recent European tour, “A taste that melts on the tongue like liquid caramel.”

The set kicks off with the incendiary “You Can’t Put My Fire Out.” “I am a survivor of sexual violence from years ago. It impacted my self-esteem and what I felt like I was capable of in the world. I felt a lot smaller. This song came out of reclaiming my narrative and sense of self worth,” she explains.

It’s no mistake that she follows up with “Tin Man,” a subtle character study that explores how our culture’s stoic notions of masculinity leave many men emotionally isolated, particularly as they age. She wrote it after hearing the podcast “The Lonely American Man” by NPR’s The Hidden Brain. “It rang so true that I had to pull over my car because I was crying so hard. Our culture makes it very difficult for men to be emotionally vulnerable, and that in turn makes it hard for them to connect with others. I don’t know what it’s like to be a man, but I know what it is to be a person who loves one and wants to connect.””

The sadness of growing older is a thread that runs throughout the record. “Most of Our Dreams Don’t Come True” conveys the disappointment that she and many of her friends were experiencing as pregnancies became miscarriages, acting careers fizzled, and things just didn’t work out the way they’d all hoped. “My generation has gotten so much messaging to reach for the stars and keep trying at all costs. But I think that notion can be taken to a desperate, unhealthy extremes that can leave people profoundly unhappy. There’s a time to let things shift, let things go. Allowing ourselves to grieve old dreams can make space to discover new ones.”

The title track “Circadian” was inspired by an article about light pollution; how fireflies are having trouble finding mates, and migrating birds can’t find their way. “The solution is to turn out some of the lights,” she says. “The challenges of the world feel big and complicated, but I take solace in the idea that some of the answers are to make things simpler.”

“Something Real” was inspired by an experience at Kerrville Folk Festival, where many were mourning the recent death of Jimmy LaFave. “ I never met him, but hearing people sing his songs around the campfire, it was clear that his energy was still moving through the world. I had this moment when my clouds of cynicism parted, and I was overcome with awe.”

The collection concludes with the cataclysmic “Rising Tide,” based on Letitia’s father’s experience as a Vietnam veteran with cancer caused by exposure to Agent Orange. “They’ve got plans for our pockets, cigarettes for our lungs/Poison for our babies and bullets for our guns.” She recorded the song several years ago with an old band called the Bonafides, and it was a hit on the local radio station 89.7 WTMD where listeners voted it among the top 10 songs of the year. Her dad has since recovered, but Hubbard’s production has given the song a second wind that is both harrowing and timely.

The ambition of these themes comes as no surprise to those who know her personally, as VanSant is deeply spiritual, and social justice has been a touchstone of her life. After spending six years at a progressive lobby group in Washington, DC, she made the jump to a career in music, but remains engaged in local activism in her hometown of Baltimore, Maryland.

While political and philosophical motifs are present on Circadian, strident proclamations are not. “I’m challenged,” Letitia confirms. “I’ve written lots of songs about social justice, but I don’t end up sharing the vast majority them because they just don’t feel right for one reason or another. I don’t want to write preachy songs when I have so much to learn and improve upon as a person, and in many ways I occupy a position of privilege. What I have to share is my failures, my questions, and my journey of trying to do better.”

Circadian bears the mark of an artist who has honed her skills to sculpt brave songs of impressive accuracy, vitality, and relevance. As a songwriter, Letitia VanSant utilizes exacting imagery as she details a crawlspace under the stairs; stubborn roots of English ivy vines; boxed wine and stories over candle-lit card games. “I have a lot of respect for classic country songwriters who have a point that’s really focused,” she explains. “They dig deep down and express it with just a few words. I aspire to be understood from the song itself. It’s a miracle that we’re on this planet and alive, and can vibrate the world with music. I want to share these moments of gratitude.”

Gut It to the Studs

VanSant’s national debut Gut It To The Studs opens in tandem with her life as an artist. To get off of the beaten path, though, one must contend with the uncertainties of uncharted territory. “Where I’m Bound” shows the importance of persevering through a “land of broken promises and streets of fool’s gold” with a “map in the stars,” and by following faith.

With this shift, VanSant left behind a nonprofit career. In an effort to feel comfortable in her new skin, she looked at her emerging life and had to “Gut It To The Studs.” She sings, “gotta get the wires a-running right ‘fore the dry wall goes back up." “Taking Back The Reigns” reflects the notion that insecurities will follow you wherever you roam. In order to face your demons and not allow them to swallow up your life, you have to encounter the forces unseen and look them in the eye. If you let fear drive your soul, “then left unchecked it will rule the whole world.” “Dandelion” echoes our generation’s keen interest in building communities that are nourishing and real.

On “The Field,” VanSant likens her inner journey to the labor of farming, as she sings, “I’ll pick up my plough and I’ll pick up my hoe, for the soil is rocky and dry.”

The sole cover on the album, “For What It’s Worth,” stands the test of time as a true protest anthem. VanSant churns out a powerful Americana interpretation inspired by recent protests against police brutality. She comments, “We owe so much to the people who fought for justice in decades past, particularly in the ‘60s when this song was first released. I recorded this song as a reminder to myself that the present moment is just as critically important to our nation’s history.”

