Looking On The Bright Side With Lenka

Chatting with Lenka, it’s easy to see why she named her new album The Bright Side. The Australian singer/songwriter is full of joy, whether she’s talking about her new songs, motherhood or touring.

The LP – which marks her fourth studio album – is due out June 16. The Bright Side was produced by Chris Braide (Sia, Lana Del Rey), Tim “One Love” Sommers (B.o.B., Eminem) and Dan Romer (Ingrid Michaelson, Greg Laswell). 

Lenka is supporting the release with a U.S. tour that kicks off this weekend at San Diego’s House Of Blues and runs through late July. The indie pop artist told Pollstar that after touring with just a violinist, cellist and guitarist, she’s bringing back the rhythm section on this trip through the U.S. “so I could get people up dancing and get a good vibe happening in the room.”

Pollstar interviewed Lenka a few weeks ago following her appearance on VH1’s “Big Morning Buzz.”

How did “Big Morning Buzz” go?

It was really fun! It was easy, besides the fact that we had to be up before dawn. It was a great pleasure.

You performed “Blue Skies,” which is the first single from the album. It’s such a catchy song, by the way. 

Thank you!

How do you decide which track is going to be the first single? Is it up to you? Do your manager or label have a say in that?

Yes, they do. It’s kind of an “of the people” decision. I love all the songs (laughs) and it’s more about what pops to the distributors of the label. I [have my own] label but we work in conjunction with a bigger label. They know how to listen for radio playability or stuff like that, whether it’s catchy. I think all my little babies are catchy but usually one sticks out more for other people.

I bet it would be hard to choose, like you said, between the babies.

Exactly. You get kind of all wrapped up in it. And you love them all for different reasons.

The Bright Side is due out June 16. Can you talk about your vision for this album?

It’s very much a happy album. It’s kind of all about optimism and striving for joy. It goes through a few different genres of music, it’s quite varied style-wise but there’s always this sort of maintaining feel and theme of trying to live a joyful life and trying to live a fulfilling life. The songs were just coming out that way. Until about halfway through I didn’t know and then I decided it was going to be called The Bright Side. It was going to be about living on the bright side and I sort of followed up with the remaining songs with that in mind.

That’s such a wonderful message to pass on to your listeners.

Thank you. I figure if you’re going to put something out into the world it might as well be positive. I don’t even want to write any depressing songs right now. I just want to put out good vibes.

I couldn’t help compare the title to your last release, 2013’s Shadows.

Well that, I felt like that was a nice progression or rather, completely flipping it on its head — because my last album being called Shadows. And it wasn’t exactly depressing but it was a little melancholy. It was an ambient lullaby album and I was in a little bit of a cocoon, being pregnant and having a baby and kind of hiding away from the world a bit. And now I feel like I’m ready to be back in the world. And I have a toddler and he’s really energetic and I just wanted to like, I felt ready to reemerge as something bigger and brighter.

I love that. How old is your son?

He’s 3. He turned 3 in March.

That’s a fun age.

It’s so fun! He’s completely adorable. And now traveling, we’ve been at home for most of the last year living a pretty regular routine-y kind of life in Sydney. So I was little bit nervous about getting on the plane again. We have done a lot of travel with him but not recently. But he’s actually being fantastic. He’s got his own little suitcase and he’s really, really fun to be with. Yeah, it’s like an adventure.

The title track says, “I’ve got a glass half full and I’m making a toast to you / I’ve got a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow too” and includes the line, “The grass is greener wherever I lay me down.” It sounds like your life is in a really good place.

Well, of course I do always look at those people that can go out to dinner at 10 ‘o‘ clock at night and see a movie whenever they want and romance a little bit that my life isn’t like that anymore, so the grass can still be greener. I very quickly count my chickens and realize that I wasn’t happy in the last kind of decade before I had a kid. I was striving for happiness but I was never able to quite find it, even with career success and love. Just something was missing. As soon as I approached 30 I was like, “Oh, what is wrong?” And I realized that I needed to procreate. And now that I have (laughs) I have a lot more joy in my life. It’s just some sort of biological thing I think.

I guess there’s something to be said about that whole “biological clock,” huh?

Yeah. Not for everyone, but definitely for me, it was the answer.

Photo: John Davisson
SXSW, Rusty Spurs, Austin, TX

What was the songwriting process like? Do you have a certain environment you like to create when writing? Or is it just whenever inspiration strikes?

I try to do whenever inspiration strikes but usually I’m on the go or it’s in the middle of the night so I make little notes on my iPhone, little audio notes, there’s a recorder on there. And then I sit at the piano or with “Blue Skies” I actually just straight away started with a beat on my laptop and synthesizer sounds because I knew I wanted it to be a bit more of a dance-y kind of number. Because if I sit at acoustic piano everything turns out sounding like “The Show” or one of my typical kind of songs, which a lot of my music does. I have a particular way of playing piano and that’s all I can do. But a fair bit of songs were co-written and about half the record was actually written to various briefs, some of them fairly vague and some of them were quite specific to different film and TV projects.  They’re sill very much “Lenka songs” but someone might have given me a scene or something to go with their project. So that’s how I sort of, you know how I said before that I found that halfway through the process I realized I had these kind of overriding themes throughout the whole record. I didn’t even know I was really making a record. I just went, “What are all these songs?” because I’m allowed to use them whether or not they’re in something. And then I realized that they were all tied together through that theme and I moved on and made the rest of the album from there.

