Gaelynn Lea won NPR Music’s Tiny Desk Contest in 2016. Since then, she has captivated audiences around the world with her haunting original songs and traditional fiddle tunes. Gaelynn Lea has opened for Wilco, The Decemberists, LOW, and the industrial rock supergroup Pigface.
Most recently, Gaelynn Lea composed and performed the music for Macbeth on Broadway, starring Daniel Craig and Ruth Negga. This iconic Shakespeare play was directed by Sam Gold and was nominated for three Tony Awards, including Best Sound Design.
Gaelynn Lea is a sought-after public speaker about Disability Rights and accessibility in the arts. She has shared her perspective on PBS NewsHour, On Being with Krista Tippett, The Moth Radio Hour, NowThis, The Science of Happiness Podcast, and via two widely-viewed TEDx Talks.
Gaelynn Lea is a Co-Founder of RAMPD: Recording Artists and Music Professionals with Disabilities. The mission of this fast-growing, disability-led coalition is to amplify disability culture, promote inclusion & advocate for accessibility in the music industry. She is currently writing a memoir about her touring adventures and disability advocacy.
What has 2022 been like for YOU as artists?
I had a really fun year! I was asked to compose and record the music for Macbeth on Broadway, starring Daniel Craig and Ruth Negga, in the Spring of 2022. I'd never done a theater score before so it was an exciting challenge. It was also fun to relocate to New York City for a few months after having been stationed in Duluth, Minnesota throughout the pandemic. It was a good change of pace!
Do you think where you live impacts how your music is made?
I live in Duluth, Minnesota with my husband, and the city is situated right on the tip of Lake Superior. I definitely think that living by such a gorgeous, pristine body of water shapes the music I make. It's also really cold but beautiful, so there is a bittersweet quality to much of the music that comes out of this city.
What was the inspiration to make music your career?
I realized around 2013 that I wanted music to be my career, but at that time it meant teaching fiddle lessons and playing local shows in Northern Minnesota. Then in 2016 I got a huge boost when I won NPR Music's Tiny Desk Contest. That was my first national exposure, and it allowed me to jumpstart my touring career. My husband and I sold our house, quit our jobs, and hit the road. I played about 600 shows in 45 states and 9 countries between winning the Tiny Desk Contest and the outbreak of COVID-19. I haven't gone back to touring full-time yet, but I am planning on doing so as soon as I finish the rough draft of my memoir.
How do you want to shape your career?
I love performing and composing, so I always want that to be center stage in my career... However, as a disabled touring artist, I learned firsthand about the barriers facing disabled artists and audience members -- the music industry is really inaccessible. So I am trying to use my voice to raise awareness and call for change. To that end, I co-founded RAMPD.org [Recording Artists and Music Professionals with Disabilities] with the Black, blind EDM artist Lachi so that we can advocate for a more accessible and inclusive music industry. Until the industry is more equitable, I believe disability advocacy will always be a part of my career.
Do you work on a tight timeline always or do you go with the flow when it comes to your music?
I try to capture ideas as they appear out of the ether because most of my songs start from some seemingly-random lyric or melody that just hits me from out of nowhere. But once I have that kernel of inspiration, I need deadlines and projects to hold me accountable!! So really it's a mix of both.
How would you describe your music in one word to someone who hasn't listened to it yet?
Where do they go to listen NOW?
Is there anything exciting coming up for you?
I am mixing the Macbeth soundtrack I composed so I can release it sometime in 2023... I'm also writing a memoir about my musical childhood in Northern Minnesota, as well as touring adventures and disability advocacy as an adult. Once that book is released, I plan to start touring again!
NPR Tiny Desk Concert: https://youtu.be/n6oSeODGmoQ
Lost in the Woods: https://youtu.be/Pk9lgimztD4
The Long Way Around: https://youtu.be/jJrjrbx0W0A
Macbeth on Broadway: https://tinyurl.com/macbethbway
PBS NewsHour: https://youtu.be/h5qQU2EwVnM