Gaelynn Lea was given the opportunity of a lifetime when she won NPR Music’s 2016 Tiny Desk Contest, and she certainly made the most of it. She and her husband Paul quit their jobs, sold their house, bought a van, and hit the road. Since they left a little over a year ago, Gaelynn has played over 200 shows in 39 states and 6 countries. She has performed in the widest variety of venues imaginable – coffee shops, bars, schools, music festivals and performing arts centers. Gaelynn has been a featured performer at Music City Roots, The Kennedy Center, and even on BBC World News.
This tale of adventure wouldn’t be particularly remarkable if the music failed to deliver. But Gaelynn Lea has developed a “stop you in your tracks sound.” (Bob Boilen, All Songs Considered) Playing traditional fiddle music and original songs using her violin and a looping pedal, Gaelynn Lea’s “music is imbued with a melancholic poetry so potent it must be heard to believed.” (Isaac Feldberg, Boston Globe)
Gaelynn Lea performs from her electric wheelchair. She began playing violin 20 years ago after a creative music teacher helped her to adapt a playing style that suits her frame. Lea holds her instrument like a tiny cello and loops her classically trained rhythms and melodies “to create a symphonic cacophony that is both glorious in its reach and profoundly introspective”. (Collins de la Cour, Ear to the Ground) Her original songs explore the contrasting nature of existence – dark and light, birth and death, anger and forgiveness, sorrow and joy.
Gaelynn Lea’s live performances can be overwhelmingly soul-stirring – Bob Boilen reported that “there was hardly a dry eye” at her 2016 Tiny Desk Concert. However, she is not all seriousness during her shows. In fact, Gaelynn is disarmingly charming onstage, “at once self-deprecating and plainspokenly funny”. (Chris Riemenschneider, Star Tribune) She regales the audience with humorous anecdotes in between songs, putting those in attendance at ease.
Although the past year has been spent mostly on the road, Gaelynn Lea has somehow found the time to work on her fourth studio album, which is expected to be released in September 2018. This new recording runs the gamut sonically – from pensive to luscious to aggressive to folk to decidedly pop – there are even a couple of traditional fiddle tunes! Undoubtedly the connecting thread of this album is Gaelynn Lea herself. Her singular voice and violin guide the listener on a journey which touches on some of life’s greatest mysteries.
The structure of these tracks made this album impossible to create alone, so Gaelynn Lea enlisted the help of some musical friends to bring her new album to life. This arrangement is quite a departure for Lea, who up until this point has crafted most of her music using only a few tools: a violin, a voice, and a looping pedal. Her band is comprised of several Minnesota heavy-hitters including Al Church, Dave Mehling, Marty Dosh, Andrew Foreman, and Alan Sparhawk. Their creative influence and musicality is evident on every track, though the band’s contributions never cover up or diminish the poignancy or presence of Gaelynn’s music. Rather the new album allows for a fuller, more complete expression of her heart and soul.
In addition to performing and recording, Gaelynn also loves to do speaking engagements about disability awareness, the power music, and leading an enriching life. She has a congenital disability called Osteogenesis Imperfecta, or Brittle Bones Disease. Gaelynn is a strong voice in the disability community; she uses her music as a platform to advocate for people with disabilities and to promote positive social change. Gaelynn Lea believes society must prioritize accessibility so people with disabilities can participate in their communities and use their gifts without barriers or discrimination.
“Karen Dalton and Joanna Newsom melt together in the form of Gaelynn Lea and set about absolutely obliterating your heart.” -Dan Auerbach (The Black Keys)
“The way her voice resonates is so unusual and beautiful, like nothing I’ve ever heard before.” -Jess Wolfe (Lucius)