Leah Capelle is coming into spring with some insight into her debut full length album “triptych” track by track. This rising Los Angeles based alternative pop artist is the singer-songwriter guitarist of many people’s dreams. She’s a powerhouse of a woman who kicks down doors of what she is supposed to be and instead fills them with her authentic silhouette.
As a part of the LGBTQ community, a woman, and a self reflective artist, Leah shines a light on the wide spectrum of human emotion throughout “triptych.” She simultaneously bares her truth, while giving people a place to feel, escape, and question the world they are living in. Each song gives a voice to thoughts that so many of us have had but not known how to speak.
Leah gives an artistic and intellectual lens on life’s darker edges including sexuality, mental health, heartbreak, and substance abuse. Her album is so full of thought and intention, that the best way to understand it is from the artist’s own perspective. Listen and get to know “triptych” and Leah better as she takes you through it track by track.
01 – triptych
The night my ex moved out, I laid in bed with his house keys in the palm of my hand, tucked under my pillow as I tried to get some rest. This piece started as a poem – a frantic outpouring of the words rattling around in my brain that wouldn’t let me sleep. I wasn’t sure if it would ever become a song, until about six months later when I started roughing out this LP. I started to produce a little demo with the simplest synths in Logic and my vocoder, and all of sudden I knew I had the intro – and title track – of the record.
A triptych is a three panel painting – a favored medium by renaissance and religious painters, also made famous by Hieronymus Bosch – used to tell three different parts of a story. For example, Bosch’s “The Garden of Earthly Delights” portrays fantastical, abstract visions of Heaven, Earth, and Hell in one piece of art separated into three segments. This song started as three simple verses. My ex and I were together (and shared a home) for three years. And as the album came together, there seemed to be three core themes – my struggles with mental health and substance abuse, the end of my relationship, and my coming out as bisexual – so in that way, the album is a triptych in and of itself.
02 – alder lake
alder lake was written during a time in which I was existing as a shell of a person. During my more depressive episodes, I would lean heavily on self-destructive tendencies in an effort to feel something again. I lost a lot of weight and a lot of sleep, but instead of starting therapy like I probably should have, I tried to think back to times I was more carefree – Alder Lake is a real place, a secluded, magical getaway that my family built in the woods on a lazy river in Wisconsin. It’s home to some of my most precious memories, like skinny dipping with my best friends when we were 16. So this song, at its core, is about using little moments frozen in time to let go.
This was the first song I fully produced for the record with my incredibly patient and supportive producer, Jay Marcovitz. I performed every instrument on this song except drums (which I am terrible at) – even the ‘horn’ section at the end is me singing ‘mouth trumpet’ into a vintage ribbon mic and run through the Keeley Electronics Synth-1 guitar pedal, which simulates audio signals into weird, distorted wave forms. It was so empowering and exciting to play around so much as we discovered the sound of the record.
03 – know me better
Sitting alone at my kitchen table, I looked around my apartment – the place I had lived longer than anywhere besides my childhood home. As my eyes scanned the living room, they took in the empty hooks and dust frames where art had been hung, the empty guitar stands, the empty book shelves – but only half of the art, instruments, and books were missing. It felt as though the apartment had been sliced in half and I noticed that all my plants were dying, which seemed a surprisingly accurate symbol for what had just happened. I started to sing quietly – the words bouncing off the vaulted ceilings and dirty windows back into my mouth.
I wrote the first iteration of “know me better” alone at the table. After we broke up, my ex said he needed space – that he wanted to be in my life, but it was too soon – and yet he would reach out every few days to check in on me, which left me simultaneously relieved and angry. As more time passed, though, I began to sink into the realization that relationships, and subsequently break-ups, are a two-way street. The song evolved as I healed, and as I really came to terms with my contribution to the pain.
During the early stages of this song, my friend (and roommate who had lived with us) Hayley Brownell fully produced out the demo and helped me re-write the bridge, which is now a much more honest and well-rounded depiction of the end of our relationship. This is a break-up song for the hurting, for those trying to put the pieces back together, and for those who might need to just dance-cry the pain away.
