wears the trousers magazine


lenka: the woman with the child in her eyes
July 21, 2009, 9:36 pm
Filed under: feature, interrupting yr broadcast, video | Tags: , , , , ,

Read the rest of our Australia Week features here.

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interrupting yr broadcast: lenka

At an unholy hour on a wet and dreary Thursday morning, a sleepy Lenka Kripac meets a sleepy Wears The Trousers at Wise Buddah Studios in central London. The latter hugs a mug of coffee as if it were an elixir of everlasting life as we sit quietly on couches in the reception area, waiting for a room upstairs to become vacant. Words seem locked behind a thick steel vault that can only be opened by the power of caffeine. Five minutes later we’re tucked up on a sofa in a tiny attic room full of expensive looking computer and audio equipment, tuning out the hum of technology and ready to talk. Lenka is in town to promote the release of her debut single, ‘The Show’, already #1 in Poland, and the parent album, titled simply Lenka, and seems very happy to thumb over a copy of our latest issue (“This sounds like my kind of magazine!”) while talking us through her experiences as an Australian at home and away – in Los Angeles, where she recorded her album, and here in London – and as a woman with a creative vision and a mission to bring a little wonder and sunshine back to our rain-lashed sceptered isle. Lenka’s undeniably accomplished brand of effervescent melodies and childlike stage presence may not suit a more jaded pop consumer, but look beyond the lightness of touch and you’ll find a valid and intelligent argument nestled inside the cutesy arrangements. Subversion never sounded so sweet.

* * *

So, Wears The Trousers is running a week-long special on Australian music. Do you know a lot of other artists from back home?

Yeah, I know Missy Higgins and Sia. I just toured with Missy and was hanging out with her a lot. I know Holly Throsby from Sydney. But even if I don’t know all of them, there is a kinship there and a feeling of camaraderie. We’re all trying to do the same thing. With Aussies in general, and in particular women in music, you know that there’s more of the same reference points. You know you are going to get on well with them ‘cos you come from the same culture, and it’s always nice just to bump into one another.

Are there many other Aussies living in LA?

Yeah, there’s stacks. Particularly actors, a few musos. In fact, my drummer Stella is Australian. She’s amazing, and she also plays with Butterfly Boucher. And Ladyhawke, who is Kiwi.

We’ve chatted with Butterfly actually. Really pleased she’s finally put her second album out.

Yeah, she totally got screwed by the system…that happens.

Is that something you worried about when you signed to a major label?

Yeah, I was worried. I had heard of quite a few people that had gotten shelved before they had even been released. The label fell apart, everyone that was signed got fired. Bad things like that have happened to me, but I was really lucky to get my album out before everything fell apart. I mean, the label still exists but all the people are gone! That can be quite scary. I was like, ‘Thank god I got the album out first!’

I was also scared that, with a major label, they would try to change me and maybe put me in a bikini on the album cover, on the beach with genies dancing around me or something weird that I wasn’t really into. But I was very lucky in that they just dug what I was doing from the get go. I was very clear about the visual identity of my project. I had come along with the artwork already done. They were down with that so I didn’t fall into too many of the traps that most people are scared of with major labels. I seem to avoided some of the pitfalls so…so far, so good!

I wanted to talk to you about the Hotel Café tour…

That was a chick mission!

Yeah, but when it came over to England it was almost all male! Really, I was wondering whether you think the success of that tour helped prompt the resurrection of Lilith Fair that’s been announced recently.

I don’t know if it’s just the Hotel Café or whether women are just having more success in music, such as Feist, Regina Spektor, Amy Winehouse, Duffy and Adele. There’s so many chicks doing really well in slightly left of centre pop music, so there does seem to be a general resurgence of girls. I think there’s definitely a lot of vagina power, in America and in Australia. There’s a big girly folk scene over there. So maybe they thought the time was right.

Would you like to do the Lilith Fair?

Yeah, I’d love that! I could wear all my gypsy stuff.

What was your experience of the Hotel Café tour? Any funny tales?

