French-American singer-songwriter Leslie Helpert is currently in Barcelona writing and recording her next album
1. You're a highly prolific songwriter—where do you get your inspiration and where do you feel most inspired?
My songwriting is a very mysterious process. The whole thing is really wild and difficult to analyze. After 21 years of playing guitar, of trying to understand what inspires my proclivity for writing, I gather that I write most when I feel balanced, healthy and strong... I do a lot of yoga and run around like a kid. Staying in a state of curiosity, possessing an inclination to learn, to continue to grow musically and personally, these are the tools I think that end up yielding music... I work to keep myself emotionally available, to not become callous or exhausted, to stay compassionate and generous, to make room for failure and successes... All in all, though, I think that I can't really control it, it comes on its own and I try just to be available for the possibility of creativity. It is the most tender expression of living, for me, to be in the relationship of musician/music. I am just thankful for music more and more each day.
2. You have toured all over the world; where is your favourite place to perform and how do the people react to your music from place to place?
Well there is so much of the world I know nothing about, where I haven't played music nor traveled. But regardless of where I am geographically, my favorite places to perform are places with natural acoustics, like old churches or caves and in unusual spaces. I love to play my guitar acoustically, because the overtones and the subtleties are the most important part to me. I like to play in places where the ambiance inspires me, where the people who operate the venue are friendly and invested in the arts, where people can be comfortable, relax and listen. I've never enjoyed much to play in really loud bars with smoke in my face. I would never write music in those spaces, so it feels strange to play music in places like that. I am happy that there are more and more venues being created for real music listening, where people can be comfortable. I just played a little show in the South of France and I like that I played right on the sea as the sun set, beautiful. I have enjoyed playing in Europe these months because I really enjoy the quality of appreciation for the arts, in general, that I've encountered.
3. As well as being a talented songwriter, you paint and are a gifted illustrator; do you think you will ever give up music to dedicate yourself totally to one of these other interests?
All of my interests are interwoven. I think that painting is part of my writing. Stories I write... also turn into the music. Yoga... inspires my voice, It's a sort of "whole-system" model, all the parts working together... As far as "one day" doing something else--- who knows what tomorrow reveals! I can only say that I will do my best to create something meaningful by the end of it all, to always become closer to my aims, to acquire more skill... remembering all the while that the goal is in the experience, not only the destination. In the midst I do my best to stay open to possibilities greater than I can think of, because what ends up happening is always more interesting that what I can plan.
4. Have you played in Barcelona before, if so, when and what are your thoughts on the city?
This is my first longer stay in Barcelona (I'll be here for one month, primarily recording). I came down about 6 weeks to ago to meet with Dave Bianchi, who is producing the record that I'm making right now in Barcelona, who is an amazing man! I'm loving working with him! So this is my real "first" time playing in the city. So far (though I've mostly been in the studio) I really am enjoying this city so much!
5. If you have spent time in Barcelona, where do you like to go when visiting, do you have a favourite place to visit?
Here are a couple places that, in my short time here thus far, I've had to return to:
i. Caj Chai on Sant Domenec Del Call has the best iced chai I've ever tasted and beautiful atmosphere....very graceful cafe with traditional teas.
ii. There is an "ancient grain" holistic bakery called Barcelona Reykjavic (www.barcelonareykjavik.com) that is on Raval Doctor Dou, that place is... wow.
iii. Just went to a birthday celebration on the top of Montjuic at Mirador de Migdia, a bar in the woods overlooking the whole bay--- an amazing place! And you can walk down the mountain afterwards right back into the city!
iv. The Raval in general, is a place I'm looking forward to exploring more... I need to rent a bicycle for a day, and take advantage of getting to pedal all over the city.... for now, I've been running around the Arc de Triumph and some other neighborhood parks near where I am living.
6. You have your fifth album coming out—where did you write and record it, and could you detail the creative process behind it?
I got connected to producer/artist Dave Bianchi through my friend in Barcelona, I was in France at the time and in the beginning stages of planning to make a recording for European release.... At the time, I really didn't know if I'd make it down to Spain, but something kept telling me to make a recording with Dave, and through a strange series of coincidences, I made it here! I'm in the midst of the "birthing" process as I write.... so, it's still difficult to relay exactly what's coming... but I can say that it's been awesome to work with Dave and local Barcelona musicians... and some fierce and unusual music is certain to result from these days.
Leslie Helpert will play at El Colmado (La Cera 35, nearest metro Sant Antoni, L2) on Friday 13th, 10.30pm. €4