AFTER following her Sephardi roots to Israel to shoot the video clip for her new single, London-based Australian singer-songwriter Anita Lester talks to Yael Brender about her musical journey.
In the past decade, singer Anita Lester has carved out a musical career, releasing two albums and five EPs including The Summer Deluge in 2011 and Lester the Fierce in 2013.
But after severing ties with her record label over a dispute, she seriously considered giving up music.
“Everything was taken away and I had to start again at the beginning,” Lester told The AJN from London, where she now lives.
“At the time when the record company seized all my music, I felt like s**t. I was almost ready to give up. But looking back it was definitely a positive.
“I had to give up my stage name, which was Lester the Fierce, so now I go by my own name – which I think is a much more honest portrayal of who I am.”
The talented Melbourne singer isn’t someone you’d consider to be fierce at all – she’s a determined, quiet night owl who manages her own career and is releasing her music -independently.
“I had to have a conversation with myself about whether I wanted to make music anymore,” she says. “Going through creative struggles is unbearable in the moment, but there’s a light at the end, and ultimately you end up in the place you’re meant to be.”
That place was Camden, London, where the -full-time artist moved to from New York in 2015 after a stint in Los Angeles writing at the legendary Sound City Studios.
Now working as a children’s book illustrator by day and musician by night, she considers Camden “a hub of creativity” into which she fits perfectly.
“The more colourful the area, the more creative fire you have to feed on,” she says. “Camden is amazing and full of happy people and I’m very happy in it. I spent a year there just writing music.”
During that year, there was a life-changing moment; Lester covered Leonard Cohen’s You Want It Darker, posted it online and it caught the attention of the star himself. Cohen shared it on his social media feeds and it went viral.
“When my father passed away, my mother gave me his collection of Leonard Cohen’s poems and books, and that’s the moment that I became interested in poetry and music,” she explains. “Him seeing and sharing my cover was a total affirmation around continuing music for me.”
One day on a whim, Letser and her brother Yoav, an established filmmaker, decided to apply for a grant to shoot a film clip in Israel for her -then-unfinished single Man – Israel being an important place to the Lester family because the siblings were born in Netanya before moving to Melbourne.
“The funding was granted, and we basically did a three-week pilgrimage of Israel from south to north, and just shot some of the most amazing footage,” says Lester.
“It’s got a narrative of freedom of spirit. The way that I framed the whole project is through the lens of female social and political freedom without being overly contemporarily feminist. It is more about the spiritual aspect of being a free woman.”
Filming took them all over Israel, from the Arava north of Eilat to the Golan Heights and the Syrian border. The song itself, while not overtly Jewish, does have subtle Jewish elements that those familiar with the Torah will notice.
“I had the most intense spiritual experience in Israel,” Lester says. “There was something really profound about being there with my brother, in the middle of the desert. It was beautiful and emotional.
“I felt the Jewish blood that runs through my veins, and I started listening to a lot of Jewish spiritual music.”
Lester’s grandparents are Holocaust survivors and Yoav is dedicated to researching their family tree, with descendants from Poland and Morocco.
After returning from Israel, she feels connected to Judaism in a totally new way: “I’d never been actively interested in Judaism, but you grow and you change and new things become important.”
Released earlier this month, Man was almost two years in the making and is the first of six singles planned for release this year, culminating in the launch of her EP, Canaanites. This is the first music Lester has released in almost four years.
“Music is a heartbreaking pursuit,” Lester says. “People are always looking for the next big thing, which puts someone like me, who is in it for the long haul, at a disadvantage. The kind of music that I make is antiquated, but I know that what I’m doing connects with certain people.”
“I’m still working on the album. It isn’t finished – there’s a lot of loose ends to tie up. And then – who knows? I guess I’ll go wherever the wind blows me.”