Well, it was pretty funny being on a bus with that much oestrogen, and everybody getting dressed and stuff. Meiko used to lie down on the floor as there was a mirror on the roof so that she could check out her outfits. I was actually pleasantly surprised. I was worried that it might be a little bitchy with that many chicks together, like it was in high school, but luckily everyone was very supportive. In fact, everyone was different enough so there wasn’t any feeling of competitiveness. It really felt great. It was like an all-star revue as we had all of these great vocalists who could do harmonies, so that was pretty special.

I heard you do you own set design?

Yes!

So, describe Lenkaworld…

[laughs] Lenkaland! I like the alliteration.

Oh yeah, Lenkaland, sorry.

It’s supposed to be like child’s play. It has a very childlike aesthetic. It’s like a fairytale land, colourful and goofy, and mostly motifs from nature. I grew up in the country and it is almost a sort of personal symbolism, like I am trying to take it with me onto my stage and just surround myself with symbols of nature – animal motifs and leaves and mushrooms.

Did you see a lot of deadly animals growing up in the bush?

Yeah, I did! When I was about four, me and my mum and my brother were walking next to the dam where my dad was working at the time, and a deadly brown snake came for me. My dad just grabbed his spade and chopped it in half!

I also just recently saw a bear in California. Me and my boyfriend went camping and we saw a freakin’ bear! A massive black bear coming up to the camp ground trying to steal food. Everyone was going ‘Raaaahh!’, trying to get rid of it. We went up to a group of people nearby and said, ‘Just so you know, there’s a bear around’, and they just casually said, ‘You want a beer?’… Then as we walked away the bear appeared right next to the guy we had just spoken to! For some reason it wasn’t as scary as I thought it was going to be. He was almost like a big hairy seagull who just wanted to come and get some snacks. He wasn’t interested in us. It was so weird. The whole campground felt quite uncomfortable after that. It’s like, here we are in these tents, so naked, so vulnerable, but it was cool – the most memorable and exciting thing on the trip!

I bet! Presumably there’s nothing quite so scary in Lenkaland?

Ha. No. There is actually a philosophy behind it that I developed with my boyfriend, who is also my creative partner. We wrote a manifesto called ‘We Will Not Grow Old’, which is also one of my songs. It’s about the great power that lies in hiding adult wisdom inside a childlike aesthetic, and also there’s some sort of comfort that we all miss. We’re all so nostalgic for childhood and I think it’s something about the simplicity and innocence, naivety and wonder that we miss now in this heavy adult world. I personally find it very helpful to try to see the world through a child’s eyes when I’m feeling kind of depressed and angry and shitty about the world. That’s kind of my own therapy and something that I want to give to the world.

I’m a big fan of Miranda July, who has a fascinating childlike aesthetic of her own. I was interested to read that she inspired your song ‘Don’t Let Me Fall’.

Yeah. Well, you can’t really hear it that much in the song, but it’s what started the idea for the song. It’s the idea of human flaws and quirks that she embraces and wears on her sleeve. I was reading No One Belongs Here More Than You, her book of short stories, and it is childlike…a different version of childlike than with me. It’s a sort of aspect of childhood where you have no inhibitions and you don’t know that it’s wrong to touch someone. You haven’t got any social restraints. Miranda July seems to have never learnt these restraints and I think that’s awesome! She’s so cool.

I went through a phase a few weeks back where I kept seeing her around. First I saw her in a restaurant, and then when we played a gig at Largo. I don’t know her but Jon Brion has a studio upstairs and I guess she was doing something up there. She came over and spoke to Jon and I just couldn’t say anything. When I love someone and respect them like that it’s very hard to say anything. It never works so I just had to let it go. I then kept seeing her for the next few weeks! I was like, ‘Come on!’ I thought there must be some sort of serendipity or something, like maybe I was going to get to work with her…but that never happened. I really dig her work.

Have you ever bumped into Courteney Cox after soundtracking her intimate moments?

No! If I met her I’d be like, “Hi! I provided the soundtrack for you masturbating!” – what a way to break the ice!

