December 15th, 2019 | Interviews

Sharing is caring is creepy. The world is a wasteland, the Amazon is soot, and Selena Gomez is still singing about Justin Bieber. Let it go, girl! In a world where being guarded is the move, Talk2Strangers—a.k.a. Lori LeChien—dares you to bare it all. Or at least to like … be open to the world around you. She’s one of L.A.’s—nay, the world’s—most gripping vocalists, and her songs are bristling with hooks and unimpeachably earnest. I mean, I’m biased cuz she’s a respected friend and colleague. But check for yourself, jerk! We talked about privilege, sex, guitars, chicken and connection. This interview by Tolliver.

Welcome to another exciting interview. This is an interview series I do at chicken places. It’s called PionEars. [Shout out Pioneer Chicken]. The primary thing I notice about your music—outside of it just sounding great—is that it’s very unguarded lyrically. It sounds straight from your brain. Is it tough for you to write that way? As far as your feelings go.
Lori LeChien: It’s more like I have to write like that, because otherwise it would be a feeling that’s inside of me that is like stuck in there. When I write lyrics like that that are personal and deep, it’s because … when it’s so true it’s just true. It’s just a feeling or a thing I’m dealing with.
Are all your songs true?
Lori LeChien: Some of them are from the perspective of somebody else. So they’re not true from my perspective. But they might be how I think someone might have seen the situation. Just to get kind of a different voice on it.
Would you ever write a song about a magical unicorn, or something sort of abstract?
Lori LeChien: Funny. Today I wrote a song called ‘Sink Frog.’ But it was just for my nieces and nephews.
So yes.
Lori LeChien: I definitely can get in that realm where you’re just saying words that sound good, or that don’t make sense. Like more like what John Lennon would do, where he would just be like, ‘Plasticine porters and marshmallow pies.’
Lori LeChien: Yeah, exactly.
I wouldn’t say your music is genreless, but it definitely exists between a few different things. Is that because during the writing process you’re just letting things come to you? Or are you like, ‘No, this is actually a schematic I have laid out. I wanted it to exist between RnB, pop, soul and gospel.’
Lori LeChien: It’s an amalgamation of how I grew up and what influenced me and what inspired me the most. I heard ‘East 1999’ from Bone Thugs-n-Harmony and was blown away. I still to this day will talk to any music nerd that graduated from fucking Berkelee and be like, ‘East 1999.’ Not only did Bone Thugs do something nobody else did before, but it was a perfect album. And I remember being like ten years old and being like, ‘That is a perfect album.’ At the same time my dad was showing me Talking Heads and I was listening to gospel, Bob Dylan, all that stuff. The lyrics of Bob Dylan got to me and the music of Lauryn Hill and her voice got to me. I was like, ‘I’m gonna use all these things that I like.’ I didn’t even think about trying to sound a certain way. I think it’s just the voice inside of me that kind of guided the sound.
So that’s in the press release. Bone Thugs meets Bob Dylan? That’s where we’re going?
Lori LeChien: [laughs] I mean—I usually say it’s a mix between Lauryn Hill and Bob Dylan. There’s kind of the classic 90s rnb influence with more of a songwriter’s lyrics. I’ve been listening to Doja Cat because I think she’s really funny and I really think she’s cute.
She was just playing on the radio.
Lori LeChien: I know. And that’s also why I brought her up. I would not go to write a song like ‘I keep it juicy juicy.’ That wouldn’t be a natural tendency for me.
I would.
Lori LeChien: Heyyy. And that doesn’t mean I don’t. Cuz I do keep it juicy. Like let’s just go ahead and put that on.
She keeps it juicy, on the record.
Lori LeChien: I’m not saying I lack the juice. It’s just … yeah. I don’t necessarily go there. But am I opposed to making a song like that, that could just be like ‘shake my ass’ or whatever? No. It would just have to be something that naturally came out of me and that wasn’t like, ‘We need an ass shaking song.’ Cuz you can tell when that happens.
That makes one of us.
Lori LeChien: I’m not saying I don’t want to write ’em. I’m down. It’s just not necessarily what I go to.
We touched on your background and growing up around gospel and whatnot. We’ve talked about this before—how people think you’re Black or POC in some sort of way. Do you ever feel uncomfortable or out of place existing in this RnB zone or gospel zone?
Lori LeChien: I think about the nuances of race at all times. It’s at the forefront of my mind. As it started to happen more and more, it did get me concerned like, ‘Am I Blackfishing people out here?’ And realizing that I constantly talk about being white in my music and my posts—I’m not ever trying to be ambiguous, and I’m not ever trying to confuse people. The fact that I confuse people I think says more about people’s ideas of white people. Because I just don’t fit their description of what a white person is. And so I get it. But it puts me in this situation where literally I got asked to play an exclusively Black arts event a couple weeks ago by a guy I told two years ago to his face that I was white. He told this person to ask me to play.
He had Blamnesia.
Lori LeChien: But really though! The thing is, the moment I told him I was white, I remember cuz I saw his heart break a little bit. And there was actually a person next to us going ‘Redneck cracker want the big Black dick.’ This is like outside in downtown L.A. There was just a guy there commenting on us. So the fact that I’m white came up prominently. And yet two years later this guy is telling someone to ask me to play an exclusively Black arts event. That’s when I’m like, ‘Wow.’ This is really … I texted him and said, ‘You don’t remember I texted you and told you I was white!’ And he was like, ‘Ya must’ve slipped it by me!’
Does that make you feel bad when people’s hearts break cause you’re white?
Lori LeChien: I mean, I get it. Does it make me feel bad? Do you feel bad seeing anyone’s heartbreak? Yes. In general, yes. But because I’m white it’s not like, ‘Ohhh I have this white pain.’ It’s more just like a weird thing I deal with that I don’t think a lot of white people do. And if they do, maybe they tell people they’re not white like Rachel Dolezal.
