Motherhood changes a person, so it must also hold true that motherhood affects anything a person creates. It did for Lenka, who found herself reflecting on life in a new way when it came time to create her third album, Shadows, a quietly hushed collection of emotionally-charged lullabies. After the release of her second album, Two, in 2011, Lenka began penning new music, gathering songs from a variety of sessions throughout her pregnancy and first few months as a mother. The impact of creating a new person reverberated deeply in the music and lyrics that emerged, even if not always in the most direct way.
“This album is a dreaming album,” says Lenka, a songwriter and multi-instrumentalist singer who splits her time between Australia and New York. “Not only because of the baby. It’s actually something that I’ve always wanted to do. I knew back when I was making album one and album two that one day I’d love to make a quiet, lullaby album. When I was younger, I used to listen to albums at night and fall asleep. I think that always stayed with me. It’s almost like you’re in a more vulnerable state. And I want to be part of that as a musician, and make music for those awaiting ears as they fall asleep. Then it’s as if the songs can almost go straight into your dreams and I can participate in the listener’s subconscious.”
After touring on Two, Lenka returned home to Australia, determined to make a new record as she liked, without the pressure of a timeline. The idea was to keep the process organic and only commit to a song when it felt right. The musician recorded some of the disc in Woodstock with Kevin Salem in late 2011 and spent time laying down new tracks in Sydney with Tom Schutzinger in June 2012. Lenka even dug up one song, “Nothing Here But Love,” from a 2008 session in Montreal with Pierre Marchand. Although the sessions were scattered and sometimes culled together from bits and pieces, the album itself finds a deep cohesion in both its lilting sonic aesthetic and the musician’s search for meaning during this specific time in her life.
“I feel like it’s very much a reflective album,” Lenka says. “Life and death and birth and marriage and that ongoing pursuit of happiness. I felt like I actually had a chance to sit back, take a look at my life and have a think about it. So I suppose the difference between the themes that I normally write about is that I’ve often used songwriting as a way to work out my struggles and find a way to make myself happy. There aren’t that many songs like that on this album. This album is a little bit more reflecting on my life as a whole and what feels beautiful about it and what might be sad about it and where it’s got to so far.”
“Two Heartbeats,” one of the disc’s loveliest stand-outs, is written from the baby’s perspective (and even features the in utero heartbeat of Lenka’s son). “Heart To the Party,” a buoyant, hand-clapping number, reveals the album’s more upbeat side while “After The Winter,” which features Tracy Bonham on violin, is a lovely, optimistic moment of solace. The resonance of the songs on Shadows expands beyond Lenka’s experiences as a new mother even as that impact is revealed. Her grappling with her place in the world feels universal, urging these songs to a place of broader significance than just her own struggles and learnings.
“I’ve really had my eyes opened to very much of a worldview and I got introduced to so many cultures and ways of life really quickly because of my career,” Lenka notes. “I always was quite a gypsy and really enjoyed traveling, but now I’m actually craving home a lot more and it’s sent me into this real nesting mode for the time being.”
Lenka, whose music has gained a sizeable appeal on a worldwide scale over the past few years, is interested in evolving her live show to reflect the sonic difference between this new album and her prior releases, Two and her 2008 self-titled debut. There are also plans for several songs on the disc, released on the musician’s own label Skipalong Records, to receive accompanying music videos to foster the visual aesthetic. The singer, who creates these videos along with her artist/husband, James Gulliver Hancock, attended art school and has been running online crafting workshops for fans. The PledgeMusic campaign for Shadows, which helped fund the album, even features “mystery craft” rewards for fans.
Shadows brings Lenka to a new place in her life and musical career. The album is a beautiful, captivating collection of peaceful, introspective numbers that are both calming and thoughtful. The songs are both deeply personal and highly relatable – even for those who haven’t experienced the affecting moment of new parenthood.
“I think one of the wonderful things about making music for me is that it is really about your life at a point in time,” Lenka says. “I write about what I’m going through. This album reveals where I am now.”