Can you describe your style of music and influences to us?
“Do I Really Wanna Know?” is the most “rock” song on the album. I like to experiment with juxtaposing different instrumentation and synths against classical vocal lines (I’m a trained classical singer) and “Do I Really Wanna Know?” is where I pushed that experimentation the most. I drew inspiration from a diverse array of artists, such as Kimbra, Portishead, early Muse and Radiohead. But perhaps most profoundly I was inspired by the iconic South African band Lark. I remember being mesmerised by the band in my early twenties and I still return to it often. Back then, as a student of classical music, I was excited by the prospect of combining classical vocal lines with rock or electronic instrumentation and I don’t think anyone has ever achieved that with the level of originality and creativity that Lark had. However, the rest of the album would probably fall under the more traditional indie-rock or indie-pop categories.
Describe `Lenoy Barkai to us in one sentence?
Singer, songwriter, cybersecurity consultant, with 40 seasons of Survivor under her belt and recently sleepless (new mom).
What is the meaning behind the single?
Lyrically, “Do I Really Wanna Know?” deals with themes of disbelief, anger and loneliness – the mixture of emotions you experience when you’ve just discovered a betrayal but reality hasn’t quite sunk in yet. There’s a split second before the weight of a truth hits you, and in that split second you can maybe, almost, kind of, not really pretend you didn’t know it. Despite the subject matter, I consider it one of the more fun songs on the album, to perform and listen to. It’s like having a good, old-fashioned vent: you’re ranting, but it feels so good to let it all out.
How did you come up with the concept for the lyric video and what was the process in creating it?
As I listened to the finished song, especially the introduction, an image of a night drive immediately came to mind and I imagined a character setting off on a mission in the dead of night in a futuristic city. And once that image was cemented in my mind setting the story in Cape Town came naturally. I also wanted the video to be in dialogue with the song, rather than to mirror it. In a way, while the music’s voice is pleading, the character in the video is reclaiming control.
I created a storyboard for the entire video using clips I found online that represented the different scenes, and then worked with the incredibly talented illustrator and animator Cameron Shefer Boswell to bring it to life. He immediately understood me when I told him I want this to be Cape Town set in Ghost in the Shell. In particular, I think he did an amazing job integrating the lyrics into the motion and texture of the video.
Describe an average day in the life of Lenoy Barkai?
I’ve long referred to singing as my “secret double life” because by day I actually work as a security risk consultant for an intelligence and cyber security company. It’s quite an all-consuming job, and after a long day’s work I would find particular joy sitting down at my keyboard and writing songs. For the last few months I’ve been on maternity leave though – another all-consuming job! So my days have been rather different as you can imagine!
Where is the inspiration for the title of the album Paper Crown?
Paper Crown ended up being an album that largely reflects on different periods in my twenties. 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. I also like the image of a paper crown because it represents the fine line between the joker and the king. And it reminds me never to take myself too seriously. Finally, there’s a song called Paper Crown on the album which explores these themes more closely – but you’ll have to wait for its release to get the full story
This is your debut single? What are you planning with this release and for future releases?
Yes, it’s my debut single as a solo artist. With this release, my first goal was to break a bad habit of recording music and never releasing it! Now that’s over, I am hoping to gradually build my listenership ahead of future releases (my next song is out on 18 November!) and ultimately the full album. It’s not easy starting from scratch – but you have to start somewhere! Beyond that I am also hoping to record a live performance of one of the songs from the album at some point, alongside some of the amazing Cape Townian musicians who feature on it.
Is Cape Town a big inspiration for your music?
Cape Town is where I was born and raised. I would certainly consider it one of the many characters that appear on the album. Close listeners will find a few references to Long Street on one of the tracks.
If you could colab and write a song with 2 artists, what would the song be called and who would be your collaborators?
Leonard Cohen (RIP) and Taylor Swift: two generational artists whom I admire deeply! And we’d write a song called Famous Blue Cardigan or Suzanne, We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together, or maybe The Future…Are You Ready For It?
But in all seriousness, I. want to acknowledge the amazing musician, engineer, producer Adrian Culhane who produced the entire album, and fellow local guitarist Jono Tait who contributed his talent to this and other tracks. I’d collaborate with them both again in a heartbeat!
Who do you think your audience is and what are you trying to share with them?
I’m really still finding out who they are! I’ve certainly played around with different genres on the album and I’m really curious to find out which songs different groups of people are drawn to. “Do I Really Wanna Know?” is by far the most experimental of my songs. The next single I’ll be releasing has much more of a Dreampop feel. Ultimately, songs are stories, some personal, some imagined, some a mix of both – and I guess that’s the main thing I’m looking to share.
Do I Really Wanna Know?” is the first single to be released from Lenoy Barkai’s debut album, Paper Crown. The song juxtaposes rock instrumentation over classical vocal lines, experiments with vocal synths and follows an untraditional structure.
“It is definitely the track where I set out to try something new and pushed myself further beyond my comfort zone than I had with any songs I’d written previously. And it ended up being one of my favourites, and most fun to record. So even though it has a distinct character that stands somewhat apart from rest of the album, I was really excited to share it and chose to release it first,” says Lenoy.
The track draws inspiration from a diverse array of artists, such as Kimbra, Portishead, early Muse and Radiohead.
“Most profoundly I was inspired by the iconic South African band Lark. I remember being mesmerised by the band in my early twenties and I still return to it often. Back then, as a student of classical music, I was excited by the prospect of combining classical vocal lines with rock or electronic instrumentation and I don’t think anyone had ever achieved that with the level of originality and creativity that Lark had,” says Lenoy.
The video presents a futuristic, cyberpunk-inspired vision of Cape Town, South Africa. It tells the story of a woman on a mission in the dead of night, looking to leave her mark on the city in a peculiar way. In some ways the lyrics and the imagery are in dialogue with each other – one voice is pleading, the other is reclaiming control. Lenoy came up with the story for the video and worked with fellow South African illustrator and animator Cameron Shefer Boswell to bring it to life.
Lenoy wrote the song during the heart of lockdown in South Africa and recorded it over the course of the pandemic, as and when restrictions allowed. Produced in Cape Town by engineer/producer Adrian Culhane, the track also features guitars by local musician Jonathan Tait.
“I was quite nervous to share the song with them initially, but they were both really excited by it and encouraged me to push it musically, probably further than I would have imagined on my own. I’m really proud of how it came together and looking forward to releasing the rest of the tracks over the coming weeks and months,” says Lenoy.
Lenoy Barkai studied classical singing at the South African College of Music in Cape Town, graduating in 2009 with distinction. Since then, she has been writing music and performing on-and-off as part of various bands while building a wholly unexpected career for herself as a security risk consultant.
Paper Crown is her first solo project.
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