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Léa Sen: “I struggle writing melodies... but when I have a guitar in my hands, the way they work together just comes naturally”

Léa Sen
(Image credit: Alex Waespi)

Léa Sen is a polymath: the 22-year-old writes, plays, produces and mixes everything on her own records. But she’s clear where her inspiration starts: “Guitar is my number one thing,” she says. “It’s the thing I pick up before anything else. It influences everything I do. 

“I actually struggle writing melodies on top of a song, but when I have a guitar in my hands, the way they work together just comes very naturally. That’s really my challenge: ‘How can I take those electric sounds in my head, more experimental ambient stuff, with guitar fingerpicking and make it all work together?’ That gets me going every day.”

Born in France but living in London, Sen’s music has a broad-minded quality that draws from many styles. Latest single Hyasynth teases her forthcoming EP. Although it uses a simple two-chord groove, the chords themselves are expansive, jazz-influenced voicings. Léa often challenges herself to find new chord shapes. 

“Sometimes I’m like, ‘Why am I trying to be unique? Let me just play pop songs!’ I grew up listening to jazz where harmony could get really interesting and complex. I connected with it, like, ‘Oh my god I just don’t hear that on the radio!’ 

“I’m really trying to have songs that people can listen to, because I used to make songs that were so weird. I would have musicians be really excited about them and then my mom wouldn’t care about them! So I’m trying to have songs that my mom can listen to but also I do really think about harmony and melodies and how they connect together.”

Léa’s guitar collection is simple: a '70s Telecaster which she records direct to the computer, a Taylor acoustic electric guitar which she records with a Shure SM7 mic, and a nylon-strung guitar she bought from a friend for £10. 

“I used to never play nylons because I just didn’t have one back in France,” she explains. “But I’ve just been falling in love with it. It just feels like it fits. I have a song on the EP called I Feel Like I’m Blue where I put lots of effects on it. People always think it’s an electric guitar. I really like trying to use the acoustic sounds and make them sound crazy.”

Her productions are fearlessly experimental. “I’m definitely not much of a nerd!” she laughs. “I don’t know what I’m using most of the time. I just get plug-ins and play around with them, then I just forget them.”

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Jenna writes for Total Guitar and Guitar World, and is the former classic rock columnist for Guitar Techniques. She studied with Guthrie Govan at BIMM, and has taught guitar for 15 years. She's toured in 10 countries and played on a Top 10 album (in Sweden).