Words by:
Photography: Alex Waespi

When Léa Sen was invited to sing on Joy Orbison’s better – the deep house roller from his celebrated 2021 debut full-length still slipping vol. 1 – she had never been in a solo studio session with a producer before. “Usually when I make music, I’m just by myself. That was my first time actually being with a producer and singing on their work in the same room,” she recalls. “But he was so easy to work with. He just said, ‘Here’s the demo, do your thing, no pressure.’”

The French-Martinican singer, songwriter and producer had only recently moved to London when she landed the gig in 2020. After relocating in 2019, she began to tentatively share music online – songs like the understated folk of houseonahill and the shiver-inducing avant-R&B of Letter to Anyone. Soon she struck up friendships with like-minded producers Vegyn, Wu-Lu and Kwake Bass. Less than a year later, she was standing in the booth across from one of the UK’s best-loved electronic artists. “I remember being in there making the track and just thinking, ‘this is my dream, I’m literally living my dream right now,’” she enthuses, speaking over Zoom from her current home in Brixton.

Inspired to make music by her record-producing – who also play instruments including the saxophone and piano – Sen was given a guitar on her 15th birthday, and has “never looked back”. She has been playing “pretty much every day” since and, over the past five years or so, has attained an impressive level of musicianship while also making creative use of analogue effects. Gesturing towards the table of gear behind her, I ask her to acquaint me with her stash of pedals, which gleam away in the background like treasure.

Combining her devotion to jazz musicians like Becca Stevens with her love of Ariana Grande, Lianne La Havas and folkies like Nick Drake, Sen folds a grab-bag of influences into her own songwriting, which is rhythmic and deeply emotional. Her self-released debut single Locked In arrived in April 2020 – fusing shimmering synths and guitar to a hypnotic, slow-burning groove – with double single, Sand Radio/Brother, following in July that year.

Her debut EP, You of Now Pt. 1, out this spring, imbues deft guitar playing with a soulful touch and smart flashes of electronica. The first single, the Joni Mitchell-referencing I Feel Like I’m Blue, tips its hat to trip hop while the rest of the record sees her in reflective mood as she performs soulful yet sweet-natured and slightly off-kilter indie-folk. Lyrically, she fully lays her cards on the table and embraces heart-swelling vulnerability.

Sen wrote the EP back when she was feeling “a little depressed”. After weathering a number of changes in recent years – from moving countries and shedding friends to ending a romantic relationship, which partly inspired the release – she turned to music as a cathartic way of readying herself for a new chapter. “I needed to let go of a lot of people and things,” she explains, describing the record as empowering. “I made a lot of mistakes before I moved to London and now I need to learn from them with the new people I’m meeting and the new situations I’m in.” As such, her songwriting becomes a tool through which she is able to trap the various emotional stages of her life in amber.

However, the appeal of music ultimately lies in its capacity for human connection. “I love the idea of connecting with people, instead of having a boundary,” she muses. “They don’t need to know about me and I don’t need to know much about you, but we just connect so strongly through sounds.”

She concludes: “I just know that as music has helped me, I can probably help someone with my own music.”

Sounds like: Sun-dappled 90s neo-soul and avant-pop
Soundtrack for: Gazing out of the window or up at the stars
Our favourite tune: I Feel Like I’m Blue
File next to: Tirzah, Haley Heynderickx
Find her: @_leasen

Hyasynth is out now via Partisan