Exclusive Interview With Leah Zicari
New York singer/songwriter/guitarist Leah Zicari has been rising rapidly as one of the most polished and talented indie artists across the East Coast music circuit today. The great thing about Leah is that she never stops striving to evolve as a musician and songwriter. Through that great maturation as a songwriter/musician comes her latest album, Pretty On Thursday, which is seeing a great deal of indie radio play and critical acclaim. Leah was kind enough to sit down and chat a bit about her roots in the music industry and her impressive resume of work!
[Billy Donald] Leah, thank you so much for taking time out of your schedule to join me for this interview! It is very nice to have you here! I wanted to start off by asking you about your brand new CD, Pretty on Thursday. This is actually your third CD and I know that you have been hard at work for a great deal of time on this album. Are you pleased with the results of all of that hard work?
Leah Zicari Thank you, Billy. Itís great to be part of your corner of the web! I am beyond thrilled with how Pretty On Thursday came out. It is the culmination of a long-time dream Ė to put out a highly polished recording that truly captures my essence as a writer, musician, and person. The songs are strong, the production is amazing, and I got a chance to work with some great people.
[Billy Donald] How do you feel you have progressed as a musician and songwriter with each album you have recorded?
Leah Zicari Well, certainly my technical skills have improved. As a writer, Iíve tried to develop my style by crafting lyrics that are evocative, paint a nice picture, and arenít clichť. You can hear a lot of trite writing in my earlier songs. Also, Iím always doing new professional musical projects and I learn from them, so my skills as a player and musician improve. As Iíve progressed from one recording to the next. Iíve tried to make the guitar parts more interesting, utilizing my classical skills, and Iíve wanted to do more vocal colors. Pretty On Thursday has a whole lot of vocal harmonies and textures that arenít heard in previous recordings. My ear has also improved, as has my knowledge of studio ďmagicĒ and production. So Iíve become more critical in my listening, which has resulted in better sounding recordings.
[Billy Donald] Can you tell us about some of your influences as a songwriter and as a musician? I know that you are actually a very accomplished guitarist, and you play a wide variety of stringed instruments, including the banjo!
Leah Zicari Yeah, the banjo! Itís a very cool instrument, and Iím not a brilliant banjoist by any means, but I use it a lot when Iím doing theater gigs, and occasionally get called to play symphony pops concerts. I have a banjo student, too, and the more I teach her, the more I learn, and Iím really growing to love the instrument.
As for influences, I always say that Iím influenced by everybody and nobody, meaning that I listen to a wide variety of music, but try not to copy any one particular style. But one canít help find that certain influences will show up in oneís music, and I think that I have a large amalgamation of all my favorite artists in my style. That being said, my biggest influences and favorite artists through the years are/have been Joni Mitchell, Pat Metheny, Shawn Colvin, Rickie Lee Jones, Heart (the earlier years), Michael Hedges, Pat Martino, Sarah McLaclan, Tori Amos, Kate BushÖ I could go on.
Also Iím a theater pit musician. I grew up listening to a lot of jazz and I went to college to study classical music, so those have been big influences. These days Iím listening to a lot of Indie artists like Edie Carey, Holly Figueroa, Ani DiFranco, and find that theyíre influencing me as well.
[Billy Donald] You are very active in helping to promote female indie musicians through websites such as www.indiegrrl.com. How important has the online element been to getting the word out about your music?
Leah Zicari It has been an invaluable tool. Through sites like Indiegrrl and Go Girls Music (www.gogirlsmusic.com). Iíve been able to really get my name known and to network with other artists and find all sorts of opportunities. There is a huge amount of marketing and publicity that can be done for free via the internet now that there never used to be. Back in the old days youíd have to take out a ridiculously expensive ad in Billboard or some other trade journal, which was cost prohibitive to artists who were not signed to one of the big labels. Now, Indies can get their names out quickly and usually at no cost. It has also been a great way to find venues and radio stations, to hook up with other performers, or to get advice from colleagues.
[Billy Donald] You and I actually became acquainted through an interview I did with Tony Levin, who played on some tracks for your second album, Hard Road. How did you enjoy working with Tony, and how did having such an incredibly seasoned veteran in the studio affect you as a musician and a producer?
Leah Zicari Well, Iíve known Tony since I was little, because my dad was in the music business and he knew Tony. But even though Iíve known him for most of my life, it was still scary to work with him in the studio. I mean, hereís a family friend that offered to play on my CD, but heís still Tony Levin! And I was thinking, God, is this recording going to be worthy of him or will he be embarrassed to be part of it? How am I supposed to ďproduceĒ Tony Levin? Like Iím going to tell him what to play? It was nerve-racking, but it was also a huge learning experience to watch a world-class player like him work and lay down tracks. You canít get a lesson like that from a master class or workshop. I remember the day he was in the studio, my drummer Nick (who I went to music school with) came down to watch, too. I let the engineer take care of everything, and my only instruction to Tony was ďDo what you want.Ē And Nick and I just sat on the couch and watched him all day. We didnít say a word. We just watched and learned.
[Billy Donald] Do you have a special location or getaway that you like to do most of your songwriting at, sort of a sanctuary for creativity?
Leah Zicari Well, I suppose it would be quite romantic to say I steal away into the mountains and hang out at a lake and meditate while I listen to the birds and smell the flowers, but the fact is I get most of my ideas when Iím in the shower! And once I get them, I just go into my bedroom and start writing. Once in a blue moon, when Iíve got a lot of noise going on in my head and need to clear it out, Iíll go into a church. Any church at all, no specific denomination, as long as itís empty. Theyíre the most peaceful, calming places Iíve found.
[Billy Donald] Leah, I want to thank you so much again for joining me for this interview. I am looking forward to seeing what kind of great things we will hear from you down the road. I just wanted to give you this chance before we wrap up to plug anything you like, such as your great website, upcoming gigs, or where we can purchase your new Pretty On Thursday CD!
Leah Zicari Thanks, Billy! The website is www.leahzicari.com, and everything is there: The tour schedule, photos, my monthly ramblings, and a whole page of merchandise: Pretty On Thursday, Hard Road, T-shirts, stickers. And since we mentioned Tony Levin, I have a few copies of Hard Road autographed by him for sale at my website.
People can also sign up on the mailing list there.
Leah's CDBaby Site:
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