Following on from his review of “Prime,” John Toolan took some time out to put a few questions to LeeSun. They talked about her influences, spirituality, song-writing, personal music recommendations and much, much more…
As I said in my review, the mix of the album allows your vocals to come across as being very intimate, who do you think have been your major influences in your singing style?
Suzanne Vega was the first singer I heard who made me think, “I love what she’s doing. I would love to do that.” When I started listening to pop music, I was mainly drawn to music that was “pretty” sounding and calming. It was probably an escape of sorts. I felt a lot of angst back then. Simon & Garfunkel, Leonard Cohen, and Anita O’Day were also big influences.
Many of the songs appear to be infused with a deep spirituality, is this significant to you as a singer/songwriter?
Yes, definitely! As far back as I can remember, faith and spirituality have been profoundly important to me as a person. I have memories of being 3 or 4 years old and conversing with God. That probably sounds a bit crazy, and makes me seem much weirder than I am! I’m not actually very weird at all … I think.
3. There is genuinely no gimmick to entice the potential listener to the album, and the songs themselves display a great deal of honesty and integrity. Do you feel that is important to your craft?
Thanks John, that is such a huge compliment, and it means so much to me! I write for a lot of reasons, like self-expression, self-discovery, and connecting with other people. I sometimes worry about the first two reasons. I wonder if what I do is just another form of self indulgence, and wonder if I should be more concerned with the third reason. But I’ve always thought that if I just do what I do as best as I can, and not concern myself with enticing people to my music, then sooner or later, something I write will connect with some people, somewhere. And that makes it all worthwhile!
I emailed Ahava’s Song to Jane Siberry and she told me that I needed to work on being more honest with my singing, and move past a certain “little girlishness” that she thought I was using to hide behind. I was surprised by that, and I still wonder what it is that she heard, and if it’s something I can or should work on. Maybe some day I’ll understand what she meant, but for now I have no idea!
“The Humming Song” is an absolute favourite of mine from the album; can you tell us a little bit more of what that song is about?
One summer when I was a music student, I was living in a shared house. It was evening. All my housemates were out. So I sat down at the piano and tried to work out a chord progression that had been running through my head. I did eventually work it out, and realised it was a Beatles song. So that was a bit disappointing, especially since it was a really nice progression. But a bit like peeling away layers, once that progression was out of my head, another tune started running through my head. So I sat there trying to make out the words and the tune, and I wrote down what I heard, one bit at a time. And when the tune ended that was the Humming Tune. The words didn’t make complete sense to me, and there was a lot of mixed up imagery in it which bothered me a bit. I usually like my lyrics to be tidy.
Anyway, to answer your question, the song is about examining your life to see if you’re doing what really matters to you, and if the things that matter to you are really things that will fulfil you, long-term. I probably wrote that song out of a need to challenge people. I love doing that! But sneakily. I like to give people scary challenges without scaring them too much. You know, in an empowering sort of way.
There are so many styles of music integrated into your songs, and that is partly what gives them their appeal. Who, if anyone, do you feel is your target audience?
Most of the songs on Prime were written when I was in my early twenties. When I wrote the tunes I just assumed my target audience would be similar to me. But I’m still singing those songs and I’m in my thirties now. I still think that my target audience is probably made up of people who are quite similar to me, but perhaps that has more to do with the way people think and experiences they’re going through, than their age?
Of all the new musical talent that is around at the moment, do you have any personal recommendations?
Yes, so many! Too many to list here, so I’ll just say a few. I adore Laura J Martin, who kindly added a flute part to “There’s a Strangeness in Me” on my album. She is absolutely riveting, live. I also love Hannah-Rei who’s working on an album now. I think it’s going to be a beautiful album. And Steph Stephenson has such a sweet singing voice and writes almost painfully honestly. I always look forward to hearing her releases on Youtube. And in a completely different vein, there’s “Jack Is …” creating some really exciting music. They’re three sixteen year old Leeds students. The Forlorn Hope with Anna Elias (formerly of Bodixa) is very beautiful. Captain Wilberforce is lovely music to kick back to. Kodo and Seamless are producers I’ve worked with, and I love what they do as well. And that’s just to name a few! And must also give a shout out to Emma Shaheen, Icon Tunes, Strawberry Vale, Hoshal Patrick, Love of the Brave, Natasha Williams, and Richard Lamb. And if Benny Smith who did all the photos for my album puts out an album, I’d definitely buy it and recommend it! And last but not least, would definitely recommend that anyone who hasn’t seen Jon Gomm live, go see him. He’s not really a “new” artist, but he doesn’t have as wide an audience as he deserves, though it’s ever growing.
There’s so much truly exciting and talented new musical talent around at the moment, and I think it’s so important for people to find artists who really excite and inspire them, and to support them by telling others about them or buying their music or even just dropping them a line from time to time or commenting on their youtube channels. I’ve been trying to get my music out for a long time, and it can be a very hard slog indeed.
Your Blog “What Would LeeSun Do” makes me smile, what gave you the idea to come up with that?
It’s an allusion to the Christian motto “What Would Jesus Do”. I partly wanted to provoke people one of my favourite pastimes and I needed an apt description for the blog which is supposed to be a free space for people to ask me anything they like. I confess I’ve let the blog lapse as there were so few visitors. But I’ll look into posting on it again in the new year, since you’ve enjoyed it! That’s encouraging to hear.
As an artist trying to get people to listen to your music, how important do you think social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook are?
That’s a good question. To be honest, I don’t really know! I’ve got both a Twitter which I don’t use much yet and a Facebook for my music, mainly because I know a lot of people use those sites, and I’d like to be findable if anyone wants to find me. But people have to hear about me from somewhere else, in order to look for me on those sites! So I need to work on that, for example, by gigging more or trying to get more radio play or posting more things on Youtube.
I think all of the sites can potentially play an important role in getting one’s music out, so it’s good to try to at least have a presence on all of them. And ultimately, to grow a reliable fanbase, one has to work towards building a mailing list, and sending out exciting updates from time to time. I think that’s the most important role of the social networking sites: providing an point of entry for people who will eventually sign up to your mailing list.
Do you have any new projects in the pipeline?
Yes! I’m working on a stripped down acoustic album with all new songs. Each song will be arranged for just piano and vocals, or guitar and vocals. I have a background in classical piano, and I’d really like to put it to use by writing more beautiful and distinctive piano arrangements for my songs.
Finally, would you still be interested in pursuing a career in psychotherapy?
Definitely! It would take 6 years to get qualified, studying part-time, and I’m seriously thinking about applying for 2012.
Thanks John for this interview. It’s truly been a pleasure!