Singer-songwriter Le'Ponds gets her kicks by dreaming up fictional people and situations. Only rarely does she write about her personal experiences, choosing instead to put herself in different shoes and make imaginary characters interact. For example, "Operator," an unreleased song on her forthcoming sophomore album, I Was Dancing With My Dream Team, is written from the perspective of a young operator who falls in love with a caller.
"I'm such a weirdo. I don't know how most people write music," she says. "I'm just making it up as I go."
Le'Ponds (real name Lisa Houdei) is known for augmenting her acoustic songs with pulses of synthesizer and other subtle layers, but she went totally electric on I Was Dancing, which is set to drop July 20. Two singles — the title track and another song, "Easy Now, Highschool Lover" — were released last month via Bandcamp. Both hint at Houdei's new sonic direction.
Though she usually gigs with a band rounded out by three members of local jazzy/math-rocking outfit Jr. Clooney, Houdei is playing solo at the Monocle on Wednesday, July 11. She's splitting the bill with another talented singer-songwriter, Haley Heynderickx of Portland, Oregon.
For that set, Houdei will play mostly acoustic songs off her previous recording project, Heat (2016), for which she and producer Tim Gebauer of Electropolis Studios added layers of electronics to already written and recorded acoustic songs. However, she went into the I Was Dancing sessions with the intention of filling out the sound with additional instrumentation. The result is a full-band indie-rock record complete with jangly electric guitar.
"It just feels more mature to me," she says. "They're like more mature versions of the songs I wrote on Heat. They're more complex and we did a lot of layering, and I think it all blends together really well."
Both singles hearken back to 1950s slow-dance music but feature lyrics that humorously contradict the ideal of a squeaky-clean high school prom date. On "I Was Dancing With My Dream Team," she sings in her disaffected-yet-playful vocal style: "You're standing too close to me/ You're crawling all over me / I'm tired of trying, you see / Just put that thing away."
Houdei didn't intend to create a striking contrast between the music and its lyrical content, however. True to form, she just made it up as she went, drawing a little from her experiences of being awkwardly approached on the dance floor.
"People get drunk," she says. "It can be girls, guys, whatever. And they don't dance, they just sort of stagger and look at you with these weird eyes ... I was looking back on people who had been creepy on the dance floor — all kinds of people. I don't want it to be an 'I hate men' song at all; girls can be super creepy too. And I think it's playful, you know?"
Houdei wasn't trying to capture a retro sound, either; she just sat down in her kitchen with an electric guitar and tried to write something angsty, and the 1950s girl-group style emerged in the studio.
"I thought it was going to be kind of punk," she says. "But then we recorded it differently and started hearing different styles and leaned toward those. I definitely would say it was an accident."
"Easy Now, Highschool Lover" seems to chronicle a teenage hookup the narrator regrets — maybe. Plenty is open for interpretation. Houdei packs the song with strong imagery, finding power in simple turns of phrase like, "Rosy cheeks are blooming / I'm drinking up your fragrance." The listener senses a story unfolding, but the narrative is fragmented. There is no clear arc.
She wrote the song the way she always does: by humming a tune and recording herself mumbling over it.
"If those mumbles have a certain amount of syllables or something that sounds like a word, then a story takes shape," she says. "With this song, the thing I had in my head was the line, 'They call you Nicorette.' I was like, 'How do I add this to the song?' Then I started thinking about a guy back in the day with gelled hair walking down the hallway in high school ... This girl gets in a situation [with him], and everything is so much more dramatic when you're young."
Given the way she says "back in the day," it's possible that traces of Houdei's own life are buried in the lyrics. But it's probably not worth digging too deep, because, you know, she mostly builds stories from scratch.