Aussie songbird Lenka is an actress, musician, entrepreneur, mom, and all-around sweetheart. She certainly is keeping busy this year with the impending release of her fourth studio album The Bright Side this summer. We already like her first new single “Blue Skies,” but needed to get more information about the woman behind the music. So, while in Austin, we took the time to meet up with Lenka and ask her about it all. The enchanting singer-songwriter was kind enough to share a little of her story about how SX helped her get her start, what she has in store for the year, and what makes her happy.
mxdwn: How’s your SX been going so far?
Lenka: It’s good! I got here yesterday. I haven’t done my showcases yet. Well, there’s one showcase and one like Aussie BBQ which is a bigger gig for me. You know, I’ve just been chatting with people and going to a couple parties and doing a few little like singing songs for a couple websites and things like that. It’s good. This is my fourth SX, so I brace myself and I have a thick skin and I really take it slow. I know that you can’t burnout too quick. I’ve actually only had one drink and it was actually my birthday yesterday. So, that’s really controlled.
mxdwn: Well, happy belated! You’re a good sport. What’s your favorite part of SX?
Lenka: The list is short. I think my favorite part is that you can kill so many birds with one stone. It’s just such a conglomeration of media and industry. For bands, if you’ve got an album coming out, or you’ve got a new project or you’re a new artist, it’s a great place to be because you could just get enough to get that buzz; whereas if you’re in the real world, this is probably months of making connections bit by bit.
mxdwn: Getting your start in music, your dad was a musician, right? So, how did you get your start?
Lenka: Not through him (he was a jazz musician), though he’s the reason why I could play with music because I actually learned piano and trumpet as a kid. He was a trumpet player. But I didn’t want to be a musician at all. I used to want to be a dancer when I was a little girl, and then I was about 12, I wanted to start being an actor. I actually did start being a professional actor as a teenager. Still no music. No music. I guess I just sort of had to admit it to myself that I really did love it in my early twenties. I was in a play as an actor. I was singing a song. My character like sang a song in a play and I realized that I was really enjoying that experience of singing on stage more than anything else, and that the audience really responded well. Like people would all come up to me in the lobby after the show and be like, “(sigh) you have to keep singing! Your voice is amazing!… Acting? Who cares!” You know, so I started to put more effort in – go back to school, brush up on my piano skills and theory skills, started writing songs – and then I met these guys from a band called Decoder Ring and joined up with them. And actually, the first time I came to America was to go to SXSW with them. They were like an instrumental outfit, but I was their singer for a couple albums, and now they’re instrumental.
mxdwn: What drove you to move out on your own?
Lenka: They were not very poppy at all – like pretty ambient and undergroundy kind of sound – and in that kind of music, vocals are not important. So, even though I was singing songs and we did have a hit in Australia, I was just battling with the fact that like the guitar was as loud if not louder in the mix than me and that I wasn’t really allowed to write any real featured vocals. Lyrics were not important. They even had me mumble sometimes like without any words, and I wanted to kind of tell stories and to be vocally driven. So, I just started writing some stuff on the side that they would reject. I think they didn’t want anything like that in that band. One of the guys in the band helped me demo them up. So, you know it was just a small state of an idea. It wasn’t like “I am leaving this band!” When we were here at SX, I would play those demos for a couple people who suggested and helped me go to LA and write with right people and just sort of start and see what happened. So, I did that. I went home for a couple months. Then I came back to America. In two weeks, I did like six strong demos with people that got syncs on TV and stuff really quickly. That just all happened. I got a publishing deal offer to do a solo project. So, then I was like (to the band), “I’m going to do this,” and they were like “Ok,” easygoing, “We’ll be here.” I never did anything with them again other than the occasional reunion show.
mxdwn: That’s surprising that SX did so much for you early on – to move out on your own. That’s really exciting.
Lenka: Well, it wasn’t literally getting signed at SX. That doesn’t happen to anyone. But it definitely was being here and meeting people, and one thing leads to another, for sure. If I didn’t come, it wouldn’t have happened.
mxdwn: Do you believe in the butterfly effect?
Lenka: For sure. Absolutely. Planting the seed. It’s very important… One thing leads to another, and if you don’t sort of say yes to the universe and just try things, nothing will ever happen to you.
mxdwn: On that note, how do you feel that’s changed your approach to making music?
