Q&A: Lena Simon of Kairos on Juggling Life, Touring and Music

All photos by Morgen Schuler

Let me introduce you to Lena Simon. She's a musician that you have undoubtedly heard but probably know nothing about. She was recently dubbed bassist for local all-femme sensation La Luz, but it doesn't stop there... not even close. Past projects include work with Mary Lambert, Katie Kate, the now defunct Throw Me the Statue, Pillar Point, and 2012 Sound OFF! winners Tomten... but wait, there's more. Along with La Luz she's currently juggling work with Pollens, Thunderpussy, and Kairos, the last of which is her own project with a rotating cast of characters. She's landed on a solid cluster of talented folks including members of Kithkin, Katie Kate, and Charms.

What's really special about Lena is the breadth of her knowledge and willingness to jump into any opportunity that comes her way. Whether it be as a composer for dance pieces, playing clarinet on a friend's recording, creating songs with bandmates or adding music to a short film, her adaptability in nearly everything music astounds me. That doesn't mean she can't have a little fun here and there, like covering Miley Cyrus' "Wrecking Ball" at a friend's birthday party. “I made a promise,” she says, “I Actually really enjoyed it though. I changed the key and it was awesome.“

She's set to release the first Kairos EP later this month but she's not sitting idly by as the date nears, she's planning to head back out on tour with La Luz and prepping to play with two bands at Sasquatch (the first set ends 15 minutes before the second begins). I was lucky to find a little time to sit down with her and get to know her better.

Seattle Weekly: You grew up in L.A. but went to school at Cornish. Do you feel like Seattle is home now?
Lena Simon: Yeah, I mean, I love going back to L.A. My family lives by Venice Beach so it's amazing to go back. I go twice, maybe three times a year if I can. But Seattle is definitely the home I want to come back to all the time.

SW: You started working with dance composition in school, how'd that come about?
Lena: It was at the end of my junior year. I befriended a group of dancers; they started taking me to shows at places like On the Boards and started opening my world up to this whole other type of performance. I was noticing the type of music being played and wondered why it all sounds the same. This same kind of electronic, very rhythmic thing. Then Kate Wallich (a dance student at Cornish at the time) asked if I wanted to try writing something for her. I'd never done anything like that before.

SW: How does that compare to creating within a band?
Lena: It's kind of a similar approach I guess. [When I started working with dance] it felt like an entirely new thing; I feel like I've learned a lot from it; especially in the computer programming world. Using soft synths and re-learning midi. It felt almost like a separate college degree.

SW: Have you ever worked with film before?
Lena: Jacob Rosen did a video for Etcetera Jewelry and asked if I could do the music for it; I really enjoy it. I like the challenge of having someone saying, 'Here's a thing that looks like this, I have an idea of it sounding like this' and you say ok and put something together. I've never had someone say 'This isn't working, you're fired.' So that's good I guess. [laughing]

ETCETERA from Jacob Rosen on Vimeo.

SW: Is there one project you identify with more than any others?
Lena: La Luz has been an interesting experience. Just having to fill in somebody else's shoes, because Abby was an incredible bass player. I was already a fan of the band, then I was friends with the band, and now I’m in the band. Which is kind of like a dream come true, to be a fan and then to be in the band. I feel really comfortable there.

SW: The songs have a style that is distinct from the other bands you're in... Where does that come from?
Lena: A lot of [the EP] changed in the recording studio. I had home demos I'd made on my laptop in my bedroom with full instrumentation like midi drums, or whatever I had to add to fully realize the songs. I gave them to my producer Charlie Smith and said, 'Here's all the songs I want to do.' He said, 'These are great, now I want you to re-demo every single one and only use one accompanying instrument and one vocal line, no harmonies.'

SW: He wanted you to start from scratch.
Lena: Not in a bad way, just to see what happens. I didn't use guitar, I used keyboards because I'm way less comfortable on a keyboard. Because I am partial to guitar Charlie said, 'Maybe you shouldn't use guitar this time.'

I happened to be cat sitting for Scott Reitherman (Pillar Point/Throw Me the Statue) at the time. He has all these keyboards and synthesizers, so I just decided to demo everything on his keyboards.

Lena outside her pratice space at Cry Baby Studios.
Photo by Morgen Schuler

SW: Are you excited about the release of the EP?
Lena: Actually, it's been ready for a couple years; it just wasn't the right time to release it. Fin Records had some shake ups and they wanted to make sure they did it justice.

SW: So you've had a little time to sit on it. What's your favorite song on this album?
Lena: I really like “Sister.” It’s actually the newest one because I wrote it in the studio while we were making the record. Charlie had me write it as a bridge for “That Which Does Not,” which is like the poppiest electronic dance song that I have.

SW: Kairos has had a rotating lineup, is that on purpose?
Lena: It started off with a couple of different members who have moved or didn’t have the time to commit to it, but I’ve always felt that it’s kind of a modular band. Obviously if they want to stay, I’m happy to have them stay. Everyone who’s in it right now is extremely talented.

SW: So, what's your favorite band that you're not in?
Lena: It feels like he hasn't played anything in a long time but I really like Gold Leaves. Rose Windows is also killing it right now. Something we've been listening to on tour (with La Luz) is Mac Demarco. That's something I've been listening to a lot these days.

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