story / LOGAN BRENDT
photos / AARON FEAVER
For anyone, writing and recording an album is a time consuming process. However, if you’re also starting your own label in order to release the album and are having and taking care of a baby on top of that, it would seem overwhelming and almost impossible. But for Australian singer-songwriter and new mother Lenka, she has done just that. Could she be some sort of super woman?
Currently touring the US in support of her third album Shadows, Lenka can’t be everywhere at once, as hard as she may try. Being as logistical about her touring habits as she can be, Lenka tries to stay close to her son, who is only over a year old, and also tries to avoid bringing him to too many shows since having a baby on tour can create its challenges. However, since she’s on her own label now, she’s been able to have better control over her career, including her schedule.
Though she lives up to her sweet and vibrant image during our interview, Lenka admits that she can sometimes be consumed with sadness. While this seems in stark contrast to the music that she’s known for, Lenka explains that songwriting is a cathartic exercise, giving her the strength that shields her from residing in a state of darkness. To get a clearer profile, we discuss her current album and the somewhat effortless recording experience, the challenges, independence from a major label, and motherhood. We also touch on her fear of Armageddon — you know, just the typical concern of any new mom.
Last month, we included a review of your new album Shadows as part of our favorite releases. But I’m sure you get tired of others telling everyone what your music sounds like. So, how would you describe the album?
Actually it’s been pretty on par with what most reviewers have said. I would describe it as a lullaby album— really dreamy, folky, and mellow. I specifically intended it to be very relaxing.
Do you ever get offended when people say the album is very “girly” or “feminine”?
I’m kind of used to that. My music has always been really femme and sweet. It’s just that previously it’s been quite poppy and upbeat, and now it’s slower and sort of drifts in a feminine way.
Since Shadows is the first album to be put on your own label, what have you found to be the benefits of being independent?
The creative freedom would be the main benefit. Also having that control to be able to do what you want when you want. I didn’t start the label and then make the record, I made the album first. Since I was pregnant and then had a little baby at the time, I was trying to work with people that I knew and make it nice and easy for myself, and then when I had an album done, my managers were like, “You need a label if you want to put it out”. I didn’t want to sign another deal so I said, “I guess I’m making my own label then.” It was sort of an accidental process. But it was a very wonderful, liberating experience, having done two albums on a major label to then be calling the shots completely. Of course the downside has been having to pay for everything.
Since you mention creative freedom, did you have experience in the past where a label tried to put you into a specific category?
They didn’t necessarily mind which category I was in, just as long as it was going to have radio hits. I didn’t mind that pressure at first when I first signed to the label because I was excited about that, and it was at a time when Feist was really big and I was like, “That’s the kind of thing I want to be. Sort of indie with a pop hit.” But then the whole label kind of changed and we weren’t agreeing as much anymore, so it wasn’t very fun towards the end.
When I was writing and recording [Shadows], I wasn’t aiming for the choruses to sound super radio friendly. That felt more creative to not have to think about that.
Do you find it frustrating when so many people compare everything you do to your song “The Show”?
[Laughs.] Not too badly. I really still love that song. Lucky for me because I have to sing it a lot and it’s actually really enjoyable to me. I suppose the only frustrating thing is that people come to expect another one of those songs. I feel pretty lucky that “The Show” is a sweet song and not too annoying, not too depressing, and it’s not a stupid song about partying. I feel pretty proud of it.
How has motherhood inspired your songwriting?
Very strongly actually. There’s one song on the album that’s written from the perspective of the baby when he was in the womb, and I put his heartbeat in the track. It’s completely like a baby song. Then there are a few songs that are written to him as a child. The whole experience of becoming a parent threw me into a very reflective mood and made me look back at my life. I found it to be a pretty intense experience and it brought up lots of issues, memories, regrets, feelings, and dreams.
What do you hope for the future of the world and the future for your son?
If I think like that, then I get worried that the world is not going to be around when he’s grown up. It brings up my Armageddon fears. But actually, having a baby has made me have more hope for the future. I see it through his eyes and how much he potentially has to experience. I have faith that the world will still be around and that there will be a lot of joy. I don’t know about his children or his grandchildren perhaps.
I’m assuming then that you have your dark moments as well?
Definitely. Yes, I’m actually a very moody person. Most of my songs sound super happy because I’m trying to cheer myself up. I use songwriting as a kind of therapy. I definitely have darkness and light in me and am always striving to get the balance right.
Would you ever make a record that was the complete opposite of what we know you for?
I don’t think I would. Shadows has some dark moments especially towards the end of the album, but I don’t think I would go any darker than that because I don’t want to wallow in that. I’m an optimistic person, and I want the listener to be happy.
Were there any difficulties when making this album?
No, the only frustrating thing was having a baby in the other room and having to breastfeed him every three hours. It was slightly challenging, but it was mainly a really easy experience and when the baby was five months old, I headed to New York and mixed the record and it wasn’t too bad.
What was the last thing that made your heart smile?
I’m going to have to give a cheesy answer, of course. My kid this morning when we went to the park. It was like summer school, and there was a little girl that was a bit shy and didn’t want her mom to leave. She was sitting by herself and my son went over to her and gave her a crayon and made her smile. It was really cute. What a generous little spirit he has. I feel very proud.
Shadows is out now. For a list of Lenka’s tour dates, go here.
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