Issue 12  •  Spring 2013

Lorraine Leckie: An Angel Who is Anything But Cold

Written by Sarah Amiel
   Active Image                                           Singer/songwriter Lorraine Leckie grew up in Ontario where “she had horses.” When she got to her teenage years, she realized she had to get out because she was “the town weirdo” and felt claustrophobic, so she moved to Toronto where she married the lead singer of the Viletones, whom according to Lorraine, were the Canadian version of the Sex Pistols. Eventually, they divorced and at age twenty, she decided to go to makeup school and flee to Milan to become a makeup artist full-time. As a makeup artist, she worked with celebrities like Anna Nicole Smith, Paul McCartney, and Jennifer Lopez. 
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Singer/songwriter Lorraine Leckie grew up in Ontario where “she had horses.” When she got to her teenage years, she realized she had to get out because she was “the town weirdo” and felt claustrophobic, so she moved to Toronto where she married the lead singer of the Viletones, whom according to Lorraine, were the Canadian version of the Sex Pistols. Eventually, they divorced and at age twenty, she decided to go to makeup school and flee to Milan to become a makeup artist full-time. As a makeup artist, she worked with celebrities like Anna Nicole Smith, Paul McCartney, and Jennifer Lopez.

When I meet her—and her massive Rottweiler, Kill Joy—at her home in Brooklyn, I am a little frightened. The cover of her third album, Four Cold Angels, pictures Lorraine in an electric chair surrounded by her bandmates, “Her Demons” who stare at the camera. (One sits on a motorcycle and holds a noose.)

Because Leckie sings about blazing guns, prison, devils, and cocaine, I expected a female version of Marilyn Manson. Though she wears a black T-shirt with ripped jeans, and has perfectly creamy skin (basically flawless!) and long jet-black hair, her demeanor is cheerful instead of somber.

She invites me into the two-bedroom apartment she shares with her husband, Billy Leroy owner of Billy’s Antiques, and her seventeen-year-old daughter, Celina Leroy. She makes herself some tea, explaining that in Canada it’s tradition to have tea and cookies in the afternoon. In the kitchen there are two candles burning and a guitar in the corner, the perfect setting for an interview to begin.

The Makeup Artist
Sarah: I must say when I listened to the song “Getaway Car,” it reminded me of a cross between Courtney Love and Jenny Lewis.

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Lorraine: I have heard that before! I will say that when I was doing makeup she [Courtney] was on my list of people I refused to work with.

Sarah: I imagine she would be quite difficult. Let’s talk about your first career as a makeup artist. I want to hear about the models!

Lorraine: It was the nineties, and I was working with Cindy Crawford, Stephanie Seymour, Naomi Campbell, and Madonna.

Sarah: Ooh! Tell me about Madonna. I saw her last week shopping at Jeffrey!

Lorraine: She is an utter cow. An evil woman, and you can print that!

Sarah: And Jennifer Lopez?

Lorraine: She was snippy, but I didn’t take any shit back in those days. I put her in her place. You don’t want to be mean to your makeup artist, if you know what I mean!

So it was the new wave of makeup artists. Previous to me, it was a very painted look with a lot of foundation, and then when I came along, it was all about the natural look.

Sarah: Did you love it?

Lorraine: I truly did. I made a living from day one; it was a different time back then. Now, it’s nearly impossible to do…[given] how competitive…[the makeup field] is, and you can’t get paid nearly as much.

Doing makeup was my ticket out of Toronto, to get away from getting married and having babies and suburbia. I got to meet the most amazing people in Europe, stay in apartments with hairdressers and models, and make great money.

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The Musician
Lorraine leads me upstairs to her bedroom/office, and I look around to find myself on the set of a Vincent Price movie, or in a museum of sorts. There is a range of paintings—from a John Barrymore sculpture to Joe Coleman’s Joaquin Murieta piece. There is also a pretty solid collection of taxidermy—black crows, armadillos, swords, skulls, and one “Lion Baby” (a disfigured baby swimming in formaldehyde) that was bought for five cents from a carnival sideshow in the 1930s. I spot a Warhol/Basquiat poster on one wall and on another wall, perched on top of the fireplace, are ashes of her deceased bulldog. I feel a strange presence, and it’s neither Kill Joy, who is panting behind me, nor Lorraine, who points to her portrait done by East Village artist, Zito.

Sarah: There is a ghost in here, isn’t there?

Lorraine: Yes! You are the only other person who has confirmed it!

Sarah: I have a thing with ghosts, but that’s for another time.

Lorraine: Billy [Leroy] has such amazing taste, but it is creepy. He’s half-American, half-French, so this is all him. He has an interesting background.

Sarah: So, back to your career. You are in Milan and living this fabulous life and then what happens?

Lorraine: So in Milan in the early days I [was] not playing music… I ended up moving back to New York and working with Sports Illustrated…and Heidi Klum. At that point, I…[was] writing songs so everyone on set…[said], ‘Why don’t you write a song with Heidi?’ So Heidi and I stay[ed] up all night…[drank] lots of wine, and…[wrote] a disgusting vulgar song to play…for the crew.

