An emotional breakup, the loss of a friend and the burning down of a home — all three things are difficult enough to deal with on their own. Yet, South African-born songwriter Nick Leng faced them all at the same time. While the experiences resulted in one of the darkest seasons of his life, his labor was not without its fruits; Leng channeled his turbulent journey into his debut album, “LEMONS,” which dropped April 24 via SOTA Recordings.
With a thick and eclectic sound, “LEMONS” is an emotive and transcendent piece of artistic expression. Mixing a traditional songwriter ethos with a production style that feels reminiscent of Phil Spector’s ‘Wall of Sound’ — with innovative flourishes in the style of psychedelic pop artists like Tame Impala — Leng has crafted a sound that is evocative of many genres, but not firmly planted in any. Perhaps this is best demonstrated on the album’s open track, the bombastic “Music to Clean the House to.”
“‘Music to Clean the House to’ is about fondly looking back on memories that have passed,” Leng told American Songwriter. “This is one of my favorite tracks I have produced, and I had so much fun creating the different worlds that the song moves through.”
The record’s lead single, “Walking Home to You,” is a disconsolate tune that dissects the loss of familiar comfort that comes along with a breakup. While this is a universal experience, Leng also works in his individual experience of having his home burn down shortly following the split, resulting in poignant lines like “I had to burn the house down/ so I could finally see.”
“‘Walking Home to You’ is a breakup song,” Leng said. “She went to New York, I was in Los Angeles. Even though we shifted in different directions, I still missed that feeling of walking home to her. There was a taco truck by my house and I have these distinct memories of going to get food and walking home to her. She’d be inside, stoned, waiting for me. Then I moved because my house caught fire, but I never forgot that feeling.”
But for as much pain as there is in “LEMONS,” there is also hope. Shortly after losing his home, Leng moved in with a friend who then fell ill and passed away. In an effort to process, Leng wrote the album’s closer, “In A Book,” which is almost a personification of the healing and redemptive power of music.
“‘In A Book’ was written when my roommate got sick and passed away,” Leng said. “It was such a bizarre chapter of my life. I felt like I had lost the ability to create. I was struggling with how much time was passing me by. That song helped me through that space and kept his spirit alive for me.”
That message has never been more important. “LEMONS” is a testament to the human spirit in a way. Leng was faced with an unfathomable amount of circumstantial misfortune, yet was able to process it all through music and create a record that not only reflects his story, but can act as a beacon to those in similar situations. It is a reminder of the powerful healing nature of music and the interconnectedness it can inspire.
Stream Nick Leng’s “LEMONS” below: