The former Rocket singer, Lauren Rocket, tells us what it was like to release a solo EP during the pandemic, but also why Spotify sucks and what the likelihood of aliens coming to our rescue might be.
Lauren Willow White, aka Lauren Rocket, has me on Bluetooth as she drives through Hollywood, heading down to Watts to drop off some supplies for a nonprofit she volunteers with. If not for our current health crisis, she would be touring the country in support of her new EP, “Skygirl.”
Not all is lost, however, as she’s keeping herself busy trying to be a good person and devising ways to market herself as a musician when all the stages are dark. Not being on stage is unusual for the native Angeleno, who, when she stopped fronting her all-female rock group Rocket, appeared with The Child, Junkie XL and Night Terrors of 1927.
Maybe it was the traffic or the heat, but our conversation was long, and her answers were frank and often followed by laughter.
Would you say that native Angelenos are a little different?
Yeah, I guess we grow up with a bigger bullshit detector than a lot of people do, and you’re pretty much born jaded. And I think you see it all, and you’re in this giant city and, yeah, it’s hard to impress. But I think looking back at when I was a teenager, it was easier to impress me — but by the time I was 22, I had done it all. I had done it all! I had done everything you could do. [Laughs].
Everything? Like what?
Well, 13 years old breaking into the Chateau Marmont for no reason with all my other 13- and 14-year-old friends and being pushed over a fence and into Val Kilmer’s bungalow.
Was Val there?
Oh, yeah. I didn’t know it at the time. I was literally thrown over the fence and into the bushes.
I saw two men who it looked like were having a romantic candlelit dinner. One said, “No, no, no. What are you doing here?”
And I lied and said my friend was staying here and I got pushed. And then Val came out and asked, “Wait, what are you doing here?”
And I said, “I’m sorry. I… I…” And he didn’t care. Val Kilmer was great. He said, “Oh, it’s OK.”
Lauren honks at someone. For a lockdown, there sure are a lot of cars on the roads.
The subject turns to her older sister, 12 years older to be exact, who had a boyfriend who was in a band. That led to Lauren tagging along to numerous gigs as a young teen. An experience that got her to aspire to be a part of the rock ’n’ roll life.
One of the first big shows I went to was the KROQ Weenie Roast. My sister was dating a guy from a band that was playing. She took me. I was probably 12? 10? Super young. I was running around, and I said, “This is where I want to be for the rest of my life.”
Which is funny because we often write off KROQ and say it’s for kids. But there you were. It was perfect.
It was perfect for me. I was really a grunge kid. That was my life, that type of music at that time. KROQ was what you listened to then. I did listen to other stations looking for the Notorious BIG, but I was into Nirvana and Green Day.
You really do jump ahead a few steps when you have a sibling who is older and cool. We got along.
Do you remember who you met backstage at that show?
Um, yes. Drew Barrymore. And she was dating Eric Erlandson of Hole at the time. So him too. Jared Leto, who I loved. [Laughs]. The Ramones.
OK, at 12 years old, did you know who The Ramones were?
Yes. I had a seventh grade Latin teacher who came to school one day with a bunch of cassette tapes, and there was a Ramones one. I asked if I could have it, and I listened to it all the time. So, yes, I did, and it was all due to Marissa, my Latin teacher.
Love the Ramones. Love Hole.
I used to go to the Hyde Bar back in the day, like before it became super-douchey. It was douchey at first, but it was a little more contained, I guess? I used to go every night for some reason [laughs]. I was one of the regulars. Lauren Clark [of Rocket] and I would go. They would let us in.
Courtney Love was there one night. I was in the bathroom, and I walked out of the stall, and I was startled. She was standing right there. I had a big, green flannel on and a hat that you would ride if you were on the side of a motorcycle, a sidecar. I looked insane. But cool?
And she was like, “You! You’re the only indie chick in the whole place.”
And I was like, “Yes. I am.”
And she was like, “You are coming with me.”
And I happily went. She made me go with her to Paris Hilton’s party.
She wanted an entourage, so I went with her and this guy I was hanging out with. We went into her car. They drove us to Paris Hilton’s house. We got out. She wanted to be seen with a certain group of people. And the second we walked into the party, she disappeared [laughs]. She didn’t want anything else to do with us after that. It was great.
I imagine you’ve seen Sofia Coppola’s “The Bling Ring.” Did it look like that?
Yes. She had pictures of herself all over the house. Yes. That was her house in “The Bling Ring” to a T.
All the reports I have seen say she is super nice. Was she a good host?
I had seen her a bunch at Hyde. She was always sweet. Yes. Totally nice. I don’t know her well enough to say more.
I hate to ask, but how old were you around this time?
Did you have a fake ID?
Yes — another L.A. thing. The first bar I went to I was like 13. My sister took me because she knew the door guy. Now looking back at this, I’m all, “What were you doing?” By the time I was 15, I had been to like every bar — and I wasn’t even drinking. I would just go. She gave me her ID. Somehow I was able to pass for way older, but no one cared.
