Lauren Cole Norton sits in the part of Third Space Davis referred to as the Living Room. Her short blonde curls are caught in a headband, and her eyes on her new puppy Rosie, a cute and energetic Pug-Cocker Spaniel mix. When she talks, her Irish accent curls around her r’s and broadens her vowels. Norton first came to Davis as an exchange student at UC Davis fresh from Dublin and pursuing a degree in English Studies. She was persuaded to return for a MFA in Poetry and has been here ever since. Nowadays she splits her time between helping to run Third Space and writing music for her solo career as a singer-songwriter.
Norton hails from Bray, a seaside town just South of Dublin. “It had its heyday maybe a hundred years before I lived there. [It was] kind of a really great place to grow up, I had a very unsupervised childhood, the kind of childhood I don’t think is even possible to have anymore, where your parents don’t really mind too much what you get up to during the day so long as you’re home before dark.” When she was growing up she was able to take the DART, Dublin’s answer to the BART, into the city and see a lot of music in all sorts of different genres. The Irish drinking age is eighteen but during the 1990s and early 2000s, enforcement was more relaxed, Norton says, if you were tall enough they let you in. Eventually she moved into the city proper to go to college. The move led to her beginning to play with bands more seriously.
It was in college that Norton got into Southern Swing music. At 21 she took a class that taught the music of country singer Hank Williams and the poetry of German post WWII writer Paul Celan. It was “kinda an odd juxtaposition for a lot of people, but there’s something about the quality of [William’s] voice, a loneliness that connected the two.” Because of this class, she started listening to a lot of country music, especially a lot of early country. And she studied the minstrel show and vaudeville as well. “I just thought it was a really fun thing to go and do, to see a variety show with a lot of different acts and personality. Character is represented in a very different way if you go see Anais Mitchell or whoever. You have the sense that you’re seeing what the person is actually like and you’re hearing stories about themselves stories about people they’ve know or imagined. Whereas in vaudeville you’re seeing a character, something constructed and artificial… I always find it very difficult to be myself while I’m playing …I prefer to have the mask on.”
The singer released her first album, What Ails You with a band called The Souterrain. The band was based in Davis but most of the other members have moved on to different things and different cities. They recorded at The Hanger in Sacramento before it closed. “It was such a long dry process that, by the time the engineer was finished mixing and putting it together, we didn’t feel like it was representative of what we sounded like any more. We’re a really good example of what not to do as recording artists although, it wasn’t entirely our fault that it took so long.” After that she started working with Davis another band called The West Nile Ramblers. When they went to Ireland to tour, she started playing under her own name. “It was the first time I felt comfortable playing under my own name and not hiding behind a band.”
Now Norton loves the freedom of playing solo. She loves not having to worry about other musicians showing up on time, not playing correctly or, not playing when they’re supposed to. “For the longest time I assumed that the audience would prefer to hear a band, but I’ve actually discovered that that’s really not the case… I appreciate the fullness of a band sound, but usually when I play solo there’s more of a onus on me to really perform and engage with the crowd, [and] people seem to respond to that much better.” But she’s also been collaborating with Davis-based one-man band The Lurk. “He really knows how to give me room and interpret what I’m doing. [He does not] play over me, which I’ve had problems with musicians doing in the past.”
Since Norton has been pouring a lot of energy into Third Space, she has been taking time off performing in the last six months. She played a bunch of gigs in August and coyly says she might be planning a tour in October but, it’ll be in her native Ireland. She has yet to officially announce her upcoming shows, as she doesn’t have the details just yet. As for upcoming recordings, she has written an album but hasn’t recorded it yet because, “the last recording process was so painful I’ve been really nervous about committing to do it.” To assuage this fear, she’s thinking about doing a live recording. However she ends up recording, she is planning to have an album out by the New Year.
Despite her ties with the Davis art community, Norton had a moment of disillusionment with the town at beginning of 2013 when the local business association shut down the flea market she was running just weeks shy of their one year anniversary. Needing respite, she moved to Winters to housesit a farm owned by an artist and professor at UC Davis who spent her winters in Mexico. Because it was not a working farm, Norton hoped it would give her a distraction-free space to regroup and be creative. This was not the case. “I was just very lonely and very cold. There was no central heating and [I] had to build a fire every day, which I wasn’t particularly good at doing. I spent most of my time driving into Davis and going for coffee. [As well as] planning what would be the next move for the flea market.” She tried putting on a couple events in the Davis Central Park as well as a pop-up shop downtown in the building that was formerly occupied by Dimple Records. Then she discovered the building that would become Third Space. She tried out the 4,000 square foot structure in June and by August had signed the lease to operate there full time.
