The Calcutta

Lenka Interview

April 7, 2009 · 2 Comments

Lenka, a singer/songwriter from Australia, sat down with Michael and Colin on her recent stop in Philadelphia. Her roots showed through her Aussie accent and her down to earth personality.  She is most recognized for her hit single, “The Show,” off of her self-titled album, Lenka, which was released this past September. She’ll be touring out west in April and May so don’t miss a chance to see her live.

Lenka - Photo by Michael Murray

Lenka - Photo by Michael Murray

Mike: So how’s tour treating you so far?

Lenka: You know I used to think that I was this gypsy type person but now I’m really like literally a gypsy and it’s kind of odd. I have fantasies about cooking food and gardening and like putting things in drawers because I haven’t done that for ages.

All: (laughs)

Mike: That’s cool.
Colin: So you used to be an actor at one point, how’d you get into acting?

Lenka: Um I just always loved stuff like that.  Ever since I was a little kid I used to do dancing. I grew up in the countryside just running around performing for trees and whoever would listen. And then when I was about 12 or 13 I started going to acting classes. Like I told my mom that I wanted to be an actor now.  So she tried to figure out how I would do that.  But very luckily by teacher was Cate Blanchett.

Mike: Oh wow.

Lenka: She was already a fairly established actress for theater in Australia. It was before Elizabeth and actually she was still studying at drama school at the time. So she was at the beginning of her career but she was still quite prominent there and she got me a role in a play.  So I started doing professional acting when I was like 14.

Colin: Awesome.
When’d you start to sing and when did you start to write your own songs?

Lenka: Well, officially the first time I sang live was when I was six years old with my dad, because he’s a jazz musician, at some country-jazz festival.  But I didn’t really pursue music as a career until about five years ago. Um, and I’ve sort of written a few bad teenage songs and..

Mike: About heartbreak and..

Lenka: Yeah like teen-aches, soul-searching bullshit. But um, actually that’s kind of still what I’m doing now.

All: (laughs)

Lenka: I guess I just sort of started to make the move into music because I was feeling a bit frustrated with just doing acting and I wanted to be the person that was writing the material and I wanted it to be my project. So this is a much more liberating and empowering way to perform, I find.

Mike: Right.
Colin: You recorded your album in numerous different places around the country; did you have a particular favorite city that you recorded in?

Lenka: Um, I really loved Montreal, and it was the dead of winter so it was quite an intense place. That’s where I started recording. And then Woodstock was incredible, and I loved it.  I kind of want to move out there. But actually the bulk of the record was done in LA, which has its merits as well. I mean the studios are amazing and you’ve got access to incredible musicians and producers and arrangers and all that kind of stuff, so that was definitely cool as well. But I think Montreal was my favorite.

Colin: That’s cool.
Mike: Any plans for the next album? Will you record it the same way?

Lenka: Well, when I was doing the last album and I worked with five different producers I thought I don’t want to do that again. I mean it suited where I was at because I was in a sort of exploratory stage and I wanted to get different people to bring out different styles. So I guess I didn’t know myself as well. If I do have a really clear idea of how I want the album to be next time and there’s a perfect person, I would love to do it with one person. I think that would be really cool. But I’m fairly far away still from going into that. I mean I only released this last September so I’ve got to tour for another year. I’m writing songs at the moment but, I don’t think, yeah I think I’m a good year off. So it depends what I’m feeling at that point you know? I’d love to just run away into a little place in the world and you know, hold down and do the whole thing. But if it doesn’t work out like that then it’s cool. If I had the opportunity to work with a few tracks with this guy a few tracks with this, that’d be cool.

Colin: So you moved from Sydney to LA. What was the biggest cultural difference between the two cities?

