In Session: Laura Leigh
NEW PALTZ – Anyone native to the area of Upstate New York will instantly be able to picture the bucolic imagery that comes to mind sprawling along the foothills of the famous Adirondacks and beyond. This imagery is personified in Laura Leigh’s debut release, Livin’ in Cambridge, which came out last year, on May 20th (2021). Steeped in traditional country, and bluegrass sounds, and with a voice that has a clear and commanding presence, Leigh crafted quite a nice gem of songwriting.
The album opener, “Train to Heaven,” featured an acoustic and vocal intro, and quickly had the band joining in. With a rollicking drum rhythm – whose patterns imitated a train – the song’s instrumentation was very “on the nose” for its title. It served as a great example for how the arrangement of a song greatly leads to portraying the meaning of the track. The next tune, “Peggy O,” a traditional song, gave credence to Leigh’s ability to deliver a song. With a nice acoustic intro that takes us through the entire chord progression, the song sounded quite plaintive, but powerful. The vocals entered after a bit and it was a great example of her comfort level with a singer-songwriter tune.
The third track, “Pete’s Basement,” contained nice gang vocals, with an older country type feel that was heightened with the use of “chicken pickin’,” a style of guitar-playing. And, what a classic sound Leigh utilized; a clean-sounding telecaster with single-coil pickups. The pedal steel was also a nice touch. Some of the lyrics in this tune were quite humorous; it finished abruptly on a funny line.
“Livin’ in Cambridge,” the title song, began with someone talking about the artist; it brought up existential feelings of dread and doubt about the future. This feeling which many artists face, was combatted by the meaning of the song; being thankful and accepting of where she grew up but also knowing she’s meant for more. A call to move away that many experience was encapsulated well in this song.
The next two songs, “That Lucky Old Sun,” and “The Ballad of the Poughkeepsie River (Live)” were great examples of Leigh’s band and its ability to get quite raucous when they need to. The tone in “That Lucky Old Sun” ‘s guitar solo was quite enjoyable to listen to, and for a blistering performance, one need to look no further than “The Ballad of the Poughkeepsie River (Live).”
By the album’s closer, “Corn Song,” it became more and more clear that Leigh really knows what she’s doing; songwriting, arranging, you name it – it’s there. The final track was another example of her skilled delivery of song as it was just her and a guitar. Effective and moving, it served as a great bookend to the record
I knew I had to get acquainted with this artist and set out to do just that. It was my pleasure to get a chance to chat with Laura and dig into her music, and much more. Continue reading to catch our discussion!
Lucas Garrett: Thank you, Laura, for sitting down with us! I really enjoyed your album!
Laura Leigh: Thank you! Thanks for having me.
LG: Why don’t you tell us a bit about yourself?
LL: I’m mostly a painter; that’s what I went to school for. That’s my 9-5 job; I’m a painter and I teach painting classes. I grew up playing classical piano and grew up in a very musical family. I learned a lot about music from my dad; he basically brought me into the music world; taught me everything I know about music – my parents are big Deadheads. My dad plays in a band called the Roadside Blues Band; he’s a blues guitar player. I grew up going to his shows – they’ve been together for thirty years, the four of them. That’s kind of a cool thing – I’m thirty years old and the band’s been together for thirty years.
When I was in high school, college, I began playing accordion.
LG: Oh, wow.
LL: That’s the first thing I did entering the music world; playing accordion in Grateful Dead cover bands. Hahaha.
LL: I did that for years; I played accordion in my dad’s blues band. I never thought I’d be singing and writing songs – that came later. That was the beginning of my music career, I guess – playing accordion. I’m still doing a lot of art and a lot of painting. It’s a big balance between music and the visual arts.
LG: It’s all art-based, that’s pretty cool.
LG: You say that the songs came later; when exactly did that start? How long ago did you start writing songs?
LL: I didn’t start singing or writing songs until 2018, so, it’s only been a couple years.
LG: Damn. I gotta tell you, I heard the album and it really sounds like you know what the hell you’re doing! These songs are really well-crafted.
LL: Thank you! That’s great to hear. Yeah, this is all very new to me. I never thought I’d be singing or writing songs. I think during that time – I think it was 2018 – I moved back to my hometown; I went through this horrible breakup. I tell a lot of people that I wouldn’t have put out that album if I didn’t get my heart broken. I went through a lot in my personal life and I just accessed this whole side of myself that I never thought was there. That’s where all the songs came from, and those are the first songs I’d ever wrote; the one’s I put on the record.
LG: As we get used to it, and we’ve continued doing it, that it does become easier. Often, however, you need something cataclysmic, in my opinion – you need to feel something, whether it’s good or bad. If I’m not feeling anything, then I’m not going to be writing anything.
LL: Yeah, exactly.
LG: Any type of art is the best when we have heightened emotions.
LL: I couldn’t agree with that more. I think of music as an emotional release. Especially being on stage and singing. When I finally was on stage and singing, it was the best feeling.
LG: It’s very cathartic, I think.
LL: Whenever I get on stage, there’s this threshold I cross and I almost become a different persona of myself. I’m able to release a lot of emotions and that’s what really got me hooked with music; finding that side of it. I liked playing keys in bands, but it wasn’t until I was singing that I really connected with myself.