Through working on the flea market for two years Norton accumulated an extensive network of creative contacts, including people involved in the music scene. That’s how she met Evan Clayburg and Sally Hensel who were in charge of musical events at the Bike Forth Collective in Davis. Hansel and Clayburg took what they were doing there and brought it to what was soon to be Third Space. And so the collective came to be. “It’s definitely not easy. The art collective has regular meetings and there’s a lot of bureaucratic nonsense that you have to figure out. We do often have various parties in the building that aren’t quite working…like if someone’s doing their Sunday morning rehearsal and someone’s try to practice for a play and someone’s screen printing and hammering frames together. [It] can be tough to navigate but it’s doable,” says Norton.
The goal of Third Space is to create all ages multipurpose venue that also facilitates members of the community who didn’t have an outlet before. Whether you’re an entrepreneur who’s just starting out and want to have a place to sell in a low risk environment, someone who wants to host a music night or an artist who needs space to rehearse or create, the Space wants to help. They have dedicated studio space that’s rentable for a dollar a square foot, opened the front room to pop-up shops, and put on as many shows as they are able. “We accomplished all those things purely by virtue of finding a place in this town that wasn’t ridiculously expensive. Because this,” Norton gestures to at the room at large, “had been empty for so long and is due to be torn down we were able to rent it in a really cost effective way.” When this will happen is still uncertain, but the promise of demolition still keeps the rent low.
Norton oversees the front part of the building, which includes the Living Room, several pop-up shops, and depending on the night, a concert. The monthly flea market shapes how the rest of the month works. When it rolls around, thirty to forty venders hawk their wares throughout the building and spill out into the parking lot. If they want to, vendors can opt to do a pop-up shop where they keep a presence in Third Space all month long; currently there are four shops in operation. On top of that, “I’ll have various folks email me about putting on events and if I can facilitate it I will. If not, usually someone in the art collective will step up to do it; sometimes we just have to say no. We get so many requests per month we don’t really know what to do with them sometimes.” Besides events and pop-up shops, there are a number of people who use the Space to do their work and keep regular office hours.
The future of Third Space is up in the air. Though there are plans for redevelopment in the area, the collective will remain in the space at least the next year, possibly longer. However, Norton has a separate lease for the front room, which will expire at the end of this year. She plans, after a bit of a break, to start looking for another space, but “nothing’s locked down yet.” Besides that she is working on Third Space Media in partnership with Evan Clayburg which will provide marketing and media services from graphic design to web programming. They already have a number of clients, and through this they will continue to work on projects that related to original goals of Third Space. They have already recorded and released a show by an artist that played at the Space. They plan to make videos and do video editing. In this way, she says, Third Space will live on in the digital world. She plans to hold shows in her home in Sacramento and some pop-up shows as well.
So what’s coming up for Third Space? Well, The Lonesome Leash and the Hollow Point Stumblers will be playing on Sept 7th in the Living Room. Later that week, Norton will be putting on an art installation on Sept 12th for the 2nd Friday Davis Art About. Calling it “doing Facebook in real life,” she plans to clear wall in the front room where people can post anonymously. There will be strings up that you can attach slips of paper to, in order to ‘post’. She’s hoping they will have a lot of responses. These will be viewable until the end of the year and people can continuously add on to it. “We’re asking people to maybe put an idea or an aspiration, something you’d like to get off your chest, or something gossipy. We’re really just letting people write whatever they want.” On September 18th Anais Mitchell will be playing in the Center Space and Norton’s cousins from Ireland will be opening for her. The flea market will be taking place as usual at the end of the month.
“I would love for people who want to do something or have an idea even if it’s really bizarre to contact me about it while we still have the space, because they’re going to level it.” If you want to send her an idea, the best way to contact her is through the Third Space website. Norton also wants people to come to shows. “There are plenty of times when you have the option to stay at home and watch Netflix or go to a show. Never in my life have I regretted taking the effort to get up, [go,] and pay the five or ten dollar cover.” Get out more, she urges, get involved, come do Facebook in real life at Third Space Davis!
Photos:Ryan Stewart and Melissa Uroff