Lenka: Well, I don’t know I guess in general the American-ness. But I think it’s probably more interesting to speak about the similarities because there are actually a lot of similarities.  We have a lot of American culture in Australia and grew up watching American TV, American films, and we have all the American junk food and brands, and everything like that. So there wasn’t a lot of culture shock at all. But everything was just a bit more exaggerated. And people are a lot more, like, super-keen and excitable, but in Australia we’re fairly down to earth, which is cool, but it’s also like a little bit frustrating. I find like if you’re trying to get a lot of creative stuff done there’s not that excitement around. I got to LA and people were like, ‘Yeah let’s go into the studio tomorrow and write five songs!’ you know. In Australia it’ll take about six weeks to get someone to call you back because they’re just too busy relaxing. But along with that comes an incredible amount of phoniness and that was a little bit irritating. But I just learned to kind of block it out and wade through it and you know, ended up moving to Silver Lake, and just went okay. That’s cool. I just won’t go to West Hollywood very much.


Mike: What do you miss about Australia?

Lenka: I can’t talk about it too much because I might get a bit teary but um, I miss the nature, the beaches, and the trees, and you know the style of nature we have there. And the smells and the clean air and like bright light, it’s just a bit different. When you go there you feel, I always feel a bit blinded when I get off the plane, I forgot how bright it is I think. Probably because of the hole in the ozone layer, but anyway. Um, and, I miss my family and friends desperately. Yeah, it sucks. You know I’ve got friends that have had babies and they’re all growing up and I can’t see them! I miss summer in Australia, which it is right now, well it’s towards the end of it now, but it’s so hard to be over here in winter.

Mike: It’s pretty shitty, right?

Lenka: I speak to my friends and family on Skype and they’re like wearing bikinis, having barbecues, and going for swims. (laughs) I can’t handle it!

Mike: Laughs.

Colin: Why is trouble a friend?

Lenka: I think I’d rather think of him as a friend than an enemy, you know what they say about keep your enemies, what is it? Keep your friends close keep your enemies closer, something like that. It’s you know a metaphor for me stuffing up my life occasionally and seemingly everything’s going fine but then I screw it all up and I guess I was trying to take the responsibility away from my self a little bit. To say oh troubles this character that comes and visits me occasionally and it’s his fault!

Mike: Laughs. What’d you think of RAC’s remix of it?

Lenka: Oh I loved it have you heard it?

Mike: Yeah my friend actually did it. Andrew Maury.

Lenka: Really, he’s your friend?

Mike: Yeah he graduated from Syracuse and I’m there right now.

Lenka: Yeah it’s rad.

Mike: It’s very rad.

Lenka: He did an amazing one for “Don’t Let Me Fall,” have you heard that?

Mike: No I haven’t.

Lenka: It’s another song of mine and he put this filthy baseline under it and turned it into a dance track.

Mike: Yeah he’s dirty with the bass.

Colin: He’s the man, he’s a cool kid.

Lenka: Yeah we loved it.

Mike: Actually he mixed and mastered a couple tracks for my band up at school.  He sent me that remix and I was like this is the shit.

Lenka: Yeah I think like we’re going to release it but I didn’t think anything’s happened with it yet unless maybe it might’ve been sent out to djs and stuff like that.  I don’t know. If that song is the next single id really like to release like a whole bunch of versions of the songs because I’ve done an acoustic version.

Mike: That’s cool, I like when artists do that.

Lenka: Same. Like there’s a whole Bjork album of this song All Is Full of Love.  But I got years and years ago but then lost stupidly. But it’s like 8 different versions of the same song.

Mike: Yeah. It’s cool when you can hear an artist’s version of it originally and then maybe how, like, a raw recording of..

Lenka: How it evolved, yeah.

Mike: Yeah like, do you listen to Coconut Records at all? Jason Schwartzman’s band.

Lenka: Oh yeah, yeah. I’ve heard a bit on his Myspace.

Mike: But yeah his first album was sort of like that. Like he had the whole album and then there was like all B-sides to it, just like raw recordings and acoustic.

Lenka: Cool, very cool.