I know we talked about in the beginning that it’s hard to pick favorite tracks but are there any that really stand out to you or that you’d recommend that new fans check out for sure?

Hmmm … It’s very hard. I’m going to actually hold the CD right now because I just got my first physical copy and I can look at the track listing.

So there’s a few that fans might have heard, like “The Long Way Home,” which was in a show called “Believe.”  And I played it live a few times. It’s the opening track to the album. Even though it was written to be about this little girl with special powers going on a journey (laughs), it’s quite universal and I really like it as a kind of, it’s like one of those tales with a moral and the moral is – If you take the long way home, if you get a little lost you can actually find out who you are and discover a lot more about the world and yourself. So I think that’s a nice message to remember. Sometimes you just have to remind yourself that it’s OK to let go of the past and just see what happens.

What’s the setup for the live shows? Do you tour with a backing band?

I do. I really never play just me unless it’s some tiny thing or circumstances make it so. But I don’t like to play completely alone. I really like to have musicians up on stage with me. So I do change it up though. And this time around it’s going to me, drums, bass, guitar and people kind of move around and play different keyboards and things as well. But that’s a little different because I normally have a trumpet player and I’m not doing trumpet this time. It’s going to have a slightly different sound and be quite upbeat and energetic.

That sounds like a great time.

Yeah! I think it will be fun. Actually the last time I toured America was for Shadows and we just had violin, cello, guitar and me. And that was lovely but I found it to be a little bit, I don’t want to say boring. I don’t want to say my own show was boring. But it was so low energy that I was less really wanting to add that rhythm section for my next tour so I could get people up dancing and get a good vibe happening in the room.

It keeps it interesting to mix up the sound for the live show.

Drums are good. We like drums. (laughs) And for this record it’s appropriate because every single song has a beat. There’s only two vaguely ballads on this song and one’s kind of true poppy and one’s kind of hip-hop-y. There’s not really any slow, slow songs. So yeah. It’s going to be a fun tour.

Are there any cities you haven’t visited before or any that you’re especially looking forward to returning to?

I haven’t played in Texas for six years or more. So that will be great. And also, Salt Lake City, I haven’t been to for ages. … I think I’ve been everywhere but not for some time. It’s a bit more comprehensive than I’d normally do. We added a bunch more. It’s 21 towns. Normally I only hit 12-15 so it’s a bigger tour for me. But then again, there’s many more cities that I’m not hitting and my fans are a bit angry with me (laughs) but I’m doing the best I can.

Is there anything else that fans might not know about you that you’d like to share with readers?

My god. I sometimes think about some little fact about myself and I try to remember it, ready for questions like this. Because every time somebody asks me, my head is completely blank. … I can’t think of anything I actually want to share. People probably don’t realize that I have a bit of a foul mouth. If you hang out with me, you might be surprise. Because I am Australian. And we do tend to come out with fairly controversial and rude things sometimes. It wouldn’t seem like it from my music. But I’m not always a sweetie pie. (laughs) I can be quite acerbic.

Anything else you’d like to mention about the album or tour that we didn’t get a chance to talk about?  

There’s a cool video coming out for “Unique” that I just finished making. I put it together myself.  I got my fans to send in these selfie kind of videos of themselves dancing to the song and I shot selfie stuff of myself. So it’s a zero-budget video and it’s shot by us and edited by me. But it turned out really great. It’s quite low-res and low quality but it’s a cute video.  

The song’s all about being different or being unique, being your own person even if you don’t fit into what’s considered to be normal … embracing that and loving yourself.

Upcoming dates for Lenka:

June 13 – San Diego, Calif., House Of Blues – Voodoo Stage        
June 15 – West Hollywood, Calif., Troubadour        
June 17 – San Francisco, Calif., Brick & Mortar Music Hall
June 19 – Portland, Ore., Doug Fir Lounge              
June 21 – Seattle, Wash., Barboza     
June 23 – Salt Lake City, Utah, Urban Lounge
June 24 – Denver, Colo., Lost Lake  
June 28 – Dallas, Texas, House Of Blues     
June 29 – Austin, Texas, Stubb’s Bar-B-Q / Waller Creek Amph.                
June 30 – Houston, Texas, House Of Blues 
July 8 – Chicago, Ill., Beat Kitchen   
July 9 – Minneapolis, Minn., Cedar Cultural Center             
July 10 – Madison, Wis., The Frequency      
July 11 – Ann Arbor, Mich., The Ark
July 13 – Toronto, Ontario, The Legendary Horseshoe Tavern         
July 15 – New York, N.Y., Le Poisson Rouge         
July 16 – Cambridge, Mass., The Sinclair     
July 17 – Wilmington, Del., World Cafe Live At The Queen           
July 18 – Vienna, Va., Jammin’ Java 
July 20 – Chapel Hill, N.C., Local 506
July 21 – Atlanta, Ga., Vinyl At Center Stage

For more information please visit LenkaMusic.com.