It’s not up to POC to educate white people on something they created
Though we’re all 50 years late to the height of 70s music popularity, theres something about the driving beats of disco bass and drums that people from all generations just can’t help dancing to. Le Fleur refuses to leave that feeling in the past, and fully embraces the eternal relevance of boogying your worries away with the infectious grooves of ‘Acid Jazz’. I really enjoyed chatting with Le Fleur over Zoom about improvisation, sticking to what makes you happy, and the vital discussions around Australia’s Black Lives Matter movement.
My family in Sydney always ask me, ‘how’s it going?’ It’s the same. Every day is the same!
Nothing’s going on!
What are you looking forward to most when everything opens up again?
Honestly, I just miss my friends so much. Having that human interaction and doing live gigs are what I’m really missing
I feel like I’ve forgotten how to be in front of people, and crowd interaction is going to feel so strange. I think it’s going to be great when you get to start gigging again because your music is so happy and fun!
I reckon that’s the vibe I’m going for, I just want people to feel good. Even just to help people escape for a second and just have a boogie!
You’ve described your sound as ‘Acid Jazz’, how would you describe what that is?
I guess it’s kind of like having the fundamentals of jazz writing and jazz chords, but then having more of a pop music structure; It’s a bit of a fusion of the two! Think of jazz theory, and pop structures with a real emphasis on that disco beat and drum rhythm
It’s great, and I think everyone loves 80s music, and playing around with a more ‘retro’ sound. You can’t listen to Earth, Wind and Fire and not dance! Why can’t we just bring that feeling into the music of today? Do you feel like your audience has to be more receptive to something that’s a little bit old school? Has it been hard for people to just enjoy and get into it?
I would have thought that, but I’ve been gigging for years now, and people from all kinds of backgrounds, all different types of musical styles, seem to enjoy what I do just because it’s fun! At the end of the day, even if you might not consider yourself an ‘Acid Jazz’ kind of person, it’s making you tap your foot and dance a bit. I feel like this kind of music is communal in that way
I think this style definitely has that sort of reach, and it communicates this really fun vibe, but then the songs themselves hold a message that is a bit deeper. I think especially with your newest release ‘Strange Moonlight’ that’s especially true
Yeah, I think it’s good to let the messages be deep within music that’s pretty bouncy and happy otherwise
How did you arrive at this sound? What has been your journey through music been to get you here doing this unique style?
Honestly, I think it probably has a lot to do with my upbringing and the kind of music I was exposed to, because I grew up on Earth, Wind and Fire and Michael Jackson and Prince and Aretha Franklin- that was the kind of music that was always playing in my house, and it’s the kind of music I’ve just been singing forever! It really feels like it’s part of who I am
Has there ever been pressure for you to do something more modern? Was it hard for you to decide to do something different to the mainstream?
Definitely, yeah. A lot of the music in the Melbourne scene is obviously very different to the kind of music I make, and I would often feel like maybe I should do something more ‘popular’. At the end of the day, I think people like it more when you’re authentic and you do something you really like.
I think that’s one of the pressures with being in a comparatively small city and small country compared to somewhere like America where there’s probably a little bit more freedom to have these niche pockets of sound and still get quite a big following and support. I really do think it takes a little bit more bravery to do that sort of thing in Melbourne. So I really commend you for doing something that you actually feel like speaks to you because I think that’s something that you’re hopefully going to enjoy for longer
Everyone wants success in their music, but it isn’t the most important thing in the world. I really enjoy sending music out into the world that I’m just genuinely proud of! It’s also hard to measure success, it means different things for everyone – I feel successful if somebody leaves a gig of mine feeling better then when they got there.
I think it’s great that you’ve been able to figure out what kind of music makes you feel good, and I feel like it can be a hard thing for a lot of musicians to actually figure that out for themselves you know? what is it that I actually want to do?
Exactly, and it’s an important thing to figure out!
Did you experiment much before settling on this sound?
Yeah for sure, I’ve always been a singer and I started learning instruments when I was really young; like violin and classical piano. When I was in high school I had this teacher that really pushed me into doing classical singing because they said my voice was good for that style, but it wasn’t really something I connected that well with. I feel grateful for that experience in classical vocal singing, and it felt a bit like experimenting for me in terms of what direction I wanted to head into. I think it really helped me realise what I don’t want to do!
