At the age of 56, Laurie Kenney has finally figured out what she wants to be when she grows up. “There are no two ways about it: I’m not your usual ‘new’ music artist,” says Laurie, who lives in Guilford and works as the administrative assistant in the Bailey College of the Environment. “But as far as I know, there’s no age limit on creativity!”
Laurie wrote her first song at the age of 12 and her second at 56. In the 44 years in between, she built a career in publishing, public relations, and education, and raised a family. Her musical journey began as a self-imposed challenge: learn to play guitar and write and record an album of original songs…or die trying. Every Apple Does Go Bad Eventually (October 6, 2023, Cynical Girl Records) is the literal fruit of that labor.
Named after a mnemonic device to remember the six guitar strings and inspired by a single experience, Laurie wrote the entire album during a single two-week period, while driving Route 77 to and from her office at Wesleyan. While the experience that inspired the collection is personal (though it’s not about her husband of 25 years, he would like you to know), the themes explored are universal: love and loss, loyalty and betrayal; forgiveness and revenge; despair and hope. The result: pure pop perfection…with a bite.
The eight songs featured here pull no punches: Combining pitch-perfect melodies with lyrics that sometimes cut to the quick, Every Apple is riddled with figurative guns and literal guitars. But writing original songs was only the first step to completing the challenge. The second: learning how to play guitar so that she could accompany herself on those self-penned songs.
Laurie already owned a guitar: It had been sitting, dusty, cracked, and unplayed, in her house for more than 15 years. “The guitar was my fortieth birthday present,” says Laurie. “But I found the experience so incredibly uncomfortable, the few times I tried to play, that I simply gave up and chalked it up to ‘not being my thing.’ ”
And so her guitar sat there, starting at her, for years, until she mentioned her frustration to her manager, Barry Chernoff, director of the Bailey College of the Environment, who also happens to be an accomplished musician who plays in two bands, including the Mattabesset String Collective. “Barry immediately suggested that I bring my guitar in to have the action lowered and change the string gauge from medium to something lighter,” says Laurie. “Those simple words of musical advice changed my life and allowed me to move forward!”
After spending several months learning how to play, it was time to conquer her third and final challenge: recording an album to share with family and friends. One of her first sounding boards: Rani Arbo, of Rani Arbo & daisy mayhem, who also happens to be the campus and community engagement manager at the Center for the Arts at Wesleyan, as well as Middletown’s co-inaugural 2014 Music Ambassador.
“Rani is absolutely extraordinary, on every level” says Laurie. “She’s such an incredible singer, songwriter, and musician, and she was so generous with her time and advice. I honestly had no idea where to start. She not only offered her support, she set my feet firmly on a path forward.”
Arbo was one of the first people to hear Laurie’s homemade demos and encouraged the aspiring songwriter to get in touch with Michael Arafeh, the 2022 Middletown Music Ambassador and owner of The Coffeehouse Recording Studio, in Middletown, who produced the album with Kenney. “Mike has 40 years of industry experience and an encyclopedic knowledge of music,” says Laurie. “I went into the studio knowing absolutely nothing about the recording process, and he took the time to teach me the how and why behind every step, from start to finish, as we shaped the album.”
At The Coffeehouse, Laurie found herself immersed in Middletown and music history. “Lin Manuel-Miranda and Thomas Kail recorded the demo for In the Heights at The Coffeehouse, when they were students at Wesleyan. I recorded my songs using the same microphone used by Lloyd Cole, whom I love,” says Laurie. “While I was in the studio, composer and Wesleyan professor Neely Bruce stopped by one day—on another, Banning Eyre, lead producer of the Peabody-award winning radio show Afropop Worldwide, walked through the front door. It really was an amazing experience, in every good way you can imagine!”
Laurie and Arafeh began recording the album in late April and completed it in August. While Laurie’s self-imposed challenge included writing and recording an album of original songs to share privately, working with a professional like Arafeh pushed her to consider releasing her music more widely. So with Arafeh’s guidance, she copyrighted her songs, joined ASCAP, and signed up with a music distributor to upload her music to Spotify, iTunes, Apple Music, and other streaming services.
Once Upon a Time, an infectious pop gem with a twist, is the album’s debut single. “If you’ve ever been fooled by a wolf in sheep’s clothing, this song’s for you,” says Laurie, who considers herself a lifelong optimist with a cynical streak. “I think anyone who’s ever been disillusioned, by anyone or anything, can relate—which means everyone,” she laughs. The album’s seven other songs include Richard, a Shakespeare-inspired warning about those of all stripes who present themselves as the ethical and moral center of the universe; Rumble Strip, an edict to hold firm to your belief in yourself when others try to push you around or aside; Two Birds, a haunting melody inspired by a 3-year-old’s idiomatic reasoning that the best way to “kill two birds” would be “with two knives” (of course); Circle the Wagons, an indie-folk-pop tune about recovering from betrayal; Five Steps, an instant pop-rock classic based on the five steps of forgiveness; ABCs of Me, a power-pop anthem about reclaiming your narrative and taking back your voice; and Free Spirited, a folk-pop ode to moving forward, with faith and hope. The album is available for download and streaming on all digital music services.
“I don’t believe that getting older means slowing down and riding off, quietly, into the sunset,” says Laurie. “I have a lifetime of experience, good and bad; I’m grateful for my years and I’m going to make the most of this next chapter. So many people never get that chance.”
So what’s next? “Conquering my fear of performing!” says Laurie, without missing a beat. “I’m not a singer, and I’ll never claim to be one…but that doesn’t mean I don’t have something to say and, hopefully, to share. Even at my age.” Her first public performance: The Bailey College of the Environment’s annual Pumpkin Fest at Long Lane Farm on October 14, 2023.