Lenii likes to drink tea (Barry’s Tea to be exact). While in quarantine with two friends, musicians Ryan O’Shaughnessy and Baby Bill, the trio easily down 12 or 13 cups of a day ─ apiece. Having grown up in Cork, Ireland, Lenii was accustomed to the culture ─ one which bred an environment of gabbing over tea with friends and loved ones. There’s something soothing about hearing someone say, “I’ll put the kettle on.” Whatever you might be feeling that day, it all washes down with some piping hot tea and good conversation.
“In Ireland, people drink like eight cups of tea a day,” Lenii tells Audiofemme. “If you visit someone’s house, the tea is offered before you even get through the door. I even have a tea cup tattooed on my arm because it reminds me so much of home.”
So, it only seemed natural to launch a “Tea Sessions” series during these very uncertain times. Born Ellen Murphy, Lenii launches this creative endeavor with a stripped-down version of her song “Cereal,” shedding away the gummy layers for a guitar and keyboard-driven performance. “I got lucky enough to be locked down in a house in LA with two amazing musicians, also from Ireland,” she says.
“We were just jamming one day playing each other’s songs and drinking tea, so I just thought it would be cool to film us,” says Lenii, whose voice is given a proper showcase. “The first episode was really spontaneous, and I loved the idea of a low-pressure quarantine ‘tiny desk’ type series.”
The original iteration of “Cereal” (co-written with and produced by Nick Sadler) unleashes a more biting attack, while the live performance video allows Lenii to feel looser within its structure. “The ‘Tea Sessions’ version of [this song] was really just myself and the boys having fun so the song took on a whole different mood. A little less aggressive and a bit more jazzy. Playing it outside was cool, too.”
Vibrant greenery frames the video, somehow drawing you into her world, if only for a moment. In many ways, this “Cereal” performance taps into the lack of human connection these days. Lenii admits the last few months have “definitely [been] emotional,” she says, “as I’m sure is the same for everyone. I miss playing live and going to sessions, but I’ve been quarantined with two writers so we’re still getting a lot done. There’s a lot of pressure to use this time to be productive so just remembering that it’s okay to not feel creative all the time is super important.”
Of course, worry often tends to seep into her mind. “It’s very strange being so far from my family at a time like this, so I think about that a lot. But [I’m] trying to go with the flow and not worry too much,” she says. “In the music world, I know playing live won’t be the same for a long time, and I think there will be a major shift in how the industry works.”
Earlier this month, Lenni’s 2019 song “Yellow” was named Adult Contemporary winner of the International Songwriting Competition, a distinction that certainly threw her for a loop. “I honestly didn’t even know ‘Yellow’ fell into ‘adult contemporary,’ so I was shocked,” she admits. “I came second in that category in 2017, so I was like, maybe A/C is my calling.”
She adds, “I would continue, regardless, and aim to get better all the time, but it’s a really cool bit of validation that I’m heading in the right direction.”
Lenii continues riding high on a string of singles, including “Regular 10,” the newly released “I (Don’t) Miss You” and “Crave U,” which was recently remixed by Cyril M. Though social distancing may have temporarily altered her trajectory, the “Tea Sessions” offer a fun, intimate portrait of an artist on the rise, doing her part to keep calm and put a kettle on for all of us.