It can be frustrating when you feel like you’re learning these things that you really don’t want to do, especially when you’re younger and you’re really not sure about what the future might look like. When you’re growing up, every person doing music likes to tell you exactly what they think you should be doing and what is right for your musical growth, and it’s really hard to navigate that kind of advice. It’s always good to try and find the lessons where they exist, even if it can feel like a waste of time overall
Exactly! It was kind of wild to go from singing classical Arias to disco funk music
Do you feel like you picked up good skills while you were doing the classical training?
I think that my range is a lot bigger because of it which is always helpful! I’m grateful to have been taught good technique, but it also took a long time to bring back my chest voice after not using it for so long
‘Things That Make You Go Aaargh’ was your first release, and it’s such a strong opener to a new project, tell me a little bit about the development of that song
So that was one of the first songs I wrote back in Uni in probably 2017 and it was developed as a song that had a real riff-based groove. My partner who writes with me helps me develop everything on the guitar, and he is such a wizard at it. Every song has a different approach when you’re writing, and I haven’t found that I follow one kind of method every time, but working with him has usually been a pretty early stage of the process
I think that it really helps to have someone to bounce ideas off, and when you don’t work with anyone in the development process it’s hard to know when you’ve reached a point of completion with the track
It’s important to find people you gel with, and people who like the same kinds of music that you do! It’s also important to find people you can be honest with so you feel like you have the ability to say when you hate something or that something isn’t working. You don’t want to have all this resentment down the line and have your band split up! Being honest makes it so much easier to operate in a group
Oh, absolutely. So what is that song communicating?
A lot of my songs have a sense of commentary about them, because I write about what is happening around me and what I’m thinking and feeling. I usually have these underlying themes of capitalism and patriarchy, as subtle as that might be sometimes, and that’s what I have going on in this track
A title like ‘Things That Make You Go Aaargh’ already really sparks your imagination and helps you place yourself into the track before you’ve even heard it! Your next track is ‘Cosmic Relations’, was the development similar for this one?
Pretty much exactly the same actually! ‘Cosmic Relations’, ‘TTMYGA’, and a couple others that we didn’t end up recording were all written in the same two week block of time which was really great
And what’s the message in ‘Cosmic Relations’?
This one’s actually not too deep! It’s about having a good time and having a funky dance. It’s one of the ones we have a lot of fun with when we play it live; it’s a three minute recording, but we stretch that out to about 15 minutes when everyone takes their solo’s and everything live! It becomes this really big dance track in that way
That’s why you gotta go see it live, it’s got all this exclusive improvised content!
Is considering the band dynamic a big part of your approach to songwriting?
It’s something I always keep in mind when I’m writing, because it can get tricky when you start writing parts for other people if they don’t like them. I’ve found that the best way to develop the song is to bring the main body and structure in demo form to the band and then have a jam on that until everyone feels like it’s working well together
I suppose the song probably evolves a lot in that process
It’s great! It brings so much life into the music
Do you have those moments where you perform one of your released songs live, but then you have all these great new parts that you didn’t consider when you first recorded it?
Yes all the time! We have songs that we’ve released that are so much better now because the sections are so much more developed! It’s nice when we’ve figured that all out before we’ve recorded and released a track!
Another reason to come to the live show! I remember when I saw Bruno Mars play and he had reharmonised all of his old pop tracks! It’s great when a song has the room to be revamped
Especially because you can have so many new ideas once you’ve sat on a song for a little while
You released an EP in 2019 titled ‘The Sands of Time’, what made these 4 songs feel like a good collection for an EP?
At the time of developing that, we wanted to do something a little bit different and we were about to go on a big tour. We thought, why not have more of a collection to show people, rather than just a few songs up on Spotify? So we grouped these two new songs ‘The Sands of Time’ and ‘Victim of the Groove’, with some older tracks to release the full EP. It was such a fun project, and the tour did really really well! It’s so weird because now that feels so long ago, and in four months it would have been a year since our tour!
It’s flown by! What was it like on tour with a big group?
It was honestly really fantastic, and we met some awesome people. We were obviously quite close as a group when we first left for the tour, but when you’re driving for 10 hours a day, talking absolute shit- we just grew together so much and became a lot closer. It was really great to just get our name out there in the other states, and I’m so grateful we got to do it
I noticed that you made a post around the time of the bushfires which were happening at the same time as your tour, and you made the decision to donate some of the proceeds to those causes which I think is really great
Yeah we donated money from the Melbourne show which was a great night, and we ended up donating around $700 which is crazy! That period in time felt a little bizarre you know? We’re playing these shows while the country is literally on fire, it feels like, what can I do?
