Gear Talks: Leah Senior

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Gear Talks: Leah Senior

Leah Senior
Words by Winter McQuinn
Edits by Mixdown Staff

Leah Senior's forthcoming album THE MUSIC THAT I MAKE will be out August 18, Poison City Records. 

Leah Senior’s forthcoming album THE MUSIC THAT I MAKE will be out August 18, Poison City Records.

The record, written during the long Melbourne lockdowns, was an introspective time for Leah when everything stood still, and the musician found herself happy in her sandstone shack by the sea in regional Victoria.

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Holing up in her Anglesea abode for days on end, Leah spent time practicing her guitar, painting, writing and going deep into Joni Mitchell-land. This time of forced isolation allowed Leah to really grow and foster inner strength, reminding the artist that happiness doesn’t require outside validation. Listeners can experience this in The Music That I Make which ultimately tells them, ‘come back to yourself’.

Ahead of the release of this soulful and introspective body of work, Leah sat down with Mixy to chat about the album’s thematic threads, her go-to gear, and the joys and tribulations of the home studio.

What was the recording and writing process like on this new album? Did you write everything before recording it or write it while simultaneously recording?

This record was written in batches. I’d written a couple of songs and then recorded them, and then written a couple more so on etc. In like groups of 3. There were a couple of songs that I’d written and recorded but they didn’t fit so I wrote more, and through this process the record kinda took its shape.

That’s the luxury of doing it at home, you can do that. But also I think next time, I kinda want to write the whole record before I record because sometimes you can record stuff prematurely and you end up re-recording a bunch of the songs. I think if you had it written beforehand you’d know a bit more about the world of the record and you could just get it right the first time. 

Did you find it difficult to map out the songs before recording them? Particularly the more band focused ones? Do you find it hard to know what a songs going to sound like before taking it to the band?

Sometimes yes sometimes no. The band is quite collaborative so generally I’ll just take the songs to the band and then we’ll play it together. Sometimes it takes a little while for it to fall into place.

Talk to me about your home studio space.

Yeah, it’s such a luxury, I feel so lucky. At the moment we have next door renovations going on so we’ve had to put up insulation in the windows but I guess that’s a bit of the downfall of renting you know. We’re hoping we can stand the noise! We might have to become night recorders. It’s a bit of a bummer for Jesse because it’s hard to have bands come down if there’s noise in the day. So we’ll see!

Hey, you’re going on tour super soon!

Yeah the Australian shows are in late August / September and we’re going back to the US in October. 

So exciting! I was going to ask if you were going to go back to the US after your October 22 tour with King Gizzard. 

Yeah it is, it might be crazy, I just really loved it over there and it felt like a good place to be playing music, so yeah just feels like the next thing. We were given that amazing opportunity and I want to go back and make the most of it. We’re so privileged to be able to go to America especially in this climate. It’s so financially hard for bands to do anything. 

With the Aussie tour are you going to any new places? 

Yeah! I mean we’ve barely toured at all with the band. The only places we’ve done with the band before have been Melbourne, Warrnambool and Sydney I think? So this will be fun!

We’re playing up north on some shows put together by Jet Black Cat and then some other cute regional shows in Kyneton and Beechworth. 

What’s your live setup going to be for this tour? 

I’ve just gone back to playing acoustic guitar. I think I’ve never felt totally myself playing electric on stage, I’m a folkie you know? So I’ve got this Syairi guitar, a Japanese make. So I take this, a couple pedals, one of them is this crazy DI thing that sounds amazing on acoustic guitars. It kinda treats it on the way in and captures a bunch of the runaway notes. It’s a really good thing for people who aren’t tech minded and hate fiddling with buttons. Then I’m going to get this keyboard that Michael Beach told me about – A Studio Logic S176 Controller with a Micro Piano, Michael is the biggest sound nerd and is so good at researching this kind of shit haha… Jesse will take his crazy pink telecaster… and that’s kinda it, drums and bass!

Hey this new record is coming out on Poison City! Could you talk to about that?

