Psychedelic Chanteuse Leland Conveys Spiritual Revelation In "Forever"
The day I called psychedelic-chanteuse Leland to talk about her album, my husband had accidentally run over my garden with the lawn mower and had killed a couple of my morning glory plants. I fumed for hours after the incident before calming down to talk to Leland who, ironically, had a track on her new album, Forever, entitled "Morning Glory", a bright pop song about patience, endurance, and sunshine.
"Morning Glories are so resilient that it will probably propagate itself again from the seeds it has dropped," counseled Leland. "I know that when I've planted those seeds I've regretted their resilience, because they come back, year after year, and sometimes they go a little crazy."
Leland, who began her music career in high school playing in cover bands with friends, has always found a way to get to the next step in the way of getting what she wanted from herself. Her matter-of-fact approach to her music career is the same sort of approach Leland has taken with music from the beginning.
As a teenager, she taught herself how to play guitar, and when she wanted to start playing the piano, she just went out and took some lessons. "Now I write most of my songs on the piano," she says. "I like it better. It's just that now, I can't break out my new songs just anywhere."
She laughs. "The only problem with the piano is its lack of portability. It is physically easier for me to play, because I don't have to contort my hand or develop callouses to play it. It is also a logical teacher of music theory because all of the scales are laid out in a linear way. I didn't write in a conscious way when I was only playing guitar because I didn't understand music theory until I started writing on piano.
The level of comfort Leland has with her instrument comes across well in the songs on her newest CD, Forever. Throughout the album, Leland sounds comfortable with whatever she's doing, whether it's singing against a full band or just her against the quiet of her piano. There are even "My Bloody Valentine" moments of beautiful, staticky synth and echoey vocals.
"I try to convey different kinds of expanses in a spiritual and emotional landscape. The narratives I reveal in my songs are usually the results of emotional pain transformed by spiritual revelation. The majesty of nature, the visual beauty and sensuality of creation in all its forms, the pain of loss, and the sometimes blistering loneliness of solitude are what inspire me.
"When I'm writing lyrics, I try to simply let them make themselves known to me. I sing the melody that has come through me when I string a few chords together and allow the words to anchor that melody in my memory and birth a lyrical thematic structure for the song. I do my best to allow everything to come through me uncensored, and then do the surgery to it afterwards."
When it came time to recording the Forever, Leland looked around half-heartedly for a label to work with, then decided to do it all on her own. "I just wanted to finally put my songs together into a cohesive album," says Leland. "When I met one of my producers, Steve Gregoropolous, he listened to my music and thought that there was a kind of late '60s early '70s pop sound that he could bring out in the songs.
"He thought of musicians that would help bring their essence to life. One of the musicians had worked with Brian Wilson, another with Rufus Wainwright. We did tracks of male backing vocal harmonies with a couple of the musicians on the song "Forever" that really gave it a Carpenter's feeling.
"I also worked with another producer who engineered and mixed the album, Mark Doten. The two producers' differing approaches and aesthetics sort of balanced each other out and it all came together pretty organically. We were trying to go for a little bit of a vintage sound, but make it contemporary at the same time. A click track was used on only one song on the album, and all the instruments recorded are live, not sampled. There are synthesizers, but they are clearly producing traditional 'synthesizer sounds.'
"I wanted to get my songs recorded and this vision of an album created without concerns about what its journey would be after its birth. I took refuge in my ignorance of the music industry. I wanted to keep the art pure from the stress of acceptance by others, especially amongst those in the business world. My next step is getting what I have recorded out there as best as I can on my own."
She adds, "Hopefully, with my next album, I will be able to sign with some kind of independent label. The whole promotion aspect of it is a little daunting and confusing to me. That would be the good side of being with a label, getting that professional guidance and support and hopefully a feeling of a creative communitiy with label mates. Otherwise, I've been able to do the recording and pay for the recording on my own. We did a lot of the recording in my own house on ProTools."
Holly Day Where did the artwork for the CD come from?
Leland "My friend, Leeza Davidson, and I created the cover photo. We have been a performance based photogaphic team for about five years. We take pictures of each other in different costumes, situations, and locations. The cover photo was a concept that we came up with for the album by listening to the music and thinking about what it called up in our imaginations. Usually, our pictures are a little more contemporary. We do a lot of stuff that is influenced by '70s pop culture, but we thought that something more whimsical and fairy tale like would resonate with the music and with the title of the album, Forever."
Holly Day Is it a live deer?
Leland "No. I know, a lot of people think it's alive which is exciting to hear. People say I must really have a way with animals after seeing the record cover. I like the fact that the stag came out looking like a living thing and that I am interacting with it as if it was. But no, it's a prop that we rented. We don't manipulate our photos with Photoshop, so any effect we get in our photos, we do it the old-fashioned way, with props, costumes, sets, and photographic technique."