She has the looks that kill, crafted DJ/Songwriter/Producer skills and has put in the time to make her the artist she is today. In response to electronic dance music (EDM)’s recent presence under the mainstream spotlight, pop music artists incorporate the beats and progressions popularized by the former genre into their productions now more than ever. Such trends invariably backfire, however, when purist fans of the producers from which pop artists borrow their sound challenge their street cred in any kind of open forum. Luna’s career, on the other hand, resonates with the long-time supporters of the EDM community as she’s been creating music within the genre for much longer than she’s been a pop singer.
Interview Meikee Magnetic
Where were you born?
New Jersey, although I don’t remember ever living there.
I heard you play piano at my house, I was very impressed. At what age did you start playing and who was responsible for your piano lessons?
My mom got me piano lessons when I was in the 1st or 2nd grade. Learning music theory at a young age was probably the best thing that ever happened for me. Thanks, Mom! I’m sure it was hard to get me to sit still and figure something out, but my best friend who lived across the street was a piano player too, which helped keep me motivated. At one point I decided to ditch piano lessons for guitar, then went back to piano, then messed around with some nerdy instruments I’m ashamed to mention… then I became a DJ. I must say that as a songwriter/producer, it is much more helpful to know piano than any other instrument.
Tell us about your very first DJ performance and how it made you feel:
Actually, my 1st DJ performance was mortifying. I really wasn’t ready to play out yet, but people were so amused that I was a 16 year old girl DJ that they talked me into a booking when I had only been mixing vinyl for a couple months. I train-wrecked a few times that night, and even though it was the earliest set of the night and only a few people were there. I wanted to crawl in a hole and die. This was the vinyl age, when there was no sync mode or CDJ or laptop DJs. That night’s level of error doesn’t really happen to kids anymore. I’m pretty sure most new DJs don’t even understand how hard it is to learn to mix vinyl or what kind of culture the EDM button-pushing trend came from originally. What has happened with the culture, the technology, and popularity of DJs over the 14 years I’ve been doing this is really mind blowing.
The recording studio is a big part of your life, I know you spend a lotof time there. Explain to our readers your process in recording an original track:
I like to look at it in terms of arrangement first. Meaning, first I nail down “how it goes” and then I work on “how it sounds.” I work with a lot of vocals as well as EDM style “drops” and what not. It can get complicated trying to combine songwriting arrangement with EDM producer arrangement if you start out building loops like most EDM producers do. I usually have to spend massive amounts of time just figuring out which vocal pieces go where to make sense in literal meaning of the lyrics, and the feeling of the drops being in the right places to compliment that, and THEN I get around to the actual instruments and plugins to make it sound nice. It’s refreshing but RARE that a collaboration of mine will have any classical training or understanding of things in terms of verse/chorus/bridge as opposed to build/drop/break. You can always tell if I wrote the music or the collaborator did, because usually when an EDM collab produces a track for my vocal, there is always this “hole” in the music where it gets melodic and the beats drop out, and that’s where they want the vocal. If I wrote the track and the vocal, the arrangement will be a little more complicated than the typical “lalala, drop”.
Your videos “Rock Show” and “Arrest The DJ” have a fun vibe about them. How do these videos reflect on the real life of Lea Luna?
Those 2 songs were written specifically for fun value and nothing else. I’m not trying to really brand myself with sheerly fun value, I’m a complex woman. Sometimes I write fun songs, sometimes I write sad songs, sometimes I write funny songs. I’m really a wildcard emotionally and stylistically if you look at my whole library of songs that I put out (try “By Your Side” “Leaving for Mars” or “Hearts Under Fire” for more serious, dark lyrics). Since you asked, I think out of those two videos, the moment that felt most like “me” was in Rock Show when I’m in the black catsuit on the green screen. I feel like somewhere deep inside me there is this Superhero/Barbarella/Fembot person trying to be an alpha female character, probably because a lot of my life I’ve been pushed around and felt the need to retaliate but didn’t get the chance.
What are your feelings on the growth of EDM and where it is today?
As I mentioned before about technology, culture, and popularity… everything is completely different. Commercialized. I have a love/hate for it. It’s cool because there are more possibilities for young producers and DJs who want to learn, but for those of us who spent over a decade learning to do it the hard way before a button could do it for you, its kind of a bitter pill. I’m happy to see festivals the size they are now though, for a minute I thought “the RAVE act” was going to take effect and make our little warehouse parties illegal instead of the EDM craze taking over and taking our music culture to full-blown festivals. I like to see a successful party, and I feel that we American ravers have done a fine job at fighting for our right to party. Go team.
