Renowned for her powerful vocals and artfully crafted songwriting, New York City-based artist Lena Leon is quite a force in the dance music community. After hearing Stunt’s “Raindrops” in high school, Leon became obsessed with blending the most infectious elements of both dance and pop music. She has since become a platinum-selling singer, songwriter, and vocal producer who has collaborated with dance music titans such as Tiësto, Kygo, and Tchami. BMI had a chance to sit down with Leon and talk about her journey and how she always maintains an attitude of fearlessness and empathy.
Hi Lena, thanks so much for taking the time to virtually hang with us! I know I’ve read somewhere that you were introduced to Dance music in high school. Was there a specific song or artist that started the obsession back then? Who were your early influences?
Thank you for having me!!! I’m so grateful for BMI’s support over the years and to be a BMI songwriter and artist! The first dance song that converted me to a dance lover was probably Stunt “Raindrops.” Those melodies and chords were insane to me and took me to another place! A couple other favorites were Daft Punk’s “One More Time” (honestly, the entire Discovery album), “Call on Me” by Eric Prydz, and “The Veldt” by Deadmau5
Everything really seemed to start taking off for you as a writer and artist after you released “Halfway There” with Tiësto and Dzeko back in 2019. What was the story behind that song? How did you end up connecting with Tiësto back then and what was it like to work with him?
The background story of this song is actually a wild one. When my current manager, Melissa sent me the track to write to, I had just left an artist project I used to be a part of (its anonymous, so nobody knew it was me.) I was emotionally abused; I’d been told I was a terrible songwriter and I should just be the artist and let other big writers write for me. I decided to leave in 2018 with no monthly listeners to my name and little hope and wrote “Halfway There” as the song I needed to hear at the time: “If you believe you can, you’re halfway there.” It was definitely my hail-mary song and it’s insane that it launched my EDM career. To this day, I get so many messages from Tiësto fans who felt my pain in the song and said this song gave them a reason to carry on and nothing in this world can replace that feeling. I finally got to meet Tiësto a year after it came out, and it became a fan-favorite during festivals! We both couldn’t believe how the song resonated with so many and were extremely grateful for it. He’s an extremely nice guy and so supportive of up-and-coming artists.
Since “Halfway There,” you went on to release music with several other legends in the Dance world, such as Kygo, Tchami, Anabel Englund, Deorro, etc. What is your process when working with these artists? Any cool stories you could share?
The process is different every time, and each song has its own story. When Valerie Broussard and I wrote “The Truth” for Kygo in April 2020, the pandemic had just been declared a month earlier. A month after the world shut down, I got a text from Valerie saying, “hey this is extremely last minute, but do you want to write a last-minute song for Kygo’s new album with me?” I obviously said yes, and Valerie tracked vocals in her apartment, she sent them to me to vocal-produce and mix. We wrote “The Truth” on a Sunday, by Monday we had sent stems over and the song came out a month later as a single and track 1 on Golden Hour. It was, by far, the fastest cut I’ve ever had in my career. The album ended up going gold in the U.S., and to have this happen during a global pandemic is even more insane!
Last year you released your first solo single, “Spiral,” and it went all the way to #1 on Dance Radio, and #3 on the Billboard Mix/Show Airplay charts. How did it feel watching your single climb the charts like that? Was it surreal or was it something you expected all along?
I know every artist says this, but I truly never expected “Spiral” to do what it did. 2022 was a slow EDM feature year for me, and I had so many great songs sitting on my hard drive, and after the terrible years I had in my former artist project, it took me a long time to get the courage to do a solo dance release again. Finally, after six years of being afraid, I decided “what the heck? Let’s do it.” I knew “Spiral” was a special one the day Andrew, Flo and I made it. We wrote it about a panic attack I had during the pandemic, and it felt wrong to give it to someone else, so I decided to self-release it in July 2022 independently. It had a rough release weekend, which I expected as a new dance solo artist, but then two months later, BPM on Sirius XM added it, then iheart’s Evolution Radio, Seattle C 89.5 and it started climbing the radio and billboard charts. Six months after its release on Christmas Day, I suddenly had a No. 1 dance-radio record and a No.3 billboard-charting song as an independent solo artist, and I couldn’t believe it! It proved to me that the right songs find their way, sometimes it just takes time.
Clearly, you’ve had success as both as an artist and a writer for other projects. How does the process change from when you write for another artist versus your own project? Is it harder to write something for yourself?
I think being an artist has made me a better writer for other artists because I’m sympathetic. I know what it feels like to go through everything they’re going through, and I know what it feels like to have an idea forced upon them. I try to make sure every artist feels like their voice is getting heard in the room and can say exactly what they want to say and are comfortable. It’s so hard to bare your soul in a room, so making the artist feel comfortable is the most important. It’s been funny exploring the artist side of myself again, after 13 years of doing this, because I’m a very different person now than I was 13 years ago when I started. I have such a clear sense of who I am and what I want as an artist now. Luckily, when I’m writing for myself as well, I’m able to separate my emotions from the songwriting process a bit and just focus on making a great song with people I like.
Given all you’ve seen and experienced, what advice would you give other songwriters looking to enter the Dance world?
First and foremost, be fearless. Some of my biggest cuts were me walking up to someone and introducing myself, or sending an artist a DM. But along with that, don’t annoy people. It’s ok to follow up, once or twice, but don’t send 50 million emails or 50 million songs. Try to target just one that you think is really strong and could work for them!
Back in May, you released a new single called “Push It” with Movada & DJ YUKI, which was great. What’s next on the horizon that we can look forward to? Any new releases or shows we should know about?
Thank you so much! I have some really fun artist-collabs coming with other great artists, as well as more solo Lena Leon releases. I also have some songs I wrote for other great artists, like Rachel Grae’s single “You Suck,” and songs I’ve done vocal production work on as well!