Born and bred in Hackney, Lea Lea (pronounced “Lee Lee”) grew up surrounded by music. And when you find yourself writing songs for Def Jam and RCA artists by the age of 17, you know you have some talent! The BBC knows too; she’s been picked by BBC 6 Music's Lauren Laverne as a Featured Artist. We caught up with Lea at her East London studio to chat work, the music industry, and encouraging female empowerment.
What’s your heritage?
My dad was born here, but he’s Italian, and my mum’s from Trinidad.
Do you visit the countries often?
I’ve been to Italy a lot but never to Trinidad – I’m going in February, for the first time, for carnival!
That’s going to be a lot of fun – have you got an incredible get-up planned?
I want to get a massive headdress and beaded outfit.
Can’t wait to see! So, are you one of these musicians that’s been singing since they could talk?
Yes. I come from a musical family – my mum was an opera singer and always encouraged us to be musical. My brother’s a drummer and my sister, before she had kids, was a professional vocalist working with producers that worked with people like Mariah Carey. Watching her, it seemed normal to me to sing. The moment mum realised I could sing, she started to get me involved in everything she could. I hated it as a child – I was a painfully shy child, and I loved singing but not in front of other people. I remember at four years old I was in a local singing competition, performing Whitney Houston’s ‘I Wanna Dance With Somebody’, and I won! I hated it, but I won!
Did you study music when you were older, or have any vocal coaching?
I’ve never had singing or song writing lessons. I just sang all the time, listened to everything and really analysed sounds and just practiced constantly.
I think when you teach yourself you’re better able to create your own sound and signature. However, when it comes to the technical side it’s useful to have prior knowledge and wisdom to draw from. I’m taking classes for sound engineering in the evenings, but there’s basically no other women in my school. The men that I work with are incredible and very supportive, but I think we’re missing a step because we need to encourage more women to learn. Women, especially when they’re young, can feel incredibly intimidated by the male-dominant world of music. It can be very daunting, and we need to change the narrative. It’s something that I personally try to encourage in my own environment; getting more women involved in all parts of the music production.
Did the nerves disappear with time?
By the time I was ten I was so nervous that I’d throw up on the side of the stage before performing. Then when I was about eleven I became a Nickelodeon Kid and went on to write songs for the BBC. My first commercial song writing jobs were at the age of eleven/twelve. By the time I was thirteen/fourteen I was done, I quit and became a teenager! It didn’t last very long – a year and a half later I joined a Hip-Hop band. This time my mum hated it! But we did quite well over the three years we were together and did my first big show at eighteen supporting Jay-Z and Beyoncé.
What was the band called?
Haha!!! Amazing. That is incredible.
The worst name you can ever imagine! Every time we said our name we got that same response though. We also did a big show at Earl’s Court with Alicia Keys, Will Smith, Nas...
Do you still take inspiration from that genre?
There’s some good Hip-Hop coming out of the U.K. – mainly grime. I think grime is interesting and exciting in the way that it’s trying to create new sounds. I’m not into a lot of current American Hip-Hop except for Kendrick Lamar.
So what happened after Hip Operatives?
I quit the band when I was 19 to go solo, and started working with a House duo making Dance-House music. That was my first solo release. Since then I’ve been involved with a lot of song writing jobs, sometimes as the feature artist and others as just the writer. I song write for a Drum ‘n’ Base record label, scores for TV and film, and for the past three years I was in a band called Chk Chk Chk. Being in a band again was so fun, but I couldn’t do much else as we were always touring! Now I’m back and am getting back into gear with writing.
How long does an album take?
Any amount of time! Some producers never finish their work. The great thing about Orlando is that he sets a timeframe to finish the album. Other people can work on an album for five years – it’s not that I’m against that, sometimes it can take that amount of time to collect your thoughts, but sometimes when you drag it out the sound can become irrelevant, or you overthink everything.
Do you have any tips for musicians who are in the early stages of their career?
Collaboration – find other people making sounds, not necessarily the same as you, and work with them because that’s when you start discovering new things and finding your own voice. Keep at it – there are a lot of bumps in the road – music is a tough industry. You always have to prove yourself, but never forget that you always have something to offer.
For female artists I would say; seek out more women. It’s a dynamic that will be incredibly interesting and make your project so much more whole. I run a female record label called Gothic Luau which is a really supportive and exciting project.
Finally – just love it! Have loads of fun!
For more information about Lea, to listen to her music and see upcoming shows, visit her website.