Gaelynn Lea
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Gaelynn Lea

Duluth, MN | Established. Jan 01, 2013 | SELF

Duluth, MN | SELF
Established on Jan, 2013
Solo Alternative Ambient


This band has not uploaded any videos
This band has not uploaded any videos



"Lea’s focused violin results in looping done right"

The loop pedal has changed music and live performance. It’s undeniable. Over the past couple of decades, it’s made solo artists into bands (at least as far as the sonics are concerned), it’s helped bands fill out their sound without needing to add members, and it’s helped countless songwriters find new ways to build a composition. But, as with any tool, it can be used for good — or for evil. Stages around the world are now littered with musicians who think crowds should be enamored with them simply because they can overdub their own voice a bunch of times. At the end of the day, it’s still about performance and approach, as it is with every instrument.

Fortunately, Gaelynn Lea has done it exactly right on her debut solo album, “All the Roads that Lead Us Home.” The album is constructed simply — most of it is Lea playing her violin into an Electro-Harmonix Memory Man pedal, building layers one by one of her striking, tremulous playing. There are a couple of vocal tracks, but the record is basically just Lea doing live looping. This could get old really fast, but Lea smartly, tastefully builds her loops bit by bit, block by block, each step leading into the next. They’re little evolving symphonies.

The key is that Lea sees each of her tracks as a subtly morphing, fluid thing, and she starts with strong foundations. Too often, people who do a lot of looping forget that the building of each layer should also be musical and compelling on its own, not just as part of a finished ball of sound. Lea lays down simple bits and then interacts with them.

Take the first track, “Medley in D Major.” The opening figure is an ascending melody that has a rhythmic quality to it, and Lea uses it as an intro. After four bars, that piece becomes the foundation, and Lea organically adds different melodies on top of it with each pass of the loop. After a while, it starts to sound like an orchestra — different rhythms and notes colliding and eventually massing together in a hypnotic way. And then, before the track overstays its welcome, it fades out.

On songs like “South Wind” or “Halling From Eksharad,” Lea takes a more meditative approach, building loops that are more based on sustained notes and vibrato, loops that seem like she’s scoring a sunrise on a winter morning. Yearning, reaching melodies emerge from the wash of sound and then recede into the background. Chords are flittingly outlined as root notes collide with thirds or fifths or sevenths. It’s all very ephemeral and gauzy, and the tracks are easy to get lost in.

Lea’s two vocal tracks are nicely placed on the record. Her folky singing is of a piece with her playing, and it’s not jarring at all when it comes in, even though it’s the only other instrument on the album next to the violin.

“All the Roads that Lead Us Home” is a focused, vibrant piece of music by a person who is able to take a solitary instrument and make it sound like a full string arrangement, who can fill a full-length LP with mostly just those sounds and communicate fluently her heart and soul with only a few tools. - Duluth News Tribune

"And The Winner Of The 2016 Tiny Desk Contest Is ..."

There were 6,100 entries in this year's Tiny Desk Contest, representing every state in the nation. We asked you to send us a video of an original song, behind a desk of your choosing. We didn't care much about the quality of the video or even the sound. We wanted something singular, a song and a sound that felt original and a performance that felt inspired. We at NPR Music watched all of those 6,100 entries and in the end our six judges — Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys and The Arcs, Holly Laessig and Jess Wolfe of Lucius, Son Little, Robin Hilton and I — found one artist so compelling we're thrilled about this announcement. Our winner is a haunting fiddler from Duluth, Minn. Her name is Gaelynn Lea.

Holly Laessig said it best: "Hers was the one melody that stayed with me throughout the process. It's captivating and powerful." Robin Hilton, my cohost on All Songs Considered, said, "Gaelynn Lea had the most arresting voice and overall sound I heard in this competition. While judging each entry, I'd listen to the song first, then watch the video if I was moved by the music to spend more time with it. I was profoundly moved by Lea's song, particularly its serpentine, earworm melody and the tremendous heartache in her poetry."

Gaelynn is a 32-year-old classically trained fiddler whose music is steeped in Celtic tradition and American fiddle tunes. Her fiddle style is shaped by those traditions but also the challenge she has, playing an instrument that is almost as large as she is. Gaelynn was born with brittle bone disease, a congenital disability that makes playing the violin tucked tightly under the chin not a comfortable option. Instead she plays it upright, as a cellist might.

In the original tune she submitted, "Someday We'll Linger in the Sun," Gaelynn creates a beautiful droning loop with her JamMan Express loop pedal and after a moody minute begins to sing a yearning tale of life's preciousness and time's constant ticking and why we should always care. "Don't tell me we've got time / the subtle thief of life / it slips away when we pay no mind," she sings in a somewhat childlike and haunting voice. She ends with the phrase, "Someday we'll linger in the sun / And I love you."

That's such a universal message — simple, thoughtful and relatable. Truth be told I saw musicians with better craft than Gaelynn, heard singers more capable. That was true of last year's winner as well. Skill and craft is a part of how we select a winner. What Gaelynn Lea did for all of our judges, myself included, was to make something memorable. As Jess Wolfe put it, Gaelynn Lea created something "so unusual/beautiful and like nothing we've ever heard before."

