Calling the pathway to success in Nashville a "tough road" might be old hat, but good gracious does that statement stick. It's likely many of us have heard a harrowing tale or two of the trials and tribulations that are the Sisyphisian effort of career and mental happiness. To some, they are inextricably linked, and others, they couldn't be further apart. For Leah Blevins, things started out looking like the latter, but through her own fortitude and perseverence, things actually became the former. She's well on her way to success here in Nashville, and it's no longer a matter of with, but rather, a matter of when.
Now/It's met with Leah Blevins at her home in the Inglewood neighborhood of East Nashville.
N/I - Well how are you? What have you been up to?
Leah - I worked…. Well, Americanafest. I did a showcase for MGM - which is the new distribution company - and then we recorded the following morning. It was two songs - a Neil Young song, “Heart of Gold,” and [“God, Help Me”] that came out on Friday. Then Artist Growth, which is through [William Morris Endeavor], so we played that, too. But then yesterday, my sister and I did the Liz Cooper midnite showcase last night.
N/I - Yeah! I was there for half of that, and then I had to head out to get up early this morning.
Leah - Were you!? I think I may have seen you!
N/I - Well I was bouncing around the whole night and then I had to head out to get up early.
Leah - Me too. I had to be at work at 7, so I was like “I’m just going to sing this song and then head on home.” [Laughs]
N/I - Well it sounds like you’ve been pretty busy then, with everything that was going on during Americanafest.
Leah - Yeah! It was nice. I wasn’t even officially….
N/I - Showcasing?
Leah - Right. After signing with WME, they’ve just been pushing me ever so slightly to get onboard with all these different things, and that’s what led to all those Americanafest spots, without being a showcasing artist.
N/I - And the WME signing was relatively recent, right?
Leah - Very recent. I want to say it’s been four or five months?
N/I - And how has that been? Obviously, it’s been paying off in some capacity.
Leah - It has. Braden came out - I met him through my manager, Tatiana - and he came to a show when I had the residency at ACME Feed & Seed, and it was pretty much a done deal after that. So we went in and met with all of them - so it’s a trifecta - but I really had no idea what all of it actually entailed. I feel like I’m showing up and things are seemingly working out in my favor [laughs]. But I couldn’t play guitar a year ago, you know?
N/I - As in you didn’t know how to play at all?
Leah - Just that I didn’t have the confidence to. It was playing in front of people, along with never taking lessons. When I did - I’ll never forget - there was one thing that my teacher, Anthony, said: “Just think of the finesse of painting a picture. The stroke of a brush.” And it took that one comment for me to understand. There’s more subtlety.
N/I - And then it just kind of clicked from there?
Leah - Absolutely.
N/I - Why is that? Were you just chopping down on the strings?
Leah - Well that and the fact that you don’t necessarily need to hit every string while you’re playing. In the end, I think it was most important that I expose myself to these new ways of working. I just needed to change some things.
N/I - Was there anything else you changed?
Leah - Well, I had been touring a little bit - I’m still green as far as all of that goes - but it was more so the drinking, the smoking, the excess.
N/I - All the things that historically coincide with touring and being on the road and having lots of time to kill.
Leah - Exactly! And it’s a lot of wear and tear. I’ve smoked cigarettes since I was thirteen, and I think I probably quit for three weeks at one point during that, but I’ve been off them for a month and a half now without a single puff.
N/I - Alright! That’s great!
Leah - And I can tell the difference [laughs], for sure.
N/I - Really? How so? Is there less vocal strain? Things like that?
Leah - Yes, absolutely. And I think…. I’ve just never had proper training as far as warm-ups and after a show, the winding down parts. Because when you think about it - when you exercise - there’s a peak….
N/I - That you work up to, and when you’ve reached that, you come down, you stretch in order to preserve whatever’s happened.
Leah - Absolutely.
N/I - So how do go about learning what’s best to preserve your voice? Do you watch YouTube videos or something?
Leah - No. I’ve never been to an ear, nose, or throat doctor - I need to do that. I want to find a vocal coach, because if you notice when I sing, I still raise my shoulders, when they should be down. I try to be conscientious of little things that people have commented on. I was always a background vocalist, so I never really had to think about these things. But I truly sat down the other day and listened to my first EP, and to hear the difference between three years ago to now, it is leaps and bounds as far as being different. Now, I truly believe I have the best understanding of where I am as a singer. It’s still ever changing, but it’s good. I want to be the dumbest person in the room. I want to absorb all the knowledge.
