Gaelynn Lea’s third studio album, Learning How To Stay, represents some significant stretches for the singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist.
The 11-song set — whose “Grace and a Tender Hand” premieres exclusively below — finds Lea recording “some of the older songs I’d written that had never gotten recorded,” along with some fresh material. And after two sparsely arranged predecessors, it finds Lea working with more musicians and different instruments in more traditional full-band setting.
“I wanted to experiment with different instrumentation ’cause I hadn’t done that yet,” Lea explains to Billboard. Singing more and playing a bit less violin, she was assisted on Learning How To Stay by regular collaborator Alan Sparhawk of Low and a variety of Minnesotan music cohorts, and the fleshed-out arrangements allowed Lea to expand both her stylistic and sonic footprints. “I just wanted it to be like a sculpture I’m proud of,” she says. “I thought it would be fun for people to hear a lot of different songs, a lot of different vibes. The only theme is my voice, pretty much, and the violin. It was really fun to think outside the box, to be like, ‘I want this sound, and now I’m going to find it and put it on there.'”
Lea — who lives with Osteogenesis Imperfecta (brittle bones disease) and is an advocate for people with disabilities — adds that this simply felt like the right time in her musical career to expand on what she’s done so for.
“The first album I made was completely solo, not even a guitar on it, all looping and mostly traditional fiddle tunes,” she says. “I just wanted to try making an album. The second album I added my friend Al Church on guitar and was still live looping, no tracking. This is just the next step — but a big one.”
“Grace and a Tender Hand” is the oldest song on Learning How To Stay; In fact, it’s the very first song Lea ever wrote, circa 2012, and was released in a different form on an independent album she put out the following year. The new version employs a Theremin, but is also “the folkiest song on the album,” according to Lea. “I grew up on listening to Simon & Garfunkel,” says Lea, who’s also played the song live over the years. “One of my favorite songs of theirs is ‘Bleecker Street.’ I wanted the guitarist to have a tiny bit of sound like that, but it morphed into its own thing after a while. That’s what we had in mind when we started.”
Learning How To Stay comes out Sept. 7, and Lea is lining up tour dates to support it. She hopes the new sound will bring new listeners — and also help focus the spotlight a bit more on her as a musician and artist.
“I love advocating for the disabled, but I don’t think that has to be tied up with (the music) all the time,” she says. “I never intended for my music to just be seen as overcoming a disability. Obviously when I play I’m just a musician. I feel like this (album) is so different from the other stuff I’ve put out that people will be forced to think about me in a different way and get out of the ‘Oh, she plays the violin and plays it differently’ and just appreciate the music. I’m curious to see what happens.”