Lenka began recording her debut last December in Montreal before the contract was even signed with Epic Records. After sessions there and in Los Angeles, Lenka wrapped up the album in Woodstock. With a little time on her hands, she was free to lay down an unlikely assortment of cover songs (including Modest Mouse's "Gravity Rides Everything," "My Favorite Things" from The Sound of Music and M. Ward's "Vincent O'Brien") and muck about in the forest, making little videos that will undoubtedly wind up on YouTube once she gets around to editing them. Woodstock may not be home, but it's close enough for now.
Her sinuous vocals drape around her lyrics with the ease of a child hanging onto its mother's legs...or of a serpent wrapping itself around the neck of its prey. Whether channeling our long-repressed terrors ("Trouble Is A Friend") or long-lost innocence ("We Will Not Grow Old"), her music evokes primal emotions, unblemished by pretense or cynicism - and unashamed of cracking a smile occasionally.
"Trouble is a friend but trouble is a foe/And no matter what I feed him, he always seems to grow," she sings over an ominous piano vamp in "Trouble Is..." A vibraphone - one of numerous instruments she plays on the album - conjures up eerie visions of a deep, dark woods, but Lenka's spine-tingling "ah-ah-oo" howl suggests that Trouble really is the one in trouble now.
"It's a mood-enhancer," she says of her record and mood enhancing is something she's a bit of an expert at, having provided the "strangely haunting" (Rolling Stone) vocals for Decoder Ring's evocative soundscapes over the course of two albums. "I don't like it when people are depressed. I want to cheer them up," she says, giving Trouble a swift kick in the ass.
Although the album is rife with broken romances ("Wrote Me Out," co-written with AFI's Hunter Burgan, strangely enough), self-loathing ("Anything I'm Not"), difficult relationships ("Dangerous & Sweet," with - stranger still - Howie Day on guest vocals) and long distance longing ("Skipalong"), it is nevertheless uplifting.
In characteristic Lenka fashion, lead single "The Show" takes a dour premise - that life is a show, and sometimes a pretty bad one at that - and delivers it with unexpected aplomb, erupting into a bold, brassy closing refrain of "I want my money back!" "I decided I should just get all my friends to come in and be like the drunken tavern chorus," she explains. "Australian folk singer Missy Higgins joined in on the bit."
"Don't Let Me Fall," with strings conducted by composer/arranger David Campbell (otherwise known as Beck's father), began as a neurotic love song inspired by the work of filmmaker/performance artist/author Miranda July (Me And You and Everyone We Know), but evolved into an exquisitely soothing song that borders on lullaby. Producer Mike Elizondo (Fiona Apple, Jay Z) aided Lenka in this bit of alchemy, arranging for the session to take place in one of the historic Capitol Records studios.
"It was just extraordinary, being in a studio with nine string players and David conducting," she says. "I'm normally in a grungy garage making my music so this was pretty posh."
Lenka's fresh sensibility extends to every element of her music, as the whimsical, paper art, stop-motion animated videos she creates with fellow Aussie James Gulliver Hancock, a visual artist, demonstrate. "We're sort of an art duo. I'm really into craft styles, things looking a bit badly done and childlike on purpose - rather in the vein of Michel Gondry," she says.
Sep 11 2008 - Hotel Cafe residency - Los Angeles, California
Sep 18 2008 - 89.9 KCRW PRESENTS Lenka at the Hotel Cafe - Los Angeles, California
Sep 23 2008 - Mercury Lounge record release!! - New York, New York
Sep 24 2008 - Late Night With Conan O'Brien - New York
Sep 25 2008 - Hotel Cafe residency - Los Angeles, California
Sep 27 2008 - Largo - Los Angeles, California
Nov 11 2008 - Hotel Cafe Tour - Bluebird - Denver, Colorado
Nov 12 2008 - Hotel Cafe Tour - Avalon Theater - Salt Lake City, Utah
Nov 13 2008 - Hotel Cafe Tour - Knitting Factory Concert House - Boise, Idaho
Nov 14 2008 - Hotel Cafe Tour - Doug Fir - Portland, Oregon
Nov 15 2008 - Hotel Cafe Tour - Chop Suey - Seattle, Washington
Nov 17 2008 - Hotel Cafe Tour - Great America Music Hall - San Francisco, California
Nov 18 2008 - Hotel Cafe Tour - Henry Fonda Theater - Los Angeles, California
Nov 19 2008 - Hotel Cafe Tour - Los Angeles, California