This empowering entry of The Cultural Reset's Artist Interview Series sees TCR heads Nick Lee and Shay Ervin speaking with genre-bending vocalist and musician, LEX. In a beautifully revealing interview, LEX speaks about the intention behind her newest album release 'Bits and Pieces' and the personal tragedy that inspires her on her path toward self-actualization and awareness.
Click here to listen to LEX's FULL INTERVIEW
LEX: Hi, I'm Lex. I'm a singer-songwriter, and I currently live in Los Angeles. My pronouns are she/her. I grew up in New York for most of my life. Music has always been such an integral part of my life. I can't really think of a time where I was without it. My dad was a pianist. He had perfect pitch. My mom can't sing for shit. But apparently she told my grandmother who really only speaks Korean well, she passed away but only spoke Korean and was super mean to me. Apparently, she's a really good singer. Maybe it skipped a generation. That is what my parents always used to say. My mom was never really big on music, but I played piano for most of my formative years. I have one brother and he was into classical guitar. We had a piano and a music room at home. My dad had perfect pitch, he could just play anything all the time. He was so incredibly talented, and it was amazing. So I grew up watching him, and he had such an amazing taste in music. I mostly grew up listening to classic rock—Led Zeppelin, Steely Dan, Simon and Garfunkel, Crosby Stills Nash and Young, and The Beatles. Lots of rock and other weird ones like Dido.
He had such great taste, and he was all over the map too. Billy Joel was a really big one. One of my favorites was Billy Joel. It's safe to say that I had a really rounded sort of musical flavor in my life. When I was in high school I did lots of theater and acapella groups. In college, I was president of my acapella group. We were called the Royal Pitches. Then I started to really get into music recording and such in college. I went to the University of Buffalo and I was in the vocal performance program, which is like a classical program so technically I am classically trained. I used to sing a lot of opera.
Shannon Ervin: I could hear that opera influence in your music.
L: I used to fake a lot of languages! But it was so much fun and I do give voice lessons as well. I think one of the most important things for any singer is vocal health. A lot of people don't stress that enough. And I think that that's super important because a lot of people don't really know how to sing properly. And that's what I was really taught to do in college and through my program: proper breathing and ways to prevent injuring yourself. Vocal health is the most important thing.
S: So you have a pretty good understanding of the technical side of the art.
L: Yeah super technical. I took lessons in high school and with this really amazing guy named Lester. He taught me so much; but because I was still such a young age and in high school, nothing ever really clicked for me. Then I had to go through another voice teacher in college and I still didn't really find that perfect way to sing. And then it wasn't until my junior year of college when I had my other voice teacher—who I'm so grateful for because she was the best—that I was able to open up every single aspect of my voice (technically and otherwise). She was so cool and she helped me so I am super grateful for her and the program. I don't think I would be where I am today without all that training. It was just a light bulb that just clicked on and now I can sing perfectly. Well, not perfectly but...
Nick Lee:...Incredible, in my opinion. I’ve listened to your stuff and it just blows me away. And, like Shay said, I can definitely hear that technical aspect of your training, as well as the internal style—which is something you can't teach.
L: Yeah. Having the background that I have has helped. I also went through so many different jobs. I grew up doing theater as well. I love Broadway and so I took on that big Broadway-esque voice too.
S: I was gonna say, I’m sure you can fill a theater with your voice.
L: Thank you! I love Broadway so much honestly and I remember when I was in college, I was wondering if I was making the right choice in my major. I was like “should I do theater”? Part of my heart was always in theater but I started really figuring out what my sound was like in college. I started doing top lines and EDM for other people. I really got my start when I was at a darty [day-party] in college.
Someone introduced me to the guy who was DJing at this frat house, we hit it off and at first I didn't really think anything of it. But then I said “yeah I sing”. Then the next day I was just walking around campus with my headphones in and some dude taps me on the shoulder and I turn around and it's the DJ. And it was history from there. We started working together and I would just sing lyrics that he wrote. Mind you, this was at a time when I wasn't totally comfortable with writing my own stuff. I would dabble here and there but then I'd think “oh this sounds dumb” but that takes time you know? You have to practice writing.
But yeah, so that's how I got into that and I made connections through him. His sound was kind of Tropical-House. We have this one song where my voice sounds so androgynous you cannot tell if I am a man or a woman because it's so low in my register. It’s called True Love by Frank Pierce ft. LEX.
N: Cool. We’ll definitely check that out. You talked about songwriting in general and getting comfortable with the process. How do you feel like your songwriting process has evolved?
