“My aim with music is to create mood enhancers for people,” says Lenka, whose fourth indie-pop album, The Bright Side, drops on June 16th. “That gives me the most joy, when people say my music makes them feel better.” And the Australian singer-songwriter’s gift for sharing her bliss has served her well. Read More...
“My aim with music is to create mood enhancers for people,” says Lenka, whose fourth indie-pop album, The Bright Side, drops on June 16th. “That gives me the most joy, when people say my music makes them feel better.” And the Australian singer-songwriter’s gift for sharing her bliss has served her well.
Whether or not you realize it, her buoyant, wistful songs—most notably “The Show” (off her self-titled debut) and “Everything at Once” (from Two, her follow-up)—have been sound-tracking your life for almost seven years now. She’s lent levity to several commercials including spots from Windows 8, Old Navy, and Coke; charm to dramedies like Grey’s Anatomy and Ugly Betty; and imbued films such as Moneyball with graceful poignancy.
In a music culture that leans heavily on branding, Lenka has stood out for willfully being herself—occupying a spot between the upbeat-ness of Top 40 singles and the thoughtfulness of indie albums. “Music is a wonderfully direct way to enter people’s psyches,” she explains. “Mine is about keeping a sense of wonder about the world.” To that end, since first dropping music seven years ago, Lenka has charted hits everywhere from Germany to China. And her videos, which she art-directs with her artist-husband James Gulliver Hancock, have racked up tens of millions of views.
The Bright Side, about chasing optimism, packs similar appeal. “I’m very happy in life—that is my biggest truth,” she explains. “My previous album, Shadows, was a quiet lullaby album, because I was living a quiet life, having a baby. Now my life is much more energetic: I’ve got a toddler who wants to dance. He doesn’t want to hear slow songs. He wants to hear rhythms.”
Lenka first conceived the tune to “Blue Skies,” The Bright Side’s first single, as way to entertain her son in the car. “A storm was passing, and I looked at the sky,” she remembers. “I just started singing that hook. “Blue skies/For you and I…” She recorded that melody on her phone and a week later, laid down some chords on a keyboard to give the bluesy-sounding song a more new-wave filmic vibe.
Much of The Bright Side was written and recorded this way: on the fly, over one-and-a-half years, whenever Lenka got a free moment. (She worked on the album in-person in Los Angeles and New York City, and remotely, from Sydney.) “I haven’t written about being a mum, but it infiltrates my songs: hopes for the future, dreams, trying to have a good life,” she says. “I’ve also been thinking about my fans: They’re often young women around the world. These are messages that I want to give them, about attacking their lives with love and fervor.”
Passion is something Lenka has always been able to tap into. “I was quite a forthright child, confident, and definitely an entertainer,” she says. Her father, a jazz musician, put her in piano and trumpet lessons when she was 6. Still, Lenka wanted to be a professional ballerina. Then in her teens, she got into acting. Later, she went to art school. And again, in her early 20s, she fatefully returned to theater. “I had an epiphany while acting in a play where I had to sing alone,” she says. “That was a beautiful experience. I suddenly realized my gifts lay there.” So she immediately enrolled in a music conservatory. Says Lenka: “I hated it as a child, but I’m so glad now that I learned the piano.”
She’s symbolically returning that favor to her dad with “My Love,” one of The Bright Side’s most sentimental tracks. “I actually wrote it with my dad,” she says. “He sent over a few ideas and I really wanted to fit those ideas into the song. But it took me about five go’s of trying to write it—it was challenging, but I was determined to make this work! It feels so good to have a song on here with my dad.”
The earthy, ambling “The Long Way Home” is another homage to fathers and daughters. Lenka was commissioned to create a song to open Believe, a TV series co-produced by Oscar-winning director Alfonso Cuarón. “He was in a car with his daughter, and she was singing one of my songs. So he asked me to write something.” Lenka frequently gets asked to pen songs for various projects, and sometimes, she says, “I decide I love those songs so much that I want to use them”—which is how “The Long Way Home” made it onto The Bright Side.
In other cases, songs such as the nimble, carefree “Unique” end up taking on a life of their own. That track started out as a concept, until Lenka realized, “It’s actually hard to write a whole song about being unique!” Vigilant, she reached out to Jason Reeves, who co-wrote “The Show.” “I went out to Malibu, and we sat on the sand with a guitar. He started smashing out some chords,” she says. “We did the song together, and I went back to Australia and finessed it.”
In fact, much of the album’s writing process was creatively challenging for Lenka. “Unique was out of my comfort zone lyrically,” she explains. “‘Blue Skies’ was out of my comfort zone stylistically, because I don’t normally write electronic music.” She also worked on “Blue Skies” remotely—something she’s not accustomed to—with Canadian producer Damian Taylor (Björk, The Killers). They sent recordings back and forth between Sydney and Montreal until they’d perfected “Blue Skies.”
“I was a bit scared it would go off in a weird direction,” she says. For The Bright Side, Lenka likewise worked with writer-producers Chris Braide (Sia, Lana Del Rey), Tim “One Love” Sommers (B.o.B., Eminem), and Dan Romer (Ingrid Michaelson, Greg Laswell)—sometimes over Skype. Why? “It’s a paradox for an artist: You want to experiment and stretch your creative limbs. But at the same time, you really want to make sure you sound like yourself.”
If “Blue Skies” is her sweet ode to optimism, “The Long Way Home” is her rally to embrace change. “It’s about how if you step outside of the box, take the long way home, you’ll have more of an adventure,” she says. And that is the power of The Bright Side: “Explore a little bit. Get lost in the world,” she says. “See what happens.”
- Lenka releases single "Blue Skies" and announces new album on FADER
- Lenka's performance of "Blue Skies" at South By Southwest is on PopMatters
- Lenka Featured in Windows 8 Commercial
- Lenka's video for "The Show"
- Lenka's video for "Trouble Is A Friend"
- Lenka's "Nothing Here But Love" video premieres on Rolling Stone
- Lenka's "Heart to The Party" featured on Glamour Magazine
- Lenka's "The Show" performed by The Voice contestant
- Lenka video interview and feature on CNN's Soundcheck
- Lenka's hit song "The Show" in an Old Navy commercial
- Lenka's "The Show" in The Indie Music DB
- Lenka interview on Lost At E Minor