So Andy came with Michael to one of the shows we did with King Gizz in the US, and I just got a really good impression of Andy and a whole bunch of my friends release music with Poison City and I had heard really good things from them about him. So it felt like a great fit! 

I’d love to talk about your new singles ‘Where Am I Now’ and ‘Pony’. They kinda feel like a continuation of what you did on the Passing Scene and further leaning  into the 70s folk rock influence. What have you been listening to while you’ve been writing this album?

Yeah that’s a fair description, I think overall, this album feels most like myself. I feel like with this album the songs have all really come from a super sincere place.

I feel like it’s harder to pinpoint the influences with this album. It’s probably quite broad? Like ‘Where Am I Now’ feels like the only song on the album that sounds like that, same with ‘Pony’. I think I was listening to a lot of British Folk guitar stuff during lockdown and practicing a lot of that kinda thing and writing a lot of instrumental guitar stuff. I was also so deep in Joni (Mitchell) land… I went so deep into her catalog, I was also hearing a lot of music that had the feeling of being a bit removed and it just feels so good whenever I listen to someone like Joni who’s music is just so soul bearing and I was really feeling like, there’s so much noise in the world, if I’m going to be adding to it at all, I have to be vulnerable and I have to put more of myself into the music. That really personal lyrical style is definitely on this record more, just feels a bit more truthful. 

A lot of the songs on this album are centred around me questioning my relationship to my own creativity. You know, just asking myself why I do it. There was one song on the album ‘Fig’ written after a conversation with a friend who said “I feel like I’ve wasted my best years playing music” and that pained me to hear that. It felt really horrible and not true! I would never think that I’d wasted my time playing music. We were also talking about the Sylvia Plath book The Bell Jar where she has a metaphor about all these figs growing on a tree and she is just standing there paralysed, not knowing which one to pick.  They all kind of wither away and die before her eyes.  Sylvia Plath goes into a big deep dark hole in that book. So yeah, there’s lots of contemplative bullshit in there.

Really specific question, at the end of ‘Where Am I Now’, there’s a really subtle beautiful synth line. What’s happening there?

Yeah shit I don’t know, originally it was a whistle but I tried so many times and I couldn’t get it in tune. It would have just been a sample that we played on the MIDI… I don’t know where that comes from, I was listening to that Ernest Hood guy. He’s so cool, just very atmospheric instrumental music. It’s very esoteric. I think I just wanted to make something like that and have fun with synthy shit! I don’t want to be closed off to anything.

This record feels very connected to what’s going on in the US at the moment with all those artists like Marina Allen, Slyvie, Cut Worms etc 

Yeah the new age Laurel Canyon zeitgeist thing. 

Yeah, would be sick if you played with some of those bands while you’re over there! You’ve played in other people’s bands too, right? Do you like it?

Yeah I played in Darren Hanlons band which was fun, but a bit chaotic!  

LI do, but I like playing in my own band more. I think I’m very selfish with my time because I like to do lots of different things. I like to practice my instruments and do all the nerdy stuff, so I get a bit precious with my time and find it hard when it gets a bit diluted with other peoples bands cos I’d rather be sitting at home writing. Playing and touring is probably not the part that is keeping me invested in the music. It’s more the writing where I get the joy from. That’s what fills my cup. 

What other gear did you use on the album?

The microphone I used on my vocals which I absolutely love is this Russian Soyuz microphone. This beautiful handmade condenser, super warm and round sounding. For the acoustics and drum overheads, we just used Beyerdynamic M160 Ribbon mics. We did it on an 8 track half inch tape machine. 

Yeah is it all to tape?

Yeah except for some of the overdubs. We will always track together as a band and then go in and do overdubs later. Like we overdub the piano and the vocals and some of the guitar parts. 

What amps did you use on the electric guitar?

Yeah so the acoustics we just used the Ribbon mic. The Amps we used were made by a local guy called Lucas Miles. 

Keep up to date with Leah Senior here.