L: Yeah! Songwriting is not easy. It takes a lot of practice. My best friend, Kobe, got me into writing—or rather doing more of it. She was so clever and creative and “out of the box” and I really took that to heart. Also I love to read. I love books and literature so through my love for that, I learned about showing more and telling less with certain things. It's all about telling a story. And if you can do that in a way that's clever and uses wordplay, I think it makes you so much stronger as a writer. But still it takes time. Not everything is going to be perfect. People always say “you write 100 songs and only one of them is going to be a hit”, and sometimes if you get a publishing deal it can be really hard, but I just think it comes with practice and knowing your style and what you like. It also has a lot to do with melody. Songwriting is maybe 50% of the process and then melody is the other 50%.
It also depends on what you're going for too. I'm not a pop singer; I'm not a pop writer. But I’ve ghostwritten for pop artists before. It just really depends on what you're going for. I'm just trying to write what I know and write what other people can relate to, but in a non-generic way, and using interesting melodies.
S: What is your creative process? What do you have to do to get into the mindset to start writing?
L: It kind of depends. It comes and goes. I do my best writing at three in the morning because I'm lying in bed and I can't sleep; so sometimes I'll just have a line here and there that'll just pop into my brain randomly. And I'll think “oh, that's a really good line”. My Notes app on my phone is flooded with random lyrics and one liners.
S: I love using my Notes.
L: Yeah notes and voice memos—which people aren’t doing that as singers or writers or whatever. Use voice memo because...the amount of times I'm like, “Oh, yeah, I'll remember that” and then I’m like...how did that go again?
S: Do you work in a studio space? Or do you like recording home?
L: I've always had home studio spaces. And I do go to studios. Not right now though. Everything is done at home now. For my own stuff I'll do my own home studio, you know? But if I'm writing for clients? I'll go to a different studio space or if they want to come to my studio space they can. I also have two roommates right now, one is a singer and the other is a drummer and a producer so we have a really beautiful studio setup in our living room.
It's all about telling a story. And if you can do that in a way that's clever and uses wordplay, I think it makes you so much stronger as a writer. But still it takes time. Not everything is going to be perfect.
S: I want to talk about your most recent album that came out ‘Bits and Pieces’. First of all, I wanted to say that it was very emotional. I mean, I know when I was talking to Megan, our mutual friend, about it, she was saying how she cried when she listened to it. And it is very emotional. Were you in that space? How did you record that? I know that it's been difficult with COVID, but you still managed to put out a piece that had such a big impact.
L: So I've been working on this album for three years. I started writing it when I first came to Los Angeles which was three years ago. It’s been a really long and arduous process. It really only started getting traction when COVID hit because when I first started this album I was working in a studio in Bel-Air with a couple people and it just wasn't cohesive. As much as I loved working there and working with these people, I had started to realize that they treated music as a hobby, and I treated music as my livelihood. It's the air that I breathe.
So the cultivation of this album came about when I was in the studio. I had a physical notebook as well, where I had so many different one pagers and maybe like, six lines of a poem. I had a few little lines, when I went into the studio. They would give me a track and I would record those lines, and it was just me and the engineer there. We were talking about it and it dawned on me how beautiful it was. And I was like “why do I need to add more to it than there needs to be”? It's beautiful as it is. The whole point of the album was to cultivate these short little stories, like little vignettes. And that, overall, when you listen to the whole album, top to bottom, each little vignette comes together and tells a story of my life as a whole piece.
At first I was working with certain people who didn't really fully believe in the vision. And I was just wasting my time there. And I really didn't want to keep wasting any more time. And a year had gone by and my album was just stagnant. I felt like I was sitting on so many songs, not just for my album, but other songs too—that I'm still sitting on! It felt like it was kind of hopeless and that I was never gonna get them done. And then finally after going through a couple more people, I just started working with this boutique PR/marketing label I actually used to work for. They're called Firetower Entertainment. I used to work for them as an intern, and then they approached me during the pandemic and I showed them what I was working on and they fell in love and they wanted to work with me and it kind of just all happened from there. It's been great. And, at the time, I had demos of songs that I had done previously with those other producers I mentioned. So we did all that, we fixed and recreated those other tracks and then I had...maybe like seven more to do. And that was all done throughout the pandemic. So I did some in my home studio. And then I was back in New York for two months and I recorded a bunch of it there in my friend’s gorgeous home studio which was such a blessing because I was able to get away from Los Angeles and finally just focus.