N/I - You want to be the sponge.
Leah - Exactly. I am a sponge, the ultimate sponge [laughs].
N/I - Well as someone who doesn’t really sing, that’s all foreign to me, but fascinating at the same time, because I never really considered the voice and the vocal chords as a muscle, but they are. So your analogy about working out, that’s one of those things where there are a lot of people who don’t consider singing from down below as opposed to singing through their nose, and even the lifting the shoulders thing, I didn’t even consider that.
Leah - I don’t know. I tend to wear the weight of the world on my shoulders, just in general. But I took a lesson one time with a gentleman who left me a little CD to help with all that. So if I’m mindful of it, I’ll go through that little spread. It’s almost painful to listen to, though [laughs].
N/I - Well I’d imagine it’s still pretty helpful.
Leah - It definitely is.
N/I - So how long have you lived in Nashville?
Leah - I have lived here five years in May, and I moved here with a group of four gentlemen - we had been in a band for probably two years prior to moving here. We got here and things just dwindled, as they often do in certain circumstance, but I just knew mentally that if I don’t stay here, I’m just going to go home and buy a farm with some gentleman and have his children and cook supper every night. Which is fine, whoever needs to do that, and that’s great.
N/I - Right. Nothing wrong if you’re fulfilled.
Leah - My sister does it and she does a great job. But I always knew from an early age that this is the only thing that I’ve been sent here for. I’m a profound believer in the fact that our purpose is to touch whoever it may be while we’re on this Earth. I’m not trying to get too deep, but this is just how I am.
N/I - No! Not at all. If it’s your purview, then it’s your purview.
Leah - Yeah. And also, to answer your question - it took me the longest time just to realize that you have to serve your time. You see so many artists expect it, or their parents have money, and I feel like organically, things have take place beyond my control, and I believe that. I’m still learning as we speak.
N/I – It’s like you said, still a sponge.
Leah – Exactly.
N/I – It’s interesting that you bring up people that might have a little more access, or expect things to be handed to them – there’s a little bit of entitlement to them – it’s interesting seeing that some of those people shift out of that attitude naturally, while others don’t. I feel like from your perspective, being an artist or performer just as they are, do you see people that come in that way as being a little more short sighted?
Leah – Perhaps. I think it takes a – and this might be cliché to say – but it takes a very tough type of human being to truly invest your entire self into being an artist. I’m a more sensitive human being, naturally. I think a lot of artists are. A lot of it is based on how you carry yourself. What I’ve acknowledged here, there is this prideful way – with regards to cliques – I’d like to break down those barriers. We’re not promised tomorrow, and what else is there to do other than spread love and make people feel comfortable? Instead of being a critic, let’s critique it. Let’s fix it, and be in the same mindset.
N/I – Right. In the original sense of the term.
Leah – For the betterment of everyone involved. But I’ve definitely seen that.
N/I – Well that’s a very mature perspective…. and healthy, too.
Leah – Yeah. I’d like to think so.
N/I – So before this past year, you’ve put out one EP.
Leah – Correct. One EP.
N/I – Have you put out anything else?
Leah – No. Just the one.
N/I – So over those other four years that you’ve been here did you do mostly background work, then?
Leah – I was a co-writing a lot. I subjected myself to that world. Also, I was in a very committed relationship, and I became very codpendent on that. I lost sight of what it means to truly… It’s a dog eat dog world, and for me personally, I spent a lot of time – not wasted time – but a lot of time taking care of someone else when I needed to focus on what I actually want out of all of this. It’s been a year since I’ve truly been on my own, and I feel as thought I’m finally awake, if you will. I’m writing incessantly on my own, or if someone comes over just to ask “What do you think about this line?” Where as before, I was only showing up when I was told to show up for a scheduled write. But now I can’t put the guitar down, because now I know how to play it [laughs].
N/I – Well I’d imagine that would probably help.
Leah – And honestly, I think it’s truly this mechanism of going out and showing appreciation to other artists. Again, to echo the fact that you’re taking in what you’re seeing before you – as far as a show goes – is good.
N/I – So in acknowledging that you might be a little more codependent than you should have been, did that affect all your creative output?
Leah – Yes.
