“Right now, the music I’m making feels like a conversation and an observation, and less of a judgment,” LACES says. She’s home in Los Angeles, taking a moment to consider her new artistic direction. Still defined by the openness and cashmere voice that originally set her apart, LACES hasn’t glossed over her darkly compelling jagged edges. She’s just allowing more of her warmth, self-acceptance, and light to be heard, too.
“I’ve never had trouble accessing all of these uncomfortable parts of myself and then hanging myself out to dry in a song, and allowing people to take what they want from that,” LACES says. “I feel like that’s your job as an artist: to say the uncomfortable thing that makes people think and helps them feel less alone.”
LACES has channeled her musical chops, self-awareness, and empathy into a multitude of creative channels. The diversity of her output is dizzying: As LACES, she writes and performs subtly brilliant pop songs. Under her legal name, Jessica Vaughn, she pens and produces music for Hasbro cartoons such as Jem & the Holograms, Baby Alive, Littlest Pet Shop, Equestria Girls, and more, and has secured placements on series and specials on the CW, Netflix, ABC, and others, as well as films. She also continues to write gems for other recording artists.
“I wanted to make sure I had enough eggs in different baskets to change this industry from within––and to be respected as a business woman,” LACES says. “I realized that my experience as a woman had been shaped by a lot of people making decisions for me. While I think it’s important to be collaborative and to ask for help, you never want to be in a position where you don’t have power or agency over your career or yourself.”
LACES’ wisdom and independence are deep-rooted and hard-won. She first turned heads as Charlotte Sometimes, and smart bets were placed on her becoming a bona fide pop star. Signed to Geffen Records at just 18-years-old, she had already displayed enough raw talent at 16 to attract heavy-hitting management and a vocal coach whose client roster included Lady Gaga and the Rolling Stones. “It was a whirlwind experience,” LACES remembers. “I was a sheltered teenager, then I got signed and was taking the train by myself from home in Jersey to New York every Monday and touring the country.” VH1 named Charlotte Sometimes a “You Oughta Know Artist,” and her debut album, Waves and the Both of Us, hit the Heatseekers Chart. Outlets including Elle Magazine rushed to highlight her.
All of the attention fueled a breakneck pace. “I’d do radio or TV shows in the morning, get flown somewhere else to do the show, do a meet and greet, do the show, do more press,” LACES remembers. “I’d done like 27 shows in a row at one point. It was exhausting, and I’d been staying in Motel 6s with my band.” When she reached out to the powers that were to ask for a day off, she received an appointment with a doctor, a handful of diagnoses, and prescriptions for a mood stabilizer, sleeping pills, antidepressants, and steroids instead. Then, they sent her back to the road, feeling uneasy and alone.
The trauma Charlotte Sometimes experienced next is a heartbreakingly familiar story. Late one night after a show, the only girl trying to fit in with bands and crews full of boys by taking one more shot of whiskey, LACES was shoved into a separate room and assaulted. When she told her management company, she found cynicism and cold shoulders instead of support. “They put me in limbo after that––made other plans,” LACES remembers. “I did some EPs, but really, I checked out for a few years. I felt like a shell of a person.”
Still performing as Charlotte Sometimes, she landed a spot on Season 2 of The Voice––and became a critic and fan favorite. Rolling Stone, Billboard, Marie Claire, and others championed her run and the music she released after the show, but looking back, LACES feels like her heart wasn’t really in it. In need of a fresh start, she left the East Coast for California, and discovered that to truly embrace herself, she needed to let go, too. “I had a funeral for Charlotte Sometimes,” she says. “We had a funeral show––I invited everyone to wear black, we gave her one last hurrah, and then, I moved on. I created this persona, LACES.”
LACES is a breathtaking realization of years of potential. Her adult alternative pop songs are somehow simultaneously polished and raw––a testament both to LACES’ willingness to be vulnerable and the clarity of her vision. Layered over piano and echoing percussive synths, the song “worship” casts a dreamy spell––until the lyrics, still delivered by LACES’ beloved velvet soprano, are given a closer listen: obsession and loss of self in another underpin every word. She explains that the song is an exploration of falling for a narcissist––and all the toxicity that entails, but with a somewhat surprising vapor trail. “When you fall in love with a narcissist, they’ve only really shown you a mirror––so you’ve actually been falling in love with yourself,” LACES explains. “The reason you can’t get over that love is because it’s love that exists within you––it’s you.” She pauses, then laughs. Hers is a big laugh, full of understanding and kindness. “So maybe this is actually a love song about me.”
The observation is signature LACES: thoughtful and determined to be as honest as possible. At its heart, the song is also a prime example of LACES’ reinvigorated new purpose, which mines bleak spaces for hope––and never comes up empty-handed.
“moved,” a gorgeous song performed with just LACES’ voice and a piano, captures the angst of willfully sidestepping reality: “Tell me the truth, make it a good lie,” she sings. Another standout delivered solely over piano with a chorus of haunting ooohhhs, “someday is not tonight” gives permission to sit with pain and anxiety instead of constantly trying to fix it. “I thought, How would I talk to a friend who’s going through this?” LACES says. “We’re so mean to ourselves. The song is an observation of how I’ve gone out of my way to bury hard things, tough situations, and trauma, and that really, it is okay to not be okay. Where you are is where you are.”
For LACES, that tender grace she’s discovered how to extend toward herself is also an outstretched hand to others. “There’s nothing that bothers me more than the idea of anyone feeling alone,” she says. “It’s so tough to go through life feeling that way. With my songs, I try to be really honest with where I’m at, because if that means somebody else feels a little less alone in their own dysfunction, then I feel okay.”
PHOTOS AND ARTWORK
BIIANCO remixes LACES’ latest single (11/6/2020)