What started your interest in poetry?
So that’s what came first?
Yeah, so that came first for me in high school, I didn’t like poetry in high school, I didn’t understand it. It didn’t connect with me. I was writing rap and I was writing songs a little bit with my bro, then after school in university I started procrastinating and writing and recording tracks with a friend of mine and then after that I started making more hip hop tracks. I started to go through a tough time in my life where I needed to write to express myself and connect with that and I feel that poetry came to me as something a bit more sincere and something that just resonated. I discovered Def Jam poetry on YouTube and at a certain point I needed to write, it wasn’t just for fun, it was essential and that’s how I started doing it.
Can you tell us a bit about your workshops and how you help others to use writing and performance as a tool to express themselves?
I do a lot of facilitation of writing and workshops, kinda like my day to day job. I do them a lot in schools and universities and even public workshops and poetry groups around the world. I’ve done workshops in the Bronx to Beijing to Athens to South Africa and all over Australia. I find that what I do is give people tools so they can dig up what they need to and produce work that they’re comfortable with and proud of. They can tap into things they may have not remembered or are too scared to say, what they have wanted to say forever but have never really found the time or the words to say it.
I think it’s really basic and primal, as human beings need to articulate things, we need to be able to find the words to express the things we are going through so we can make sense of everything. Sometimes things really hurt and the way you write about it and talk about it can really change that. It’s not exactly art therapy but people do find some sort of change, growth and strength in what they do and what I facilitate with them. I wouldn’t want to say that I want people to sound like me but I’m definitely training them to sound like themselves and learn what that means and what that sounds like.
That must be a rewarding experience for you?
Yeah it is, it’s incredible to watch people go from super shy and whatever it is they are going through and how they’ve come through it and actually see them change, especially younger students, change because of poetry.
What opportunities opened up after winning Australian Poetry Slam Champion title in 2011?
I think it’s interesting because some people have won the slam and it’s not really done that much for them and other people have won the slam and totally taken it on their shoulders and taken it on as their job and really pushed and worked it. The things that opened up for me were that I just started pushing and letting people know that I had won the slam, pushing my work and making videos, touring, just emailing people on the other side of the world and going ‘hey, if I come to Denver can I perform and do some stuff?’ and just paying my own way to go to the states.
When I first won the slam, I did a writing festival in China and toured the States and New Zealand and back to Sydney and it was something like 73 gigs and workshops in 90 days, something stupid like that. A lot of it was free, but I would sell CDs and some of it was paid, and the writing festival was really beautiful to perform at and had people that I looked up to. Yeah it opened up lots of doors, but you kinda have to kick them down too. It’s definitely been a blessing not a curse thats for sure.
You’ve just released your new album ‘Exit’, what was the inspiration and drive behind it?
Exit is an exit from my usual, everything. It’s an escape and departure from how I was working previously both in physical and a personal sense. I was actually out of the country making most of it, so an exit from my comfortable or usual surroundings, most of it was recorded in Beijing and a lot of the demos were written all over the world. My producer was someone I had never worked with before, an American guy Jordan, who lived in Beijing so that’s why it was made there and I wanted that to put pressure on myself. I wanted to go there and feel free because I was in another country and that kind of does something to you as a human but also under pressure to make something in circumstances that were uncomfortable and not so easy.
Emotionally in terms of the subject matter I was letting myself be more free and less talking about social commentary and more talking about my personal issues and things that I was going through, a much more vulnerable album than my previous album I think. Also in terms of my process I made myself write things with immediate gut reaction to the beat that I was listening to, so most of the tracks on the album were written in 2 or 3 hours of hearing the beat and was total gut reaction. I think in some ways it’s the purest form of writing because I don’t know what this is going to be and don’t know if I can call it good or bad.
My perfectionist wants me to spend 2 or 3 more days on a song but I’m not going to let myself because it’s done. It’s almost like recording your demos, so that was really powerful as well and felt like a big risk and that’s what I wanted to do. Exit feels like a leap from the cliff, the whole thing was just me going fuck it *laughs* and I don’t know if it’s going to be my best work or my worst work and I kinda don’t care because I wanted to make something that was true to the experience of being out of your comfort zone.
You have an upcoming event at the red rattler tell us about your show ‘More Poets than Politicians’
The last tour I did was called ‘The People’ tour, and I performed in people’s lounge rooms and art galleries and pubs and backyards and all sorts of places all over Australia. I really felt strong and empowered with the conversations I had with fans and friends about Australian society and what’s going on in the country at the moment with Tony Abbott and everything. And everybody that I met was in support of what I’m doing and even people that had never seen me before that I didn’t expect to turn up to a gig of mine, everybody was like fuck we need to do something about this.
So I thought up the idea of ‘More Poets than Politicians’ it was just something that I started saying ‘I want more poets than politicians in this country, that’s what we need’ and so I just thought it would be a cool thing to name this tour because the idea behind it is to be a fundraiser for ‘Welcome to Australia’ which is an organisation that I am an ambassador for. I want to be able to give to them and want to be able to do something that raises awareness for them, there is going to be speakers from that organisation at each gig to talk about the issues of refugees and the gigs are just powerful poetic gigs that I’m sure will touch on those subjects.
The whole idea is to bring together poets from 3 different cities and also through my social media page to start writing poems about ‘More poets than Politicians’ or about issues in politics in Australia, and I know that were not experts nobody is a super expert, but we’re going to do our best to raise awareness. I feel like people on the last tour were frustrated and didn’t know what to do. So I just want to focus and bring people’s focus to one organisation that we can help, who are doing good things.
How can people connect with you and find more info on you?
I have a new video that I just put out last Thursday called ‘Celebrate the Storm’ with Nahko from ‘Nahko and medicine for the people’ which I’m really excited about and really proud of that video, I’d like for you to see that.
My website is lukalesson.com.au and you can can download my album ‘Exit’ for free before you come to the gig or from sound cloud, or wherever you find it, it’s all over the shop. I’d like for people to come have a boogie and know some of the songs, so if you want to download it for free, my whole idea for this album was just to give it to as many people as possible, thats the plan.