Folk From Avalon: Globelamp On Songwriting, Le Tigre, and Broken Teeth

Globelamp

Elizabeth Le Fey arranges her life in epiphanies.

The singer-songwriter experienced her first epiphany in Los Angeles at 15 courtesy of a babysitter who took her and a friend to see Le Tigre at the El Rey. That night, Le Fey  learned what powerful feminist rock looked like, and managed to get a hug from Kathleen Hanna. The next day, she stopped shaving her legs. Though the majority of her fellow classmates were oblivious to Hanna and the Riot grrrl movement, the show sparked a miniature feminist revolution within her high school friend group, led to the the creation of her now-defunct punk band Meowkins, and armored her against the torrents of sexist attacks she would later endure.

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The next epiphany arrived around the same time thanks to the birth of her younger brother. Fifteen years his senior, Le Fey chose to stay in her hometown of Mission Viejo, California to help raise him. “I didn’t want to leave him,” she says. “I was practicing and writing stuff and playing guitar in Orange County, but there wasn’t much going on. I just stayed because of my brother.”

Though she would eventually move to Olympia, Washington to attend Evergreen State College and pursue her musical ambitions, she had one grand Orange County epiphany left. And it was a bloody one: Le Fey fell face first into a shopping cart, instantly breaking several of her teeth. “I couldn’t believe that that had happened to me,” she says. “I’d never even had a cavity, and all of a sudden, I had to have two root canals, and I had these chipped teeth.”

The injury prompted her to embrace a bold new attitude towards songwriting and performing, and even inspired the  song “Sparks” from her 2011 self-titled EP. In retrospect, she compares the impact to being hit in the mouth with a lightning bolt. “It knocked some sense into me,” she says. “I became more fearless. After that, I was like, ‘Well, fuck it. Whatever.’ ”

It’s an attitude she would hold fast to when the trolls came. In 2013, she was smeared across the internet for her involvement as a touring member of the much-hyped indie rock band  Foxygen. In response to being ousted from the group over creative and personal disagreements that nearly ended the band, she wrote a post on Tumblr explaining her side of the story, and it’s worth noting that she never once announced the imminent breakup of the band either.

It didn’t matter. It was misread as announcing exactly that and led to Le Fey being decried as the Yoko Ono for the Tumblr era, the horrid woman responsible for the decline and dissolution of Foxygen. It was a misogynistic troll-laden mess, and it sorely affected her already fraught and tumultuous relationship with Foxygen frontman Sam France. France physically abused Le Fey, and after their breakup, refused to hand over the tapes of her debut album, Star Dust, which he had co-produced. (He eventually relented, then filed a restraining order.)

The abuse, online trolls, and complete downplaying of the events by France and Foxygen member Jonathan Rado left a mark on her career. But Le Fey is adamant about not letting it  force her into silence. “If you let others dictate you, you’ll never do anything truly radical to yourself,” she says. “You have to ignore them or else you’re never going to do anything. You’ll be critiqued for everything you do, so don’t read the comments.”

Now free from Foxygen, France, and largely unbothered by the trolls, she has spent the last two years sharing her dreamy, fantasy-inspired psychedelic folk – “freak folk” is one term she uses to describe it – with  the underground community. For her sophomore album, The Orange Glow, Le Fey drew inspiration from Kate Bush, Neutral Milk Hotel, astrology, and Arthurian legends – namely The Mists of Avalon, Marion Zimmer Bradley’s 1983 800-plus page novel that retells the story of King Arthur from the perspective of the women in his life.  The finished product is all shimmering guitars and folksy melodies, replete with La Fey’s evocative, shapeshifting vocals.

In a sense, The Orange Glow is the sound of a woman transcending the trials of her own past made by someone with an unwavering commitment to radical honesty. As a lyricist, she draws from her own experiences, plumbing the depths of her most vulnerable and authentic self for material. A lifelong journal writer and poet, Le Fey’s songwriting process begins with the words and then she sculpts melodies around them. Writing, she says, is her priority, and everything else  – be it trolls, abuse, slander, record companies, or guitar pedals – is just noise. “I’m not even good at gear,” she says with a laugh. “I’ve always just wanted to keep writing new songs.”

In fact, Le Fey has already written the follow-up to The Orange Glow. No word yet on any epiphanies surrounding the impending recording process, but there’s still plenty of time between now and the album’s eventual release for one to happen. Here’s to hoping her next revelation isn’t as bloody as her last.

Globelamp plays with Tashaki Miyaki at 8 p.m., Tuesday, August 9, at Brick and Mortar.

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