You can feel so small in the scheme of everything happening in the world. ‘Strange Moonlight’ is a song that touches on that reality too. When there’s wild fires, civil rights protests, and a pandemic happening all in the same time frame, I think musicians can feel a little insecure in those moments because it can feel like music has no value in the scheme of things. It’s hard to realise that everyone around you is actually finding comfort and value in music and art more than ever when times are so uncertain
And that’s the thing isn’t it? It can be so easy to discredit yourself and what you create, but everyone is consuming music at such a rapid pace at the moment!
Like, where would we be with without it? Artists at the moment have to find a lot more confidence in themselves and their work because the government might not be showing as much support for the arts, and it’s tough to navigate that when you get all these conflicting messages about the value of what you create
Let’s talk about ‘Strange Moonlight’ which came out earlier this year
Yeah we had a little trouble with that release because it showed up on the wrong page, so it ended up being delayed!
Hate when that happens! Releasing music seems so straight forward and then all these things can end up going wrong
Exactly, it’s always a bit all over the place
The message behind this song is really strong, why did it feel important for you to write it?
Well, I’m a biracial black woman – and I know that I have a lot of privilege with my proximity to whiteness with being fair skinned and half white, so I have a duty to use my privilege and my voice to speak on these issues. The conversation around racial equality is something that has always affected me, my family, and so many people that I know. There’s been a boom in having this conversation over the last few months after the tragedy around George Floyd’s murder, but for the most part, Australians don’t want to talk about racial inequality or racism in general. I was amazed to see everyone be so quick to be outraged, but at the same time, this country’s history is horrible and it’s happening in our own backyard! You know what I mean? No one wants to talk about it. You can’t say hashtag Black Lives Matter, hashtag George Floyd, and then not talk about any of the indigenous lives that have been lost in police custody or how our Sudanese community has been completely demonised by the media for years, amongst many other things.
It’s embarrassing how much we neglect our own history
There’s been 440+ deaths in only the last 30 years, and that’s on top of historical genocide. It’s important to talk about these things and work towards actively dismantling these racist systems. I’ve always experienced micro aggressions all the time in my conversations, and I used to be really in my feelings about it all. You don’t want to upset people by calling them out, but at the end of the day this is the reality we live in, and I’m not going to stop talking about it.
Australians are so good at pointing the finger at other places and saying, wow, good thing we aren’t like that country, meanwhile we literally leave people to rot in detention centers, and ignore our history of mass genocide. I’m sure you’ve probably found that people nominate you as their personal educator too instead of just googling things, and you’re not afforded the luxury of not thinking about this movement when it’s not trending
Exactly, it’s not like I get to do my Instagram activism for the day and get on with my life!
I did my black square guys!
A while ago I used to be fine with being the ‘black friend’ and acting like people’s personal Wikipedia, but now days I’m like, here’s a book! Here’s a podcast! It’s not up to POC to educate white people on something they created. The thing I find striking though and the question I keep asking myself is – do you really need me to educate you or talk about my lived experience for you to understand racism is real? I think it’s sad that we are still stuck in ‘raising awareness’ rather than tackling the issue. It’s like people only just discovered racism exists. Seems counterintuitive to me.
I think a lot of people think that the act of asking, is the activism, and it’s not actually the answers that they get. Your advice to someone might be ‘you should read this book’, but they have no intention of reading the book, they just want you to notice they asked you in the first place
I’m tired! It’s all performance
I really liked the lyrics,
You know it – deep in your soul
What we really need from you
Educate your family too
It’s a matter of life and death
It’s easy for someone to just say Black Lives Matter and then do nothing else because it’s not them who’s at risk
They’re not the ones who are experiencing it, and there’s so much more that you can do. It’s beyond frustrating.
I think it’s beautiful that you’ve written and released this song and it’s packaged as such a fun disco banger. It’s making me look forward to actually hearing it live! What emotions do you feel like really drive your writing?
It definitely depends on the song, because if you’re talking about the most recent release, the emotion is rage haha- but generally I don’t usually write from a place of rage. I will usually channel what ever emotion I’m feeling at the time, and develop something that draws from my life experiences, because all I really have in life is my lived experience
You were saying you’re quite influenced by 80s and 90s musicians, do you have any modern musicians that you draw influence from too?
Oh, yeah, absolutely, and I’d also say I’m super influenced by 70s music as well. Modern musicians like H.E.R, Kehlani, Mahalia, Kali Uchis- I think all of those musicians are just fabulous. Someone like Beyoncé too who has been able to master songwriting over so many years of pop
What is it about those strong women that really draws you in?
