Discover more from Volatile Weekly
Interview with Lenoy Barkai
What got you into music, and if you had not gotten into music what would you be doing today?
Musicals. I was an absolute nerd for musicals as a kid (I used to collect brochures from any show I ever saw, and even ones I’d never seen before but had found the brochures in the theatre – I kept them all in a special folder for years, I have no idea to what end!) It was my dream to be a musical theatre star. I’d still like to write a musical one day.
I love the optimism of the second half of your question – which assumes I’ve managed to be a full -time musician :) In fact, music has been my secret double life for most my life. By day I work as a security consultant for an international risk management firm, and I really love my day job as well.
What do you like to do when you are not playing music and how does that influence your creativity?
I’m an avid reader and the books I read have often found their way into the themes of my music. I enjoy reading history books in particular and listening to history podcasts. Also, as part of my job, I need to stay pretty up to date on current affairs, so I consume a lot of news and analysis on geopolitical trends and security issues. I can neither confirm nor deny whether this has influenced my creativity ;-)
How long have you been making music?
I’ve been writing songs since my late teens. I can still remember some of them – they were really cheesy. And then I completed a Bachelor of Arts with a major in Classical Music at university, so in terms of vocal training my roots were very much classical and opera.
Where are you based and how did that influence your music?
I’m currently in Cape Town, South Africa – although I’m about to immigrate to the UK so I’ll be based in London from March 2023. Cape Town is the only place I’ve ever recorded or performed – from dodgy downtown bars to function halls, local battles of the band and food markets. The opening track on the album actually includes a nod to Cape Town’s night life in my early twenties.
Tell me about your most memorable shows.
What is your favorite venue to play at, and do you have any places you want to play that you have not already?
I once performed at an historic railway station converted into a music venue. It was really special and the atmosphere was fantastic. I’d love to return to Cape Town one day and perform at the open air theatre in our famous Kirstenbosch gardens. That would be a real dream!
If you could play any show with any lineup, who would be on the ticket?
Portishead, Elbow and Lana del Rey!
What is some advice that you would give to someone who is just getting into making music?
On the one hand – don’t overthink it. If you have an idea run with it and see where it takes you without second guessing your instincts. If you edit yourself too much as you write, it’s easy to write yourself into a corner and then toss an idea aside before it reaches its full potential. On the other hand, once you have a “library” of songs, think carefully about which ones to record and release, and which to part ways with – and learn to let go.
If you could go back in time and give yourselves advice, what would it be?
Recording an album has been a long-term goal of mine and it feels really good to have finally done it. It has taken YEARS to write the songs, save up enough to record them, find the right producer (shout out to Adrian Culhane!) and then actually release them into the wild. It’s been a strange experience getting to this point, though. When I was younger, I felt this intense pressure to "hurry up" and make music, and every year that passed I felt increasingly like: "you're taking too long, it's too late, you've missed your chance, you're getting too old!" - And ultimately that pressure was quite immobilizing. I spent years in and out of different bands and starting different musical projects, but I never properly lifted anything off the ground. Then, over the last few years, I suddenly felt this weight lift off and the freedom to just go out and do it. I'm 34 and not 24! So what? I spent so much of my twenties second-guessing how I spent my time. Now I feel like I'm ready to start looking forward to things rather than agonizing over whether I'll end up regretting them.
Of your songs which one means the most to you and why?
Probably the album’s title track: Paper Crown. It’s a deeply personal song about coming to terms with the difference between your imagined future and the actual day-to-day fabric of your life. I’ve had a few friends in their 30s tell me it’s resonated with them too, which is probably some of the most meaningful feedback I’ve received from this entire project.
Which songs are your favorite to play and which get requested the most?
I’ve not actually performed the songs from this album live yet – but if I could get a band together, I think performing “Do I Really Wanna Know?” will be an absolute blast.
What is your creative process like, and what inspires you to write your music?
I mostly write at the keyboard – although sometimes a melody will come to my head before I sit at the piano. I think “Me And These Keys” was initially something I hummed to myself during a long drive, and the opening line of “Just Enough of You” came to me in a dream, and I had to wake up and quickly record it as a voice note before I forgot. I then play around with some chord progressions on the piano and overlay it with different digital drumbeats to see how it changes the mood and possible direction of the song. Once I have a keyboard-based demo down, I really enjoy collaborating with other musicians on various instrumental treatments which can take a song in a completely different direction to what I initially envisioned – which I love.
What kinds of messages do you like to get across in your music?
I find myself veering from the deeply personal to the somewhat irreverent and even theatrical (see musical theatre reference above, haha). Paper Crown ended up being an album that largely reflects on different periods in my 20s. And when I thought about the common thread that ran through these songs, I found myself returning to different notions of power, gained and lost: in relationships, social structures, within specific conversations even). But although some of the themes in my songs are serious, I never want to take myself too seriously and I tried to strike that balance in the album. That’s also why I like the image of a paper crown – straddling that fine line between a joker and a king.
What are your plans for the future, and do you have anything that you want to spotlight that is coming up?
Right now, I’m focusing on the move to London and starting to build out my life there (both music- and otherwise). Also, the music video for “Just Enough of You” is currently in post-production and will be released soon!