When locally based musician and singer songwriter, Leonie Prater, dreamed of recording her first album at home, she can’t really have envisaged tying an old jumper around her head in order to get the sound she wanted. But that’s exactly what happened. The album, Metamorphosis, was recorded at her Marshwood home in March 2020 during the first lockdown, and whatever techniques were necessary they have obviously helped to deliver a unique and powerful reflection of her music. Metamorphosis is an emotionally driven testament to a life touched by more than its fair share of pain. A&R journalist, Amelia Vandergast described the album as resonating with ‘the contemporary mood of melancholic reflection.’ She pointed to it as ‘a reminder of how visceral emotions can be when our lives aren’t constrained by necessary draconian means.’
The technical aspect of recording at home, apart from wrapping a jumper around her head, included Leonie playing all the instruments and enlisting the help of George Arnold from Devon-based Rapunzel Studios to offer guidance on how to get the best sound—as well as to mix and master the album. But the emotion that drives her songs comes from somewhere much closer to her heart. Born in Dorchester to a mother half Swiss and half Sri Lankan, Leonie moved to Switzerland with her when she was four years old. As her mother was suffering from mental health issues, Leonie was put into a foster home at age five—something that she remembers as ‘the best decision ever’. Although she says she was ‘very lucky to grow up in a loving family’ that she describes as ‘my home and my safety’, she has always had to deal with the question of what is her home, and where does she really come from. So, somewhat inevitably, some of her songs deal with this as well as the difficulties experienced by her mother.
‘My mum suffered from depression all her life and sadly passed away in January 2019’ explained Leonie. ‘There are two songs that helped me process her death.’ One of those songs is named Tasha, after her mother. It features acoustic guitar and violin, with haunting lyrics about the “demon” in her mother’s body and how she hadn’t got any other choice other than “losing her mind.” She says that ‘Tasha, in particular, describes exactly what my mum went through. It is such a simple song but with a very deep meaning behind.’
The title song, Metamorphosis, is also dedicated to this experience. Leonie describes it as being about a person who just can’t bear living in this world and struggles to leave their past behind. The lyrics also highlight memories of childhood and feelings of lost hope. ‘Nowadays so many people are suffering from mental health issues’ says Leonie. For her, putting these experiences into words and songs is a cathartic way to deal with it.
Leonie cites a range of different influences on her music. She says that Devon based Ben Howard and his first album, Every Kingdom, was a strong motivator for her to set aside her original instrument, the violin, and develop a new style. ‘He’s sort of the reason why I started playing guitar and writing songs’ she says. Phoebe Bridgers and Alice Phoebe Lou also feature in her influences, as well as Asgeir.
But another big influence is her family. ‘My family has been a massive inspiration too’ she says. ‘My mum played guitar and listened to a lot of singer-songwriters such as Tracy Chapman and Joan Armatrading. Before she passed away we played a lot of music together and I actually learned my tunes on her old guitar.’ A guitar that, although now in need of repair, she treasures. Her father has also been a big music inspiration and one of the reasons she produced the vinyl version of Metamorphosis. ‘He introduced me to vinyl and helped me start my vinyl collection. That’s why I decided to create and design my own vinyl, which was so exciting. He used to be a DJ and has a wide knowledge about different artists and genres.’
Another song from the album, Market Alley, takes inspiration from the picturesque city of Winterthur in Switzerland, where there is a bustling alley named Market Alley. Situated in the old town, it usually brims with life but in the early mornings when no one is around it has a peaceful and still atmosphere. It was these moments which inspired Leonie to write the song. ‘The song is about a lonely musician busking in the alley’ she explains. ‘More and more people are walking through the alley but the busker still feels lonely and alone.’ The song points to how, even in all the loneliness, the person feels an inner peace and an inner light that gives him or her strength to keep on going.
The album’s second song, 1999-2019, highlights happier times and the wonderful days spent in Switzerland amongst great friends in sunny weather. With an absorbing and powerful simplicity Leonie builds a refrain that conjures up memories of those that helped her through difficult times. Although she travelled back and forth to see her father, who is English, she returned from Switzerland because she missed the English mentality. ‘I feel more at home here, with the people and the culture. I feel closer to the culture’ she says. ‘It was a huge step for me to move back to the area where I originally came from but the South West has always felt like home.’ Her mum also loved the South West and Leonie appreciates coming back to a place that her mother loved so much.
In 2016 Leonie appeared on a Swiss TV talent show that taught her much about how some aspects of the music industry are more industry than music. ‘In the end I was so glad that I didn’t get through’ she says ‘because there were so many rules and strings attached to the show. It was a good experience but I would have had to sign a proper contract.’ She was uncomfortable with the way interviews and activities were filmed in one context but then cut together to fit what producers wanted. Despite gaining confidence from the experience and seeing it as an ‘eye opener’ she says ‘Looking back now I wouldn’t attempt a show like this again.’
However, that brush with TV fame may have helped galvanise Leonie’s wish to focus on honesty in her music and herself. ‘I really hope people can experience me through my music’ she says. ‘I try to be true to myself and as authentic as possible.’ She also hopes that her songs can encourage other people who might have dealt with similar challenges in their lives.
In the meantime she would love to work with a professional video producer for her next single and her dream is to be an opening act for a well-known band and to go on tour with them. ‘I would love to gain more live experience and to become even more confident’ she says. She is already working on her second album which she hopes to release in 2022 and looks forward to collaborating with other musicians in the future.
There is a debut album release event for Metamorphosis at the Marine Theatre in Lyme Regis on August 26, 2021. Leonie will be performing with a full band of musicians that she currently works with. To listen to her music and learn more about Leonie Prater visit www.leonieprater.co.uk/