By Maddy Lehr (KTSW) and Keller Welton (KJHK)
After a successful first day of Levitation, Keller Welton, Programming Director at KJHK Lawrence, and I began our Friday with the lovely Leah Senior. Being her first time in the states, touring with King Gizzard, we hopped on the opportunity to speak with her.
Keller: You’ve been on tour with King Gizzard. How has tour been?
Leah: It’s been really fun! It’s my first time over here, and it’s been pretty crazy. Playing those big stages has been a little bit scary, but it’s been awesome.
Keller: Red Rocks on your U.S. debut. That’s pretty insane. I’m sure you play festivals all the time in Australia, so how does Levitation compare?
Leah: I don’t know yet because I just got here today, but I’m looking forward to checking it all out.
Keller: Well, it should be quite exciting. Levitation’s got quite the history here in Austin.
Maddy: Let’s talk about your music. What are your inspirations?
Leah: I have lots of inspirations. Where do you start? I listen to a lot of bedroom 60s folk music. I like a lot of British 60s folk music. I like Fairport Convention. From this part of the world, I like Joni and that kind of stuff. It also depends on what I’m listening to at the time. Probably the songwriter tradition appeals to me the most. I like Nick Drake and John Martyn.
Maddy: What are you listening to right now?
Leah: My favorite more recent discovery has been Marina Allen, she’s awesome. I love her album Centrifics which she just put out.
Keller: How would you describe your own music?
Leah: It’s always hard to describe your own music. It depends on the day. I feel like my writing can be a little schizophrenic where I like writing from an introspective point of view, but then I also think it’s really important to try and be more playful or fun.
Keller: I noticed a lot more playful songs on The Passing Scene.
Leah: Yeah, I totally had to change my approach for that album. I felt like I had done all this serious, introspective, outpouring stuff for the previous record, and I just hit a massive writer’s block. I had to just sit at the piano and play, you know? I think it’s easy to get trapped into only being comfortable showing one side of yourself, but I think for longevity’s sake, you’re better off accessing all the different facets of your personality.
Keller: Kind of related to that, how would you say your style has progressed over time?
Leah: I think what happens with time is you zoom out a little bit, but it can also be cyclical. Let’s say you want to be playful and silly, and then you completely backflip on that and you come back to writing from a more serious point of view. I feel like it’s cyclical, but maybe the circles are getting bigger. You can encompass more and more things as you go along.
Maddy: That’s such a cool way to describe it.
Keller: How did you first get involved with the Flightless record label?
Leah: I played a little show, and I went to go and visit a friend at a pub. I caught the tram and when I got there, I ordered a beer, went outside, and called my friend. I was like, “Where are you?” And she said she was out the front but so was I. Then I realized that I had gone to the wrong venue, but I had already bought a beer, so I decided to just make some friends.
I saw these cool-looking guys and just tagged along with them for the rest of the night. Later that night, I played some songs. All those boys were the King Gizz guys who had just played a show that I had gone to by accident. They asked me if I had any of my own songs, and I had just finished making my first album. I sent them that, and the label put out my music. I got so lucky.
Keller: That’s amazing. How would you say being a part of the Flightless record label has impacted you as a musician?
Leah: I think it’s been really good in that there’s a lot of freedom. Nobody tells you what to do, and you can kind of just do your own thing and feel supported. Becoming friends with that community has influenced my writing as well. I lived for a long time with Zak, Traffik Island Zak. I think he left a really big impression on me. His ethics and his creativity were really inspiring to be around.
Keller: What was that house like?
Leah: It was just me, Jesse, and Zak living there for a long time. It was a big old weatherboard in the outer suburbs of Melbourne. It was a really fun period of time. Jesse records all of our music. We set up a home recording studio in one of the rooms. We recorded The Passing Scene there. We recorded lots of other bands, Grace Cummings, Alex Hamilton. It was a really musical house, we always had lots of fun stuff going on.
Keller: It’s only a matter of time before it’s a historical landmark.
Leah: It’s actually been demolished, we got booted out and it got flattened straight away.
Keller: That’s insane, landlords.
Keller: Are there any local Melbourne artists you’d like to highlight?
Leah: I would highlight my friend Zoe Fox. Jesse just recorded a really beautiful psych-folk album of hers. Her and Alex Hamilton as well. He’s more country folk but writes really beautiful heart-wrenching songs. There’s heaps, I could go on forever.
Keller: We talked a little bit about your writing process, are there any poets or lyricists that you find particularly inspiring?
Leah: I love the nature poets. I like W.S. Merwin, Mary Oliver, the romantic nature classic stuff. Lyrically, I guess it’s really obvious, but Joni. I just think she’s endlessly inspiring with how personal she gets.
Keller: I know you’ve worked with Howard Eynon, but most people don’t know who he is. I was wondering if you could talk about him a little bit.
Leah: He was an actor, played a minor role in Mad Max, but in 1972 he recorded an album called So What if I’m Standing in Apricot Jam. That record became a favorite, it’s a really fun sort of psychedelic folk record. Zak had a copy of it, so he’d play it at our house, and I’d think it was so cool.
We showed Jamie, our friend who’s the Sublation photographer, and he tracked him down and we had a house concert. He’s just a really interesting, really fun guy who’s just so youthful and ridiculous. He’s exactly who you would imagine would write that album. He’s a real hero of Zak’s.
Maddy: Is there anybody you’re excited to see while you’re here at Levitation?
Leah: I am hoping to see The Legendary Pink Dots tonight.
Maddy: One more question, I ask this to everybody now. If you were a flavor, what would you be?
Leah: That’s a hard one. I don’t know, maybe guava.
Maddy: I love that, so tropical.
Leah: You know actually maybe that’s not realistic. Maybe I’d be Weetabix, kind of bland but wholesome.