LG: I think a lot of us feel that way. For you, you were starting out not that long before the pandemic happened? How was that for you? For many of us, we’d been doing it for many years, but you were just getting started. How did you, as an artist, deal with the onslaught of the pandemic?
LL: Before the pandemic, I wasn’t performing that much; I was just starting out. When the pandemic happened, I was like, “Oh, I have a lot of time on my hands now.” That’s when I recorded my record – during the first few months of the pandemic in June (2020). My friend, Jon Stewart – an amazing guy, guitar player, luthier – was playing bass in my band before the pandemic. I met him as he was doing sound at The Depot in Cambridge. We set up everything to record in my friend, Scott Carrino’s house. He owns Pompanuck Farms; The Round House Bakery Café in Cambridge.
LG: I’ve talked to Scott a few times. They are some great folks.
LL: I’ve known Scott and Lisa, his wife, my entire life. They’re like family to me. They own this incredible property in Cambridge called Pompanuck. It’s basically a healing center; they’re both massage therapists. Recently, they turned it into mostly a bakery and restaurant. We recorded the whole album in that house; Jon would come in and set everything up.
LG: I think that goes with the whole ethos of the album.
LL: Exactly. It was a really special time. It was like the whole world was shut down and we just took our time. We did everything separately. Dave Lawlor, my guitar player, have been playing together for a long time. He’s a great person and a great guitar player. He came in and did most of the guitar parts. Jon did pedal steel, bass, and also some guitar. Patrick Robinson, who’s my partner, played the drums. That’s how we did the record. Like I said, those were the first songs I’ve ever written.
LG: They’re very good.
LL: Thank you! So, yeah, that’s the story of the record!
LG: You sound a lot different in a live setting. The same sounds from the record are there, but there’s also this nice oscillation into a different genre. Does it feel weird when you do that; to go back and forth? Or, does it feel natural?
LL: The thing about the Laura Leigh Band is that Pat and I had the idea to form a country band that gets super-heavy rock and roll. There’s a kind of contrast between darker, heavier rock and roll, like Crazy Horse…
LG: You can’t go wrong with Crazy Horse!
LL: Ha, exactly!
LG: I think I must’ve worn out my Rust Never Sleeps record growing up.
LL: Yeah, I love Neil Young so much. We combine country-influence with heavy rock and roll; more shuffle beats. That’ a lot of what my writing is like and that’s what Laura Leigh Band has become: country, rock and roll, some darker, heavier influences. That’s the story with my band.
LG: It’s a great sound from what I’ve heard. You guys sound great.
LL: Thank you! Dave Lawlor, my lead guitar player, is a big part of the band. He’s just a great guy.
LG: There’s some really nice “chicken pickin’” going on in the record and the live stuff I’ve heard. I don’t like a lot of country, but I really like that classic-style country, and you guys do it so well.
LL: I’m super-influenced by early blue and bluegrass. I have a strong connection to earlier country stuff, like Hank Williams, and some of the early bluegrass and Appalachian singers; Ola Belle Reed is a big influence for me, vocally. Doc Watson…
LG: He’s amazing.
LL: So amazing. That vocal style is really important to me. I just sit in my car and listen to Doc Watson and try to imitate him. Ha.
LG: I must say, you have a very unique voice. There’s definitely some distinct influences, but it’s unique. In this industry, we need to sound like our own person, you know what I mean?
LG: I’m really impressed by your record and voice.
LL: Thanks so much.
LG: Is there anything else you’d like to talk about that we might not have hit on?
LL: Yeah. I’m doing a new project with Denise Parent – the drummer in the Dead Beats and Brown Eyed Woman. We just started with David Chapman and Patrick Robinson on drums. Sean Sullivan is on bass. It’s a brand-new project. The idea that Denise and I had was to feature my songs, her songs, and Dave’s. It’s an eclectic group. We have some upcoming shows; we’re playing at Parish in New Paltz on April 14th, and we’re playing at the Avalon Lounge in Catskill on April 23rd. I actually have a lot of shows coming up.
I’ll be at the Colony in Woodstock this Friday (March 4th) doing two songs for their Eric Squindo Presents the Colony Woodstock Dolly Parton Tribute. On St. Patrick’s Day, I’ll be playing with my dad’s band, Roadside Blues Band at The Depot in Cambridge.
The Laura Leigh Band, featuring Jon Stewart, will be at The Depot on April 2nd, and I’ll be doing a show with Adam Brockway of Eastbound Jesus on April 8th at Unihog!
LG: Staying busy!
LL: Yeah! The other thing I wanted to mention is that I’ve been doing an online painting class and it’s been doing really well. I’m currently looking for more students; it’s open to anyone of any skill level. It’s a landscape painting class, but it’s kind of a self-care, relaxation, creative therapy class. You can sign up for it by going to my site, or contacting me directly. It’s $20 a class, or you can buy three classes for $42. They’ve been going really well.
LG: That’s great, and awesome to hear that! I’m glad you’re doing so well, it seems!
LL: Thanks. I also wanted to make sure to give credit to Jon Stewart; he produced and co-wrote a lot of my songs and really made the album, Livin’ in Cambridge, come to life. And I also wanted to say I’m very thankful for Greg Bell who is like family to me and has been very supportive. The Albany music scene feels like family, and Greg does great things for his community.
LG: Thank you so much for you time!
LL: Thank you for your time, as well!