Colin: So we always ask a random question to the artist. Just imagine life on land with no air, like you can’t live here anymore. If you had to pick between the two, would you rather live on a submarine under the sea or on a spaceship?

Lenka: Definitely a spaceship.

Colin: Why’s that?

Lenka: I’m quite afraid of underwater shenanigans. The whole idea of being trapped, like water with a ceiling is my nightmare. And I love being up in the air. I’ve been skydiving, paragliding, and I love flying in airplanes. So I think I’d dig being in a spaceship. And I could have space odyssey fantasies too.

Colin: You could perform in space.

Lenka: I’d always be wearing like sixties air hostess outfits.

Lenka deep in thought. Photo by Colin Kerrigan

Lenka deep in thought. Photo by Colin Kerrigan

Mike: (laughs) So what’s the funnest thing about being a rock star?

Lenka: Uh, I don’t know if I can really call myself a rock star. But I would definitely say the actual act of playing music is always the best part. And you forget sometimes and then every night for a brief moment of ecstasy when you’re really connecting with your fellow musicians and the audience is really into it.

Mike: And people are singing your songs.

Lenka: You go ah that’s right, that’s why we’re doing this, that’s why we’re slugging it out on the road because this is rad. And the same thing if you’re in the studio and you finally get some song to work and it all just clicks together. That’s the buzz.

Mike: That’s the best.

Lenka: That’s the buzz, that’s the best, that’s why you do it.  Yeah, the rest is just kind of career stuff you know. What goes along with if you want to do that for a living, there’s a whole lot of stuff that you need to do. You need to get it out there, you need to travel insane distances between cities, you need to promote yourself, and you need to do all the kind of background work.

Mike: Sometimes people, you know, look at rock stars and it’s just like oh they’re just up playing music but there’s so much back drift that’s going on.

Lenka: Yeah, well some people unfortunately in the world, the most famous people, they’re kind of doing it to be famous.

Mike: Yeah, which sucks.

Lenka: Yeah, and most people think, like fans say to me, oh you’re so famous! And I’m like I’m really not I’m just promoting my project. You know like you’ve only heard of me because we’re trying to get the music out there so that more people can listen to it in their living room and more people will come to the gigs. Like I don’t want to be famous it’s not why I’m doing it. It just kind of comes with the territory of becoming well known for music.

Mike: Hey, if you can get yourself out there doing something you love then why not? You know?

Lenka: Yeah. I kind of understand the way the business of all that works, you know, if I was selling magazines then I would want to put someone famous in it as well. There’s this whole sort of weed industry revolving around everything but I try to not take it on too much because it’s kind of creepy.

Colin: That’s good.
Mike: Is there any song you wish you wrote?

Lenka: Mmm.

Mike: Like man I wish I wrote that.

Lenka: Jealous Guy.

Mike: Me?

Lenka: No. (laughs) Not you. John Lennon. There’s probably some more. Heartbeats by The Knife. Um, I think it’s called Everything Means Nothing To Me or that’s how the hook goes Elliott Smith.

Mike: I love that song.

Lenka: Probably about half a dozen Nick Drake songs.

Mike: Yeah.

Lenka: Heart of Glass – Blondie.

Mike: Yeah.

Lenka: Um, the list goes on.

Mike: So when’s the last time you played dress up?

Colin: We read somewhere that you liked to play, or you did like to play dress up.

Lenka: Um about like a half an hour ago. (laughs)

Colin: Cool. So you’re from Australia, can you surf?

Lenka: No.

Colin: No?

Lenka: I can bodysurf. I can swim. But no I never really. My dad got his teeth knocked out by a surf ski when I was little and it was pretty gruesome and like I said I’m kind of afraid of water. Like I love swimming and stuff but um I grew up by the beach and I’m so scared of getting dumped by waves I’ve probably got dumped, in fact, I can remember vividly getting dumped really badly lots of times as a kid so now like as soon as I get out past the white water to where the waves are breaking I’m in like survival mode, like how am I gonna not die right now. It’s really annoying.

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