04 – if only you
This is one of my favorite songs on the record, and essentially ‘part two’ of know me better. Another song rooted in reality but dripping in metaphor, I was sitting – again alone – in my living room surrounded by these stacks of magazines I had been hoarding, foolishly thinking I would get around to reading them all someday. I started to imagine the magazines as prison bars, forcing me to replay the end of my relationship over and over while I watched from the couch. This was also one of the first songs I wrote for the record that forced me to look more closely at myself and my behavior, “she will drag you down, she’ll stomp you out until you’re smoldering in silence…”
Jay and I felt like we pretty much nailed the production in two sessions, but spent a lot of time mixing because we knew it had to be special. We tracked and layered around six or seven different guitar tracks, most of them through an old Roland tape machine, as well as at least three or four different drum tracks performed by the incomparable Daniel George; full passes of acoustic drums, separate toms and stick click passes, an electronic hand-sonic drum, and all sorts of eccentric samples. Ultimately, the arrangement is fairly simple in its complexities, which parallels the core of the song.
05 – four am
The chorus and piano arrangement for this track were originally written back in 2013 as part of a piece called “Maybe I’ll Write You a Note,” which I ended up scrapping because the song was childish as far as my then-maturing songwriting sensibilities were concerned. Then one night at 4am in 2018, I stood in front of the bathroom mirror and carefully plucked out a gray hair as blood from my bitten lip dripped onto the white ceramic sink. I noticed the contrast between the glimmering silver of my hair and the deep red of the blood, and immediately scribbled down another poem. The poem – which depicted a detailed account of my surroundings and how I was perceiving them in my weakened state – sat there, untouched, for a few months. Then one day, I started singing the poem over my piano part from five years earlier with a completely re-written chorus to fit the new perspective, and the rest is history.
This is another track that features a lot of my original demo, including a Yamaha pre-set electric piano sound, and all of the drum programming. It’s the demo that encouraged me to fully co-produce the entire record with Jay, and was originally going to be the fourth single off the album.
06 – i keep her
One night at a party, I was catching up with a friend of mine who I knew had been in love with her best friend for a long time. When I asked her if they were together yet, she replied, “well… we’re more than nothing, but less than something.” I literally grabbed her and screamed, “I AM WRITING THAT SONG.” As these things often happen, I soon found myself in a few different situations – with women that I was either casually dating or was close friends with – that began to exactly match the song I’d already written. I had just started carefully and cautiously coming out as bisexual and was able to explore the depth of my sexuality for the first time, so in truth, this song isn’t just for one person – it’s for all the women I’ve loved thus far.
Producing this song was frankly almost impossible. I nearly scrapped it so many times, unsure if it was as good as the rest of the record. Jay and I would start on a new path in production, but immediately stop – over and over. I re-wrote the lyrics three or four times because I wanted to tell the most authentic, concise version of a few different stories, about a few different people. When I re-wrote the bridge for the fourth time – “always wanting what I can’t have” – the production finally fell into place, and in a wild turn of events, i keep her became the fourth and final single from the album.
07 – summer
summer is the interlude on the record, and the beginning of side b. Both lyrically and sonically, it’s meant to encapsulate the dichotomy of the painfully slow, terrifyingly fast passing of time. The feeling of waking up one morning and realizing a whole season has flashed right before your eyes, but that getting through a single day felt like a goddamn year.
This song is special for me, because most of the production is straight from the first demo I made in my house when we were starting the album. My friend and drummer on the whole project Dan, (who lives very far away in the Canadian province Newfoundland,) flew down to track with us on three (!) different occasions. When it came time for this little song, he was like a mad scientist and completely fucked up the kit – he used crash cymbals as hi hats, tuned the snare way down, placed another open snare in front of the kick drum, and layered ride cymbals as crashes. Paired with the dream-like synths, citar-esque background vocals, and the repetitive chant of the chorus, this effect essentially creates a time-warp. It’s easy to get lost in this one.
08 – on accident
on accident is the musical equivalent of a chaotic “descent into madness” film, but is actually a very vulnerable song. Though enhanced by the visceral drum arrangement and pulsating synth parts, it’s a meditation on weakness. It’s difficult to accept your faults, your selfish habits, your flaws – and even harder to ask for forgiveness in light of those flaws. But there is strength in brutal yet tender self-awareness. “To err is human; to forgive, divine.”