After I voted, I spent some time trying to find out more about Gaelynn Lea. I learned about her congenital disease; I learned that she was a fiddle teacher and that she plays many of the same fiddle tunes my son and I have played together in Irish music camps and for contra dances. I also learned something I hadn't expected: One day while playing at a farmers market in Duluth, Alan Sparhawk, the guitarist and singer of the band Low (also from Duluth) heard Gaelynn Lea playing. Shortly after he texted her, asking if she'd like to play together. It was the beginning of a musical friendship. That friendship is a casual one they call The Murder of Crows. I discovered that they'd made a record together back in 2012 called Imperfecta. Working with Alan helped Gaelynn envision and shape her sound. Fans of Low might be able to hear that band in the way her music unfolds, slow and mysterious, every moment existing for each moment to come.

I love this. I love the way musicians change and shape each other and open ideas that might not arrive naturally but become part of a vocabulary of expression. My hope with the Tiny Desk Contest and concert series has always been about discovery, about finding music outside our comfort zone. One day there might be Adele, the next day a Colombian jazz harpist or a punk band from Detroit. We want you to hear something new and inspiring, something which moves you in some way, makes you think of something — in this case, the preciousness of time — in a way that may cause you to be more appreciative, more thoughtful, more expressive, be it musically or personally. Gaelynn Lea's music felt like a perfect gift. - NPR Music

"About Town: All the Roads that Lead Us Home"

Gaelynn Lea’s debut solo album, All the Roads That Lead Us Home, is devoted to the traditional fiddle tunes she has been playing for years. What elevates it to a different level is Lea’s use of the Memory Man Pedal to create layers of sound, turning one violin into many. More importantly, she likes to deconstruct these songs into something uniquely her own.

The album gets off to a nice start with "Medley in D Major," which combines four fiddle tunes: "Spotted Pony," "Going Down to Cairo," "Angelina Baker," and "Over the Waterfall." This is not so much a traditional medley, where each song is played in turn, as one in which Lea makes them fit together like a sonic puzzle. Given what follows, her approach on this opening track is like basic arithmetic, while the rest gets into higher mathematics.

My favorite track, "Red Haired Boy," takes the traditional Irish fiddle reel, slows it down, and transforms it into something quite evocative, making this simple little tune more profound. You really need to be familiar with the traditional versions of these songs to fully appreciate what Lea is doing with them. I kept going between Lea’s version of "Red Haired Boy" and that of other fiddle players to better appreciate how she reworked it.

Lea really slows down the beginning of "The Swallowtail Jig," so it becomes something Agnes de Mille would want to choreograph, not something Irish lads and lassies would tackle on the dance floor. She does something similar with "Soldier’s Joy," a classic old–time bluegrass.

The album’s other medley puts together "Amazing Grace" and "Down to the River to Pray," but deconstructed in such a way that if you listen without knowing the title, I doubt you would recognize them until the last half, although parts would seem tantalizingly familiar.

Lea’s other approach, as with the traditional Irish waltz, "South Wind" and "Rites of Man," is to have the "other" violins swirl around the melody of her "lead" violin, introducing atmospheric elements into the background. While listening to this album, I was reminded of Simon & Garfunkel’s "Scarborough Fair/Canticle," where the second tune serves as a counterpoint to the main melody.

"Halling från Ekshärad" is a traditional folk song from Sweden, and Lea does some interesting things in setting up the melody before she gets around to playing it. This song probably best combines Lea’s two basic approaches in covering these fiddle tunes.

While this is primarily an instrumental album, suited for background music of a most intricate sort, Lea sings on two of the tracks. "Let it Go" focuses on the vocals at first, Lea strumming her violin in the background, before the lead violin begins and the two combine, her voice soaring above her instrument before the song fades out.

Her vocals on "Red Rocking Chair" reminded me of Jean Ritchie, the "Mother of Folk," who died this past June. Her voice reminded me of Appalachian balladeers from a century ago, and I made a similar comment when reviewing Hand by Hand, the album Lea released in 2013 as part of the electrified folk/alternative band Snöbarn.

Of everything on this album, "A Wonderful World" is the most recognizable, but it least represents Lea’s overall creative approach. The final track shows how far she is willing to go in breaking down these songs and rebuilding them into something new. Time and time again with "Ashokan Farewell," she subverts your expectations about what the next note is supposed to be, or even going to be. The track is short at 2:13, and I think once she is leading us down that particular path, the journey should have been longer, because I was interested in seeing what the next variation on the variation would be, as it were.

I first heard Lea play the violin when she was in high school. This album bears testament to how the musician has become an artist. - Zenith City Weekly


Still working on that hot first release.



Gaelynn Lea is a musician, public speaker, and disability advocate from Duluth, MN. She has been performing throughout Minnesota solo and in various musical groups for just over a decade, but her musical career took a national twist on March 3, 2016, when she was named the winner of NPR Music’s second-ever Tiny Desk Contest. Just one week later Gaelynn performed a moving Tiny Desk Concert in Washington DC, at which the show’s host Bob Boilen said “there was hardly a dry eye."

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