Interview with Leïla from Highest Sea

Hailing from Berlin, Highest Sea are Leïla Zanzibar, Theo Taylor & Tamar Weiss. They make beautiful, dark, lonely pop songs. They’ve just released their excellent new EP – “Haunted Hearts” – on Späti Palace. I just love it. We were delighted to catch up with Leïla and find out some more about the EP and her influences.

When/Why did you decide to become a musician?

It’s been a dream I had since I was a teenager when I started listening to Nirvana like it was the case for so many people I guess. It can be a long path between having a dream and make it happen. I’ve been writing songs on my own since I was 19 and also with my friend Antoine Quincerot in Paris who has been a few years later involved as a musician in the French garage scene. However it took me a long time to find the courage and the necessary self-confidence to make it my main focus. That changed 4 years ago after I’d spent 3 months in Buenos Aires and travelled around northern Argentina, Chile and through the US. Before that I was dying of boredom in office jobs and getting depressed because I didn’t have enough time for myself to do anything creative, I was just unable to relate to these jobs and felt out of place. During this break I came to the point where I admitted to myself that I was really only interested in doing something creative and that’s how I started approaching my life through a different lens. It’s been a captivating journey so far. To answer the question why I decided to become a musician, it’s simply a necessity for me. Also, the first time I was on stage singing songs I wrote, it was a revelation because it was the first time I felt like this is where I belong even though being on stage is not at all something easy and natural for me.

What was the first piece of music you loved, and why?

I have a pretty bad memory. It’s all blurry but I remember specific moments like when I was a teenager I was obsessed with the song “Heart-Shaped Box” of Nirvana that I would listen to on repeat in my room.

Also the first time I heard the album “L.A. Woman” by the Doors. I was on the road with my family. Jim Morrison’s voice made a big impression on me though it wasn’t the first time I listened to the Doors, I just couldn’t believe what I was hearing especially with the most bluesy ones “Been Down so Long” and “Cars Hiss by my Window”, probably because it’s the album where he was the closest to himself and to what he wanted.

How long have you been working on the new EP? Are you happy with the results?

It was a prolonged process. We recorded guitar and drums in one day in the fall of 2015 with Sylvain and the rest probably in 3 days in the beginning of 2016 at Timothée’s. I’m happy with the result in the sense that it’s a miracle the EP is what it is and a mirror of our live performances when I think about the little time we had and the state of exhaustion I was in at the time and we got lucky in many ways with Timothée, my former drummer who produced and mixed the EP and towards whom I feel very grateful.

What is your favourite song that you’ve written and why?

I don’t really have a favourite song, it depends on my mood. Every song has a special meaning for me either because of the lyrics like “La Bella Soledad” or of the atmosphere like for “Black Poison” or because I achieved something I wasn’t expecting to be able to do like with “Hawaii”. These days my favourite one is a new one that is not recorded yet and that we’re currently playing as a final song at our shows. I like it because I sing in a more free and flowing way somewhat influenced by Kevin Morby and Bob Dylan and there’s something peaceful and healing about this song.

How difficult/easy do you find to write songs? Do you have a particular method?

It’s not easy for me for sure, but now I know it’s just a question of time and patience. I’m slow in the song-writing process and I have accepted it. I’m just trying to be steady, write regularly and take time to explore sounds on my guitar and become a better guitarist. I don’t put myself under pressure anymore because it’s impossible to know how or when something good is going to come up, but with regular practice it always does at some point so I just trust in that. I also let myself be guided by the song I’m writing and I pay attention to what it needs. It’s difficult to explain but there’s always this moment when you know it’s ready, it works as it is and it has its final shape.

What musicians would you consider to be your biggest influences?

There are many of them but the main ones will always remain The Velvet Underground, Bob Dylan, Jim Morrison, Patti Smith, PJ Harvey, Jeff Buckley, Sonic Youth and as for the more recent artists Bradford Cox, Grizzly Bear, Beach House, The Warlocks, King Krule, Kevin Morby, Lower Dens.

What song by another artist do you wish you had written and why?

I guess I don’t really wish I had written a song another artist wrote but the following songs are a great source of inspiration (it’s hard to pick only one J):

“To bring you my love” by PJ Harvey for its raw dark energy and intensity, I love her bold way of singing
“Sleeping Ute”, “Yet again”, “Ready, able” by Grizzly Bear, no words to describe these songs, it’s just pure perfection
“Shelia” and “An Orchid” by Atlas Sound for its ethereal atmosphere,
“Irene” by Beach House for its ethereal and dreamy atmosphere,
“Blue as your blood” by the Walkmen for its emotion
“Cry”, “Harmonia” and “My sister, my spouse” by Cass McCombs, he’s my new hero
“Wolfie” by Scout Niblett for her way to go straight to the heart in a very simple and naked way

What is the best new band that you’ve heard recently?

Recently I haven’t had the time to look for new bands but I was very impressed the last time I saw my labelmates Strand Child live last fall, perfect guitar lines and the voice of the singer is stunning. I’ve been following them for a while now. I’d also like to mention Mother of the Unicorn and their very coherent and beautiful album “Variations” that was also released last year by Späti Palace. The solo project of my drummer Theo E. Taylor aka Telemother Visionfather, he has a very impressive song-writing and very beautiful voice. Also Levin goes lightly, I discovered him as he was opening for Die Nerven, I had never heard of him before and his voice reminded me of Ian Curtis and the dark atmosphere of his songs blew me away.

the bands

If you weren’t a musician what would you love to do?

I’d love to be a filmmaker or/and a painter or run a little concert venue.

Do you consider yourself an optimist?


photos by Nina Sartorius

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