The song "Sundown Town" is an account of her reckoning that perceptions of safety reinforce historical patterns of segregation.

Upright bass virtuoso Alex Lacquement (Bumper Jacksons, Charm City Junction) produced the album -- VanSant says, “he has a special talent for taking the emotional content of a song and translating it into a great arrangement.” The songs were co-produced, engineered and mixed by Don Godwin of Tonal Park (Takoma Park, MD), and feature vocals and guitar from David McKindley-Ward, one of VanSant’s long-time collaborators. The album also showcases cameos from some of the region’s greatest musical talents, including Patrick McAvinue (IBMA Fiddle Player of the Year, Dailey & Vincent), Laura Wortman (The Honey Dewdrops), Dan Ryan (Super City), Will McKindley-Ward (Fellow Creatures), Sam McCormally (Fellow Creatures), Dan Samuels (Bumper Jacksons), Nick Sjostrom (Caleb Stine & The Brakemen) and Manny Arciniega--as well as a cameo from Charlie Rose of Elephant Revival.

Parts & Labor

When you return to a garage to pick up your car after repairs, you are handed a bill for “parts and labor.” The “parts” are things like spark plugs and oil-drain pans, while “labor” is the hours spent by the mechanics. But you seldom see the mechanics at work, so it's tempting to think of the gadgets and workers as interchangeable cogs in the great machine that keeps society running.

“Parts & Labor,” the new album from Letitia VanSant & the Bonafides, fights that temptation with all the considerable skill and passion the folk-rock band's four members can muster. The ten original songs work hard to proclaim that we are all much more than parts and labor to the machine of our economy.

They do so not only through the lyrics’ evocative dramas but also through the give-and-take between traditional acoustic instruments and their buzzing electric successors. Out of that negotiation emerge striking melodies, and when those tunes blossom into four-part harmonies, it’s as if a solitary voice has become a community.

VanSant debuted the album at the Creative Alliance in an inspiring collaboration with Potluck Storytelling, in which a diverse group of Baltimoreans shared personal narratives on the theme.

  • Promised Land

    Once I was a fly, flew from room to room Now I am a pen, write the story of a greater hand I am a road and I'm headed for the promised land We've all been told there's not enough for everyone We guard what we hold dear with laws and with guns Instead of all these walls, let's build the kingdom come Used to knock on all the doors that shut us out Now we build our own house One with no walls that will shelter us all
  • When I Was Your Age

    When I was your age We would play by the side of the bay Made forts from the driftwood and pies from the clay My mother would smile from a beach chair all day When I was your age But child you can't get there anymore The bridge washed away long ago The house blew to splinters in a terrible storm Now it is driftwood on faraway shores Oh child you can't get there anymore When I was your age There was snow on the mountains as pure as the rain There were creatures by the millions, many more than I can say No ark to save them they all died away When I was your age A fair
  • Go Darling

    here’s wrinkles in my shirt sleeves and dishes in the sink And nothing but ham on bread for nigh on a week You left your worn-out apron and took your brand new boots In the suitcase I bought you for our first honeymoon Go darling go, it’s a long lonesome road But the fire in your heart, and the trouble it would start Would burn this old house down Round the time I lost your temper you stopped curling up your hair You’d go out by the fence post just stand right there and stare Well you ungrateful woman, you made me play the fool Well I could teach you more than you will ever learn i
  • Parts & Labor

    In clothing sewn in crowded rooms Eating food picked by weary bones At table cleaned by tired feet A meal served from fatigue I act like it’s my birth right To stumble round like a drunken fool But some know this is hallowed ground Don’t deserve our dirty boots Well I wonder where those feet would go Wonder what those hands would do If they ever had a row to hoe and a moment to choose Well move along, don’t care where you go But we need this sidewalk clear Loose parts in the back of some forgotten drawer Is there anywhere on God’s green earth that I can pull my weight A place
  • Master Plan

    Wind is high where I”m going i can’t say where I’ve been but We are made out of clay Shatter and start again I’m not a threat to your freedom I'm defending my own master plan From the nightmares that used to bite at my heels Before I learned how to dance I don’t know and neither do you YOu can’t see and neither can I The landscape repeats, an old-fashioned cartoon Still we continue to ride Knee high by july Something borrowed and something blue All these rules fool the fools I don’t need a frame to picture you If you think that you’re at the helm of your destiny That I
  • Tea Still Sweet

    THe long rows of cotton turn to soybeans and corn And what was once gravel is asphalt Well I think our vices our bound to transform with each starry-eyed generation The tea is still sweet and the crickets still sing But termites they threaten foundations The river takes a piece of the bank each year The thicket advances each spring The chess set misses its queen We city folk long for our roots in the fields But it’s such a long drive to the country I barely find time just to eat with my family Seems that it’s just too soon monday The bible’s now the self-help section With pric
  • Rising Tide

