On her second RCA Records album, "Alchemy," singer/songwriter Leah Andreone has undergone a transformation with many of her new songs boasting a harder, more metallic edge. Rock, pop, industrial and electronics are now crossed with flamenco, jazz, funk, delta blues and even country. Still, Andreone's musical eclecticism remains grounded by her typically confessional, forthright lyrics.
"I made a conscious choice to be totally involved on every level in the making of my second album. After making my first record and following it up with touring, I developed a new sense of confidence in my abilities to create and communicate my vision, musically."
And while her '96 debut, "Veiled," found Leah working through "every extreme I encountered while growing up," on "Alchemy," her songs are now influenced by the new experiences she's had over the last two years, since that first record came out.
"Now that I live within music on a daily basis, happiness comes very easily to me." Leah adds, "Being on the road propelled me in so many different atmospheres that I have further learned who I am and what I would like to aspire toward. I have very definitive opinions on life and music, and finding definition has made me all the more secure and confident in contributing to the creation of this album."
That can be heard in the album's lead track, "Sunny Day," which combines Latin music touches with grinding metal to attack and heighten the senses, with neo-psychedelic lyrics like "The skin is showing on the birds today..."
"Personally, I've let my guard down to a degree and shed some of my skins that I no longer need. It used to be so easy to go numb, stay emotionally safe, but experience nothing. I now have a new psychology on my life. The last two years, I've made a point to feel, to study and to take chances. My highs are much higher and my lows are much lower. My experiences are magnified and much more intense. I like it like that."
Recorded in L.A.'s M&M Studio, Ocean Way, Trac Records, and producer Bob Marlette's (Black Sabbath, Rob Halford's Two) home studio, Andreone made her debut in the world of production and took a co-production credit. Among the musicians who played on the album were her longtime collaborator and guitarist, John Lowery (Marilyn Manson, k.d. lang), her drummer Rodger Carter (Berlin), and Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Chad Smith, while ace mixologist Jack-Joseph Puig (Hole, the Verve Pipe, Goo Goo Dolls, Semisonic) provided the multi-layered sonic atmosphere.
"My record company gave me room to grow and explore, creative license you might say. I knew exactly what I wanted in a second record and I did not hesitate to go for it."
That musical eclecticism matches Andreone's explicit approach to sensuality on the Lennonesque "Swallow Me," written with her brother, David Andreone; the vampy, sexy, cocktail lounge torch song "Try To Take Your Time" (which samples an unlikely Paul Stanley on-stage rap from "Kiss Alive II"); and the soaring "Inconceivable" (co-written with Hooters Rob Hyman and Eric Bazilian), which recounts a real-life secret crush she has on someone close to her, who is clueless about being the object of her affection -- kind of reverse "You're So Vain."
Leah combines a high pitched falsetto with a rich techno ambiance in "Bow Down," a blast at mass consumerism and conformity ("Girls, they grow like the weeds / We're replaceable beings / just tell her what you told me") then investigates our fascination with "Porn," featuring a wah-wah synth-funk beat that could easily have been taken directly from a '70s adult film soundtrack. Andreone sheds light on her fixation on a first impression gone realistic in the ballad "You Don't Exist" and gets really nasty underneath the Mississippi blues and slide guitar of "Fake." The haunting "Private Affair" deals with trust, betrayal and infidelity. In "Lamentation" Andreone wonders just how much influence the outside world holds over unconventional love. The hypnotic rhythm of "Pretty Freak," which she co-wrote with Rick Neigher, who produced Leah's first album, was created by looping tracks of her breathing, a brooding meditation on pain and pleasure that is part of the album's overall vibe of intense highs and lows, of being blind and seeing the light, of raw, physical sexuality co-existing with a soaring spirituality.
"While writing 'Alchemy,' I found myself writing about pleasurable sexual experiences that exist in our lives, rather than awful destructive ones," says Andreone, and that acceptance of her sexual nature comes across loud and clear throughout. Now comfortable in her body, the transformation of ideas into reality, and emotions into music, is part of the album's theme of change and evolution. The veils have come off and what we're left with is the raw stuff of a life that has increasingly entered the fast lane. Pushing the limits of the mind/body dualism, the album is crammed with images of Andreone entering people through their ears, mouths and brains "and vice versa" proving she's overcome the trauma of being abused as a child, which she dealt with on "Veiled." "I used to make a conscious effort to hide my sexuality," says Leah, "when you're just a baby and something sexual happens to you that should never have happened, you do anything you possibly can to make sure it doesn't happen again. But I'm not scared of me anymore. We all have something to get over, and I am over it."