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Dashboard Confessionals

Lhasa DeSela hits the Rio Theatre with a new record, a new attitude and a new take on life on the road

By Peter Koht

Inhabiting a world of publicists and promoters, most major pop stars are isolated in a bubble of artifice. It is a rare bird that manages to transcend the hype to create honest and open music. A singer who is also vulnerable and personable to the press is about as rare as a dodo.

Talking to Lhasa DeSela is a revealing experience. She talks with equal eloquence about her fears, her hopes and her past. Listening to her story, one quickly realizes that Lhasa's life is one led through examination.

After spending a childhood on the road with her modern gypsy parents, Lhasa's staggering success with her first record, La Llorona was a quick exercise in flash publicity. Rather than adapting to the jet set, Lhasa removed herself from the flashbulbs and went into hiding with her family's other artistic pursuit: the circus.

Trading the limelight for the muck of provincial field in France for six months of rehearsals might sound extreme, but staying in the glare of the media's attention was even worse for the young singer. "When I left Montreal at the end of the first tour, I got rid of everything," she tells me over the phone from Canada, "I kind of launched myself out into the world in this very kind of sacrificial way."

Rather than pulling a "Simple Life" and complaining the whole time, the early morning rehearsals and intense acrobatic training gave Lhasa a "a sense of dignity of freedom."

After six months with the circus, Lhasa traveled to the Southern city of Marseille and lived the life of the hermit in love. Of her time there, she has this to say: "If I am going to be truly honest, I was lost and confused and I was in love and I didn't know what I was doing. I knew that I would get back to music, but I didn't know how. It was lonely, but it was very rich. I had to confront my greatest fears."

Returning to her home in Montreal, Lhasa began creating an album to give voice to her self-imposed exile. The resulting album, The Living Road is a soundtrack to the artist finding herself and figuring out how to deal with her chosen career.

Unlike most navel-gazing singer songwriters, Lhasa didn't transcribe her diary and put a drum beat behind it. "I didn't want the songs to be therapy where I am just spewing" she says, "for me a song always has a philosophical element to about. Songs are kind of distillation of human experiences."

As far as an overriding theme behind the record, it is a testament to the overpowering intensity of the road. Not just in the sense of the tour, but the entire human experience. "The road is the road," the lifelong traveler says, "it is so completely absorbing that you can't really do it halfway. It takes up your whole life. What is different for me now is that I have a whole lot more serenity now than I used to have. It is such an amazing life to lead."

Even though most career councilors wouldn't advise leaving a successful career to join the circus and then hide in French seaport for the better half of four years, Lhasa is comfortable with her decisions to leave it all behind for a spell. With quiet dignity, she has managed to control the trajectory of her career, creating beautiful and touching music that shoots straight from the heart.

"I don't have anything to hide," she says unapologetically, "I always felt that singing was a way to stand up and to be very transparent. That's what it is all about. Why would you hide? That would be defeating the purpose of what you are doing.

"I have always gone with my instincts and I haven't made compromises. I feel comfortable for with whatever happens now. I have done something that I am at peace with and that I am proud of and I feel like I can defend. What was tormenting me in the past wasn't success, but my own fears about myself."

Success seems destined for The Living Road. Already a radio staple and solid seller, this trilingual record features Lhasa's first tracks sung in English. Arriving at the Rio with a cellist and a guitarist, she is sure to make many new fans with her intense singing, sparsely beautiful arrangements and her touching lyrics. No longer scared by her demons or her public, Lhasa has embraced the road and its lifestyle. "I am a singer" she mentions at the end of our interview, "the singing life is really a good life for me."

Lhasa performs Wednesday, June 15, at 8pm at the Rio Theatre, 1205 Soquel Ave., SC. Tickets $18; www.riotheatre.com.

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From the June 15-22, 2005 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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