    This disease and its gnashing teeth It brings me to my knees makes me bow before God I'm not proud that that's what it took To make me believe what's in every good book All these chemicals that made you sick Wanna find the man who made them and show this to him The long lonesome hallways and the ruined plans The look in your eyes and the trembling hands I tried to be patient like my mother but I can't be We ran aground now honey sit tight and hope we'll float out on the rising tide You said the breeze it feels oh so sweet But you must be getting old '
  • Step in Line

    Oh my dear you look so tired in the pale morning light Chin hung around your chest and all those bags hanging from your eyes Oh step in line, step in line Oh step in time, step in time The lines on the calendar are the bars on my cage This train thunders through my weeks and all the years bulldoze through my dreams We’ll find a way out of this prison baby with only the shirts upon our backs Green pastures of plenty are waiting outside My path is laid out there before me, and my back a sheet of steel All my breaths now whistle warnings, blow me by, and stand you clear

Breakfast Truce

“VanSant’s voice is the most striking aspect of the record,” the Baltimore City Paper wrote when the album was released in 2012. “It is part Iris DeMent with a little Dolly Parton (and maybe even some Rose Maddox) thrown in. But after repeated listens, the quality of her songwriting begins to come out. She’s a clever woman with a lot to say. She claims that much of her music is motivated by a cross-country bike ride she took as well as her Quaker beliefs, but you don’t have to be a biking Quaker catch the drift. And she doesn’t try to write like she’s living in Tennessee in 1933 either. The outstanding opener, “Macy’s Parking Lot,” makes the eponymous landscape sound as high and lonesome as the riverbank of any murder ballad.”

  • Bathwater Baby

    she wore her grass stains with a wounded soldier's pride holes in her stockings and mud all tracked inside hid in the tool shed every time she cried she smeared the queer made fun of the kid from germany sticks and stones they broke her bones and they added insult to injury didn't want to be a pretty girl anyway her books were boring and the tv picture sucked asked her brother where the liquor cabinet was took his guitar out to sulk in the garage thought the sunrise was another cheap trick from jesus made her think that maybe she could love god goody two shoes could have
  • Breakfast Truce

    well they backed him in a corner he was scared cause they were pissed just him and all them fists slapping in the dark and the doctors were redundant cause he already knew that just like me or you he had to hold on one more night boy you've gotta walk like a fool through that line of fire between the cold dark ground and the morning star don't be the sorry soul who breaks the truce better to be dead and gone and tried and true at the pastor's play at christmas he spoke those lonely lines just him and all those eyes watching from the dark and the critics, lord forgi
  • The Notion

    my love is a river, it's wild and it's deep i've searched for it's sources, they're hidden from me i've got the notion that it flows to an ocean that will never ever end my love is a fire, it's burning and it's true i've got the notion that this steadfast devotion it will never ever end when i'm lost in the dead of night, the cold wind blows its lonely cry i will keep on looking i'll be searching for you my love is a mountain it's strong as it is tall there's no man can move it, he'll try but he'll fall i�
  • Brambles

    like an earthworm stranded on the sidewalk like a rat drowned in the pool it's more a spectacle than a tragedy less an exception than the rule like a puzzle missing the final piece like a leaky boat on the lake i've tried so hard to make the best of this the voyager's lost her way and please, please say you like me just let me know something is real been chasing specters through the brambles building castles for the waves like the pause at the ends of your sentences like the darkness before the dawn this silence is not really empty a breath before the plunge
  • As I Was Told

    well i left the east to embrace the west i expected applause for my confessions i can show you how to pirouette as you evolve if you can show me how to peel this flower off the wall i like to think that my soul would rise up through minnesota's open skies still i'd like to know, are they as open as i was told darling won't you draw the blinds cause every morning is a second try I can show you how to miss someone before they're gone If you can show me how to fake it all along I like to think that i could recognize what's communicated by your eyes still i'd li
  • The Bits & The Pieces

    black cross hatch on december sky bare trees and tangled powerlines a lonely sparrow with open mouth mother brothers have all flown south little birdie hope springs eternal in your stubborn breast go on and gather the bits and the pieces for your empty nest and i know there's something to be said for somedays a wrinkled woman on icy steps nightmares of catching her death of winter colds and broken necks bitter warnings escape pursed lips fragile lady bones made of china won't you crack a smile you've been wasting hopeless and worried the last years of your life a
  • Brother Left the Mine

    Brother left the mine in November strung out one foot in the grave i thought i heard him crying on the bathroom floor it's hard to recognize the brave the smell of the blue vinyl bus seats the hum of the engine below the rhythm of the telephone poles going by and the endless broken road brother you just can't be everywhere and no you can't please everyone and so let go of your aching heart and learn to love your place some things up ahead are illusions could say the same of the things left behind the dirty black soot in the grit of your teeth and the sirens in
  • Macy's Parking Lot

    in the fountain in the courtyard by the macy's parking lot i emptied all my pockets for you by the macy's parking lot in the kitchen in our blue house making tea in my nightgown how i wish i'd tried to make the eggs how you like in the kitchen in our blue house oh when i go to the valley ask the wild birds to call out your name i'll take my comfort in their silence in the sweet prefixes of spring in the swing on our front porch how i miss your creak on floor boards how i wish i could see you sitting here next to me in the swing on our front porch

Letitia's Curated Collection

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