N/I – Did it create pre-conceived notions of any sort?
Leah – Absolutely. I think that I didn’t understand. At the end of the day, we can say we are whatever we want to be, I’m an artist, but I can also say that I am very hard on myself as a human being, period. It can be a flaw, or it can be a good thing, but I think I just lost sight of what I’m truly here for. But now I have a purpose, and that purpose is to be a loving individual, and write music that people can relate to, whether it makes sense in the moment, or if it doesn’t. It was just a matter of me finding myself. Because in your twenties, you have no clue, and I knew I didn’t want to stay in Kentucky, so I moved here, and I truly tried to go out and network as much as possible, and see what it was all about. Granted, there were years that I may have spent a little too much time drinking, but I wouldn’t trade those for anything, because they helped me understand where I’m supposed to be.
N/I – Exactly. It’s the trials and tribulations of the entertainment world. So once you got out of that, in the year of becoming the most naturalized version of Leah Blevins, what did that process entail?
Leah – I think it was hitting rock bottom for me. Speaking from my perspective, I’m a lover, and I spent so much time loving…
N/I – Someone else?
Leah – Exactly. And internalizing whatever it was that was going on with them. And there’s pressure from every angle. But within this past year, I’ve had the opportunity to go out and meet people without the guilt of talking to someone, which has allowed me to structuralize my scheduling. I know where I’m supposed to be, and now I’m pulling my weight. Before, I think I was just coasting, but now, within the age of twenty-seven, I’ve learned so much. I’m a naturally shy person, but I’ve learned to truly try to be myself and I’m not trying to bring on the religious thing, but my heavenly father came into my life, and I turned it over to him.
N/I – Well if that’s your belief, and your faith system, there’s no reason to try and discount it.
Leah – Sure. I just don’t want to step on anyone’s toes. I try to be respectful. And we can all believe however we want to believe, but what gets you through the day is the main component in this scenario.
N/I – And so all of that eventually leads to a ton of creative output, it sounds. So that has to be A) fulfilling, and B) if things start manifesting because of that, it’s got to be pretty reassuring, too.
Leah – It’s gratifying.
N/I – Very gratifying. How do you maintain perspective with all this happening as of late, then?
Leah – You know, Ive been trying this thing – it may sound far-fetched – but if I take a drink of water, I want to really feel it go down. If I take a shower, I want to remember what it felt like to wash my hair, I just want to feel it. I read this book that pretty much stated that the past is your depression, the future is your anxiety, so if you can take a moment within that fear or whatever it is that’s causing your anxiety, reflect on five things that you feel confident about that you’re thankful for. Then there’s this radical apologizing in this other book that I read: you mirror how you perceive yourself. Also within that, there are five things that you can say, that I’m sure we all have said or say in some capacity – I’m not good enough, I don’t feel pretty enough – all these things that if you only reverse them, and say “I am good enough. I am worthy. I am here for a reason.” Then you gather the things that yearn to gather. It’s just something I’ve been practicing.
N/I – Sure. It seems like it’s awareness without overinflating one’s perception.
Leah – Absolutely. And I am the ultimate thinker, man. I can’t sit still, because if I did, I’d probably go crazy. I have to be moving all the time. So half the time I’m doing something musical just to feel relevant to myself.
N/I – So how many songs has that led to? Not literal, exact number or anything like that, but I would guess quite a few.
Leah – I’d say about twenty five songs that I’m sitting on right now, songs that have a lot of worth, and are a reflection of the past two years. Also, having my twin sister here, it keeps my mind off certain things I battle.
N/I – Negative things.
Leah – Exactly. And I keep myself busy. I love the business side of things, now. If you do a little bit of homework, you can sit back and just wait and hear what the other person has to benefit you.
N/I – Right. And you can potentially direct the situation to whatever outcome you desire, whereas if you don’t do your homework and show up to a meeting with a prospective agent, someone could have the wool pulled over pretty quickly.
Leah – That’s right. And I’ve learned that I have street smarts, too. I never graduated college – I went for a long time – but I can read a room, and I am very intuitive in terms of evaluating a situation, and a person. I think that’s a god given gift, but I try to be mindful of the fact that we’re human beings, and we wake up not knowing what we’re going to go through each day. You might have insights of things you need to get done, but in the grand scheme of things, we have no clue what’s going on. We’re just trying to be happy.