Lael Neale is one of my favorite people I’ve met in 2015 and I’m guessing that in the near future that statement will be a pretty big deal… as I kind of suspect she will be a pretty big deal in the near future. The classically beautiful blonde songstress — whose output could be described as hazy psychedelic folk that is equal parts sunny sonic sensibilities and morose and outlaw-esque when it comes to sentimentality — was an English major, who is admittedly very indebted to the written word and also a big fan of ambiguity. Her debut album, which dropped last month, is entitled I’ll Be Your Man, and in a recent chat, when I asked her about her favorite reactions to the album, she laughs a bit and admits, “I think the biggest thing that’s getting a rise out of it is the title, which is confusing people, or they’re thinking it’s a Leonard Cohen reference… I’m into the ambiguity of that.”
The album is sparse and stark in its musicality, reminiscent of the most intense work of many of music history’s greatest Americana singer/songwriters, but with an edge reminiscent of many of slightly-more-recent-history’s bleakest musical existentialists and former punks looking for a dustier place to settle as they appropriate those sounds. Her Twitter account reveals that she’s followers of PHILTHY favorites of the Sharon Van Etten, Jessica Lea Mayfield, and Deer Tick kind of persuasion, in addition to a more Nicki Bluhm , Priscilla Ahn, and Madi Diaz variety… which all kind of adds up in her own aesthetic.
However, despite a fondness for these musicians, when it comes to how she approaches her own work, Lael Neale tells me that she really isn’t paying much mind to contemporary music itself.
“I haven’t really been listening to too much music for the past two years. Most of the songs hinge on the lyrical content. I’m very into poetry and as an English major all of that literature had a big influence on me, like East of Eden, I’m really into Steinbeck, and Mary Oliver is a big influence, and then also just years of listening to what my parents listened to when I grew up.”
According to Neale, her most direct influence comes from having a relatively strict regiment as an artist and songwriter: “I think my process is very much a lifestyle choice and very much routine oriented, giving structure to someone without a normal job. I at least write every day in the morning and there’s a lot of going out on long walks and reading that influences where my songs come from, and you eventually sit down with a guitar and sift out the golden parts, which isn’t an easy process.”
Lael Neale currently makes Los Angeles her home, but she originally hailed from Orange, Virginia and she tells me that the transition from rural to urban has also had a significant influence on her output.
“I grew up in the country in Virginia and went to college at St. Mary’s in Maryland, a little hippie college, which is one of the biggest reasons I moved here to the city and I’ve just been really fortunate from early on to meet and link up with some really great musicians and just learn by watching them. People think musicians and ‘rock stars’ just have it made and have these easy lives, but what I’ve found is a lot of my mentors and people I look up to live a very humble life, but if you really dedicate yourself to it, this is a sustainable life. I love Los Angeles and I never expected to. I never came here thinking I would stay, but you can find anything you want here fairly easily: so many bands, so many musicians, everyone’s in a band or dabbling with it. And it’s not competitive; we’re really supportive of each other, so if you’re in it for the long run, it’s a really great place to be.”
I ask Lael what she’s hoping the future holds for her, and she tells me she’s got both touring and recording on her mind: “I’m really hoping to get to Europe; that’s my goal. And I have about 20 songs I really want to get recorded, so I’m looking for a producer; that’s my favorite thing to do. I’m also hoping to do an East Coast tour.” However, for those out West, Neale does have two free shows coming up this Saturday, August 15th, at Echo Park Rising in LA and next Wednesday, August 19th, at the Ace Hotel in Palm Springs. And when I inquire about how she approaches live performances, it’s apparent that she puts just as much thought and effort into that as she does every other aspect of her work.
“I kind of tried to have a band for a few years, but realized I was kind of wobbly trying to lead a band [laughs], so I just decided to focus on myself. I mean, I probably spend too much time watching old videos of Dylan and Leonard Cohen [laughs]. Seeing how a solo performer can hold an audience is really amazing to me and that’s what my shows are, they’re very intimate. People think it’s just in you or it’s not, but it takes a lot of practice and focus. It’s kind of terrifying to do that, but I love that.”