'Little adventures' inspire Mann, eclectic band

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Lauren Mann and the Fairly Odd Folk

You make the decision to do music full time, like Lauren Mann did in 2008, and you're going to have to hit the road.

When The Beat reached Mann last week for a phone interview to preview her Wednesday, May 29, show at the Rumba Cafe with her band, the Fairly Odd Folk, it was a travel day for the group. It was a driving day, from central Tennessee to South Carolina. The Beat noted a full three days between an upcoming date in Chicago and the Columbus show.

"We really like getting to know the cities -- exploring stores and restaurants and random touristy things. Having a little adventure," Mann told The Beat.

"I love seeing different places and meeting people from all over, learning different perspectives. And it's amazing to come to a new place and feeling a sense of community and where it feels like home."

This sense of adventure found its way into the band's new CD, Over Land and Sea, its full-length debut. (Curiously, or perhaps not so, Mann's debut EP is titled Stories from Home.)

"We had just traveled across Canada for the first time, so a lot of the songs have that travel theme," she explained, adding (metaphorically, we assume), "It reflects where I was at that point in time."

Yet the songs are taking on a new life on the road. Mann's husband, Zoltan Szoges, has been the only constant among the Fairly Odd Folk. And Over Land and Sea was recorded before the pair had assembled a permanent band.

"With the band we have now being full time, we're able to get deeper into the songs and develop them a little more," Mann said.

"We have not changed (the songs) a lot, but they have matured. I love playing these songs and making them come alive."

Mann said she appreciates the ability of each band member to add their own creativity to the songs -- which is not to say Mann herself doesn't remain the driving force, both lyrically and musically. Mann fronts the band on ukulele or piano; her mates add colors as diverse as cello, clarinet, glockenspiel, banjo and guitar. The result is a sound both modern and throwback.

"I appreciate sounds that are timeless and classic," Mann said, adding the approach is both organic and intentional.

Mann said she enjoys drawing an audience's attention to the different tones made by the varied instruments, but she doesn't stop there, preferring to allow audiences to become an even bigger part of the show.

"We hand out percussion instruments to people in the audience," she said.

"We really bounce off the energy that's in the room. It makes us want to do even more. We love it when people get involved."

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