So, going back to your album, it all sounds very consistent and yet you worked with five different producers. It must have been hard to make sure it all hung together so nicely.

Yeah, I did have to keep an eye on the consistency. I did intend to have diversity within the album and that is why I worked with a few different people…I didn’t really mean for it to be five. I went through a sort of exploratory phase, being a new artist. I set the tone with Pierre Marchand and we recorded “Skipalong’, ‘Like A Song’ and ‘Anything I’m Not’ and a few other songs that didn’t end up making the album. They were the more quiet songs. I then thought, okay, so I’ve got songs like ‘Trouble Is A Friend’ and ‘We Will Not Grow Old’ – we want to get a bit more of a spirited, beat-driven groove going on. I didn’t really know anyone in LA, so my A&R person helped suggest people, just calling them up saying, “This girl, she’s new, she doesn’t have any money, what do you reckon?” and we were really lucky.

We went in with Mike Elizondo, who works with Dr Dre and recorded the first Eminem album. He’s a bass player first and foremost but he plays everything. He’s awesome. But he also did Fiona Apple and Maroon 5. He does a fair bit of singer-songwriter pop so we went to him for a more sort of ‘hardcore’ version of Lenka. We had 18 songs and we ended up picking the strongest 11. I would have preferred to work with one or two producers, not five, but that’s just the way that it happened. Maybe for the next album I’ll work with just one, although I’ve really no idea what is going to happen for the next album. I’d love to run away to the Caribbean and just spend a month working on the album and be done but I don’t know…

Compared to what’s coming out of Australia right now, your album sounds noticeably more American. I mean, you’ve got the melancholic tone but it’s delivered in a bright pop style. Do you think choosing to make the album in LA had a huge influence on the result?

I think I did get a little affected by the spirit of Los Angeles, that sort of ‘You go, girl!’ attitude. Over there they are sort of ambitious, optimistic, positive, supportive and a little bit cheesy, and I responded well to that. In Australia we have this thing called ‘tall poppy syndrome’ where if one poppy grows too high we have to cut it down. It’s like we don’t like people to be proud of their success; in fact, we almost don’t like success. We like the little man battling along and making it in the end but once you make it you can’t go “Yeah! I worked really hard and I got here and now it’s awesome!” You have to sort of say, “Oops, what an accident. I can’t believe that happened to me, I don’t deserve it!” I find it quite annoying, and because of this I kind of had this intuition that it wasn’t really going to work for me in Australia. It worked with a band, but I knew that if I wanted to spread my wings and go solo in Australia I would come up against a lot of what I’ve just described.

When I was looking for a new place I went to LA, New York and London. Then I spent some time in Vienna, some time in Paris, but LA was just awesome. People would be like, “Come to my studio tomorrow and we’ll make a track!” I went there for a week and a half and wrote four songs, a few of which are on the album. They were written, recorded and finished and sent out to industry people within a week. Over there it’s like they really just go for it! That was good for me as it made me push myself and work hard. The music did shift a bit more towards pop than I originally set out to, but the music I have always loved has always had a very poppy sentiment. My first favourite song was ‘Walking On Sunshine’ by Katrina & The Waves. I think going to LA teased me into just going, “Let’s write a girly pop song.” I kind of flourished there, so I think the album would have been different if it had been made somewhere else.

You mentioned your old band, Decoder Ring. Do you think you’ll eventually go back to a more electronic sound?

I kind of meant to with this album but I was working with such amazing musicians. When you are in the studio and have the option of making tracks on the computer or just laying down heaps of percussion and strings, it was kind of a no-brainer for me. I have been messing around a bit with ProTools a bit lately. Normally I just write on the piano, but now I’m starting to write from the beat first. So if anything turns out well from that then I’ll keep it. There are some computer beats on this album but they are very blended in with the real beats, like on ‘Trouble Is A Friend’; it’s got both.

Yeah, I hear that in the mix. Do you get to play your trumpet much these days?

