So much in the music industry these days is coming off as sounding like artists are following a formula instead of being genuine and authentic. Then, out of left field, you get hit with an artist like Lesley Barth who is a breath of fresh air. She’s a quirky artist with a throwback style of vocal delivery that echoes of such greats as Carole King and Linda Ronstadt. She cut her musical teeth on such great musical storytellers as King, Fleetwood Mac and Cat Stevens. Her piano driven songs manage to capture the fine art of musical storytelling in 3 ½ minutes that is becoming a dying art-form in today’s industry. That, combined with her unique vocal stylings, has made her stand-out in a rather stagnant crowd of musical wannabes. She released her debut EP Good Like This in 2015 and is working on her full length album which should see the light of day in the coming months. I sat down with her recently to learn a little more about what makes her so unique and what is ahead on her musical calendar.
I don’t think that I have heard an artist today sounds quite like you. I know you have probably heard this before, but you have such a retro, throwback style to your vocal delivery. Who or what helped mold into the artist that you are today?
Lesley Barth: I don’t think it was until I released the EP in November and got some feedback from people that I realized my stuff was retro and had a throwback sound. I thought it was easily identifiable as someone who listened to a lot of 60s and 70s artists. I knew that was my inspiration, but I did not realize how much of that was coming through in my writing. I think so much of that is from my parents; my father is an opera singer and I grew up with music everywhere. He really didn’t listen to a lot of opera, but he listened to a lot of the Beatles, REM and a lot of classic rock like Bruce Springsteen. My mom listened to a lot of Motown, Carole King, Joni Mitchell and Fleetwood Mac. We had tons of 45s that I would listen to and I ended up listening to a lot of hits from the 60s and 70s. I learned to play pop piano, I was trained classically as well, but along side of it high was playing with the song books that they had. It was the music that I grew up with and when I first started writing songs, I was stealing tricks that the Beatles did or Carole King did and kind of channeling my own feelings through that sound.
Well, if you’re going to be influenced by a bunch of artists, you picked the greatest storytellers of that era to be influenced by. I think the fine art of storytelling in music, although it may not be a lost art form, is in very short supply these days.
I think I’ve always liked that side of art and more than anything, I love music, pure music. I can listen to instrumentation, but the words are really important to me and stories are really important as well. I think other career paths that I have considered along the way, such as writing and screenwriting, helped me to create a compelling story. That’s what grabs me, interesting characters and some drama and something that people can latch onto and feel. Stories are the way we make sense of the world, so that’s what I tried to do with my music. My mom did a lot of musical theater and I was around a lot of that growing up. She was a dancer and a choreographer, so I think telling a story is very important. Cole Porter is a huge influence of mine as well as George and Ira Gershwin. I love bittersweet moments too and I think a lot of music today is kind of get up and dance, shine your light and is very commodified. It’s dance based and totally great and I love that kind of stuff, but what I try to do is not. Over the past year I have come to the realization that I want to make the music that I want to make and try to find the audience for it because I believe it’s out there.
I do believe that there is an audience out there for exactly what you are doing. There’s nothing wrong with that formulated pop stuff that I sometimes refer to as fluff music; it’s fun and it makes you dance, but there’s not a lot to sink your teeth into.
I think back on certain songs or certain artists where you have played a song over and over again. I think what I try to do when I hear that song that I identify with is that I am using the music, those three minutes, to help me feel what I feeling. I don’t think it’s an easy thing for people to do and I think that culturally it is something that we have pushed under the rug a lot. I want to write songs that tell people how to feel things even if they are painful things.
Is the EP and the only thing that you have released so far?
I released one song as a single in 2013 called “Desire,” but apart from that it’s just been the one EP.
I guess that EP has been out for roughly 6 months; what has the reaction been to it and the feedback that you receive?
Feedback has been very positive and I think what I didn’t grasp and what I think a lot of musicians struggle to grasp with for long term is that just because you made it doesn’t mean that anyone will hear it. I don’t think I put enough thought into how I was going to do that and how I was going to get out into the world. I felt like I had been sitting on the songs that I had recorded in the spring of 2014 and I felt like I just had to get out there. Although the feedback was very positive, I realized that I did not have much of a planned release. I wanted to take the lessons that I have learned from that EP and use the momentum from the EP going into my next project.
You are currently working on a full length album?
Yes, I think that when you do a full release you get a chance to show different sides of your sound. When you have a four song EP, the songs have to fit together a little bit more otherwise you sound a bit disjointed. With 10 or 11 songs, you can kind of tell a story because there’s more of an arc.
All of it, including your video for “Oh Andy” is D.I.Y. (Do It Yourself)?
Yes it is and it’s all kind of just me trying to figure out what would work for my music in this marketing and digital media kind world. The video itself was basically a friend of mine who shoots in his spare time. We got together and decided to shoot a video for “Oh Andy” and the night before we brainstormed the plot. It was in the middle of a blizzard in January in Philadelphia; we didn’t have a lot of resources or any other actors. It was actually really good to have those restraints to work in because we had to get creative. I always like giving myself some kind of restraints to work in otherwise it is too hard to nail things down. We did have another actor, so Andy pretty much became the cameraman. We didn’t have much as far as props go in the setting; we had one couch in the apartment and we had to dig through boxes just to find pen and paper. We did have snow so we took advantage of that and it ended up being a really fun project. Again, kind of going back to the storytelling, you can create a story and an emotional connection that is what people respond.
I think that, regardless of the budget, the video is very refreshing it looks like nothing that I’ve see very long. You can have a huge budget and still put out a bad video that makes no sense.
There are three things I want to do and that is write the music that I want, with the people that I will work with and make as much music as I can. I think the way to do that when you don’t have much of a budget is to be really honest and genuine and work for that emotional connection. We will be shooting a new video soon for the first single off of the new album and that’s the same approach we are taking there. We do have some concepts up our sleeves, but creating that connection with the listener is what it’s all about.
Is there a projected release date for this new album yet?
I am thinking midsummer; in the next couple of weeks we will be honing in on an exact date. We will release a song or two off of it in advance of its release and we also have some cool behind the scenes footage that we shot while we were recording. We’ve got some really cool stuff coming out soon and it keeps me busy, but I am really enjoying it.
Are you working with the same people that you worked on the EP with?
All of the folks who were on the EP are on the album as well and we’ve added a new guitarist to be able to help flesh out sound with more electric guitar. It’s really fun and we are in the same studio with the same engineer who is kind of taking on a production role which is really cool for me.
Now that you’ve loosened up, it’s time for the really hard questions. We’ve heard some of your influences, but what’s something surprising in your iPod
You know what? I am a huge fan of Meatloaf.
No way; so am I!
Really? I think he is phenomenal and the songs that they come up with are really great. They are definitely storyteller kind of tunes and it is unabashedly type of camp.
Here’s another fun one that we do called “either/or?” Hotdogs or hamburgers?
Hot weather or cold weather?
Horror movies or rom-coms?
Cake or pie?
Toilet paper over or under?
Over, for sure; I feel really strongly about that (laughs).
Lesley, I really do appreciate you taking the time to answer of questions today. I’ll hand the mic over to you now if you’d like to close with anything?
Thank you for wanting to talk to me; this has been really fun. We will be announcing the release date of the album soon along with dates for a Northeast tour for this summer, so definitely stay tuned to my Facebook, Instagram and Twitter pages for all of that info. There is going to be a lot of stuff released before the album comes out too, so get ready!