Lauren Sanderson is not your average artist and she doesn’t have your average origin story. Having grown up in a small town, she had a lot of challenges that got in her way before she achieved the success that she’s had so far. This included operating as her own. manager (more on that later), booking her own shows, and recording music in her bedroom closet.

Growing up in a small town in Indiana showed Sanderson pretty early on that there were a lot of closed minded and judgmental people in the world, most of which made her feel like she couldn’t be herself. “I remember when I was 6 or 7, I heard the first song that made me cry,” Sanderson tells Substream, before explaining that the song was P!nk’s “Don’t Let Me Get Me.” Sanderson explains that while the song features a frustrated P!nk being tired of comparisons to Britney Spears, she took a different feeling from the song. “I remember just feeling like, as the years went by, whatever I did career wise, I just wanted to inspire people to never let those boxes scare them from living the life they want to live. Ever since the first day I ever made a song, all I wanted to do was just give people something to listen to when they feel alone, anxious, or when they feel like they can’t be themselves. I want that to be their outlet to remind them that we ultimately make our own rules in life and just be yourself,” she says.

Thinking back to when she was first starting out, Sanderson recalls on who her early influences were: Mac Miller, Logic, Tyler the Creator — people who she felt “Told stories in their music and gave me that place where I could feel weird or I could feel inspired.” This resulted in a few different frequent searches on Youtube for the creator, things like “Tyler the Creator type beat” and, especially one of her biggest influences coming up, “Mac Miller type beat.” There was never anything in specific she was going for, and instead just let the music flow right out of her.

It’s impressive going through her discography, listening to different singles and releases one the year, to see her diversity as a creative. Sanderson prides herself on this, but stresses it’s never on purpose to do anything different than the last single, EP, or album. I know a lot of people are kind of obsessed with making all the sounds match together and the production match together,” Sanderson explains. “Which, I am to an extent, like I know when listening to a project when one of the songs is not in the right place or anything like that. But for me, it’s really about the story; it’s about the feeling, the vibe, the energy that I think it’ll rub off on people like that.”

There was also the time in Sanderson’s career when she pretended to be her own, fake manager. “It was wild,” she begins, “Honestly, there’s nothing about being a fake manager that I would want to do again,” she finishes with a laugh. There was a time when she was doing everything: designing her own merch, producing the merch and shipping it, being the customer service, booking the tours. It got to the point where she felt like she didn’t have time to make music anymore.

Through the trials and tribulations of her career, Sanderson has found a way to manage everything better. She still does her own tour flyers and designs her own merch, makes the video teasers, and has a pretty hands-on approach with the rest, but delegates when necessary. “I just don’t like being in the behind the scenes conversations anymore,” Sanderson states. “I really love being able to kind of pick and choose what I want to do and what I feel like — you know, right person right seat, and then I give the rest to my manager, Grace, who’s just a beast. She tackles all the stuff that I feel kind of takes me away from the artistry.”

A lot of that learning came from her experience on Epic Records. While being on a label with Mariah Carey, Future, 21 Savage, and more may sound exciting at first glance, that’s not always the case. “I’m really grateful that I got to see what it’s like [on a major label],” Sanderson begins, “I think its definitely for a lot of people and it’s not for a lot of people. Both ways are fine, it’s really just depending on the artist and how much control you really want.” When she realized that the relationship with Epic wasn’t going to work out, she went in and told them, “I think it would be best for both of us, so that I don’t drive you insane and not do what you want me to do and you don’t drive me insane by telling me other things to do,” she recalls.

Always wanting to dip her toes in every corner of the music industry, Sanderson left Epic and was independent for a while. However, she wanted to try the indie-label experience and wound up meeting with Chris Anokute to sign a one-album deal with his label Young Forever. She retained full creative control and never once felt like she wasn’t able to be herself — however, she’s ready to return to being fully independent.

“I think I’ve experienced it all pretty much; as far as labels, management stuff and everything. Now I’m just excited to go into 2021, I’m already mentally there. I’m excited to spend the rest of the year just focusing on doing things off [2020’s Midwest Kids Can Make It Big]: music videos, youtube and a lot of stuff up there. Then just go into 2021 fully independent, releasing stuff how I want it when I want it. It’s like the dream,” Sanderson say on her new independence.

Sanderson released her debut album, Midwest Kids Can Make It Big, earlier this year via Young Forever, and it marks a huge milestone for her. I ask her a bit about what the album represents for her, and in her voice you can hear the emotion and how proud she truly is of it. She revisited a lot of where she came from, and — as we mentioned earlier in the article — that wasn’t something that was all smiles all the time. “Looking back I really was unmotivated, unhappy — don’t get me wrong, I’ve always been very bold and weird, I’ve always figured it out,” Sanderson tells me before diving into her upbringing. She was an only child who’s parents divorced when she was 2, and sine they’re two very different people, the experience she got at each parent’s house was different from the other. “I feel like I never really had the real freedom emotionally to find myself without being told what’s right and whats’ wrong,” she says.

