After winning NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert in 2016, singer-songwriter and violinist Gaelynn Lea is releasing a new album, Learning How to Stay, on September. 7.
Lea’s beautiful, resonant voice anchors the eclectic album, at times joyous, at times haunting, and ranging in musical influences from Celtic to folk, bluegrass, pop and country. Lea’s previous album have mostly been recorded live with the use of a looping pedal, a device that allows a single musician to layer tracks on top of each other. For Learning How to Stay, Lea wanted to build more complex structures that required more people and instruments. “I had already done a couple albums with another guitar player, and I knew I wanted to try something different for this album,” she says.
As a Duluth, Minnesota, native, Lea partnered up with fellow Minnesota-based musicians Al Church and Dave Mehling, who added guitars, keyboards and bass to accompany Lea’s vocals and violin. They began recording in July with a full band in a Minneapolis studio. “This studio experience was a challenge for me,” she says. “At first, I wasn’t sure if I was going to enjoy it, but I really liked it.”
Lea says the process of working with a band helped her grow as a musician and have more trust in her decisions about the musical direction of each song. “Obviously, we had to negotiate on some decisions, but there are other times when I had to trust what I could hear and make that clear.”
Lea, who has osteogenesis imperfecta (also known as brittle bone disease), pulled upon a variety themes and influences in the songwriting process. The eighth track of the album, “I Wait”, connects her music with her work in the disability rights movement. “It is my plea for our country to step up and take action to make our society more accessible,” Lea told the country music website, The Boot. “We’ve waited long enough.”
Lea took care to ensure the song was respectful of the movement by consulting with other advocates during the songwriting process. “I’ve never made such an overtly public song about disability,” she says. “I didn’t want to miss a key component of activism and didn’t want to make it difficult for people to relate to.”
The song references challenges with accessibility and representation, which Lea deals with firsthand when on tour. “Accessibility is huge, there are so many places that aren’t accessible yet and there’s a lack of disabled artists represented in the media,” she says.
To ensure she’s able to access all of her scheduled venues, Lea is personally handling all the booking for her upcoming album tour, which kicks off on September 7 in Eau Clair, Wisconsin. The full list of tour dates and locations is available at violinscratches.com/shows
Learning How to Stay is available on September 7 at violinscratches.com and on Spotify and Apple Music.