Lenka: I have gone back to an experimental sound for one album, but I don’t know. As I sort of hang around longer and longer in the music biz, I always try to make it easier on myself. I’d really like to experiment and try new things, but I also like to, I don’t know. I don’t want to waste time, in a way. So, I do what I know works. I do what I know are my strengths, and that is to make music that makes people feel good, and is quite positive and uplifting and optimistic. So, that’s kind of what I’ve been focusing on lately because I know I can do it, and I figure I should just make that strength stronger. Baby sound was totally different, and it was fun for me. It was just an experiment, and I wasn’t really trying to push it that hard because I was having a baby and stuff. But right now, I’m just trying to focus on my strengths and set for a little while. And I just, you know, as far as the actual practical side of recording and stuff like that, I make it really easy on myself. I record in very safe, friendly environments with people I know, and you know, timetable-wise really make it fit into my life rather than going off to who knows where for a month to finish on schedule. I don’t really do that anymore. I only make work what works for me in my life.
mxdwn: What’s important to you?
Lenka: My family now. Being a mom, it just like changes everything. You’re not going to be an asshole like, “See you, kid! I’m just going off to make an album for six weeks.” You can’t do that. You just feel awful. It just doesn’t work like that anymore. They have your heart. So, yes, definitely, important things have shifted. My priorities have shifted.
mxdwn: At this point in time, do you think you would try to share some of your musical talent with your child?
Lenka: Yeah, he’s actually got a good feel for music. I’m not pushing it. I did go to his preschool and teach them about rhythm. They’re all little – between two and five. But I brought in a boom box and had some beats and talked about drop beats and like the off beats. I do want to help that next generation get an early start, but I definitely won’t push him into anything he doesn’t want to do. He sits at the piano and just like plays notes and feels it. He goes like, “Happy,” on the high bits and like, “Scary…” So, he definitely likes creating sounds.
mxdwn: What’s some wisdom that you try to impart on him?
Lenka: Look both ways before you cross the road. I don’t know. It just comes out little by little, I guess. I think it’s interesting being in an era and in a community that is really really open-minded with things like gender and stuff like that. Well, he’s starting to become aware of gender, for example – I’m a boy, and that’s a boy thing, and that’s a girl thing. But in the world that I live in, I know lots of people that have changed genders and stuff like that. So, it’s like I’m teaching him. He’s asking me questions like, “Mommy, will I have boobies one day?” And I’m like, “No, you won’t ever have boobies. Unless you want to have boobies, then you could probably have some boobies.” It’s just sort of like anything goes, you know? It’s hard for me now to actually set any boundaries because I know there aren’t any boundaries. You can do whatever you want. So, I guess I’m just going to teach him to be a good person. Be kind and be strong, and then from there, he can do whatever he wants… I’m sure I’ll make many mistakes and I already have, but you do what you can.
mxdwn: Well, in the short-term, what are your goals for this year?
Lenka: I’m focusing a bit more on work this year. I’ve got an album coming out in June. So, I just really want to give that as much of a start as I can. My time will be in America for a while. I’ll be touring in America and Europe and Asia. You know – just doing videos and loving it. I’m trying to make the creative world that supports the music because I’ve got my own label now, but even so, I still always was very involved in that side. I love the whole visual side of music.
mxdwn: It’s really exciting to hear new music from you. What can we expect to hear from the album while you’re touring?
Lenka: Well, these sets at SX are quite short. So, I want to play a couple old songs and I’ll only play like three or four new songs. When I do the album tour, I’ll be able to play maybe half the album, and they’re all really fun songs. There’s one or two kind of deeper down-tempo songs, but mostly they’re just happy songs. So, it’s going to be really fun.
mxdwn: Do you feel that you’re a happy person?
Lenka: Yeah, totally. More and more.
mxdwn: What makes you happy?
Lenka: Well, feeling connected to nature makes me happy. My child makes me happy. I’m definitely happier since I’ve had a kid. Something was missing for a while, and now I feel much more content. That’s just a primal instinct I think that’s being satisfied. It makes me feel happy to remind myself that nothing really matters. We’re just tiny little ants crawling on this great big planet. Not to take myself too seriously, and at the moment not to take the awful things that are happening in the world too seriously and too personally, because that’s the only thing that gets me down… When I think about Islamic militants and things like that, I get really upset and scared, and I just have been trying to basically ignore it and just focus on the good things in my life and the good things in the world.