Interview: Layla Kay on returning to Australia & writing her new single “I’ll Be Lonely” in lockdown

Hot off the heels of releasing her latest single “I’ll Be Lonely”, we caught up with Australian singer/songwriter Layla Kay.

Kay has just returned to Australia amidst the Covid-19 Pandemic, after spending three years in the UK. While in quarantine, we spoke about what it’s been like returning home, writing her aptly named single while in UK lockdown and we get an idea of what’s coming next from the accomplished Queensland artist.

You’re back in Oz after spending three years in the UK – what are the best things about being back home, and what’s the hardest thing about being back home?

It’s an incredible feeling to be back in Australia, very surreal. It’s strange to be in a quarantine hotel, overlooking the familiar city that I’ve missed and feeling a bit removed from it during isolation! I’ve missed friends and family the most, so it won’t feel real until I see them again. The hardest thing is definitely waiting before seeing loved ones!

I’ve been overseas during the pandemic, too, and I find it hard to relay the difficulties of being out of Australia during the endless lockdowns, to my friends back home – they just haven’t had that experience, being lucky enough to be in a place relatively unaffected by the pandemic – how have you found this?

I agree! I’m so glad that Australia managed to control the situation to a certain degree, as it gave me hope that in the end we would get back to normality. I remember after months and months of uncertainty in the UK, I saw people panicking over a three day lockdown announcement in Brisbane and taking selfies of themselves in masks. That was bizarre after being isolated in the UK for months!

What did you miss most about Australia when you were over there, and now what do you miss most about the UK (in the non-covid times)?

I missed the open spaces in Australia, the friendliness, even the public transport! When I first arrived in the UK I was mind blown by the tube experience- people standing super close and pushing to get to their train. I found it very fast paced and was travelling almost two hours everyday to get to work. It was the little things I missed most. We are a truly lucky country, with so many wonderful opportunities. Now that I’m back, I’ll miss the friends I made in the UK, the Christmas time in winter, the falling snow out the window and the architectural beauty.

Were you always planning to come home round about now, or if it wasn’t for the pandemic, would you still be over there? How did the pandemic screw up / change your musical plans?

I was always planning to come home, but might have stayed longer in the UK if not for the pandemic. In a way, it allowed more time for me to focus on musical projects, also prompting many online collaborations with other musicians which helped the creative process! Many people had to work from home, doing zoom meetings and working virtually, including musicians. So much of the music industry is nurtured by live entertainment and I had gigs lined up in the UK, which fell through with the pandemic, so I really moved into creating and recording instead. Quite a few musicians I know tapped into technology to make the best out of the situation and focus on production instead of performance.

While you point to the song being about heartache, “I’ll Be Lonely” was appropriately written while in Lockdown in the UK – how much of that experience seeped its way into the song?

It was on my mind a lot. I deliberately stayed away from writing songs about relationship experiences until I’d thoroughly processed and dealt with the emotional aftermath. I’m a sensitive person and find it difficult separating my emotion from my songwriting, which is sometimes very powerful for lyrics, but a hindrance for creating listenable melodic structure. I revisit themes and kept coming back to loneliness during the pandemic, thinking about how difficult it must be for those isolating alone.

How much music did you write during the pandemic? What more can you tell us about that music? Do you think you’ll release it in the future?

I was able to write a lot during the pandemic, a true blessing. I was able to broaden my horizons and explore contemporary pop, previously only working with jazz musicians and as a folk acoustic artist. This was an opportunity to contextualise the pop song structure and learn about harmony development and hooks. There are two songs currently being produced, another one in the future. I’m so excited to release these! Without saying too much, the next track will be a nod to disco pop and the third to the Britpop genre, recorded and produced in London.

For “I’ll Be Lonely”, when and how did Gold Coast producer Dylan Lindquist come into the picture?

Dylan is an incredibly talented musician, who hears songs in such unique ways. He’s also very skilled technically which is so valuable as a producer. I had listened to his work on Spotify, and connected with him via social media.

Can you talk about the collaborative process, working with Dylan between the UK and Australia? What was it like?

