"GAELYNN LEA, THE WINNER OF NPR'S SECOND ANNUAL TINY DESK CONTEST, MAKES MUSIC LIKE NOBODY ELSE." - Bob Boilen, NPR
Gaelynn Lea is a musician from Duluth, MN. She has been playing violin for over twenty years. First classically trained, she began learning traditional Celtic and American fiddle tunes at the age of 18. During her college years Gaelynn started sitting in with various folk/rock musicians and developed an improvisational style all her own. Eventually, she also began singing and dabbling in songwriting. Gaelynn has played alongside many notable Minnesota musicians over the years, including Alan Sparhawk, Charlie Parr, and Billy McLaughlin.
Gaelynn Lea has been actively performing throughout Northern Minnesota and Wisconsin since 2006, contributing to a number of musical projects in the Twin Ports. Currently, her most active collaboration is The Murder of Crows, an atmospheric alternative duo with Alan Sparhawk. Together they recorded an EP titled “Imperfecta” in 2012. Their original song “When We Were Young” was featured on the Sundance Channel’s acclaimed drama “Rectify” in June 2014. Gaelynn also regularly performs solo sets of experimental fiddle tunes sprinkled with her original songs; her aim is to create a meditative, layered sound that allows the listener’s mind to drift.
In November 2015, Gaelynn Lea released her debut solo album entitled “All the Roads that Lead Us Home”. It pays homage to the traditional fiddle tunes and beloved standards that Gaelynn has been playing for over a decade… But of course, there is a twist! Gaelynn used her Memory Man looping pedal to create winding layers of sound underneath these familiar melodies.
From her album review by Tony Bennett in the Duluth News Tribune:
“Gaelynn Lea has done it exactly right on her debut solo album, All the Roads that Lead Us Home. The album is constructed simply — most of it is Lea playing her violin into an Electro-Harmonix Memory Man pedal, building layers one by one of her striking, tremulous playing. There are a couple of vocal tracks, but the record is basically just Lea doing live looping. This could get old really fast, but Lea smartly, tastefully builds her loops bit by bit, block by block, each step leading into the next. They’re little evolving symphonies.
Lea takes a meditative approach, building loops that are based on sustained notes and vibrato, loops that seem like she’s scoring a sunrise on a winter morning. Yearning, reaching melodies emerge from the wash of sound and then recede into the background. Chords are flittingly outlined as root notes collide with thirds or fifths or sevenths. It’s all very ephemeral and gauzy, and the tracks are easy to get lost in.
Lea’s two vocal tracks are nicely placed on the record. Her folky singing is of a piece with her playing, and it’s not jarring at all when it comes in, even though it’s the only other instrument on the album next to the violin. All the Roads that Lead Us Home is a focused, vibrant piece of music by a person who is able to take a solitary instrument and make it sound like a full string arrangement, who can fill a full-length LP with mostly just those sounds and communicate fluently her heart and soul with only a few tools.”
On March 3, 2016, Gaelynn Lea was named the winner of NPR Music’s second-ever Tiny Desk Contest. Her music video entry rose to the top of over 6,100 entries from around the nation, chosen as the unanimous favorite among the contest’s six judges. The very next week, Gaelynn performed a moving Tiny Desk Concert, at which the show’s host Bob Boilen said, “there was hardly a dry eye.”
In addition to performing and recording, Gaelynn loves to do speaking engagements about disability, overcoming challenges, and the joy of music. Gaelynn has a congenital disability called Osteogenesis Imperfecta, or Brittle Bones Disease. In recent years, she has used her music as a platform to advocate for people with disabilities and to promote positive social change. Gaelynn believes society must make accessibility a priority so people with disabilities can participate fully in their communities and use their talents and gifts without discrimination.