Little Scream performs from her new album at the Swedish American Hall. (Courtesy Dan Hunting)

Little Scream performs from her new album at the Swedish American Hall. (Courtesy Dan Hunting)

Dark encounters inspire Little Scream’s ‘Cult Following’

Little Scream didn’t choose the subject matter of her new album “Cult Following.” It chose her.

The musician, born Laurel Sprengelmeyer, appears at the Swedish American Hall July 12 to promote the record, which loosely recalls her experiences living in an environmentalist collective in Brazil in atmospheric folk-art-pop songs like “Evan,” “Wreckage,” “Dark Dance,” and “Someone Will Notice.”

Since her early 20s, when she escaped the confines of the Jehovah’s Witness religion in which she was raised in Dubuque, Iowa, she found solace in transcendental practices like meditation. When a friend invited her to visit the hippie-minded community in Brazil, she couldn’t resist.

“My friend knows that I’m into all those kinds of experiences, and she had been to this place a year before and had come back with all these incredible stories about this awesome community in a beautiful location, with this charismatic leader at the head of it,” says Little Scream.

But it was no Eden.

The head of the group had begun trusting in a woman that claimed to be receiving telepathic transmissions from an inter-dimensional spirit.

“That being was starting to dictate the rules, like ‘Don’t eat potatoes’ and ‘Mosquitoes are evil.’ All this really intense, specific stuff,” Sprengelmeyer says. “So it was really hard for people to challenge it, because they didn’t allow for much questioning.”

After she flew back to her current home of Montreal, the cult got crazier, she adds: “Everyone started wearing only white, and you couldn’t even talk to the leader anymore.”

It reminded the artist — also a trained painter, whose oils are reminiscent of Andrew Wyeth — of Vikram Gandhi’s 2011 documentary “Kumare,” in which the filmmaker transforms himself into a fictional Indian guru, “Borat”-style, and finds a slew of believers for his made-up philosophy. The concept extended to Donald Trump’s hypnotic hold over his ardent fans.

Sprengelmeyer tried to understand, not judge, as she composed her album-length thesis, aided by musician pals such as Sufjan Stevens, Sharon Van Etten, The National’s Aaron and Bryce Dessner, and Arcade Fire’s Richard Reed Parry, who co-produced it with her.

Little Scream’s conclusion is: “A lot of people are just crushed by the weight of having to make decisions. So it’s comforting to have a person come along and say, ‘I have all the answers, I can fix this.’ But it’s always shocking to see how willing people are to hand over their autonomy to someone like that. It’s like, ‘I have the Kool-Aid you need! And look! Everyone else likes it, so it must be good!’”

Little Scream

Where: Swedish American Hall, 2174 Market St., S.F.
When: 8 p.m. July 12
Tickets: $10 to $12
Contact: (415) 431-7578,

Bryce DessnerCult FollowingLaurel SprengelmeyerLittle ScreamPop MusicRichard Reed ParrySharon Van EttenSufjan StevensTAaron Dessner

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