After taking home the Best Americana Artist honors at OC Music Awards and being named Best Folk Act by the Weekly in 2011, the future was bright for Nicole Vaughn and Her Lovely Band. However, about a year ago, the singer and her band split up. Unlike most breakups, this one was amicable, according to the 25-year-old singer. Without her band, Vaughn soldiered on, giving her new music project the name Ranger.
Vaughn's reason for changing her direction was simple. "I just wanted to start over," she says. "I wanted to give myself a clean slate, and changing the [project's] name gives me that."
Though she initially liked the name Scout, Vaughn says there were a lot of bands that had that word in their name. So she upped her rank to Ranger. Besides, it rolls pretty easily off the tongue.
Her first album under her new moniker, Songs for Leaving/Songs for Other Things (released on Oct. 15) was recorded over several months at her producer Jon O'Brien's newly constructed Music Box Studios in Tustin. O'Brien, a consummate mentor and adviser for such acts as Jeramiah Red, Annie McQueen and local big-timers Young the Giant, was an ideal fit for Vaughn's melodic, lilting indie folk. Vaughn recorded one-on-one with O'Brien, which is how she likes to lay down tracks. Obviously, this approach gives Vaughn and her producer a much more intimate vibe in the recording process and ensures they can bounce ideas back and forth quickly--without any outside opinions potentially leading them astray.
The album having a split title is because it's really a two-part album with Moonsville Collective, who provided the musical back on the Songs for Leaving portion. "[It] was released only on vinyl," she says. "Side A and side B have different stories, and that's the concept behind it."
The resulting album is half bluegrass (Songs for Leaving) and half electric rock (Songs for Other Things).
Its stand-out track, "Lay This All to Rest," is a charming, banjo-plucking acoustic jam with a chorus that packs enough sturdy pop power to fill the space where the drums should be. Vaughn's songs are solid, safe and, most important, catchy enough to stay with you. Luckily, her talent seems has recently attracted a musician who has turned that same approach to music into a major-league career.
At a friend's wedding, Vaughn was introduced to Mark Foster. Vaughn performed a song at the wedding, which caught the Foster the People front man's ears. On the way out of the ceremony, Foster complimented her, and they exchanged info. A few days later, his management contacted her to ask if she wanted to open for the band at the Troubadour.
"It was insane!" she recalls of stepping on the historic venue's stage for the first time. "I was nervous. It was so crazy since I'd seen so many of my favorite people play there, and to open for Foster the People there was pretty sweet."
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That performance is leading to bigger things than the singer/songwriter could've imagined, she says. Others may have thought twice about changing their name, especially after an auspicious debut. But like any good ranger, Vaughn's choice to forge ahead and trust her instincts continues to pay dividends.
Ranger performs with the Futures League, Charity Swim and MT. OSSA at the Observatory, 3503 S. Harbor Blvd., Santa Ana, (714) 957-0600; www.observatoryoc.com. Tues., 8 p.m. Free. All ages. For more info on Ranger, visit www.rangersings.com.