Australia-based Lenka’s got a brand new record entitled The Bright Side headed our way this summer, so I got all caught up with her in Manhattan as she was coming off some SXSW dates two weeks ago. We covered everything from the dreamy new video for “Blue Skies” to her writing process, so prepare to GET FAMILIAR! In the meantime, grab “Blue Skies” on iTunes, and keep your eyes peeled for upcoming dates in America in June and July. HERE WE GO:
So tell me about SXSW! I heard it was horribly rainy…
Yeah, it was really rainy, really terrible. I wanted to see Marina & the Diamonds, and when I looked at the map and saw where it was and thought about having to wait in the rain, I just said, “I can’t. Let’s just go home and watch TV.” [Laughs]
And how was your birthday? Happy belated!
It was TERRIBLE! I had to get up at 4am. [Laughs] I was just like, “Ignore my birthday, guys.” Everyone kept going, “Come on, it’s your birthday! We have to do something!” Luckily my label partner had a sushi party, so I went to that, and that was nice. But I literally had one drink and went to bed. I’ve had my birthday there four times, because the 19th of March is always a SXSW date. I don’t care, though; until I’m forty I won’t have much of a celebration, and then on my fortieth I’ll have a big, Elton John-style party. Save up and just really celebrate, refuse to become middle-aged. [Laughs]
That’s the way to do it! Now, apart from SXSW and a small-scale birthday celebration, you ALSO just released the video for “Blue Skies”, which is so great! Although I will say that it’s a bit torturous to watch living here, because I don’t even remember what weather like that feels like anymore…
I know, I’m so sorry! Yeah, that’s my hometown; you don’t see much of the beach, but it’s actually filmed on the cliff tops of the ocean, which is near my house. (Just to brag a little bit.) [Laughs]
So jealous! Now, whose concept was this?
It was my concept. I wanted it to have that fifties Lolita, Lana Del Rey, pin-up look. I normally go for a different kind of look (I love making videos; it’s my passion), something a little more crafty and childlike, arty and imaginative, but for this video I just wanted it to look quite slick and simple. You know, there aren’t very many colors in it, because I just wanted it to look very clean and iconic, like an old movie poster or something.
Yeah, it’s very beautiful to watch. And the bits where you’re in the air…I’m assuming you’re jumping on a trampoline?
Yeah, just a mini-tramp.
Okay, well I’m a bit obsessed with Australia’s Next Top Model, and there’s an episode where they’re doing a photo shoot that’s exactly like that; they’re supposed to be captured mid-air, looking very relaxed, but they’re jumping on trampolines to get that look, and EVERYONE struggled with that. So was it as difficult to achieve the dreamy, laid-back look (at least via facial expressions) as reality television would make it out to be?
Yeah, I had a friend with me who’s a dancer, and she kept whispering, “Watch your face!” Because you sort of strain in your face since it’s quite physically exerting, and you’d never normally think about your face when you’re doing that for fun, jumping up and down. And so when the editor was going through and making picks, he was choosing ones where my hair looked really cool or my legs looked cool, but I kept having to say, “No, not that face!” Because I’m kind of laughing or frowning at how hard it is. So I went through and managed to pick the ones where I’m keeping a poker face. [Laughs]
Well, excellent job, because the finished product looks effortless! Now, tell me about the upcoming record; was there a mission statement that you had going into the writing process, or was it more that you had a collection of songs ready to go that seemed to fit together?
More the latter, but the mission statement is just the general vibe of my life over the last few years, so they all felt like they belonged together. That’s why it’s called The Bright Side, because I’ve been really happy and striving for joy, feeling like I’ve attained it, and this was me wanting to hold that in a little bubble. That’s what the album is; it’s like a little capsule of joy, and most of the songs reflect that, whether they’re about being happy or holding on to happiness…it’s mostly about good feelings. I just don’t even want to put anything out into the world that’s very sad; I’ve written sad songs before, and when painful things happen to me in life, I usually turn to song writing as a way to get through it. But sometimes I play those songs live, but they’re painful for me to sing, and I don’t want to spread that vibe around. People find it helpful if they’ve had a similar experience, but personally right now, I don’t want to enter into that too much; I’m not making music to be cool, I’m making it to make people feel good.
Right. And I’m sure that being a mom has been a huge source of happiness for you, but how else have you found that it’s influenced you as a musician? Do you find it’s forced you into having more of a schedule, in terms of seizing any/all free moments when they present themselves?