Sarah: And?

Lorraine: So we presented it to the crew in the morning, and they were totally repulsed, which was hysterical. …Basically, at that point [in my makeup career] I had been creatively fulfilled. I had been working with Italian Vogue, and the stuff I did was amazing. But when I got back to New York, everything had become very commercial.

Meanwhile—I always did write poetry—but I was still working at magazines like Elle and…was thinking to myself, ‘Is this all I am going to do?’ Then I thought, I need a hobby. So I just started writing songs at thirty-seven years old. The music just became a big part of me.

Sarah: That must have been a big adjustment…being a big-time makeup artist and then switching to a starving artist musician.

Lorraine: I started so late. I’d take my guitar and practice three hours a day. I’d go to the studio instead of doing a makeup job, after making three thousand a day. I loved it, but I started losing business. And I…was married to my second husband at the time, and he…was freaking out that I had established myself as one thing, and now I…was going down this other path… He couldn’t understand why I was putting all of my energy into the music and not getting paid.

But I couldn’t help it. So I broke up with him and moved into an apartment on Orchard Street and started writing songs and learning to write songs and basically lived on my credit card. But I learned, which was important…and then I ran out of money. So I started to do makeup again to pay my bills, but [I was still] doing the music thing, and after a long road, I eventually made the transition to the other side, but it was rough. Everyone thought I was crazy.

Sarah: How do you find yourself treated as a woman in the music industry compared to how you were treated as a woman…in the makeup industry?

Lorraine: Well, all the men that are in the fashion world are gay, and now in the music industry, all the men are straight. With the straight men, I learned not to resist as much so I could maneuver my way around them. I learned to not let my ego dictate too much and let things go a lot more. At one point, when I was making my album, I had all these macho men around me and…felt this big [she squeezes her thumb and forefinger together to reference an inch] because I can write the songs, but when it…came to the production of the album, I was clueless. Eventually someone said, ‘This is Lorraine’s record,’ because it was like I didn’t exist. But I persevered. When I went in to make my first record, I had no idea what I was doing.

Sarah: Who inspires you musically?

Lorraine: Well, mainly (and I’ve been criticized for being pretentious for this)…I’m very influenced by Arthur Rimbaud, who is a French poet. He is Patti Smith’s poet, Jim Morrison’s poet, but I’m really influenced by those French symbolist poets. And then American folk music like Johnny Cash, Neil Young, Gordon Lightfoot…but I also like the punk stuff like PJ Harvey, a lot of European punk…it all sort of comes together.

Sarah: So, how was it when you first started performing for an actual live audience?

Lorraine: I started performing at open mike nights when I was forty years old, and that was absolutely awful. I was so scared. I’d do five open mike nights a week. I lived in horror, and my stomach was a mess.

Sarah: You were scared because you had fear of an audience or because you didn’t know what you were doing?

Lorraine: I had always been behind the scenes and now I was center stage. The reason I started performing was because everyone said the only way you were going to get better was to perform, so I was like, ‘OK, I gotta do this.’ At the end of each show I’d be so happy I couldn’t get enough liquor in me. I’d be like, ‘I did it!’

Sarah: What would your advice be to other women trying to break into the music business?

Lorraine: Get on that computer one hour a day to promote yourself. Do open mike nights. Take music lessons. And never look at what you don’t have. Be grateful for what you have. We are just a random, fragile bunch of souls roaming the earth. We do everything to become wise, to become elevated. You don’t need money to make a record anymore. I’m making my next record in my kitchen, right downstairs.

Sarah: Do you miss makeup at all?

Lorraine: Well, I still have a few clients. I do the model Frederique who picked out all the songs for the album because I had the hardest time putting them together. I also do makeup for Mrs. Tahari, wife of the fashion designer Elie Tahari…they support me and come to my shows, so I have the best of both worlds.

Sarah: So, you are happy where you are now?

Lorraine: I think I could be an important inspiration to a lot of people because I started at thirty-seven, so I say to my PR person, ‘Don’t hide my age.’ I was at the top of my career in makeup and had to start at the very bottom in music in my forties. You just have to bite the bullet, be positive, and do it. You can’t have that blasé attitude that younger people might have. You can’t expect someone to come along and make it happen; you need to do it for yourself.

Sarah: Great words of advice. Where do you see yourself in five years with all of this?

Lorraine: You know, I have no idea. I’m taking it one day at a time. I am very pleased so far with everything. Ultimately, if I could do anything, I’d want to play venues like the Bowery Ballroom, or even Webster Hall, and I would like to come out for a half hour and sing by myself, more or less, and then bring The Demons out…[I would like to] play a show like Neil Young does… Like he comes out, does a half hour set, and the band comes out, and then he does another thing. Because I have it in me like first “Getaway Car” and then I could switch to “Ontario,” because I love to rock!

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