When it came down to the wire, it was a little tricky to finish off one or two songs that I had left, because the album as a whole is supposed to flow and tell the story. So I had two songs that needed to be done that were somewhere in the middle of the album. And I realized that I had to write something that makes sense for the flow of the album—that just tells the story of me struggling through life. It's basically from the start of my dad's passing away when I was 19. I was like a sophomore in college. And that sort of really moved the needle forward in my life in a good way—and also in a bad way—here I was struggling really, really hard for a long time.
N: I’m so sorry to hear that.
L: Thanks. Yesterday was actually the five year anniversary of his passing so it's been a rough couple days.
S: My goodness. Your album came out last week, though, right?
L: Yeah, my album came out last week on the 17th, which is my dad's birthday.
S: That's so beautiful.
L: Yeah. The whole album is pretty much an homage to my family and my dad, because my dad was really the one who pushed me in my career and to do music all the time. So his passing was really hard. And it sucked. It really did. My family was not the same for a really long time. And we were just going through a lot of shit. And I was suffering really hard. Like I don't really remember my sophomore year of college, honestly. And because I was just like this is a mess. I was getting into really bad shit—pills and addiction and just not giving a shit honestly. And I was like, “fuck it”.
I realized one day that I had dug myself like a fucking six foot grave down in the dirt and I was looking up at a pinhole. And I was like, “What happened? How did I get here? Am I gonna? Am I gonna get out? I don't know…” And so that's the first part of the album and it's also struggling with self-love. Blueberry talks about self love and how if you don't love yourself...how can you love anybody else? When my dad died all that was me trying to figure out and find a way to fill that void and fill that hole in my life with pills, drugs, and men I didn't have any attraction to. Just trying to find poor coping mechanisms rather than really dealing with my shit,
N: Right. What was that turning point for you. You said you were looking up at a pinhole saying “I've fallen 20 feet down. What do I do?” What was that moment for you, when you decided you were going to turn your life around and move forward?
L: I think it was when I moved to Los Angeles. I think it was time for me. I didn't know what I was doing and I made the decision that I wanted to move to Los Angeles, pursue my dream, make music and do it for myself and my dad. I think that was when I really needed to wake up and do what I needed to do for me. I was a psych major in college, I still have done absolutely nothing with that and that's okay. It’s okay to have a goal and then shift your goals.
S: You know it must feel good, like some kind of closure to be able to have this album out, because it feels like it comes from your journal and it comes from your heart But also, I'm sure it was therapeutic because the act of making music and putting it together is just so connecting it is a form of therapy.
L: It really is. Honestly, once once I finished recording the last song I could breathe. It really was like closing a chapter—a very long, rough chapter in my life. And I was finally able to get some of that closure that I was craving so badly. That was great.
S: I think you should be very proud. I think it's a beautiful album. And your skills come through very well. And I felt like I was getting to know you; I definitely feel like you let us into your life with that album.
L: Right. And that's the point. What I really wanted out of this was—yes, for people to listen and understand who I am—but also self-actualization and self-reflection for myself and for the listener. That's one of the biggest takeaways. We have such a hard time sometimes being with ourselves, and taking the time to sit down and really feel. Because a lot of the time people can't do that and choose not to acknowledge their feelings, it's really important to take the time to get to know yourself. If you don't get to know yourself, you can't be truly honest with yourself or with other people, right? It's important, and I think everyone needs to do it. And with this album, I just wanted people to take that time to do that.
N: It’s so great that your music is focused on self actualization—about the growth of the self. I think that that's really unique. And I think that's something that's so necessary, because you're right—especially given the crazy year that 2020 has been, you have a lot of people who are just running around in panic trying to figure out what to do next because the future is so uncertain. We don't know what's going to happen. But I love that you are a proponent for just sitting down, breathing, staying in the moment, and reflecting not only on what you feel, but also why you feel what you feel. And I also wanted to talk to you a little bit about what you think is next for you in terms of music and life now that this chapter is closed?
L: Great question. I'm very, very grateful to have had the opportunity to create this album. But at the same time, this album is kind of like a one off actually. It was very much a passion project and I made the album for me and my family—mostly for me. And so the direction that I'm taking myself and my music now is very different. It is so different I'm gonna release new music and people are gonna be like, “what”? I'm actually working on an EP right now with my music partner, Dylan. He’s such a fantastic drummer and fantastic producer. He's amazing. And it's very cool. We both grew up on rock and roll and 80s music and it's anywhere from 60s to 80s music and we love it. Led Zeppelin and Talking Heads and all that good stuff. So we are kind of catering an EP to that. It's gonna be Neo disco pop.