It’s just so inspiring, and I like to see myself in them. They are these strong-ass women of colour and they are absolutely killing it! I also think that they’re all really beautiful lyricists and there’s so much authenticity in their music
Is that the main thing that you really latch on to when you listen to the music?
That, and also the groove, I’m a big groovy gal! I like ballads too but that’s not what gets me going!
Your music definitely has a real backbone in strong grooves, good bass, and good drums, which is always going to start the party. What do you think would be your dream collaboration?
My dream collab would be with Prince hands down. I am obsessed with that man, and I think he was an absolute genius with music. The sheer quantity and quality of music that he released over his career is just unbelievable
Yes, for sure. I think it’s amazing when someone can embody so much colour in their music, and do so many different things at such an excellent level. I’m interested to see what artists are going to be this generations’ Bowie or Prince.
Who do you think will be that in your opinion?
I think someone like Billie Eilish will transcend in that way. I think she’s going to be someone who will have a long, interesting career. Any artist who can not only push the envelope and do something that is interesting, but also do it in a way that is still palatable for a lot of listeners, is someone to watch
I totally agree with that. There’s also a pressure, I think, for people to be really unique and amazing in those ways instead of just being themselves.
What would your dream performance environment be?
I would love to play at the Sydney Opera House, the acoustics and the architecture is just so stunning. I flew to Sydney twice last year to see Solange play there, and it was just amazing- she’s another artist I really look up to. She’s the kind of musician who takes your breath away. I feel like no one is doing what she does, she has this raw talent and she does whatever she wants- it’s really inspiring
She’s so experimental, but again, she makes it really listenable. What do you want people to leave feeling when they listen to your music.
I want them to feel really happy, but I also want them to be thinking about their lives and the world around them and their place in the world. I just want people to come listen, feel good, and think.
It’s important for music to be able to help people to do that, not always, but I think it’s great when you can allow people to take something away to think about. With something like 70s disco music and funk music, a lot of the time they were these fun groovy songs, but they were also songs speaking the same sort of messages we sing about today; about equality and standing up for what’s right and what’s good in the world
It’s so powerful and that’s all I can hope for
When does it feel like your songs are actually finished?
I’m a huge perfectionist to my detriment, and I could spend forever fixing some minuscule thing. It helps if I give myself deadlines, and I remind myself that it’s never going to be perfect so long as it sounds pretty good then I try and be happy with that
I think that when the performance aspect plays such a huge part in the music, it can be hard to capture what that live feeling is like on a recording. I feel like when you’re performing live there’s a lot of energy in the room and you can feel a lot of freedom to improvise and play around. When I sing live it feels like my range gets bigger and my runs get more complex, and then I can’t always replicate that in the studio
I feel the same, when I’m singing live I end up having so much fun and my voice does things I wouldn’t normally try!
That’s what can draw people to in to come to shows because you know the music is going to just step up and be even more fun
Yeah, absolutely, and that’s why I miss it so much!
What can we look forward to with your music?
It kind of depends on when the state reopens, and I’ve been writing a lot of music which has been great. I don’t know if I’ll release another single soon, I’m just hoping I can get my performance chops back up!
It’s a strange thing to navigate- releasing music during a pandemic. In some ways, you really want to put something good out into the world and be productive and make something, but it can feel like it doesn’t have as much of a ‘moment’ as it might have had if you were able to perform the release at gigs and create hype around it. What was it like for you to not get that kind of feedback?
I love testing things with a crowd, it’s kind of like market research! It’s been hard to not do that with this release, but at the same time, I really wanted this song and it’s message to be heard. There are some songs that can feel a little tedious, but this song, ‘Strange Moonlight’, really felt like it was meant to be written; it was such an easy song to develop. It’s the kind of song where I felt like I wanted to say a lot but I also didn’t want to overcomplicate the message
The message is effectively straightforward which is great for this kind of song
There’s no other interpretation to be had!
It’s great! No one’s going to tell you the song reminds them of their boyfriend, that’s for sure! Do you battle with much self doubt in your writing?
Absolutely, and sometimes it’s crippling. You really have to get out of your head with that kind of thing though. It’s not the end of the world if something doesn’t go the way that you want it to.
What would be your advice to any emerging artists in the industry?
I would say stay true to yourself, and don’t let people put you in a box; don’t put yourself in a box too because that’s super easy to do! Create because it makes you happy, and it’s a hard road so do what you want to do!
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