Actually, I did when I played the other night. I hadn’t played for years but my dad used to be such a stickler for practice that the ability is there. It’s a terrible instrument for a singer because you can’t accompany yourself. There was a time when I thought of getting an E-flat horn, or maybe a French horn, but I thought to myself ‘This is ridiculous! Why am I going to spend thousands of dollars on a beautiful instrument and practice and practice when I can’t sing at the same time!’

I think you can tell that this isn’t your first record. I mean, purely thematically. So many of the songs reflect things like being far away from home, long distance love, and about dealing with crazy industry stuff going on around you.

Yeah. Often first albums come out when an artist is about 19 but I’ve been an actor for ages and then I was in the music industry for ages, so I’ve had many of the experiences that you encounter early in the music industry already. There are a good two years worth of songwriting on the album so there’s quite a journey. The times captured in the songs include being separated from my boyfriend, coming to LA for the first time, feeling insecure and that I wasn’t good enough when I had to play for industry people…

I remember you from ‘Home & Away’! Do you get many people coming up to you over here in England who say that?

Not really. It’s cool when people say it over here though, because in America they don’t know what ‘Home & Away’ is. When I appeared on Radio 1, Jo Whiley mentioned it so I described my character, that I was Angel’s sister and I had purple hair! Then someone texted in saying they remember me so I think some people probably do, but it has been a while! The funny thing is that I auditioned with Isla Fisher. They had two roles and she wanted mine as it was a 3-week role. When I got it she was like, “You bitch! I wanted that role!” And now look at how our lives turned out! She moved over to the UK and married Ali G! That could be me!

Have you bumped into Melissa George much in LA?

I haven’t. I’ve been hoping that I would. Last time I saw her was in Australia. I haven’t seen her at all in LA. It’s a little bit of a different circle that she moves in. I’m not really into that Hollywood paparazzi type thing. I hang out with more underground types…and thank god! The only thing I’ve done like that is go to Paris Hilton’s birthday party, but I was a complete voyeur. I just stood in the background, I wasn’t involved in it.

Are you enjoying being in London at the moment? It’s your first European tour, right?

Yes, this is the first time I’ve been in Europe to do something work-related. It’s really nice as I love Europe and I’ve been here a lot. I’ve got one European parent, and I guess that, living in Australia, you kind of feel half European. I’ve travelled and backpacked around so it’s really exciting to be back. It’s been going really well. It’s very exciting to start having success in all of these different places around the world: Poland, Vietnam, Hong Kong. It’s strange because it happens remotely. I’m doing really well in Switzerland right now and I haven’t even been there!

I am particularly excited about London because it feels like it brings me closer to a more powerful tastemaker in the music world, and also closer to my home culture. I feel very relaxed in London, and having just been in Germany, France and Sweden, it was really nice to just come here and not have a language barrier or a sense of humour barrier. My jokes weren’t going down so well in Stockholm. My sense of sarcasm wasn’t working over there! I played in London and the audience got every little subtle joke, which was so great. I was loving it!

Okay, last question. You’ve packed a lot into your life so far. Do you have any ambitions beyond your music career at this point?

Well, I would really like to do more than just release album after album. I would like to concentrate on other areas of the arts also and then mix them. Possibly a musical or a film, or an exhibition in a gallery. I still do a lot of art. I had an exhibition not long ago in Tokyo and I’m doing a craft workshop in LA. I actually see pop music as a conceptual version of performance art. Anything can be an artwork. Having a concept and carrying it through to realisation, carrying a message through to the listener or the viewer with their own interpretation so that they can put their own experiences on it – it all gets some emotional response so it’s the same thing, no matter how you do it. I just like to mix it up and keep myself inspired and entertained.

* * *

Alan Pedder

‘The Show’

‘Trouble Is A Friend’

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2 Comments so far
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[…] lenka: the woman with the child in her eyes […]

Pingback by australia week « wears the trousers magazine

my goodness, she’s certainly a fluent, interesting and intelligent speaker. really knows what she’s doing…wonder what she’ll do next?

Comment by mozza




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