It’s been a while between albums for Darwin singer-songwriter Leah Flanagan and Colour by Number has been well worth the wait. Produced by Sarah Belkner (Missy Higgins, Tim Minchin and Olympia) the album as Flanagan describes sonically as lush and lyrically more poetic, it lures the listener into a floating world of reflection. Flanagan spoke to the HI-FI Way about the new album and the process of finally releasing it.
Your new album Colour by Number has been released. How does it feel to have it finally out?
It feels like a massive relief because it’s been a while. We recorded the album about eighteen months ago and we had plans to release it earlier but COVID-119 reeked a bit of havoc with all those plans. We had a national tour planned and they had to be cancelled so you go through the struggle of thinking “What do we do with every that’s happening with COVID-19?” So, you get to the point of feeling at peace and just deciding “Let’s just put it out. It needs to be out in the world.” There’s no point worrying and its quite satisfying about feeling “There it is, it’s out in the world now. Done!”
Listening to the album it had a very floating drifting vibe. The songs seemed to have a soft dreamy sound. Is that a reflection of where you were in your life right at that time?
Kind of. I guess sonically I definitely wanted to make a different sounding record than anything I’ve ever made. I really wanted it to be lush and it to have this massive layer upon layer of these beautiful sounds. That’s why I wanted a string quartet and lots of harmonies. I chose really musical players that had so much to offer sonically. As musicians they’re really thoughtful players in that way and very musical. Sonically that’s what I really wanted to try to do and use a part of my voice in a bit higher in my register and a bit more delicate.
Lyrically its more poetic. A lot of those songs started off as poems and very inspired by nature. We wanted to make morning music. We wanted to make that record that’s either you have a cup of teas and put it on to relax or its time to chill out at night with a glass of wine.
What was it like to work with Sarah Belkner on the album?
Sarah is amazing. She’s got a strong classical background and arranged all the strings on the album as well as co-writing a few of the songs. If you listen to her own records, you’ll notice that she’s such a clever musician and brilliant singer. We’re friends and I’ve known her for such a long time and I have the ultimate trust in her and I’m in awe for her musical ability.
Sarah works with a lot of the big names now. She’s one of those musicians who can jump in a band and make that band instantly better just by playing in it. That’s why she gets a lot of work with artists like Missy Higgins, Tim Minchin and Olympia.
Do you feel that because you are friends that she knew you and understood where you were coming from and where you wanted to go with this album?
Yeah but we also just talked a lot and I’ve never done that before. I’m not sure if its working with another woman that you are engaged in that level of conversation or maybe because she is a songwriter herself, she wanted to know what everything in the song meant. As the musical arranger leading the band she was taking all my ideas, references and everything that I love in music and what I want my record to sound like then shaping that to turn it into reality.
Starlight is the latest single of the new album. Can you tell us a bit about that song?
Starlight was inspired by my son who is obsessed with space and the planet so I had to think of songs to sing at night time. Trying to think of songs other than Twinkle Twinkle Little Star (laughs) I had to think of more songs so we starting writing little songs about stars. A conversation I had with a friend of mine Constantina Bush who is a female impersonator from Katharine about that concept of being told of that you’re never going to be good enough which we’ve had that told to us throughout our careers.
The song is very Pop and when I started writing it, I wanted it to be like something Missy Higgins would sing. It’s quite poetic and I didn’t realise that song would turn out as beautifully as it did to be honest. It was one of the songs that was written last on the record.
With the restrictions still happening around the country but gradually easing do you still have plans to do some live shows?
We’re still trying to figure it out to be honest. I imagine that I will tour again because that’s what I love to do. We’ve got all the songs arranged for a string quartet and I’ve been performing them in the Northern Territory so I can’t wait to travel.
So is the live aspect really important to you?
For me it is because that’s the type of artist I am. I’m someone who likes making records not necessarily just singles. I love making a beautiful piece of art in the form of an album then going on tour with it. I know the world now has changed and it’s about singles or short bursts of music. Playing live really is my lifeline.
Interview by Anastasia Lambis