Discovering Lael Neale was one of those moments of internet magic, coming across an Instagram post with her music. Immediately drawn into her dreamy world, I didn’t miss the chance of a live experience – online again of course – but no less touching than a show can be.
Lael Neale’s concert on the blogotheque Instagram was an intimate event – around 50 people gathered to watch her perform the new album “Acquainted with Night”, a few songs accompanied by Guy Blakeslee in their studio. The sound was so beautiful: the charming simplicity of the instrumentation with the omnichord’s retro organ sound – that meanwhile became infamous – and some e-piano or e-guitar embraced the poetry of Lael Neale songs and created a magical atmosphere.
And like always after experiencing an intimate show we got to chat a bit, I took the chance to ask her for an interview about this beautiful album and she happily agreed. You can still watch Lael Neale’s stay away show here on the blogotheque Instagram and listen and order the album “Acquainted with Night” here.
“It was an unexpected coincidence that the album was released at a time when most people are going through some intense personal re-evaluation & society as a whole has paused and been forced to look at the way we have operated in a new light.
That’s the state of mind I was in during the writing and recording process, so it’s extremely gratifying to think, to hope, that it might serve people now in the same way.”
repeat magazine: Your album fits so well into these uncertain times, giving comfort and it’s almost cathartic to listen to it: the experience seems to lift the weight of the pandemic a little bit off our shoulders. Was it cathartic to you, too when you wrote the album or while you play and sing the songs now?
Lael Neale: I have always turned to music to process feelings or events in my life that have felt overwhelming. At the time I wrote these songs (2019) I had been experiencing a period of significant transformation in my personal life and so the music served as a space to retreat to and find groundedness and comfort. It was an unexpected coincidence that the album was released at a time when most people are going through some intense personal re-evaluation & society as a whole has paused and been forced to look at the way we have operated in a new light. That’s the state of mind I was in during the writing and recording process so it’s extremely gratifying to think, to hope, that it might serve people now in the same way.
repeat magazine: Was the release pushed by the label because of corona last year? If so, it’s even more fitting now.
Lael Neale: The label had received the album sometime in November 2019 and it wasn’t until March 2020 that I heard back. I am pretty sure the pandemic had something to do with the response. Since there hasn’t been a demand for dance floor hits this past year, I think there was space for more introspective, reflective music to break through.
I like to think of our art and culture as a farmer’s field. There needs to be a rotational approach to what’s planted and harvested in order for the land to stay healthy. We go through periods where society needs outgoing, bright, flashy music and art & then we need a break, a reprieve, something more soothing and restful. I would like to stay tuned in to what is needed in the time and to work to deliver that. To remain relevant.
“I was becoming acquainted with parts of myself that were shadowed, that were obscured by either time, distance or forgetfulness, that were asking to be seen.”
repeat magazine: I feel a lot of nostalgia on this album, not only through the vintage instruments, sounds and retro aesthetics in your videos, but also in the lyrics. Nostalgia as a yearning for the unknown and for fantasizing about an ideal world, but also nostalgia as bittersweet throwbacks to old memories. How do you think about nostalgia? Is it a good or a bad thing for you?
Lael Neale: I love nostalgia. It is formative to who we are and yet it is untouchable, unnameable. It is forever just out of our grasp. I don’t know how I would create music without a measure of nostalgia. Not too much, but just enough. That’s part of why I called the album Acquainted with Night. I was becoming acquainted with parts of myself that were shadowed, that were obscured by either time, distance or forgetfulness and that were asking to be seen. With that said, I try to remember to remain present in my life. I have a tendency to romanticize and look both backwards and forwards with longing.
repeat magazine: One of my first impressions was that your lyrics are so beautifully poetic. Only later I read somewhere that you actually have a degree in literature or creative writing: Are you, first and foremost, a writer? How is the process of songwriting for you? Do you first write poems and later compose the music or do you have the melodies on your mind while you write the lyrics?
Lael Neale: I did graduate with a degree in literature, but I never even knew what that meant. As though that could make me a writer. I loved words, but I knew I wasn’t good enough to simply become a writer. And I had a strong compulsion to sing, so I found that my ideal medium would probably be music. Sound could express more than my words alone. Some people can make their words sing from the blank page, but I found that I needed music to complete the feeling-thought. I typically start with the instrument and melody and get an idea of the feeling that wants to come through and then fit my words around that. Once the melody is established, I do work on the words for quite a while to streamline & replace & strengthen the statement the song is making.
“…songs are a safe space to retreat into
in order to explore and harmonize a multitude of feelings.”
‘sadness is just another word for
feeling too much’
repeat magazine: Speaking of feelings… Are you a highly sensitive person and how does it affect your music making? It’s a safe place to put all the feelings into, isn’t it?
Lael Neale: I go through waves of feeling a lot & then feeling utterly numb, distant and removed. Often sadness is what breaks me out of the numbness (which I find very unsettling) and I feel grateful for the sadness. It brings me back to the land of the living. I’m not talking about sadness as depression, but more a quiet melancholy. It’s usually when I’m in that vulnerable state of mind that I can write best. It’s a listening, receptive mode. And, yes, songs are a safe space to retreat into in order to explore and harmonize a multitude of feelings.
repeat magazine: Thank you. I’m really looking forward to a real-life show in the future.
cover photo by Guy Blakeslee
interview: Suzee Lee for repeat magazine.