Alfred Ladylike's Enthusiastic Ukulele Vibes Will Break Your Damn (Donut) Heart
There are certain people I’ve met in Berlin that truly embody all that I love about this place - the untamed creativity, the blessed ability to dodge all sorts of monotony, and above all - the tendency to strive exactly for what their hearts desire rather than for whatever the society or anybody else imagines they should.
The only way it can get any cooler is when that exquisite local persona happens to be a badass gal whose story I can share with you on ReproJustice. And such is Lesley Suzanne Dean, whose glittery stage alter ego, Alfred Ladylike, is busy charming local and foreign audiences, either solo or as the front-woman of Donut Heart, and an avid advocate of soft ukulele vibes in the gritty world of rock n’ roll.
After this basic introduction it gets pretty obvious that I was really happy to sit down with Lesley in a cosy Prenzlauer Berg cafe and get to know her better. I was hoping to get a random insight into the everyday life of a gifted girl, and got so much more than that. My charming interviewee spontaneously provided me with more feminist content than I could dream of; being very honest in her remarks and stressing the importance of various female influences in her life.
Both the personal reflections and infos Lesley shared about her career came together to create a profile that I hope you can get inspired by, relate to, and learn from, really - because life’s just better when you feel some enthusiasm about what you do - and this girl’s got plenty.
Lesley is originally from a suburban town near Boston. Her parents met in Germany, though, where her father was stationed with the US Army. That led Lesley to pursuing the German language in university among other subjects (like Math!), and came in handy when she moved to Berlin.
She came here without any specific plan other than just wanting to see how it works out. This cool approach is a little bit of a pattern in her brassy ways, and this particular decision turned out great - Lesley has been in this residential relationship with Berlin for over a decade now, and they’re still very much enjoying each other’s company.
Part of that may be because it was this place that really developed her as an artist. Back in the US, she was very fond of music as a kid. Her topic related experience included, but was not limited to, dancing around to the album "Apostrophe" by Frank Zappa, which her dad introduced her to. She was also an avid amateur drummer, but got quite intimidated when she found out her neighbours could hear her practicing.
Marching to the Beat of Her Own Drum
In Berlin, with brand new confidence, she stopped by one day at Oberbaumbrücke noticing an advertisement of a guy offering drum lessons. She had a part time job that paid the bills and just felt like there still might be some adventure waiting for her along the musical path so, again, without a specific plan, she figured: “why not?” and gave it a try.
From there, a wild ride began, including discovering a network of supportive folks encouraging her art, collecting experiences with a bunch of different musicians (like “Drunk at Your Wedding”), creating an alter ego, and ultimately, getting a ukulele.
This 30 buck investment yielded quite a result, when you consider that Lesley went from being the American uke artist Amanda Palmer’s number 1 fangirl to performing as her support. But then again, it is a common misconception in Berlin to think that success just comes to you effortlessly overnight, and one morning, when you’re coming back from a clubbing spree, it’s waiting at your doorstep like a cute stray dog, rolling with his paw an empty bottle of Sterni.
Unexpected Plot Twist
It just ain’t true, and today’s heroine is an example. When she first came to Berlin, she’d work a lot at a job she didn’t especially enjoy, and she’d save up a lot with no actual purpose in mind. She’d start with the drum classes, but didn’t feel any real progress. She wanted to write songs, but felt like she lacked some of the necessary knowledge.
And then a crash came. Lesley was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, and, in a twisted, bitterly ironic way, this condition helped her focus on what really mattered to her. She quit work and spent her savings on getting proper musical education, coming back to school for a whole year to find all about music theory and songwriting - all that she felt was missing.
Following her instincts in this bold way paid off - songwriting got faster, easier, she could now break musical rules as a conscious choice, and as a result, all music by Alfred Ladylike became more mature. That’s where Rah enters the picture - she’s a drummer that Lesley met at one of the Uke Boogies - a monthly open mike for ukuleles.
Breaking (Donut) Hearts
The two came together at the end of 2015 to form Donut Heart, a cabaret punk girl band characterised by crazy outfits, heartfelt lyrics, and distorted uke sound. Check out the band’s latest music video “There is No…” and take a look at their fantastic space journey they originally published on Twitter, where they defeat the capitalist overlords of the Crab Nebula, obviously with their music.
Lesley is a musical powerhouse constantly creating or touring both for her solo project and Donut Heart, and apart from that she’s juggling five different odd jobs like teaching English, Math, Yoga, translating, and giving computer courses to elderly ladies. What keeps her so driven? Well, the song “Mountain Mama” from Donut Heart’s last album might give you some idea where does she get her inspiration from. Like I mentioned before, she learned German in order to find out more about her mum’s family history, and specifically about her Grandma, who’s been a badass gal confronted with some harsh life conditions. At 19, as the second world war became a threat, she and her sister had to flee from their native Romania. You can hear the whole story - currently available only in German, but subtitles are coming soon - here. To Lesley, both Oma and her mum, who’s been a true girlboss at working, raising kids, studying, and taking care of the household at the same time, are huge role models.
Lesley’s mum is still there to support her and tell her just how she loves her music and how proud she is of her achievements, but I’m pretty sure that Oma would have done just the same. These females knew there’s no greater thing that you can pursue in life than your own dreams. And that’s what Alfred Ladylike is made of.
Photo by Johannes Manuel Benjamin
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Michalina Gorajek is a Berlin based writer.