“Who are they to tell you what your life is supposed to be?
Why are you so willing to be at their mercy?”
From “To fill the void”
- Leerone, 2007
It’s a testament to her high-reaching artistry that Leerone would pose two of history’s thorniest questions in the opening minutes of her captivating new album, Imaginary Biographies. Belying its deceptively jaunty show tune melody, “To fill the void” is the sound of a distracted America crashing under the weight of its own media obsessions. But lest anyone accuse Leerone of snobbish condescension, kindly direct your attention to the Lennonesque ballad “JUNK/peace of mind,” wherein our anti-heroine laments her own inability to look away from the Great American Media Medusa. “i can see the damage done and the damage yet to come,” she agonizes in that plain-spoken lilt of hers, “and what’s worse is that, i don’t know how to separate myself.”
If Leerone’s lyrics often sound more like diary entries than standard-issue pop poesy, it’s because the Los Angeles singer-songwriter has consistently endeavored to raise the bar for musical confessionalism. Indeed, on her previous EPs, including “In This Life, On This Road” (2003) and “Hail to the Queen” (2004), Leerone plumbed the depths of her psyche with the zeal of a woman-child possessed.
Now comes Imaginary Biographies, a full-length album that is at once a work of story-spinning fancy, and an exercise in point blank self-analysis. Produced by Christopher Fudurich (Jimmy Eat World, Nada Surf, Matthew Sweet, Fishbone), this 11-song collection finds Leerone taking in the whole of our increasingly dehumanized existence and pondering her place amongst it. Along the journey, the singer pleads for a bloodless revolution of the spirit; a humanistic answer to the unrelenting narcissism overspreading the planet.
“I think of this batch of songs as little stories and worlds that exist in my mind,” Leerone says, doodling on a pad in a suburban LA delicatessen. “I was thinking a lot about when something is imaginary, we choose to keep it imaginary, or to make it real. That’s sort of where the title of the album came from.”
And just how much of Leerone’s own experience is contained in these supposed works of musical fiction? “Probably a lot, because I can’t escape my life,” she says with laugh. “But we have so many personas, so to speak. Sometimes, someone else’s experience can trigger a reaction, or a part of you that might identify, or not identify. I absorb it all. Anything and everything.”
It’s comically characteristic that Leerone would scrawl pictures while being interviewed. The gears of her fevered imagination are constantly on the grind. In the latest exhibition of her all-encompassing creativity, Leerone not only composed and sung all the tunes featured on Imaginary Biographies, she conceived and designed the CD art. Come to find out, she even designs her own stage clothes (is it any wonder that the singer’s independent record company is called Fussy Music?). From its panoramic songs to its impressionistic album graphics, Imaginary Biographies is Leerone’s purest, most triumphant artistic expression to date.
As its title suggests, Imaginary Biographies is also a musical storybook replete with its own cast of characters. There’s “Rosie Lee,” a wayfaring girl waging war against her own Freudian id. On “Knocking,” our protagonist ponders her curious lot in life: to forever seek transcendent spiritual connections in a fearful, defensive world. As imagined by Leerone, “happy + homemade” are a modest couple finding bliss in accepting one another’s quirks.
These melodic flights of whimsy are offset by some of Leerone’s most enigmatic songs to date. She employs horrorshow melodies on “Empty Houses,” superbly underscoring the tune’s body-as-haunted house metaphor. With its goose-stepping rhythms and clattering funhouse xylophones, “Care for some whiskey?” recalls Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill at their most chaotic. On the apocalyptic “Bring it on,” Leerone sounds out a solemn death march while making lyrical allusions to guns, militias and global catastrophe. In mid-tune, the nightmarish verses give way to a heroic, almost soldierly bridge. To wit: “Standing upright like a beacon of light, paving the way for a better day…”
Such lyrics evince Leerone’s total obsession with self-realization. “A lot of the songs are about potential -- tapping into it, or neglecting it,” she explains, as always taking pains to share her own perceived failings. “I’m sure that I’ve internalized things that I struggle with. I think it’s a struggle for everyone.”
When last we checked in on Leerone, the singer was justifiably atwitter about her aforementioned debut recordings, “In This Life, On This Road” and “Hail to the Queen.” The former is as remarkable an opening volley as we have heard in contemporary music; an independently produced EP that frames Leerone’s soul-rending original songs and confiding voice against a hard-hitting backdrop of sledgehammer percussion and supple keyboards, guitar and bass. For an encore, she brilliantly boiled her artistry down to its most intimate essence, electing to perform “Hail to the Queen” to the sole accompaniment of her own piano.
Taken together, “In This Life, On This Road” and “Hail to the Queen” hit unsuspecting listeners like jabs to the gut. Here was an artist that had thankfully spared us the agony of watching her learn her craft in public. Leerone seemed to arrive already in bloom, equal parts irrepressible girl, mature singer-songwriter and newfangled European chanteuse.
Hungry for more biographical tidbits on the singer, fans learned that Leerone was born in the Israeli port city of Haifa. Her family relocated to America when she was still in diapers. Growing up, Leerone attended school in suburban LA while spending summers in her Middle Eastern homeland. “The experience definitely changed me,” she said in 2005. “I think having two homes makes you more open and critical of who you are, because you’re more aware of the things that are shaping you.”
Just as Leerone feels like a woman with two homelands, Imaginary Biographies is itself a study in dualism. Split evenly between rococo ballads and steady-going rockers, the new album combines the band approach of Leerone’s premiere EP with the more personal dynamics of her sophomore release. “It’s a larger expression, or reflection, of where I was at musically,” she says, discussing the process of recording her first full-length CD. “I had a much clearer, defined idea of what I wanted everything to sound, look and feel like.”
And how would she describe the experience of recording her very first full-length CD? Leerone replies by placing said CD within the context of her favorite subjects: self-knowledge and evolvement. “Every decision was put under a microscope,” she recalls with a contented grin. “It was more work, but it’s so much more satisfying.”