Leslie Berry - Blue Storyteller
The new CD from prolific storyteller Leslie Berry, set for a March 8th release, follows her previous release No Cinderella, a fairy tale for the modern, jaded age. Though there are remnants of that person (especially in the very lovely, stand-out tune, "She's Not Comfortable Being Seen"), Was It Blue? is a strong mix of today's electronica style with the understanding of classic Elton John-type piano pop.
Was It Blue? is a pensive, but pop, eclectic connection of personality songs combined with some almost hip hop rhythms, Celtic overtones and electronics mixed with the simplest of bare voice & piano combos. In some ways, it's an eerie array, but it works. Take the opening/title song:
Which chord did I strike in you?
Was It Blue?
So cool, we feign indifference
As I struggle to make sense of you.
And yet the immediate positive upswing of the seemingly downcast "Winter Blues" lightens the tone with frolicking piano fronting Leslie's usual overdubbing vocal background.
Then, back to a more meditative melody from "Fighting School":
Love doesn't like to compromise,
And so we never dealt in lies.
Still I've dealt you some hard blows.
Once I even knocked you out cold.
I learned how to fight from you.
I've been to fighting school.
You once said, "Give as good as you get."
"Don't let anybody get the best of you."
I learned a thing or two
From you in fighting school.
It's this push-pull contrast between a positive lyric and a more subdued sound (and definitely vice versa) that makes Berry's composition method a stand out. Meantime, her sweet voice hovers between the Sarah Brightman kind of lovely Snow Queen and that of a slightly disillusioned housewife who has seen it all and must exorcise reality by singing in order to get a grip on what's going on and what might have been.
"I call my music 'artsy pop,'" says Leslie, "and I think it appeals to an audience that likes pop music which is maybe a little more sophisticated than some of the mainstream pop. I'm actually very eclectic and love all different styles of music - somehow they manage to find their way into my music. My training was as a classical pianist and so my roots are actually classical. But, I listened to mostly pop music and alternative music growing up and so that's where my heart is. I really love artists like Sarah McLachlan, Duncan Shiek, Tori Amos, Poe, Seal, Sophie B. Hawkins, Jonatha Brooke, Natalie Merchant. I think my music fits in with these artists."
Her 2nd CD, No Cinderella, was very much a celebration of strong, independent women. The message was empowering. "'Cinderella,' the first track on the CD, is about someone who takes charge of her life, going after the things she wants and not sitting around waiting for someone to come along and make things happen for her. 'No Doll's House' has a similar theme and was inspired by a movie I saw called Dangerous Beauty."
The CD also contained some beautiful performances by many of her artist friends, and she collaborated with her husband and musical partner, David Berry, on many of those songs, as well. But the new Blue? CD is a bit more ambitious. "I created this new CD in my studio on the Kurzweil PC88 electronic keyboard I use for most of my live shows and I also used software and hardware synthesizers such as Reason and the Yamaha Motif-Rack and VL1-m. So, the CD has a very electronic sound and the songs were conceived, written, engineered, and produced by me. I've been listening to William Orbit, Delerium, Poe, and other artists like these and wanted to incorporate some electronica into my own songs. It was a chance for me to stretch out a little and try some new things."
The overall theme of the album is reflected in the opening track, "Was It Blue?". Leslie calls it "a CD full of songs that are soul-searching and questioning but also tinged with melancholy. Many of the songs deal with relationships and people trying to understand and love each other. Yes, some of the songs are partially autobiographical. 'She's Not Comfortable Being Seen' paints a picture of the shy girl in school, wanting to be assertive and go after the things she wants in life, but being a little afraid, too. That girl was definitely me in high school. Songs like 'Fighting School' and 'My Love Is Not At Your Command' have some autobiographical aspects. Sometimes I'll begin a song by writing about myself but then I'll take an idea and run with it in a different direction.
"The lyrics for 'Song of Life' and also 'Was It Blue?' I had written years ago and stashed away in a drawer...I pulled them back out and finished the songs because they just seemed to fit in so well with the other songs. In 'Was It Blue?' I loved the idea of each color representing a different stage in a relationship, from the cool, pretending-not-to- care-too-much 'blue' phase to the fiery hot 'red' phase all the way through to 'blue' again in the end. The music for that song has almost a techno sound, with the repetitive bass line and drums but lots of different colors weaving in and out, too. That song would have to be my favorite on the CD.
"I included several instrumentals on the CD, too. The Irish piece, 'Boys of Kilkenny,' was actually something I wrote for a college dance ensemble performance and I was going for something a little bit like Riverdance. The 'Boys Dance,' which is a bonus track I added to the very end of the CD, is also part of the Irish dance. I finished it just in time to include it on the CD. The 'Chopin Interlude' includes excerpts of my senior piano recital. I found the tape of my performance and thought, wouldn't it be fun to take excerpts from the Ballade in F Minor by Frederic Chopin and add spacey sounds to create something new? The piano sounds like it's coming out of the chaos of outer space...order in the midst of a chaotic universe."
It took about a year for her to put the disc together, adding layer upon layer, spending a lot of time in the studio adding harmonies and creating interesting arrangements.
She plays mostly coffeehouses and concert venues and festivals, performing with a band, but most often now tours as a solo act. "I love creating music and performing it. I hope to reach out to people with my music and touch their lives. It would be fun to write something for TV or movies... or even theater. I love all of the arts and like the idea of combining music, dance, art, theater and creating something really spectacular."
Being a producer and orchestrator also makes her hear sounds and songs in a different way. "When I listen to the radio now, I'm noticing all of the layers and textures and what the drums are doing the second time around in the chorus. Before, I paid attention mostly to the lyrics and melodies."