The collaboration was a lot of fun. The time difference meant we used technology to schedule chats, send videos back and forth and emails with mp3 files attached. There were sounds we adjusted throughout the process and we stayed flexible which was really great. Dylan is very calm and easy to work with, he’s phenomenal.

Was it the first time you’d produced a track like that?

Yes! I was very used to hearing my songs in the acoustic genre, so when I first heard Dylan’s (SOFT NYLON’s) production demo I was amazed at how modern the interpretation was.

How has the pandemic changed the way you write and work on music? Do you think this is a positive?

I think people are generally more aware of what is important to them after the pandemic. For me this is certainly true, it pushed me to ask myself big questions. I took a break from the music industry, after starting very young and this experience just reaffirmed how deeply music speaks to my soul and how passionate I am about songwriting. I really respect songwriters and the pandemic gave me more time to develop my style and write new material. I’ve been writing my own songs for years, but never focusing particularly on structure or catchiness, more the feelings that flow when I’m writing. This was a positive chance to focus on the technical aspects of music.

How do the themes of I’ll Be Lonely compare to the rest of the music you’ve written recently?

I write about things I have experienced, or about observations I’ve made. I’ll Be Lonely expresses vulnerability. I wear my heart on my sleeve and I believe that comes through in the new songs, they all reflect raw and truthful elements of past relationships. I wanted to write songs that could be relatable to others, but still personal and honest.

It feels like a song we would have loved to hear at Lilith Fair – can you talk a little bit about the 90s music that inspired the track?

Thank you, Lilith Fair would have been such a great experience! Some of those acts come through as influences of the track for sure. Jewel has some lovely harmonies in her songs and there are too many great ladies in the music industry to count! Growing up in the 90’s, I used to be the weird kid listening to “old” music. My peers hated my taste in music! I was listening to The Supremes, The Beatles, Otis Redding, Roy Orbison and Joni Mitchell while my friends were listening to the Spice Girls and Atomic Kitten. My favourite artists from the 90’s were bands like Silverchair and even Matchbox 20 and Avril Lavigne! I remember comparing an Mp3 to a CD, then to a Vinyl and I couldn’t believe the difference sonically.

At that stage I thought modern music was becoming more condensed and empty sounding, whereas I loved rich, full sounding music with raw appeal. In some of the bootleg Bob Dylan recordings, I could hear his plectrum hitting the guitar and it wasn’t perfect or sterile, just musical. I decided to dive into 90’s music headfirst and really understand the appeal of the tracks. The “perfect” production started to make sense to me, along with the clever structure of these pop tracks. That catchiness is formulaic and not unlike a complex puzzle that needs solving. I had a lot of fun going through 90’s hits and seeing how they differed and what elements stayed the same. I’ll Be Lonely is an exploration of that. Almost reliving the era with a fresh perspective!

Roy Orbison and Kate Miller-Heidke are also mentioned as influences for this track – can you talk a little about them, specifically, and what they mean to you as an artist.

Roy Orbison is pure emotion for me. I used to play his records back to back on repeat in my room as a child. His songs are melodic and his voice is operatic and velvety. That music represents everything to me that I love about music. I performed at the Caloundra Music festival when I was 16 and Kate Miller-Heidke was a main act. I was blown away by her performance. Her songwriting is smart, unusual and she’s supremely entertaining and talented, she’s a really nice person! That was an incredible opportunity and her music really inspires me. Her song; God’s Gift To Women is an example, quirky, a bit humorous and well-crafted.

What are your release plans for 2021 beyond this single? And can we expect you to get back on stage anytime soon?

Release dates are still being finalised for the upcoming tracks, but I’m sure once I’ve settled back into Australia after quarantine I will get back to the stage. Live performance is a really gratifying way to connect with others and make people happy, I love that.

Before we say goodbye, what else would you like readers to know about “I’ll Be Lonely”?

The song uses that boppy sound to blend heartache themes with upbeat elements. Everything is transient, so maybe loneliness is all consuming at times, but it’s good to remember that everything will pass eventually and we can focus on the fun in between!

For more on Layla Kay, head to her official website, Instagram or Facebook.

Larry Heath

Founding Editor and Publisher of the AU review. Currently based in Toronto, Canada. You can follow him on Twitter @larry_heath or on Instagram @larryheath.