The latest release from Leah is The Quest. The Canadian Celtic/symphonic artist fills us in on the record, some new collaborators, crowdfunding, her appearance on the recent Dragonlord album and other subjects.
Chad Bowar: Was there anything unique about the songwriting process for The Quest compared to your other releases?
Leah: The songwriting came naturally, though I did deal with a bit of writer’s block here and there over the two years I worked on this album. Mostly because of other things on my mind, and I had a tough time focusing, but eventually it all came to me and even turned out better than I expected. The process was also a bit longer, working with producer Oliver Philipps very closely. Not just because he was producing, but also because he did all the orchestration, which took a long time. I think The Quest took him four weeks to complete.
Much of your band returns from the last album. How did Troy Donockley (Nighwish) and Chen Balbus (Orphaned Land) join the group?
They are all technically guest musicians and not a formal band. I’d love that, though. Chen and I were friends on Facebook already so I just asked him, and Troy I was introduced to through a mutual friend, Martijn from Delain.
What does having such a global group of musicians add to the album?
It’s really cool to be able to say the album is a global and international effort. Logistically, it doesn’t change that much. We all have recording studios and can send files back and forth, so that’s not a problem.
What will be your strongest memory of the recording of the album?
Probably recording all the vocals. I made this makeshift booth in my closet, and hung really old, ugly curtains in there to mute the sound. It was hideous, but effective! I did this so I could record vocals whenever it was convenient and not have to worry about getting into a studio. I had some good vocal moments in that ugly booth. (laughs)
How did you decide to have Jacob Hansen mix the record?
I wanted a modern, crisp sound for this album and Jacob is the best for this type of mix! He was excited to work with me on this, and I think he did an amazing job.
How has your sound evolved from Kings & Queens?
Kings & Queens is obviously heavier. For this album I wanted the music to take a life of its own and so I just accepted that it may end up sounding different, and to be 100 percent okay with that. I’m always trying to evolve my skills as a songwriter, composer and singer, too. So I think even though it was a softer, more ambient vibe, the vocals are stronger, too.
What inspired your lyrics for this one?
All kinds of things from movies, TV shows, photos of Celtic landscapes to research on Wikipedia on unicorns, and also sometimes the lyrics write themselves and I don’t fully know what they mean, and I let the listener decide.
You’ve crowdfunded your albums. What led you to do that originally, and were your surprised at how much money was contributed for The Quest?
We’ve entered a new era of the music industry where those artists who try to stay mysterious with a wall between themselves and their fans will soon find they’re missing out on a huge opportunity. I saw an opportunity to create music WITH my fans instead of for my fans. It’s better to be transparent and totally honest with your fans and tell them what you need and allow generosity. They know music costs money to make.
The Quest campaign did even better than I was expecting, and ended up at $87,000+ between the Indiegogo platform and my own shop (which we opened up since IGG doesn’t accept Paypal). On one hand I was totally blown away and delighted and the excitement for this album, and on the other hand I knew my original goal was a conservative number, because I know my numbers and I work hard on the marketing side of things. So it’s strange when you are expecting it, but also must let yourself be surprised.
What has the response been to the behind the scenes documentary you just released?
It’s been really encouraging. Everyone has loved to see a bit behind the scenes and see all the faces of these amazing musicians who contributed. I think people are more excited than ever!
How did your appearance on the new Dragonlord album come about?
Eric (Peterson, Testament) and I have been friends for years, and so when it came time that he needed some female vocals for his record, I was the gal!
How was the experience?
It was really challenging doing some of those high notes in the choirs, let me tell you! Eric really pushed me in a good way, and got three whole days of vocals out of me in the studio. I also got to add some softer vocals, which are really my thing, in tracks like “Love of The Damned.”
You’ve embarked on something called Slow Travel. Explain what that is and how it’s going.
Yes, for the past four months my family and I have been Slow Traveling. We sold a bunch of our stuff, and put the rest in storage, got rid of our car, and everything else we didn’t need and headed to Ireland! We were there for six weeks, then headed to England, and then Scotland for another six weeks. We ended our trip in Scotland with a full week in Skye, which was magnificent. We’re still slow travelling, but are in the USA now during my album launch.
One thing about remote, beautiful places in Europe is the internet can be very dodgy! We will definitely be back there again. We don’t know how long we will Slow Travel for, but one good thing is my kids are very confident travelers now. They’ve been on countless airplanes, through security, long drives, dealing with luggage, different food, and cultures. They’re pros! That makes me feel more confident about touring one day – I know they’ll handle it well.
You’re a mother of five. Are any of your kids showing interest in music?
Yes, they can all sing well – even my almost 4 year old! They also picked up the piano on their own without lessons. So I think it’s time for more serious lessons. I want to cultivate any music talents they have.
Anything else you’d like to mention or promote?
I hope everyone enjoys the album! If you’re in the mood for some chill medieval vibes with a hint of metal, I think The Quest will hit the spot! Also, if you’re reading this, I’d love to connect with you on Instagram and Facebook. I try to respond to everyone!
(interview published October 5, 2018)