Yes, definitely. I used to be able to indulge all day long in the studio, making mistakes and trying new things and move onto the next day, but now it can’t be like that; I have to be much more organized, because when I go into the studio I’m usually doing half a day and being back home with my kid. You know, I can’t just disappear for weeks on end, even though I am right now. I save that disappearing for when I actually have to be touring, because there’s no way around that; you’ve really got to be there. But as far as writing goes, I actually wrote “Blue Skies” with my kid in the car on a stormy day. We do a lot of time down at the beach, and he loves storms; we’ll go down and get off at the cliff top to watch the clouds roll in and watch the lightning start. He loves it. We get a lot of summer storms in Australia, so we’ll turn all the lights out and press our faces up against the glass and watch the lightning strike. He’s about to turn three (he’s so cute), and he gets so excited, saying, “Here comes a big one!” (I really wanted him not to be scared of storms, so I always pushed the excitement side of it rather than the scary one.) But we were in the car one day and wanted blue skies to come, wanted the storm to pass, and I thought, “Oh, this is a cool pop song!” So I went home and demo’d it up, probably when he was taking a nap. [Laughs]
That’s awesome! Now, is he your biggest fan or your biggest critic? (Or both?)
He’s pretty cruel; he’ll say, “I don’t like that, mummy.” And now that he’s a toddler, he wants things with a beat. When I look back on it, I did the quiet album Shadows when he was a little baby; they’re all lullabies, and there are hardly any rhythms on that whole album. But now he just wants to dance…he loves “Uptown Funk”, and he really responds to rhythms. So I’m kind of making it for him.
Right. And how about you? What kinds of things are you into listening to, or do you try to stay away from listening to too much music when you’re working on your own stuff? I know that’s kind of a thing for a lot of musicians, just so they can avoid feeling too muddled.
I mean, you can’t close yourself off TOO much, because then you won’t feel connected to the world, but I tend to listen to old music anyway; we have a record player, and I listen to a lot of old jazz and blues, stuff from my youth…then I also listen to things that I like that have come out recently, but they’re very different to what I do, you know? Like there’s no way I could rip off Beck, but listening to his stuff might get me in the mood to go and make something that’s going to be in a completely different realm of music. So I guess I try not to listen to things that are in the same genre as me, because you need to be you, be unique, be your own identity.
And so how do you maintain that strong sense of identity without pigeonholing yourself?
I like to think that I’m doing things that no one else is doing, but you’ve also got to let yourself experiment within that. You know, you don’t want to lock down and say, “I am THIS and I can’t change or people won’t know who I am.” You’d go crazy if you did that. I need to keep myself inspired, so that means that I need to keep experimenting. But I feel like with this album that I’ve got coming out, The Bright Side works to my strengths; I’ve experimented a bit, but I’ve managed to keep the thing I do best (which is sort of delivering optimism through music) within every song. But I have experimented with different kinds of music, like there are some hip-hop beats here, electronic, total guitar jams, sitting on a beach music…it’s quite eclectic within its styles, but the theme and the tone is succinctly me and what I’ve done best in the past.
Are there any songs in particular from this record that you’re looking forward to playing live?
“Blue Skies” is really fun, and it’s got kind of a Pat Benatar rock ballad thing going on, but it’s also really early days at the moment, so I think it’ll take some time to figure out what works best live. I’m touring in June and July in America, so there’ll be a lot of shows to work that out and try different stuff.
So is that something you tend to focus on when you’re actually writing the songs, or is that always more of a trial and error thing that happens after the fact?
I’m not huge on rehearsals, partly because of the time restraints of being a mum, and partly because I’m just one of those people who likes to keep things spontaneous, and I trust my musicians, so I like to go with the moment. I have noticed that the audience likes to watch something that’s not too polished, and that’s how I am, too; I like to watch people work shit out on stage. Obviously you want the band to be tight, but it’s nice to watch someone go, “Hey, we’re going to try something different tonight, so let us know how it works out.” And suddenly the room feels electric, because you’re experiencing something that hasn’t been done very many times yet. So I’ll leave it and try it out different ways a few times. You know, with my worldwide touring, I’ve played “The Show” a thousand times (AT LEAST), so I need to start doing it differently or I’m going to go insane. So we’ve started to do this down-tempo thing with it, and it’s just instantly more enjoyable; it’s like a breath of fresh air for the band and for the audience.