Lauren grew up on the Westside. Her family still lives there, so she finds herself there often.
People hate on the Westside. Do you understand it? Is it justified, or do you think the Westside just gets a bad rap?
It’s boring on the Westside. But it’s always 15 degrees cooler. It’s clean. There’s nothing wrong with the beach. Venice is — I don’t really like Venice. It seems like InfluencerLand now, and a lot of L.A. has become that. But I like the Westside. I hated it for a while because it wasn’t cool, but now I am like, “Why? It’s so much better there.” Every time I go there, it’s easier and cooler and nice. And people are nice. Nobody’s trying to be cool. You don’t see people wearing giant hats and walking around.
Maybe you can explain it to me: Why is the nightlife so bad on the Westside?
I don’t know. I don’t know! I can’t answer that for you. I think it’s because it’s so family-orientated out there. Whereas more east, it was more Bohemian and not as Yuppie as Santa Monica became over the last 10-20 years. But the Westside has never had a cool scene. It’s not what it is. I think the scene has always been Hollywood, and it became Silver Lake and Echo Park. Hollywood was where you went to go out. There’s nothing in Santa Monica. It sucks.
So even when you and your sister were younger, you always had to go east when the sun went down?
I can only think of one or two music venues west of the 405. One was the Good Hurt and another one on Santa Monica Boulevard. And they were crappy.
I played my first show at the Good Hurt. Rocket played our first show there, but the reason we did it was because we knew no one was going to be there, so we could have like a practice show, and no one would see it. Then we played the Viper Room, which was like The One.
Yeah, we were being heavily played on Indie 103 at the time, and we had never played a show. And they asked us to do the show, so we did it.
How did they even know about Rocket?
We had a whole record that we had made, and we sent it to Mark Shovel, the local music show. So he would play it all the time. And our show sold out in like a day. It was crazy. That doesn’t happen.
Because Indie played you, did that mean Rodney wouldn’t play you?
No. No. He played us a lot. I love Rodney. He has always been supportive.
Let’s talk about Rocket for a minute. It’s always so sad to hear when bands break up, that often they end their friendships. But it seems like you and Lauren Clark and Lauren Kunik (who also has new music out) are still friends.
Well, we were all really close even before Rocket happened. Those are friendships that will never die. They’re like sisters to me. Same with Kristin, who played bass. I’ve known her since we were 12 years old. The band died but not because we wanted it to.
Way back in in the day, there was a talent show like “American Idol” but for bands called “The Next Great American Band.” I have always wondered if this was true, but I heard that during the show, one of the judges was so mean to you on air that when the show was over, you all came home, got pissed, practiced super hard and re-emerged 10 times better. Did I imagine that, or was it true?
You didn’t imagine it. It was like that. The whole thing’s scripted, so it’s not that exciting. But I didn’t know that at the time and when they did tear me apart, especially Johnny Rzeznek, my arch-nemesis —
No, but I think I was stirring up some shit in him because we were probably way cooler than he’s ever been. I found some articles where he was calling me a prima donna and all this stuff, and I was like what? I hadn’t even talked to him. It was not based in reality — as no reality show is.
They really tore me apart, and at the time, it broke my heart because this is my band. This is my life. This is my everything.
The second we got off the set, some guy came up to me. I was crying. He was like, “I have to let you know. It is scripted, it is not real, they’re feeding things into our ears, telling us what to say.”
Which made me feel better but still getting ripped apart like that on national television never feels good, even if no one cares or is watching. You care.
Also, that TV show didn’t make us sound good at all because they didn’t know how to make a band sound good on TV. Most still don’t know how to do that.
Anyway, I look back on those things in horror. I think I sounded horrible, and I don’t think they did anything to make me sound better, which is what those places should do.
But we did come out of it a better band. At the end of the day, it was not the worst thing that could have happened. It pushed us to be better, but it was all bullshit, so.
If I could go back and not do that show, I would have not done it. But then, I wouldn’t have gotten better. I don’t know.
Back to KROQ. Not long ago, you did a great version of Echo & the Bunnymen’s “The Killing Moon.” Not only was that band a huge favorite of Courtney Love, but it got played a ton on the World Famous. Is that where you heard it first? Possibly on Rodney’s show?
No! I did listen to KROQ as a kid. Just not Rodney that often, until he started playing us! I didn’t know about Echo & the Bunnymen until I was older. A friend introduced me to them! I’m too young to have heard them on the radio ever.
A couple of places that Rocket played aren’t around anymore here in 2020: Spaceland and Amoeba.
It’s very sad. I also got sad when Spaceland became The Satellite. I never felt like it was the same after that. So I didn’t have the same nostalgia for Spaceland that I would have if it was still Spaceland, probably.
And Amoeba, yeah. I think it’s more indicative about where we are buying music and having physical things in front of us instead of a digital Spotify world, which I hate. I hate!