The whole point of the album was to cultivate these short little stories, like little vignettes. And that, overall, when you listen to the whole album, top to bottom, each little vignette comes together and tells a story of my life as a whole piece.
L: I’m really quite excited about it. We're going to be doing around five neo-disco pop songs with a little funk and rock and roll in it too. It's really, really fun. This is the direction that I wanted to take my music in for a really long time. And I think finally because I went from EDM to r&b to the album that I just released. It's hard for someone to really hone in on their sound. It takes a long time to know all the qualities and attributes of your voice and what works and what doesn't, music wise, and genre wise. I'm really finally starting to settle into the niche of, what I want and what feels good. I want to sing andI want a full fucking band. I want to play live shows and I want people to have fun. And I want to have fun doing it. When I think of it I think of Charlie Puth. He's very good at making things fun/at ease and using great synths and elements of rock. He's very talented.
S: Post COVID I'm going to need some good dancing music. I will come to a live show and dance. It will be fun!
N: This is versatility with you. You talk about all these genres that you are clearly capable of performing and embodying. You're an actor in your music making process as well. That's really cool to me. I also want to talk about how the industry as a whole segments people. They force artists to box themselves into this clear cut marketable construction. How has it been, you, being this versatile artist who has so many different interests and genres and types of music? How's it been for you navigating this industry? Have you felt that you've been forced to put yourself into a box? What has it been like for you?
L: It was hard to get the traction and marketability with this album, I will say this is pretty hard to market because it's not typical. It's not pop. Most of the songs are very short. It’s hard for people to hop on that wagon and want to put it on playlists. It won't really get on Spotify playlists.
S: It is an art piece and I think that it can and should be recognized for that, regardless of its marketability.
L: At the same time, as an artist yourself, you just have to think about what's more important to me. Do you want mass amounts of streams or putting out something that you want to put out? Even if it may not be as marketable or may not get as many streams. As a true musician, as a true artist, who has all these backgrounds, in music, in different kinds of music, I need to let go of the fact that I might not get as many streams and it might not get heard by so many people, but I know deep down inside that it is a work of art. And I'm very proud of that. And for the people who truly listen, I do it for those people. I have to accept that and just be happy with that. At the same time, though having it be marketable would be cool. I'm very genre bending. I don't really know what kind of genre I am. People always ask me “What genre would you say is your album?” And I don't really know. Do you guys? I'm curious. What genre do you think Bits and Pieces is?
N: It's you! It's you. That's all! That's a big thing that really irks me too. Because I sing and song-write too and all the time you get people saying “Oh, what type of genres do you do? What type of genre is your voice? What type of genre is your song?” It's not necessarily a genre. It's art; it's supposed to be an expression of you. And I think that nowadays our generation is kind of embracing this sort of genrelessness of music.
S: There is going to be this ability to make music that's not in an existing genre and I think that's really awesome. When you can find a sound where you're like, “What is this? How do I describe this?”
L: Yeah, I think genre bending is the most incredible thing. It showcases people's talent more than one genre typically can. People are ever changing and evolving. How can you expect one person or an artist to just be stagnant in what they do if they're constantly growing? When an artist has a huge fanbase, based on three or four albums that they’ve put out that were the exact same sound, they have such a strong fan base for that. And then a year later, when they put out an album and it's not the same they lose so much of that fan base. That fanbase gets so angry at them and they say “this is not Coldplay?” “This is not John Mayer, what is this?” And it's sucks because as an artist, you're just trying to do something different. I'm just trying to expand my horizons and explore everything. And it's not sometimes as widely received as you want it to be as an artist. Audiences need to be more understanding and open to change. Because people change.
N: We talk about this in every single interview that we do, and keep in mind our audience is creatives, it's music professionals, it's people who are really interested in getting insight into what it's like for artists and how they can be better creatives or how they can be better managers or agents. What advice would you give to the creatives and also to the aspiring music business professionals when it comes to navigating the industry.
L: Go with your gut. Always. It's never wrong. Every time I go against my gut, I mess up. As far as like being an artist, for the business side: hustle, hustle, hustle. But also don't take bunk deals or anything like that. And Don't be an idiot. As general rules of thumb, just be smart. Be smart, ask for help if you don't know what's going on. As far as contracts go? Take your time, and don't rush into anything. If it feels right, then it feels right. But if it feels wrong, it's just a recipe for disaster.
N: Thanks so much for chatting with us, LEX!
Connect with LEX:
Stream 'Bits and Pieces'