Ahead of her first-ever trip to New Zealand, we sat down with Swedish singer-songwriter Leon to chat about making her debut album and taking it to stages around the world.
Leon is one of Sweden’s finest pop exports, and if you aren’t acquainted with her yet, now is the perfect time.
Influenced by everything from classical music and jazz to Janis Joplin and Led Zeppelin, a dive into her discography sees you swimming through catchy indie-pop tunes with many different flourishes and edges to it. Through it all though, Leon – or Lotta Lindgren when she isn’t on the stage – holds it all together with her warm, smokey voice and honest, open storytelling.
Before Lotta emerged in the world as Leon, her life was already surrounded by music. Her father is a composer, her mother a bass cellist, and her aunt, uncle, and sister are singers. It’s not hard to see how Lotta ended up on a musical path of her own. Her vocal range was honed in childhood choirs and expanded as the frontwoman of a hip-hop-infused neo-soul band, but it wasn’t too long after high school that Leon stepped out on her own.
Following on from a trio of EPs released between 2015 and 2017, earlier this year Leon released her self-titled debut album. Marking the biggest step forward in her career, its ten tracks are both diverse and cohesive – no matter if you’re listening to a pop banger or a heart-aching ballad, every second is pure Leon.
Before she makes her way over to our side of the world, Leon is sitting in her hotel room in Los Angeles, taking a break from the whirlwind US tour that will next see her head to Atlanta then Orlando and more. She’s catching up on errands she says she “should have gotten done way earlier”, but when she chats with us, Leon is only thinking about one thing – bringing her music to new stages around the world.
On developing her sound
Leon: “I think in the beginning, when I started putting out music like my first EP and my first songs – if you listen to that first EP, it’s kind of borderline. One song is very folk, and another song is more straight-forward retro pop, and another is more R&B.
“I think my parents showed me so many different types of music when I was growing up. I played classical music, I love classical music, I love jazz. So, I kind of took pieces of everything I love listening to, like Beach Boys or whatever. I wanted to put everything into my music, and sometimes it does get a bit borderline, but I think it’s fun to experiment. I’m always going to try to do that because it makes it more fun for me.”
On finding inspiration
Leon: “There are incredible artists, and bands, and songwriters out there. But I do think when I’m going into the studio, I’d rather not listen to anything. I’m not listening to New Music Friday. I don’t. I’d rather stay away from that. I also tend to only listen to music that I’ve been listening to forever. I always come back to everything that I listened to growing up like Led Zeppelin or Joni Mitchell. It’s more about trying to get inspired by yourself today.
“I know some people do that, they go into sessions, and then they may have a song that just came out and they’re like, ‘We should do something like this.’ It’s not really me. I’d rather experiment and be in my own headspace.”
On releasing her debut album
Leon: “I know that a big reason why the album came out now is because I started my own record label [LÉON Recordings Imprint with BMG], so I could put out an album whenever I wanted to. I didn’t really make a whole plan for it. I was just like, ‘I’m going to not make it a whole shebang. I just want to put out an album.’ I didn’t want to say too much about it, just put out a few singles, and it was fun because I really wanted to have a good sound for the album, and hone in on that.
“It’s hard to make an album because you want it to have a silver lining, with the sound, and the themes, but this year just felt right. It felt like a good time for me to do it. But it’s hard. It’s hard to make an album.
On letting go
“Like a lot of people, I care about what I create. It’s hard to let go of things and decide that this is it. There’s no more experimenting. The songs should be done now. And I think it’s so hard to say that it’s done. When everything was finished, I would drive myself nuts with the mixing and mastering. I started listening to different things because I was like, ‘Oh my God, people are going to listen to this now and it sounds like shit.’ I stopped listening to my own records and dropped out and I was like, ‘I’m not going to read anything about what anybody’s saying.’ I didn’t want to know, because I was so crazy making it.
“But now when it’s been a while, I’ve read some nice things about it. And it’s been so great to feel that people actually really like it. It’s hard when you’re in the process, it’s so hard to appreciate everything. But now I’m outside, and I’m like, ‘Okay, I’m very proud of it and people seem to like it.’”
On bringing her music to life on stage
Leon: “You tend to get attached to the old songs because you know them so well. Now I feel like I’m in the groove of singing all these new songs. I have my personal favourites on my record, that maybe aren’t on this one, and it’s been cool to see that people appreciate those sounds too, and know every word. I have a voice memo, and people always sing along to that.
“It’s been so great to see their reactions. I put out the album very close to the first tour I did this year, and people knew the lyrics straight away. It’s fun to explore and make it come to life with my band. It’s turning into a whole different show now and I love it.”
On coming to New Zealand for the first time
Leon: “I have never been. It’s always been – I know it sounds corny – but, a dream to go there. You’re going to have summer when we’re there. And I’m Swede so that’s good for me.
“I’m very excited to see nature. I think I’m going to try to ask my tour family to do things with me, and see animals, and go out and see nature. We don’t have a lot of time but I’m excited to see places because you don’t really get to do that on tour. So I’m going to take the time now and really make plans. It feels surreal, like it’s not going to happen. But it is happening.”
Leon will bring her self-titled debut album to New Zealand later this month, stopping by Tuning Fork Spark Arena, Auckland on Friday 29 November. Tickets are on sale via Ticketmaster.co.nz.