When Seattle-based synth-pop artist Leeni shops for synthesizers, she finds herself looking at them and asking herself, “Are there songs in there?”
Sometimes, like magic, the instrument answers. Just a little play with a patch or a twist of the controls and suddenly, the instrument transports you into a new sonic realm.
That’s how it worked for Leeni’s new full-length, Violet, which dropped last Thursday. Her tenth release, Violet is a study of her new, expressive Prophet Rev2 synth, and a vivid portrait of the personal transformation she underwent during the pandemic isolation.
Leeni is the solo project of artist Celene “Leeni” Ramadan. Ramadan made her first-ever Leeni record on acoustic guitar in 2005, and then began teaching herself gameboy chip tune, a style of electronic music created through programming vintage video game consoles.
Leeni eventually became one of the only gameboy chip tune producers in the Seattle area, and it led her to eventually explore other types of synthesized music-making.
“I remember… buying a bunch of vintage drum machines and playing around with them and learning how to sequence and just kind of doing it by like trial and error because there wasn’t a lot of guidance,” she says.
After releasing a lot of chip tune work, including the 2007 full-length album 8-Bit Heart, Ramadan pivoted to her moody, ’60s pop-inspired band Prom Queen, where her focus remained for many years.
Then the pandemic hit. Isolated from her bandmates, returning to therapy after a long hiatus, and learning new production techniques in her new job for Prime video, Ramadan began pouring her emotions and newfound synth know-how into solo synth-pop.
“I had a studio and I would go there everyday and just work on whatever. I didn’t know what the hell was going on in the world, I just wanted to make something with whatever time I had,” recalls Ramadan.
In time, through the lens her new Prophet Rev2 synth, Violet was born. A dynamic and thrilling collection of expressive and skillfully-produced electropop songs, Violet explores Leeni’s renewed confidence in herself as an artist and producer, growing pains she’s experienced personally in the last couple years, and the beginning of a new phase in her life—an era she defines with the color violet.
On the album’s opening track, “Earthquakes,” Leeni’s lyrics explore this desire to escape the “little earthquakes” that arise in life—in her case, it’s a nod to Tori Amos’ first album, and to unhealthy mental patterns exacerbated by isolation.
“It also expresses a feeling that I was having at the time,” says Ramadan. “You think someone’s going to save you or like that if x happens I’ll be okay, but when you have these unaddressed patterns, the earthquake’s going to come.”
Likewise, on “Horizon,” a haunting track co-written and produced by Erik Blood, Leeni explores familiar feelings of distance, disconnect, and longing. “It touches on ideas about the exhaustion of prolonged hope without tangible gain,” she explains.
Aside from having used the album to help move through the difficult emotions of the pandemic era, the process of making (and sitting on) Violet helped Ramadan also better understand and embrace her creative process.
“I took so much time with these songs. I let them breathe. I wasn’t going to settle,” she says. “Sharing music is so vulnerable. I just really wanted to take as much time as [I needed] to build it right and to me all of that is confidence boosting. It is knowing that I could stand behind this work and say I absolutely cosign what I did on this record and can’t wait to share it.” She hopes to tour with Violet in the spring of 2023.
Through the emotional ups and downs of the album, there’s a real feeling of overcoming as Violet ends on its triumphant eponymous track. We’ve made it through something together—and for Leeni, who tends to demarcate phases of her life with colors, this record is a new beginning.
“I don’t have synesthesia entirely but… I have phases of my life that are different colors,” she says. “This [album] is a step into the phase of violet. It’s very harmonious, it’s regal, it’s dazzling, and to me it’s just grounded in harmony.”
Follow Leeni on Facebook for ongoing updates.