Right, or they just make it ambiguous like Ariana.
Lori LeChien: Exactly. She 100% tries to do that. And obviously there are people out here contouring and doing all sorts of things to do that. So I think the fact that I have a song called ‘The Coldness of White Women,’ and the fact that I’m not shy to be like ‘I’m white,’ it takes away some of the concern. My entire life I grew up in a Black community, and singing gospel and everybody freaking out. It made me feel like I’m just part of this congregation. It didn’t make feel like ‘I’m a white girl in the congregation.’ And that’s part of being white, being privileged—to be able to sneak in and be a part, y’know? I think if I didn’t sing like the way I did it wouldn’t be so easy. [laughs]
So she admits it. She’s good.
Lori LeChien: [laughs].
Where are you from?
Lori LeChien: I’m from Southern Illinois—Belleville, Illinois. Around East St. Louis, right by the Mississippi River. Where Miles Davis from. Lotta soul.
We’ve heard of you in Chicago.
Lori LeChien: Oh no doubt. No doubt. Obviously I’m not there for a reason. There wasn’t the most opportunity. But it definitely I think shaped me into who I am. I’d probably talk like this [does valley accent] if I was from California.
It’s not too late.
Lori LeChien: I’ll get there, I’ll get there.
You talked about two artists—Bob Dylan and Lauryn Hill—as your biggest inspirations. Two great guitarists. How close are you to your guitar, emotionally?
Lori LeChien: Mmm. That’s a great question. I always think about how Jimi Hendrix always had his guitar with him. And that’s how I want to be remembered. I have a guitar in my car right now. I always pretty much try to have one around. Like if I’m going somewhere, its gonna be with me or there’s gonna be one there. It’s sort of my defense mechanism, too. I go to a party, I feel weird like ‘Where is the guitar?’ I either look for the musicians corner or I already have it cuz it’s my defense. I like talking to people, obviously—Talk2Strangers—but I like talking about shit that matters. I want to at least center it around something.
What matters? Since you said you want to talk about what matters. I know that’s kind of broad. What don’t you want to talk about? Let’s talk about that.
Lori LeChien: I’m totally for anyone who wants to do their thing and express themselves the way they do. I don’t identify with like an ass selfie. Or like, an ass shot. I’m not like, ‘Oh, you shouldn’t have your ass on the internet.’ It’s never been part of me to be like, ‘Hold up—let me get this real quick.’ I’m not interested in that aspect of it. I tend to minimize my overt sexuality. I think that I’m a sexual being just being a person. But in what way? I sing so passionate, it’s hard to think, ‘She’s just over here having regular old missionary,’ you know what I mean? But like, I’m not like talking about my pussy necessarily. And I might do that—it’s not off-limits. But I guess that whole aspect that’s really popular right now, I’m not as interested in.
Do you think the world is becoming less intimate?
Lori LeChien: It’s interesting because in my song I sing, ‘We’re connected all the time.’ We have the ability to talk to anyone we want, but we’re losing the ability to know how to talk to each other in general. So we have access to communicate. But the actual art of communication isn’t being as flourished as like, the method of it. I feel like part of the band name is about getting out of that. It’s hard to actually meet someone and look them in the eye if you’re on the phone.
I’ve met some wild people in real life, I don’t know.
Lori LeChien: I’ve definitely met people through the phone and on Tinder, I’m not like anti that. Cuz I met the current dude I’m talking to on there, yknow?
Well well well…
Lori LeChien: Heyyy. It works, OK!
She’s a fraud! Get her!
Lori LeChien: I’m not even talking to strangers! No, but I think its just like … we all want to be loved and understood. We’re all in this room at this show. I just like the idea of getting people to get outside of themselves. Me get outside of myself. Us kind of think like, ‘We’re all just strangers in this room. Or maybe we know some of these folks.’
I think the world is getting scarier, too, as a lot of this technology is popping up. I’m afraid of everyone. I don’t want to talk to anyone for that reason, too.
Lori LeChien: Yeah. I mean there’s definitely times where I dont want to talk to strangers. Like at the airport.
Fucking airport.
Lori LeChien: You know its like a dehumanizing place in general, so I become subhuman. Like I put a hoodie around my face. Like, no. So I get it. That message isn’t just like, ‘You gotta do it all the time!’ It also means listen to strangers, it means keep yourself open to learning from another’s perspective. Keep yourself open to the idea that anybody can teach you something, or that anybody you encounter could be someone important in your life.
Does that come through in your visuals?
Lori LeChien: I was thinking about the one I just finished today. The whole thing is like almost if you put the Yellow Brick Road inside of Alice in Wonderland. You got this person who’s on a journey who meets these characters, these strangers. And they kind of teach her, especially in regards to Dorothy, that there’s no place like home. She already has what she needs. I was thinking of that trope when I was thinking of this music video and about me kind of representing everybody who’s going through life and has these opportunities. And maybe you’re reluctant because they look different or they act different, or they’re weird. But they can change you and they can alter your next move. At the end of this video I end up in the ocean with a mirror face, because I am you, you are me. We’re all on this journey. Honestly I just wanted it to be a series of really interesting images that kept you excited, but that also kind of gave you this vibe of like, ive seen this, I’ve felt this before. The most important thing to me about why I play music is being able to inspire somebody else to do what they want to do. I think some people are successful and famous when they want people to be like them, because it drives you to be in the front. I’m not dissing that, I just don’t connect to that. And that’s why my band’s not Ms. Lori. It’s Talk2Strangers. That’s why the face is a mirror. It’s not about me, ultimately. The music is literally only coming from me, which is the ironic part. So that’s how I balance it. I’m giving all of myself, but it’s not about me.