By Susan Doran
Singer/songwriter/illustrator/radio host Laura Fernandez admits she is so creatively driven that she’s “almost afraid not to live life to the fullest.”
What she clearly isn’t afraid of is change – she’s re-invented herself more times than Madonna. Her most recent incarnation is as a Realtor. She has been with the same office, Royal LePage Johnston and Daniel division in Toronto, since she started in the business three years ago.
A sales award is in the offing for her this year, which she considers a “huge deal.” It has helped boost her confidence …not that that appears to be a quality Fernandez lacks.
She describes her life as “an adventure” and notes that she makes an effort to say yes to new experiences wherever possible.
Born in Spain, she was seven when she came to Canada and remembers how hard she worked to learn English and to lose her accent. Before long, frustration was replaced with “love of the versatility of English, the economy of words, the wacky pronunciations,” she says.
The experience of trying to fit in to a new culture pointed Fernandez in a direction – actually, several. “I think my desperate need to express myself and to be accepted led me to turn to art, drawing, painting and later music,” she says.
Today she still has a foot in both cultures, as her recently released second solo album, Un Solo Beso, performed entirely in Spanish, attests. Her debut album, The Other Side, was pop/folk and had only one Spanish track.
The catalyst for the transition to writing and singing in Spanish has been her role as producer and host of Café Latino, a weekly radio showcase of Latin music on Toronto’s JazzFM.91.
“You could say I’ve rediscovered my roots,” she says, adding, “I don’t stick to convention in life, so why should I in music?”
The contacts she’s made through the show haven’t hurt either. To make the new record (which she describes as Latin/jazz/pop), Fernandez says she found a musical soul mate in Juno-award-winning producer Billy Bryans, who many years ago enjoyed Canadian pop fame as a key member of the Parachute Club and is now a leading Latin music promoter and DJ.
“When we met we knew it would be the right combination,” Fernandez says.
Her past included art college, and then a highly successful career as an illustrator, teamed with her then-husband Rick Jacobson. Illustrating children’s books and working on international ads, billboards and magazines, they won heaps of prestigious awards. You’ve seen their work – they illustrated Air Canada’s well-known leaf logo and the trillium on Ontario drivers’ licenses.
“We had the big house” and all the rest of it, says Fernandez.
But then the illustration industry went digital and the work for traditional painters/artists like her and her husband dried up. Their marriage followed suit, although they remained close.
The upside was that, even with three children, Fernandez had time to concentrate on making it as a musician. Having had quite a bit of training when she was a teenager, she bought a piano.
It was “a life-changing experience,” she says. “The flood gates opened and songs poured out. I started performing on open stages and was asked to do an album by musicians I’d met at the Free Times Café (where she hosted an open mic night for five years).”
Released in 2003, The Other Side was themed around the changes she was navigating with the break-up of her marriage. It was well received on the Toronto club circuit and was the key to Fernandez playing such legendary venues as Madison Square Garden, being asked to perform at the New York Independent Music Festival (where she was a winner in the soft rock category), and being the only North American artist at the World Music Festival in Varadero, Cuba, performing in front of 20,000 people.
“There were all these microphones in my face when I came off stage – lots of international press,” she says. “It was like being a rock star.”
But with music there’s always been one major drawback. Says Fernandez, “I loved the immediate feedback of music, the spiritual bond with the audience, creation for the love of it …but I had to make a living and music wasn’t bringing in enough.”
She turned to real estate on the advice of her sister, Montana, then a Realtor in the U.S. Real estate appealed to Fernandez, who has an interest in houses and design thanks to her late, beloved architect father. She thought the challenges of real estate could focus her creative energies and fill a social need that she didn’t get working alone.
And sure enough, “I fell in love with it,” she says.
“My first clients became the people I’d been working with in music. I was finding them homes when I had to sell mine and find a new life, so I knew the stress of moving first-hand.
“The first year was tough. I did a bunch of leases … I was terrified – I was the novice where I used to be (in illustration) the expert.”
She has her sea legs now, and as soon as her sister gets her license here they look forward to working together as a team. Currently Montana is her assistant.
A full-time Realtor, she still leaves plenty of room for artistic accomplishments, the most recent being the new album. Its name means “a single kiss” in English.
So far the reaction to the album has been great, she says, adding that there’s been a good amount of airplay and “a ton” of downloads.
“I’m working on all my passions simultaneously!” she says. “I’m always working, but none of it feels like work.”