Gaelynn Lea in 2017
|Genres||Folk, bluegrass, Celtic, experimental|
|Associated acts||Alan Sparhawk, The Murder of Crows|
Gaelynn Lea was born with Osteogenesis Imperfecta, a genetic condition that causes complications in the development of bones and limbs. Lea became impassioned by classical music from an early age, and in fifth grade a teacher took notice and encouraged Lea to pursue music after she had the class's only perfect score on a music listening test. Lea developed a technique for violin which involved holding the bow "like a baseball bat" with the body of the instrument placed in front of her, like a cello, and attached to her foot so it wouldn't slip when she played.
Lea's early career collaborations included the alternative folk music duo The Murder of Crows with Alan Sparhawk, an "atmospheric, improvisational project" they began in 2011. Lea has also played with Charlie Parr and Billy McLaughlin.
Lea gained exposure after winning NPR's 2016 Tiny Desk Contest. Her song and performance for "Someday We'll Linger in the Sun" was selected over six thousand other submissions by a committee that included Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys, Jess Wolfe of Lucius, Son Lux and NPR staff. Auerbach's citation read: "This song starts off with the sound of 20 old floorboards groaning and creaking in unison and then Karen Dalton and Joanna Newsom melt together in the form of Gaelynn Lea and set about absolutely obliterating your heart."
Style and influence
Lea's style is rooted in classical, Celtic and traditional folk music. With the use of looping pedals Lea layers multiple orchestrated parts from an electric violin while she sings. Due to her physical stature she plays violin in the style of a cellist, which creates a unique sound: in this stance, her bow strikes the lower strings first (as they do on a cello), in contrast to most violinists for whom the bow strikes the highest string first.
Reviewing her performance at the 2017 Folk Alliance Conference for Paste Magazine, Geoffrey Himes described Lea's "Watch the World Unfold" as the "most moving song" he heard at the conference: "The song draws its power from the tension between a young person’s optimistic plans and the obstacles that life throws in the way of those hopes, a conflict reinforced by the paradox of the sunny, childlike vocal melody and the cloudy, ominous swirl of violin harmony."
Writing for The Kansas City Star, Bill Brownlee contrasted Lea's musical style with what Brownlee called the "fussy forms of indie-rock" often praised by NPR All Songs Considered's hosts, Bob Boilen and Robin Hilton: "Many listeners who object to the tastemakers’ genteel predilections forgave the men after they discovered plaintive folk artist Gaelynn Lea last year...Filmed on a friend’s iPhone, the video of Lea’s rendition of her memorable original song 'Someday We’ll Linger in the Sun' captures her otherworldly voice and ethereal fiddle playing."
- All the Roads that Lead Us Home (2015)
- Deepest Darkness, Brightest Dawn (2016)
- Someday We'll Linger in the Sun (2016)
- The Songs We Sing Along the Way (2016)
Murder of Crows
- Imperfecta (2012)
Lea was a guest speaker at Yale University for a TedxTalk to discuss sexuality, the obstacles for people with disabilities and the use of art as a vessel to overcome physical limitations. She also speaks on accessibility in the music industry.
- Himes, Geoffrey (February 21, 2017). "Road Music, Chapter Two: Kansas City, Missouri". Paste Magazine. Retrieved 26 February 2017.
- Rose, Beth (2017-02-18). "Music matters: Choosing the violin over walking". BBC News. Retrieved 2017-02-26.
- "Artist of the Year honorable mention: Duluth singer and advocate Gaelynn Lea". Star Tribune. December 31, 2016. Retrieved 2017-02-26.
- Thompson, Erik (September 14, 2016). "Duluth's Gaelynn Lea builds on Tiny Desk buzz". City Pages (Twin Cities). Retrieved February 25, 2017.
- Riemenschneider, Chris (March 3, 2016). "Duluth singer/fiddler Gaelynn Lea wins NPR's Tiny Desk Contest". Star Tribune. Retrieved 2017-02-26.
- Heigl, Alex (2016-03-03). "Gaelynn Lea: Wins NPR's Tiny Desk Concert Contest". People. Retrieved 2017-02-26.
- "Meet Gaelynn Lea, The 2016 Tiny Desk Contest Winner". NPR.org. Retrieved 2017-02-26.
- "'Tiny Desk' winner on why musicians with disabilities are an 'unequal minority'". PBS NewsHour. Retrieved 2017-02-26.
- Brownlee, Bill (February 6, 2017). "Victory tour for NPR's 'Tiny Desk' winner includes stops in KC and Lawrence". Kansas City Star. Retrieved 2017-02-26.
- TEDx Talks (2017-01-18), Sexuality and Disability: Forging Identity in a World that Leaves You Out | Gaelynn Lea | TEDxYale, retrieved 2017-02-26
- Walsh, Jim (18 October 2016). "A safe place for sensitive artists". Southwest Journal. Retrieved 26 February 2017.