Name: Ada Lea aka Alexandra Levy
Occupation: Singer, songwriter
Current release: Ada Lea's new album one hand on the steering wheel the other sewing a garden is out via Saddle Creek.
If this interview with Ada lea piqued your interest, visit her official homepage for more information. She is also on Instagram, Facebook, twitter, and Soundcloud.
Where does the impulse to create something come from for you? What role do often-quoted sources of inspiration like dreams, other forms of art, personal relationships, politics etc play?
At this point it’s less of an impulse and more of a regular commitment (when I’m in the creation phase). I’m also learning to allow for the different phases.
First phase is filling up the tank (reading, writing, movies, travelling, going out, research). During this period I’m pretty social and interested in seeing people, having discussions, etc. Second phase is creation, where I need to isolate myself in some way. Third is recording, then post recording stuff, etc.
The most important thing is to make time to sit at my desk (or wherever) because eventually, something will come. Of course there are songs that come so quickly it makes you question the whole process, but it’s so rare and I’d like to think I am past the point of solely relying on that. Some days are easier than others, and depending on what is happening around me and my commitments, it’s harder to create the space and time to explore anything.
For you to get started, do there need to be concrete ideas – or what some have called a "visualisation" of the finished work? What does the balance between planning and chance look like for you?
There’s always a fragment of what the finished project will look like, but the most important part (for me) is being open to that idea slowly shifting over time - not being married to the initial project, and giving it room to show what it wants to become.
If I map everything out I quickly lose interest, so part of the enjoyment is letting myself be guided.
Is there a preparation phase for your process? Do you require your tools to be laid out in a particular way, for example, do you need to do "research" or create "early versions"?
Sure. I like brainstorming and just coming up with as many possibilities as I can. Depending on the project, I will do research. It’s not always that formal and structured, though.
For instance, in recording the vocals and other overdubs to the songs, I was simultaneously learning about different plugins and how to get around Protools. I think for some people that would stress them out, but that’s what works best for me. Learning while doing.
Do you have certain rituals to get you into the right mindset for creating? What role do certain foods or stimulants like coffee, lighting, scents, exercise or reading poetry play?
All these are great :) I love writing and coffee, and natural lighting most definitely. Reading of course.
I try to walk every day, this is a new thing for me, and I don’t always go through with it. I like to wake up really early.
What do you start with? How difficult is that first line of text, the first note?
There’s no system. I find it interesting to give myself objectives, or guidelines, little challenges to use as a diving board. Like, “let me set my timer for 5 minutes and write whatever comes to mind about a word … like tomato. I’ve never tried that word, but would be interesting to see now.”
When I lived at the cabin this past year, I would often sit on the porch and just improvise chords and lyrics at night. Drinking some beer and singing whatever came to mind. It’s a balance; there’s the craft, and then the creativity - and they’re equally important.
When do the lyrics enter the picture? Where do they come from? Do lyrics need to grow together with the music or can they emerge from a place of their own?
They can originate on their own. Often I’ve written little things here and there that I draw from. Keeping a little notepad in my bag, and a tiny ikea pencil, (laughs).
What makes lyrics good in your opinion? What are your own ambitions and challenges in this regard?
Just want to say that I am really loving these questions! I know a lyric is good if it hits me, and creates a physiological sensation. I think a good lyric places you somewhere, clearly. Or perhaps not clearly at first, but eventually. So I’m thinking of “the cash machine is blue and green / for a hundred in twenties and a small service fee / I could spend three dollars and sixty-three cents / on diet Coca Cola and unlit cigarettes”.
Right away, these lyrics place me in a dep at the corner of my block.
Once a piece is finished, how important is it for you to let it lie and evaluate it later on? How much improvement and refinement do you personally allow until you're satisfied with a piece? What does this process look like in practise?
A deadline! I usually finish the process when I feel like I have done the best that I can and there’s nothing else I want to explore.
What's your take on the role and importance of production, including mixing and mastering for you personally? How involved do you get in this?
I think a good song will always be a good song, no matter the production - but you can’t work miracles, either.
Overall, I like to be part of everything, especially production. I’ve also recently developed the habit of creating demos and figuring out as much as possible before getting together with anyone. Of course I like to leave room for collaboration, but this process of creating the demos as thoroughly as possible has been working for me. I’m not a virtuoso on any instrument, and I like to take my time figuring out melodies, work at my own pace.
Burke did all the mixing himself, and would send me the tracks and sometimes I’d have a few notes. It was such a pleasure working with him - he is so talented and quick working, and just knew what the songs needed.