I was really sick when we tracked these vocals. The break in my voice at the end is genuine – I could barely hit the notes by the end of the session. But of course, the last take was the one and created the energy needed to make this song hit so hard. I basically poured an entire honey bear down my throat that day to get this song finished. The acoustic guitars were tracked into the vintage Roland tape machine and printed, and a lot of the massive wailing guitar stack was actually recorded through a tiny little Honey Tone.
09 – changed
Soon after coming out, I micro-dosed on mushrooms alone in the apartment. I sat in front of my sound system and listened to Noah Gundersen’s “White Noise,” David Ramirez’s “We’re Not Going Anywhere,” Bon Iver’s “22, a million,” and finally danced around the living room to MUNA’s “about u.” (Worth noting, four of my all-time favorite records.) I don’t think I had really given myself the space to process what being bi meant until that night, other than I knew I liked women and was (at that time,) in a monogamous relationship with a man, but I knew that accepting it would change the way I saw myself dramatically. I don’t normally write when hallucinating, but I felt a pull to the guitar that night – it was like I snatched the song out of thin air. I haven’t revised it at all since.
This was recorded live in one full take (the eighth take we did is the one we chose, to be specific,) with the background vocal stack recorded separately the same night. We also shot a one-take video of the session.
10 – did we have a good day, baby?
When you’re depressed, and dating someone who is also depressed, determining what is reality and what is a dream can be difficult. Good days are never really good days when nothing feels good. I was dating a woman for a brief period that left a lasting impact on me – not so much due to anything she did, but it made me realize how shitty of a person I was at the time. On the surface, I was like the most chivalrous gentleman, but then I’d get fucked up on our dates and blow everything out of proportion. And she, also depressed, would become excessively needy – and when I couldn’t give her the attention she wanted (and to be fair, deserved,) she would act out.
This is my jam band, heavy rock homage to the music I grew up listening to thanks to my rock n’ roll loving parents (with some subtle CSNY influence). It’s also the first song about a woman that I started playing live during my shows – a big moment for me. Guitar tuned to open C#, for those of you guitar nerds who might be wondering.
11 – i quit
This is a deceptively upbeat song about my addictive personality – to substances, habits, and people – and was the last song written for the record. It’s dripping in sarcasm and hyperbole, but holds truth in the fact that “I’m at the mercy of my vices when left to my own devices, and I’m weak when I’m burnt out.” I often find myself falling back into old patterns that at this point, feel almost ubiquitous to my identity. Like no matter how many times I try to quit a bad habit, I have very little self-control and limited follow-through. But I’m doing my best to change!
I originally wrote this on piano and it was much slower then, much more self-deprecating. But as I started playing it live on guitar, it became this pretty upbeat pop song – which, given the context of the rest of the record, was a relief. I produced a pretty thorough demo that I was really proud of at the time, most of which (including my original drum programming) is featured in the final track.
12 – friends
Five months after we broke up, my ex called me on his birthday to get coffee. We sat there for two hours, showing each other new music, catching up about how our lives had been since we’d last seen each other, and sharing how hard our separation was on both of us. I had since moved out of our old apartment, and we realized that we were basically next door neighbors – somehow not more than three blocks from each other in a massive city filled with millions of people. After a noticeably long silence, we launched into a conversation about whether or not we could be friends. At the time, it seemed like the best we could do given the circumstances, and I think we both truly wanted it to work.
I wrote this song as a way to ease into the new chapter in our relationship. I actually played it for him a few weeks later down in Joshua Tree, where we were for an annual birthday celebration with all of our friends. Joshua Tree was a test – a toe dipped in freezing water – and it was too much for me to bear. As the record was coming into focus, I knew this piece had to be the closer. With triptych as the catalyst, and friends as the concession, I recorded vocals for both songs in the same day – the beginning and the end of the story as one.
CONNECT WITH LEAH CAPELLE
photos / Mackenzie Breeden
story / Weslee Kate