Formidable Females: Leah Lavigne

As I walked down 3rd Ave. with my headphones plugged in, I begin to dread the daunting amount of homework, papers and projects that I had waiting back at home. It was a Monday afternoon, the sky was a dull grey and I was utterly exhausted from lack of sleep. 

Worry overwhelmed my mind on the day of my interview with freshman Leah Lavigne, a rising musician and singer-songwriter. However, within minutes of speaking to Lavigne about the meaning of music and her passion for making music, my worries dissipated. Lavigne's wise outlook on the world and her ability to portray life's greatest moments through art, reminds us of some of life's most important lessons—to believe in ourselves and to keep fighting, even through the darkest of times. 

HC NYU: Where are you from? What are you majoring in?

LL: I'm a freshman from Metro Detroit, which just means like the outer area of Detroit. Right now I'm in LSP [Liberal Studies program], but I'm applying to transfer into the Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music, which is part of Tisch School of Arts.

HC NYU: What type of music do you sing and compose?

LL: It's light pop, a little alternative I would say. Those would be the official genres. 

HC NYU: What first sparked your interest in music? 

LL: Well, I've been playing piano since I was about three or four years old because my mom was a pianist. That was always just important for her, important to her that I learned. I was classically trained in piano and I sang in choirs, but the summer before high school, I started branching into more pop music instead of classical. I also started writing my own stuff the summer before high school, so that's when it all started. 

HC NYU: What inspires you to make music?

LL: I'm a very introspective person. I really think about what's going on in my life and what's going on around me. A lot of the times that's what sort of inspires me, just those thoughts and emotions. I love people; I'm fascinated by people. I love new people and interacting, and a lot of the songs I write aren't even really about personal experience, but about things I've observed or things I've just played a minor role in. I love words too—sometimes a whole song will be inspired or sparked from just a word or two. Like today, I was reading Dante's Inferno for my Cultural Foundations class and I came across a few words and I was like, oh my god. Those would go beautifully in a song, like the "beheld." It's a very basic word and I don't really use the word "beheld" in every day conversation, but I would love to put that in a song; there's something very eloquent about it. Also, "Hemispheres of shadows..." I thought that was interesting. So just little tidbits and things that people drop in conversation that I'm like, that's a gem. I'm going to try to build a song around that or incorporate that into a song.

HC NYU: Tell me a little about your first album and the process of creating it.

LL: My first album was self-titled "Leah Lavigne" and I was only fourteen. It was very basic production. I coproduced with my audio engineer, Tom Rice. I had decided that I wanted to seriously pursue music and in order to do so I thought it would be nice to have something I could promote and hand out. It's a six song EP. It was definitely a new experience and it was kind of intimidating. I'd get nervous before I went into the studio because I was in this environment that I'd never been in before with all this fancy technology that I didn't know how it worked. I went into the studio maybe a little soon, maybe a little early on in my career where I was still trying to develop my sound. I wouldn't say the first album is really like, a great representation of me as an artist or as a person, but I definitely respect it as it does show me at this specific, early on stage of my career. 

HC NYU: Tell me a bit about your second album and the differences and similarities between your first and your second.

LL: Well, it's kind of interesting. The first album was recorded at the beginning of high school and the second album was at the very end of high school. I think it is, for me personally, very interesting to go back and look at how much I grew as a person and as a musician. I was definitely a lot more comfortable with technology and different instruments and sounds, so going into the studio, it had a much more complex production. I also worked with a producer on this album; his name was Jared Ziemba. We brought in a lot of studio musicians and for the first one; it was really just me and Tom. This one was a team effort. I couldn't have done it without the string quartet and the two drummers we used, all of that stuff. It was really fun to see how much more you can do when you work together and collaborate. 

HC NYU: Where did you come up with the name "Peripeteia" for your second album?

LL: "Peripeteia"—a sudden reversal of fortune—is a Greek word. It is often used in Greek tragedy actually. People...when they're trying to come up with an album, they try to think of an overarching theme or all these songs were inspired by one heartbreak or whatever. For me, I just picked the best seven songs I thought from the past several years. The only overarching theme I could draw on was something a lot of us learn while growing up: that life is freaking crazy. There's ups and there's downs; fortune is always changing. Sometimes you feel like you're on top of the world and sometimes you don't. I think what I learned was despite all of that, you can be okay and you will be okay. The important things to do are to "Remember Who You Are"—which is track 4 on the album I want to say—and to keep dreaming, to keep thinking about the future and believing in yourself and to have vision, so you're not just floating in the world. It also ties into another track called "Live While You're Alive". The album has a few love songs and heartbreak songs thrown in there, but really what ties together that theme is that life will have love and heartbreak, but throughout all that, you just have to remember who you are, keep dreaming and keep living while you're alive.

HC NYU: Who are some of your musical inspirations or favorite artists?

LL: I love Ingrid Michelson. I think particularly, I like how her music is very accessible to all kinds of people. Same thing with John Mayer. On top of that, Regina Spektor is a big influence of me, how she can mix it up, be a little avant-garde. I also love The Cinematic Orchestra. One of my favorite songs of all time—“To Build a Home"—just takes you on a journey. It never gets old, and whether you're really listening to the words or you're just letting the music carry you away, it's just really beautiful to become immersed in that sound. It's beautiful. I'm really inspired by them.

HC NYU: What song or piece are you most proud of?

LL: It's probably "Dreaming" because sort of how I talked about why I like The Cinematic Orchestra. "Dreaming" has the same effect. Especially the way it's produced on "Peripeteia", it can really take you on a journey and I'm proud of that. 

HC NYU: What are your plans for the future?

LL: Well, I had the initiative at the beginning of the school year that I wanted to grow my online presence, so I started using my Facebook page more, I started making monthly update videos for Youtube—which has been super cool—and I also started putting music up on Soundcloud. This semester, I hope to continue doing that, just getting some more tracks up and sharing some more. Also, there are tentative plans to have some gigs booked in the city for after spring break. Also, we're going to be working on a music video for "Remember Who You Are", but that won't be released until early summer. I'm working with some NYU Tisch kids on that.