Portland musician and recording engineer Lauren K. Newman passed away this week at the age of 41 after many years of health struggles. Originally from Pensacola, Florida, she relocated to Portland in her early twenties and immediately began putting out records. She leaves behind a prolific amount of music.
Newman’s bands were many, but she was most well known for her solo project LKN and her psychedelic “spontaneous compositions” group, Palo Verde. She recorded bands in town that couldn’t afford to go into more posh studios for almost nothing. Younger generations learned how to properly shred on the drums and guitar through her performances and workshops at Rock’n’Roll Camp for Girls. In her healthier days, Newman could be found playing in one of her many projects at least once a week.
All this to say that her loss is significant, and will be much felt in the Portland art and music community.
The saying is you can’t catch lightning in a bottle, but Newman was pure energy incarnate. A remarkable multi-instrumentalist, she played everything she touched with a jaw-dropping level of mastery. And she made it look easy, thrashing behind a veil of long black hair made airborne by vigorous head-bangs and spontaneous flying kicks.
If you Google Newman, you’ll find a great deal of footage of her playing around the country, and maybe even a short documentary or two. But my favorite footage will always be this blown-out clip someone took of her playing guitar from possibly the first phone that could record video up in Olympia, Washington, at the notorious bar and music venue, Le Voyeur, the place where many touring Pacific Northwest musicians happily misspent their youth in a haze of french fry grease, seemingly lacquered to the walls. Her spirit shines through the grainy pixels and blown out audio, and I’m pretty sure that’s Donna Dresch of Team Dresch on bass, which makes this performance even more legendary.
The lightning has been released. RIP Lauren K. Newman.
We collected some stories about Newman from her community. Some have been edited for brevity.
Conan Neutron - “In a better world the initials LKN would be a household name, like a Sting, Madonna, or something along those lines. A fearless warrior for weird rock ‘n roll. Riding that very thin line between genius and insanity that is often talked about, but rarely accurate.
She deserves to be remembered for her art, the same art that blew me away from the first two seconds of seeing it. Playing so furious and full of intent as to be physically daunting.
When it came time for playing music, she didn’t come to “have fun”, it was war. She lived her music, she breathed it, every note, every hit coming from a supernova that exploded straight from her heart.
Musicians like Lauren K. Newman come along once in a lifetime. They generally will rise to prominence, change the world in some fundamental way and influence thousands, or they toil in relative obscurity, their art as pearls before swine.
Lauren K. Newman was an iconoclast, she was a paragon, and she was a friend. The world is a sadder and quieter place without her in it.”
Vice Cooler - “I hadn’t seen her in over a decade (maybe closer to two) but we both spent our younger years, with my old bands and her’s (stella marie), playing numerous shows on the gulf coast together. Almost every single time it was guaranteed the house or venue would have NO ONE attending (we were both oddballs out) but no one in our bands cared! All of us just loved to play music and shows together. Her performances were just as intense and wild then as they were later in PDX. I hope she left earth knowing her efforts, attitude and spirit were appreciated and loved by so many people.”
Fabiola Reyna - “She was such a big part of She Shreds’ early years from doing reviews to being featured to performing. She was all about community and uplifting others even though it feels like she didn’t always get the same kind of love back. This lifetime didn’t give her the spotlight she deserved but regardless, she was always optimistic and excited that she got to play music.”
Nicole J. Georges - “The first time I saw Lauren K Newman, she was standing on the floor of a venue (not the stage), murdering a guitar and whipping her long black hair in a circle while the crowd stood in a bigger circle around her, keeping a safe enough distance to not get thrashed by the hair or guitar, but close enough to see just what was going on with this otherworldly, magical person.
She was so aggressively talented and there was no scarcity. She was more than willing to support other musicians and bring them into the fold. Scaring/inspiring kids at rock camp, guesting all over town, and she even offered to throw open the back doors of her van, hook up a generator and have us play on the street somewhere, wherever. She just gave and got a lot of life from playing.
LKN’s musicianship in Palo Verde & in our cover band, Minor Treat, made me feel like I was in the punk Make a Wish Foundation. Playing with her was a gift and a joy and I know I sound like a Hallmark movie, but truly she was a wonderful musician and a very kind, generous human being who did not deserve even one percent of the physical pain she was dealt in this lifetime.
Rest in Peace, Lauren K. Newman.”
Seth Montfort - “I first met Lauren when Rabbits entered Type Foundry Studios to record our debut LP, Lower Forms, for Relapse Records. Jeremy Romagna was our chosen engineer and he had brought LKN along for his assistant. She proved to be a force of musical ability with her keen ear and gentle nature. We all shared in that glow that she had, so naturally the 5 of us weirdos bonded and made one of my favorite recordings we’ve recorded to date. I don’t pretend to have been close friends but within these years past we’ve recorded, collaborated and shared the stage and I am grief stricken to think that she is no longer here with us, blowing our minds, being kind and gentle all the while being a total powerhouse!”
Travis Wiggins - “Lauren was one of THE most rock’n’roll people I’ve ever met.”
Lisa Schonberg - “LKN had unending energy and even though i knew she was sick, I really thought she was invincible. She had so much energy it’s like sometimes it seemed like it absolutely had to be coming out on that instrument if the instrument was in front of her. One time we were prepping for a show in our trio with Fabi and I said something like “LKN, could you maybe hold back in some sections, and then come in hard again after?” and at one point during the show I’m like where did Lauren go?? And I look towards the back wall and there she is, I guess holding back from playing the guitar, which meant not touching it at all and just taking a lean on the wall for a bit. So I guess she did indeed come in heavy again after that moment. It made me laugh. I am going to miss her so damn much.”
Deane Rimerman - “She was the greatest guitar player I ever knew in real life. First time I saw her in early 2000’s I felt like throwing my MP3 player in the garbage can because everything on it wasn’t as good as what I had just heard. She never got a break though. She posted about how she was broke too often, how she was selling stuff to get money, etc.. It’s so wrong that someone so talented could not find get a way to thrive in our fucked up society … I wish we had all done more to help and support her! We’ll miss you so much Lauren K Newman.”
Alex Arrowsmith - “This feels surreal. I worked with Lauren K Newman at hundreds of shows over the last few years. She was a great sound engineer, in addition to being a great musician as so many in Portland know. She was such a kind, positive person and so passionate about all things music. I’ve had so many great audio/music nerd conversations with her, standing around waiting for bands and artists to show up.
I know she hadn’t been in very good health the past couple months, but I had no idea how bad it was. It was rough doing the country show tonight without her. I’ll miss watching her air drum from the control room. RIP LKN”
Nicholas Taplin - “I first encountered Lauren K Newman in 2005 because I had recently moved to Olympia, WA and my friend Ben Pearce was up visiting, and we saw that LKN was going to perform at Le Voyeur. I didn’t know of LKN, but Ben was like “You HAVE to see this. It will blow your mind.” We went and hung out with Lauren and her bass player Donna in the bar. Then the show started. I was utterly floored by Lauren. She was a surreal force of energy. I had never seen/heard anything like it before.
Lauren was truly one of the most vital forces I’ve ever encountered. I am in awe of her energy. She was like this apocalyptic explosion. It was so intense, it’s hard to put into words. I’m just glad I got to encounter it.”
Editor’s note: Nicholas Taplin filmed the video embedded above.