- Words Notion Staff
- Photographer Lily Sadin
- Graphic Design Anna Gibson
Léa Sen on living in Paris, making music for people to get lost in, nurturing connections and why you’ve got to learn to trust yourself.
From Paris to London, and making connections along the way, Léa Sen is a singer, songwriter and producer ready for her moment. Gifted a guitar on her 15th birthday, Léa never looked back, playing the instrument almost every day since. Inspired to make her own music after honing her record production, it was an invite to sing on a Joy Orbison track that became her first solo studio session with a producer.
Two years later, Léa Sen’s latest track is the epitome of her laid-back, and laid-bare, musical style. Released alongside a Vegyn rework two years in the making, it originally featured on Léa’s debut 2022 EP ‘You Of Now Pt.1’. Having just wrapped up a run of touring with Nilüfer Yanya across Europe, this year is looks set to be Lea’s.
What would you say the creative vision of Léa Sen is?
I want to create music that people can get lost in, and make music that I would like if I was the listener. There’s no specific sound to my music, I try to move around.
As well as a singer-songwriter you’re also a mixer and producer. What’s been your journey of honing those skills?
The journey has been really fun, but definitely quite difficult. Once you start there’s a lot more pressure. It can be a little isolating at times, learning all the skills and doing it by yourself. It’s also really rewarding because when you make a whole project by yourself and listen back to it, you can say you did that. It creates a state of confidence, because even if you then bring people in to work with you, at least you know what you’re talking about. It’s a really fun and useful skill to have, but can also be challenging as fuck.
Your recent single is a rework of your track “I Feel Like I’m Blue” with Frank Ocean collaborator Vegyn. What made you want to rework this track?
When I initially met Joe (Vegyn), I didn’t really care too much about that song at the time. I had just put it on the internet, and he happened to like it. The collaboration happened organically and we ended up completely forgetting about it. About a year and a half later, my team mentioned: ‘What about that rework that you never did anything with?’, and so we worked towards putting it out. It wasn’t really that I needed a remix, rather it just ended up happening.
And what was it like to collaborate with Vegyn? How does this collaboration differ from your original track?
I guess the first time I released the song, I was by myself, I didn’t have a label or a team. Then about a week later, I was on the internet completely carefree and Joe and I got speaking about doing a rework. I don’t particularly consider it as a single fully, rather something that Joe and I made for fun.
You were previously in Paris before relocating to London. How would you say the music cultures between Paris and London have affected the sound of your music?
Yeah, I lived in the outskirts of Paris before. Both places have affected the sound of my music so much. It reinforced a lot of things that I already naturally had, or that I was listening to. I think what’s different is that London is a lot more open-minded than Paris. There’s plenty of space to make music in any style, while in Paris, if you don’t make music in French, or in certain styles people are not as invested in it – it can be very difficult to make a living from music in Paris. But to be honest, London is also a lot more expensive and there’s a lot more pressure and competition due to the amount of talent, but it’s a lot more open. There’s so many more people, in so many different areas that you can meet at any time.
Last summer saw you drop your debut EP, ‘You Of Now, Pt. 1’ both physically and digitally. Can you talk to me a bit about the themes highlighted throughout this project? What does this EP represent to you?
I had just moved to London, I’d been here for about a year and I was thinking of the challenges of trying to make music in another country – on top of the fact I was by myself and having to meet lots of new people. I went into full music mode, I wanted to be able to sit and reflect on the things I’d lost; the things I’d ruined; the things I had. I was so mentally exhausted, I needed something to get me out of that. At the time I was a bit sad and scared. The EP is called ‘You Of Now, Pt. 1’ and it was inspired by one of Brian Eno’s ‘Oblique Strategies’ cards. I realised when you make a project, there’s so much self doubt and comparison involved. There’s a real sense of lack of trust, and I realised no matter how difficult the emotions might be, or how scary it can be, you’ve still got to trust yourself. This is something that I have to remind myself every single day. No matter what I’m trying to create, I have to have deep trust in myself before anyone else.
How did you start the recording process for your EP? When did you start compiling it?
I started recording this project in early 2021, and it took me around six months to make it. I can’t remember exactly how I approached it, but I recorded everything at home. Although it came out in May last year, I had recorded it a year before that.
Throughout your music, you master self-expression effortlessly. Why do you think it’s important to show vulnerability throughout your work?
That’s interesting. I think it’s important for people to stay connected, deeply connected, because we’re all connected on the surface. I’m realising more and more a big reason why I do this, not necessarily consciously, is because I’m trying to connect with people. If I’m not being honest I can’t connect with people, and it’s essential for me to feel like I have that. Especially because sometimes you can feel self conscious about what you sing. When I was younger I used to always sing in English, even though I’m French, because I didn’t want my family to understand. People are more able to connect with something that is honest, and raw. You can really appreciate where the artist is coming from because you actually understand. There’s probably a tonne of other reasons why being vulnerable and honest is good or useful in music, but that’s my reason.
Being a woman in the music industry can be tricky. Are there any particular expectations or responsibilities you’ve struggled with so far?
It’s funny, because some people hear that question and do not want to even consider themselves as female musicians. I have different life experiences to that of a lot of my peers. I grew up with brothers and have always been around a lot of men when it came to music. What’s been difficult for me is not having as many girlfriends as when I was younger. As I got older and became more involved in my music career, I saw less and less women working in the industry. That can sometimes be a bit difficult because I connect differently with men. Generally speaking, I find it easier to connect with women, but I think it’s hard to sometimes find your place. As hard as it is, we’re in a world now where we really have to make up our own definitions of what it means to be a woman and work in the music industry, because it’s definitely not easy.
What advice would you give to young female artists trying to breakthrough in the music industry?
To do music that you deeply love. Don’t think you’re any less than anyone, but don’t be arrogant. Don’t think you’re any better than anyone or any more special. Just go at it with as much humility as possible. Really embrace everything that’s going to come your way and make sure to trust yourself more than anyone else. I know a lot of that sounds basic, but more often than not, when something is basic, it’s so true.
That’s good advice. You’ve previously had vocal features with Joy Orbison, Oscar Jerome, Wu-Lu and more. Are there any artists, in particular, you would like to collaborate with this year?
I’d love to work with Thom Yorke. I’d love to play live with him, his solo projects are some of my favourite things I’ve ever heard. I know at the moment he’s on tour with The Smile, and I love the music because it’s a bit different. I also love the electronic stuff he does. I’d love to be on the his tours and do nothing but take in the vibe.
And lastly, what does 2023 have in store for Léa Sen?
I have some new music that I’ve been working on that feels a lot closer to the sound that I’ve been wanting to create. I think the first project was me trying things out and experimenting, but this one feels a lot more like how I want it to sound. There’s some cool features coming up with some of my favourite artists too. I’m really excited about it all, I’m going on tour with Nick Hakim in March too. This year I really want to connect with more people directly because I feel like I’ve always been isolating too much. As for collaborations, I definitely want to work with a producer, mixer, and other musicians in the future and I consider sampling as a collaboration. I think 2023 is going to be my best year yet.