Lenka on a serious note
Barry C Chung
When Lenka moved to the United States in 2008, she had to learn a lot of rules about the technical side of the craft she practises.
'My concept of [song] writing has changed since I moved to America to do pop music,' the 32-year-old says. 'I used to never really think in terms of verse-chorus, verse-chorus, bridge, chorus and outro. There is a total structure to pop music.
'Nowadays they just say, hook, hook, hook ...' she says, referring to a catchy bit of a song that gets stuck in your head. 'That's the structure of the modern pop song. You need to have a hook within the first 10 seconds. Then you've got to have a hook in the verse.'
Lenka's latest release Two displays her more refined approach to songwriting. 'I think I was a bit timid at the beginning,' she said. 'When I listen back to songs from the first album [Lenka], I think it paints a picture of a girl that's less secure and not really sure of who she is in the world.'
Although there are rules when it comes to writing, inspiration is less strict and can strike anytime, anywhere. The newly married 32-year-old has one special place she finds especially inspirational. 'I like writing on my husband's father's piano in Sydney. Whenever I'm at the house I find it really inspiring and go straight for the piano. That's where I wrote Everything At Once, Live Like You're Dying [from Two].'
Prior to her music career, Lenka was an established actress in her native Australia. But music was always fated to be on her career path; her father is a jazz musician and music has 'always been in the blood'. Even when she began studying acting as a teen, her interest in music never faded. Her passion may have been suppressed, but it never extinguished.
Looking back, she admits it was a case of burying her feelings for the sake of independence. 'At first, I didn't want to do it as a career. I guess I just wanted to make my own path, rather than do what my dad did. I had to admit later that I really loved it.
'Once I started focusing on songwriting, I realised it was more satisfying and more empowering than acting.'
Soon, Lenka stopped auditioning for roles, and started working with electronic-rock band Decoder Ring as a guest singer. She ended up touring with them for a couple of years, and recorded two albums with them, writing her own lyrics. 'To me it has always been about telling my own story and expressing my emotions,' she says. 'So it's very much singer-songwriter, all part and parcel.'
And it's her writing that eventually got her her big break as a solo artist. 'I didn't get offered a [solo] record deal, I got offered a publishing deal first. Then the record deal followed.'
With her debut album Lenka came the inevitable tour in 2009: 21 countries in less than 10 months. But the busy schedule provided a treasure trove of inspiration for her craft. '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.'