A young girl plucks away at the rainbow-colored keys of her Fisher Price toy piano, oblivious to her surroundings, a toothy smile on her face. Soon that toy piano would be replaced with a full-fledged keyboard after some begging on her part to her parents. With natural talent and a passion for singing to boot, Fae Nageon de Lestrang knew she wanted to music to be a part of her life at eight years old.
Now 28, Lestrang (or as she’s better known, Fae Nae) is the lead vocalist and violinist of a popular Gainesville band, Flat Land.
Her relationship with music soon blossomed when she joined her middle school orchestra, choosing violin as her instrument. She soon immersed herself in that world, taking private lessons to perfect each piece.
“Music is always something I’ve gravitated towards and really enjoyed doing,” she said with bright look her eye, evidence of the happiness music brings to her everyday life.
Fast-forward to today and it’s clear that Nae is an accomplished violinist, not only fronting Flat Land, even playing for the President of the United States himself. Nae was included in the small orchestra that played after Pres. Barack Obama gave an address opening the US-Africa Business Conference.
A friend of hers, who she met a couple years before, approached her a few days before the show and asked her if she wanted to play.
“It ended up sounding like a crazy opportunity and I just had to do it,” Nae said.
Nae performed for African presidents, head delegates and for CEOs of multinational corporations. The president just happened to be there and after his address, she played the postlude.
“It’s one of those once-in-a-lifetime things you have to take,” she said. “It was one of those things in life that is wild.”
When she’s not playing for the president, Nae works on piecing together perfect melodies or journaling about memories or topics – her way of writing lyrics.
“I’ll be walking down the street and I’ll get an idea for a melody or a little piece of lyrics,” she said. “I feel like there is this ultimate melody in my head and it’s my job to figure out what it is.”
For Flat Land’s most popular song, Poco a Poco (little by little), it was a jam session with her playing over a progression when the signature afro-beat of the song came to her. As for the unique title, her friend, who has recently returned from a trip to South America, taught Nae the expression.
“I feel like there’s a lot of storytelling in afro-beat and I wanted the lyrics for the song to be a story,” she said. “Poco a poco really resonated with me and I repeat it to myself when I feel overwhelmed.”
Many of those times that Nae feels overwhelmed stems from her intense stage fright she’s had since childhood. Growing up, she wouldn’t even sing in her bedroom if she knew other people were in the house.
“I had it to the point where it was an irrational fear of people hearing me sing,” she recalled.
To help her overcome this fear, Nae enjoys mediating before performing to let go of any unnecessary stress or anxiety.
“It’s hard to feel like yourself when you’re on a stage talking in front of people, trying to relax and act naturally,” Nae said.
A 2011 UF grad, Nae majored in entomology and worked for the Division of Solid Waste and Sustainability in Alachua County for several years. During this post-grad period, she played with a couple of underground bands, such as Meatwood Flac (cover band), Semen Blimmard (folk band) and Pharaoh (female a cappella trio).
It was with Meatwood Flac that she sang on stage for the first time, with Nae describing it as “fucking terrifying.”
Though it was a small house show on St. Patrick’s Day, no more than 50 people, she still felt fearful of judgment by others.
“I was so scared because I had never sung in front of anyone before,” she confessed. “Afterwards, it felt like this weight had been lifted and freeing.”
Before Nae joined, Flat Land, originally called Flat Land Beer Band, consisted of three members who played blues rock. Soon Nae and her fellow band mate Christopher Storey joined the trio and the five band members formed what the Gainesville area knows as Flat Land.
This past summer, the quintet embarked on their first national tour, a huge moment in their career, playing in various bars and other venues up and down the East coast.
“Five people touring the country to play in bars and venues in a van – it was a wild ride but it was awesome,” she said. “Being an independent musician and doing things at a grassroots level really allowed us to experience so many different communities of people.”
Even though her favorite major city was New York City, Nae harbored a soft spot for the smaller towns, her favorite among those being Winston-Salem, NC.
“I feel more at home in a more rural environment,” she said.
Along with a national tour, Nae and the rest of the band released their new album Arrow to the Sun, on July 8, begging the question: What’s next?
“For right now, we want to get back into the studio and record,” Nae said. “We want to see where the music takes us.”
As to what being a member of Flat Land means to her, Nae is thankful for all the openings the band has given her.
“It’s been interesting to be a woman playing music and that brings its own challenges,” Nae said. “But I’ve learned a lot through music and I’m grateful for all the opportunities I’ve had because of the band.”