How did a 16-year-old aspiring R&B singer from Jackson, Tenn., wind up residing in London, composing her debut “Wasted in Jackson” with Ed Harcourt, Mumford & Sons and songwriter-producer Francis ‘Eg’ White?
It’s a long story, says Lauren Pritchard. “Looking back on it now, I can’t help thinking, ‘What the hell? I must have the most amazingly understanding parents in the world,’” she says.
True enough. At 14, the whiskey-throated singer — who plays San Francisco tonight in a fund-raiser for Doctors Without Borders’ Japan relief efforts — discovered that the poetry and music she been composing could be combined into songs.
“I told my mother that that was what I wanted to do, and she said OK,” says Pritchard, who would finish her home schooling early each day to explore songwriting. After she met country tunesmiths from Nashville, her mother drove her daughter there twice a week.
“I’d hang out with writers or sit in on sessions, just to see what it was all about,” she says.
Open-mic nights at 15 led to a shocking request at 16. Pritchard wanted to pursue her craft in Hollywood, she informed her folks. She even made a giant chart for them, outlining how the pros of such a move easily outweighed the cons.
“I was a very healthy but frustrating combination of stubborn and determined,” she says. “I wouldn’t hear the word No. So finally, my parents practically said OK. They moved me to L.A. and spent their life savings doing it.”
Pritchard’s mother chaperoned her for a year in California. But when she moved back home for a family emergency, insisting she come too, her friend, model Riley Keough, and her mother Lisa Marie Presley, stepped in and invited Pritchard to live with them.
“Lisa Marie actually phoned up my mom and said, ‘Lauren can’t leave. We really believe in her!’” she says. “So they were like a second family to me, and I stayed with them for about a year.”
Then Pritchard got cast as Ilsa in a then-fledgling musical called “Spring Awakening,” moved to New York for two years while it became a huge Tony-winning musical, and then quit to roll the dice in Britain with Eg White, whom she met through her music publisher.
Now she’s an overseas success, but a virtual stranger in the U.S.
“I did 175 gigs last year, and almost all of them were in the UK,” says Pritchard. “And I finally got my visa on Jan. 11 this year, so that was a very exciting day. I actually had a little cry when it arrived!”
IF YOU GO
Opening for Brendan James and Matt White
When: 8 p.m. today
Where: Red Devil Lounge, 1695 Polk St., San Francisco