For Sanderson, the ultimate message behind Midwest Kids Can Make It Big is as clear as it is in the title itself. “It’s just about when you really believe in yourself, you can do anything you want,” she says. “It doesn’t matter where you came from, what you look like, or whatever. If you really, really, really deep down in your true gut believe that you can do something, you can. And, I think that this album is really for the people who don’t feel heard, they don’t feel seen. They need that reminder that people will always have opinions, and you will always let somebody down, but what really matters is that you do what makes you feel happy, makes you feel confident, and what makes you feel free.”

It’s at this point in our conversation where we get side-tracked just a bit, and we talk about small town life, and growing up in a small-town with social media. Whether you’re a musician or journalist in our conversation, Los Angeles and New York are those two major hubs. No one frequently looks at Indiana for the next big musical act, or most other midwest cities. The message behind the album is not that it’s impossible, in fact it’s quite the opposite, but it does acknowledge that there’s more of an uphill climb.

“What makes it the most hard is that people are just really quick to judge and really quick to assume that — it’s just kind of a belittling feeling. It’s really easy to feel like its not realistic, that your dreams are too crazy. I remember when I got a septum piercing in my nose in high school, I literally had a teacher tell me they couldn’t look at me the same anymore. And when I came out as gay and cut all my hair off when I was 19, people from other schools and my school in my city, posted memes about me. They’ll do anything to make someone who’s comfortable with themselves to be uncomfortable because they’re not comfortable. It makes people uncomfortable when you are living your truth regardless of — when they know you don’t care what they think,” Sanderson says.

Midwest Kids Can Make It Big is consistent with it’s message but diverse in it’s music. Conveying that message was incredibly important, and it’s an album that you can come back to many times, years down the line even. Let it be a stepping stone for those who may feel like their dreams of being a musician, professional athlete, or whatever else people may deem “crazy,” that their dreams aren’t too crazy after all. This album and message has been well-received my fans and critics alike, something that Sanderson is always humbly appreciative of. “It feels amazing just being able to put out real stuff and it’s actually is wild because they say what you think about you become, and the energy you put out there is the energy you get back. I feel like making real music with a real message creates real fans, real believe who believe in real shit,” she shares.

Sanderson and I talk a few days before the deluxe edition of Midwest Kids Can Make It Big, which has been out for two weeks now. While the album was originally released in January, she felt it was time to put out new music and mark the end of this era. “I’m ready to get back to making it, then putting it out, making it, and then putting it out,” she explains of her desire to release music more frequently. “I wanted people to have something else to listen to. It really is the end of the story — not the end of the story, but the final piece of that era.”

The lyrical content of the new songs included on the deluxe edition are personal — a return to those very personal lyrics that Sanderson used to make a name for herself. And this is a move that she’s more than ready for. “When you go into the industry, a lot of the time that personality gets lost. Especially when a lot of the Industry does want you to be softer, more relatable, or ‘say you instead of her’ and stuff like that,” Sanderson says. “Slowly that unconsciously gets in your brain and now that I’m going towards full independence, I’m really ready to bring back that full vulnerability and ability to really convey who I am, even in the way I say things.”

“Frustrated” was the first single released off the deluxe edition a few weeks ago, and it quickly showed off this exact return lyrically for Sanderson. Not only that, but stylistically speaking, the single marked a change for the artist as well. It’s an alt-pop, moody masterpiece of sorts, one that will sneak itself into your head repeatedly after first listen. Sanderson explains that this is the sort of sound she had been hoping to achieve for a while, and was excited to finally reach that point.

While she always want to be evolving and never commit to just one specific style, this is something that she would still like to do for a while. “I think this is definitely the direction I want to go towards for a while. I think it’s just — I’m really focusing on the live shows. Especially because I’ve got my tour coming up next spring and then festival season and everything, I want these songs to go crazy live and I’m ready for my rockstar era.”

While the future is cloudy in the midst of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Sanderson is hopeful and planning as if there will sometime be that return to normal. She’s more than ready to push herself and take the stage again, taking the next era of her career to the next level. “Wear a mask everybody,” she pleas we get ready to get off the phone — so you heard her, do it. You will want to be front row on her first tour back, because if there’s one thing she’s shown throughout her career, it’s that every next move is bigger and better than the one before it.