You want your albums spread out across your Oriental rug with your friends over, looking at the gatefolds —
I want to read everything inside. I want to know everything about them. I want to see the pictures and feel it.
But I also think Spotify sucks because a lot of people can get tons of numbers and streams, and that’s how other people judge you. How many followers do you have on Instagram, how many streams do you have on Spotify. But that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re a good artist. So a lot of people get overlooked because they don’t have a lot of streams.
If you Laurens were trying to do it again, now. If you all were teens today, where would Rocket start?
Isn’t that weird?
Yeah. But if you know how to play the game — also, I think now it’s just going to be Daddy’s Money Records. That money can buy you followers; you can make yourself look like you’re this big thing, but you know.
I’ll see musicians who have 300,000 followers, and I will think that’s impressive. But then I look at their videos, and the numbers don’t match up. At all. So it’s all fake.
I don’t know what I would do if I was starting now. I am having a hard time navigating it now because I come from a world of making flyers and putting them up on telephone poles. So I don’t know.
Well, what you do know is that you got a record deal in 2020.
Fuck yeah I did.
Which seems impossible.
Tell me about it. It was actually 2019. December 2019. It was very magical how it happened.
Someone did a write-up on me in The Deli —
The Deli? Never heard of it.
The Deli L.A. You know. Someone had done a write-up, and this guy reached out and asked me if I needed PR. I said, “No, I don’t need PR at the moment because I have nothing to promote. But thank you for reaching out!”
He said, “Well, I actually work for management. Do you need management?” And I said, “Yes, I do need management.” If there’s anything I need, it’s management.
So he put me in touch with this guy, and within 24 hours, I had a manager. He’s great.
His name’s Jack White. Not that one. He’s actually Austin-based Jack White.
Then within three days, he got me a record deal. I don’t even know how it happened. I literally thought someone was joking. I was like, “This can’t be!” Is this real? He said, “Oh, it’s real.”
It was fortunate for Lauren that Substream Records, a subsidiary of InVogue Records, acted so quickly at the beginning of the year because they were able to record the EP and shoot the “Beam Me Up” video before The Rona took over the planet. Then the Black Lives Matter protests began. She had no interest in releasing her upbeat, spacey, poppy music during these serious times. Is now a great time to release new music? No, but it’s here, and Lauren is doing her best to get it noticed, even if she can’t tour yet.
It sucks for everyone. Beyonce put out music, what, a month ago? I didn’t even hear about it. I didn’t even know!
Which is weird because, due to BLM, this might have been the perfect time for her to have a record and a movie based in Africa with music inspired by “The Lion King.” But maybe it’s not the best time for a blonde girl from the Westside. So I can see your apprehension.
Uh, yeah. I mean, hi.
So you have this record, and people love it. You’ve been sitting on your hands. You can’t perform in public. How do you get this music out to the people?
I have no clue, but I have this idea. I want to have a show. Like a YouTube show. I want it to look like a public access show from like the ’80s. I want it to be like Walter Mercado, the Puerto Rican astrologer. I want his vibe. I want to talk about aliens, conspiracy theories, anything that’s current. And then have another artist come on and play a song or anything. Like a little variety show. But it’s only like seven minutes long.
But yeah, there’s no tour. I’m not playing shows. People are doing drive-in shows. To me, it sounds harder than it should.
A lot of rebellious people are going to shows. They’re going to Smash Mouth! Some people don’t seem afraid. Are you?
I wear a mask everywhere. I have hand sanitizer. But I have to live my life, too. And I do live my life. I am also a girl in Hollywood. I’m single. I’m not just gonna sit at home and stare at my TV all day. So I have been going out to the beach and to the mountains. I’ve tried every day to do something fun. I am not living in fear. I think I could die right here talking to you in a car accident. And I could get COVID too. [Laughs]
That is all true.
So am I going to sit inside and preserve myself? No. Am I going to wear a mask in public? Absolutely. I’m not a selfish asshole. But I am also healthy and cautious of my family and everyone around me.
As you have alluded to, you love the aliens, UFOs. Do you think the aliens will help us out of this mess we’re in? Or do they even care?
No, I don’t think they’re going to help us. At all. I think they’re merely observing what we’re doing.
I don’t just believe blindly. I have had quite a few experiences with weird shit, which is why I believe. It’s not that I just want to believe. I believe because I have seen.
I think when you have seen stuff — I know what I’ve seen, and I’ve seen it multiple times. I see stuff all the time. I don’t want to sound like a lunatic, and I know people don’t like to hear that —
Who cares what people think?
The problem is there’s people who ruin theories because they are insane. It’s like, “Yeah, of course, aliens aren’t real because you’re the one talking about it.” There’s people who give it a bad name.
Then there’s people who have actually had real experiences, and they don’t talk about it in the same way. And they’re normal people that aren’t crazy conspiracy theorists. And those people aren’t taken as seriously because of the other people who make it sound insane.