Just before Lenka steps on stage to begin recording her video for her first single “The Show,” she makes a promise: “I want to write more songs about being in love. On album two you’ll hear more of those.”
It was 2008, and at the time, her self-titled debut album had yet to drop and there was a lot yet to come for the petite Australian singer, including a move to America, live appearances on Conan O’Brien and other late-night talk shows, and the celebratory moment when her album hit No. 3 on Billboard’s Heatseekers chart. Oh…and there was also an engagement to James Gulliver Hancock, a visual artist with whom she’s shared many creative collaborations. So, this year, she makes good on her word and returns with Two, an album full of love songs.
But, as you’ll hear, not all of Two’s songs were all spun from lazy, romantic mornings. That’s because, thanks to the success of her debut, Lenka spent most of 2009 touring the world. She played intimate clubs and large festivals like Bumbershoot and Summer Sonic. And, while the stage wasn’t new territory for her – she’d previously fronted the indie band Decoder Ring and had acted professionally in her teenage years – traveling to 21 countries in ten months was eye-opening. “It was intense. Life is just so concentrated when you’re on the road. One day feels like a month.” She continues, “But, I’ve always been a little bit of a gypsy, so I do love it. I really wanted to get more out of it than just touring as a musician. I wanted to connect with people and almost pretend that I was just traveling, like backpacking or something to experience the different cultures.” She was impressed by many of the countries she was seeing for the first time on that tour, like Denmark, Japan, and Thailand, but it was her experience in Vietnam that really blew her away. “It’s rare for an artist to get the opportunity to perform in Vietnam, so I felt quite honored and lucky.”
The incredible experiences just kept coming, and between them, Lenka had to find a way to process all of those new sights, sounds, and emotions. She turned to what had gotten her there in the first place. “I was writing as a way to process. That’s the wonderful thing about being a songwriter. You have some way to put out all of the emotions and reactions to what you’re seeing. I probably wrote 35 songs when working on this album.”
Some of that processing included dealing with the toll of being away from almost everyone she knew and adjusting to the move from Sydney to Los Angeles and from Los Angeles to Brooklyn, and inspired tracks like the determined “Roll with the Punches” and the plucky “Sad Song.” Regarding the latter, she says, “I had been indulging in the depression, but I was just emerging out of it and I used that song to snap myself out of it. I think we just all fall and stumble constantly and usually when I write the song is when I’m getting up again.”
But, not all of those growing pains were bad. “I think I grew up quite a lot last year. I learned so much about the world and myself as an artist and felt like I came into my own a little bit more as a woman as well. I’m less timid now and a bit more sassy, a bit more gutsy.”
That inner strength guided her in the decision to travel to London to record a portion of Two with David Kosten (Bat for Lashes). She says, “I had spent so much of the year traveling, I wanted to give it a bit of an international sound and London is such a big music city.” And while she admits that the physical location doesn’t really matter once you’re inside a dark studio, recording in the The Kinks’ studio was unique. “There were all these vibes in there and tourists would come by. Some were shaking they were so excited to see it. But, for us, it was cool because all The Kinks’ original instruments were in there and I got to use their mellotron from the 1970s.”
She also had the courage to take her album in a different direction than her last, one that is more distinctly electronic. That’s evident from the moment it opens with the bright, dance-friendly song “Two” that she co-wrote with British artist Eg White (he also worked on the more emotionally-intense “Here to Stay”), but even more so on songs like “Heart Skips a Beat.” For that song, which was inspired by a time she told a doctor that her heart occasionally skips a beat and he suggested maybe she was just in love, she turned to musician/producer Guy Sigsworth who had previously worked with Björk on some of her most well-known tracks. Lenka admits, “I never really liked electronic music when I was a teenager. Björk was the first artist that made me realize it wasn’t illegal to have a computer beat in a song and that it can still be beautiful and emotional.” One track quickly turned into three and she asked him to take the reins on two more love songs: “Shock Me into Love” and “You Will Be Mine.”
But, no matter what the subject, the songs, be they about love or coming into her own, reveal a braver Lenka, even more ready to take on the world.