How many years have you been DJing and how many DJ formats do you use?
I’ve been DJing since 1999 and I could beat match a piece of vinyl to a song on your television if you wanted, but I prefer CDJ/USB nowadays. I’m proficient in Ableton and Traktor and all that controller shit, but I don’t see the point in looking like I’m facebooking on stage and then being responsible for watching an Intel Mac with me at a rave when I could just put a USB in my pocket and go party. I don’t really need the sync function, I AM the sync function.
Electro, House, Progressive House are some genres to describe your sound but I know you have a broad range of musical styles. What other direction would you like to explore musically?
I play classical piano, I play blues guitar, I sing pop and jazz karaoke and I DJ whatever I feel like playing. Doing this professionally would be extremely troublesome for the artist packaging people. I always think about breaking out of EDM and doing something else as an artist, because I only do other styles for fun when I’m screwing around. I think if I were to release an album that wasn’t EDM, it would be “adult contemporary” like a heartbreak album or something. Something like Adele or Fiona Apple or Imogen Heap. I’ve discussed this with my team before and they said no one is stopping me from doing it (not that anyone could). Maybe I will. I feel like there’s not enough live singing in EDM anyway.
What can the crowd expect to see and hear at a Lea Luna experience?
I like to beat-match and mix live while singing live, while drinking, and sometimes joking around on the mic with people in the crowd to keep them dialed in. Most of the time, this goes over pretty well. Sometimes I only DJ, sometimes I only sing, it really depends on the night and who booked me to do what.
You not only sound amazing but you have a gorgeous mystique with an intense stage presence. What are some of your fashion inspirations?
Oh, thank you! If I had to choose a high fashion inspiration I’d say Balmain all the way! I own nothing Balmain though, I’m not that rich. I have a lot of local designer friends who hook me up with one-of-a-kind threads and a few corporate sponsors as well. J Chans designs, Peep Show clothing, Oliver People’s eye wear, Vlado footwear, Vampire Disco, Syc Fuk, V-Moda headphones, and my buddies Evenflo and Sharon Riggs have all contributed to my style over the years in my photos and videos. Massive thanks to them all.
Your video “Hot Summer Nights” with EC Twins, how did that collaboration come about?
I was like: “I want to work with the EC Twins” and my manager was like: “OK” Haha. I don’t know, I saw two popular guys who needed a songwriter and I happened to be a songwriter who wasn’t popular enough. Seemed legit.
What’s next for Lea Luna?
I’m working on ME now. I did a lot of collabs that didn’t do enough for my career. Although I looked great in the press, my videos, my charts and everything, I was pretty miserable and underpaid and didn’t get as many gigs as I had wanted to keep my head above water. There isn’t much out there for vocalists in EDM, we get treated like free samples for use by producers. What people don’t understand is that I write and produce on alot of the tracks I put my name on, its not like I just walk into a studio for a couple hours and spit something out. I spend weeks and weeks on a song (sometimes months) and when it doesn’t do anything for me as the singer, it hurts me financially and sometimes emotionally to have invested so much into something no one recognizes as my effort. I moved back to Denver to stack up some cash and buy my own nice studio so I don’t really have to depend on anyone else’s schedule or ideas or business agenda. So I could get some real emotion out in my songs that I think a few guys were afraid to put their names on. What’s next for Lea Luna is Lea Luna alone. The past few years of working with people on their music has been a good stepping stone, though. I’ve been working on my own stuff this whole time but just need to get old ideas into current formats and press return. I decided to stop spreading myself thin and just go home to focus on myself.
What does Dark Beauty mean to you?
Well, according to me, darkness is realness. I’m often criticized for being negative or existential or dark in nature. I’m just human, honest, direct, and I appreciate a lot of ideas that normal people find depressing. Dark is beautiful to me because it asserts what is wrong that should be right, or right that should be wrong. Dark beauty is accepting the stranger impulses we have as natural ones and renaming “beauty” to make it truly ours. I prefer to love the dark, ugly truth of humanity, the comedy of error, and the beauty of darkness as much as I love all of the lighter things in life. Darkness belongs to us as much as lightness and should be recognized as what makes us human and individual. Besides, there’s something devilishly attractive about darkness.
Photography by Topher Adam and Merkley