#WCW Feature Interview: Lesley Barth

Photo by Chris Owyoung

Within minutes of hearing Lesley Barth’s music, you’ll feel like you’ve known her forever. Well, at least that’s how we at 6/8 Music felt the first time we heard her vivid, lovelorn debut album, Green Hearts. Her music takes all of the warmest vintage references, and brings them to the modern era with a relatable and engaging twist. And that’s not all that’s modern about her: Lesley takes fan engagement to the next level on her Patreon, where she participates in songwriting projects and releases exclusive content to her fans that offer their support on her journey. Lesley inspires us in so many ways–from her undeniable passion, to her authentic, incredible songwriting, to her sweet soul, that we got an even deeper glimpse into, thanks to our chat. Trust us, there are so many reasons to be crushin’ on Lesley Barth this #WCW.

Without further adieu, here’s our chat with our #WCW, Lesley Barth!

For those who are unfamiliar with your music, how would you describe your musical style?
My music leans heavily on storytelling; sonically, it’s a bit folk, a bit retro pop sounds. I’m very influenced by the singer/songwriter and Motown sounds of the late 60s, 70s, and early 80s.

Around what time in your life did you start making music? What inspired you at that time?
From a young age I was writing songs and singing. I grew up in a very musical and creative household with a father who was an opera singer and a mother who choreographed, acted, directed, sang, etc. My first song that I wrote with an instrument in sort of standard pop format (as opposed to the little silly songs I’d make up as a young child about animals) was called “Ain’t What It Used to Be.” Until sometime last year, I never realized how hilarious that is for a 13-year old girl. I guess I’ve always just had a fascination with the past!

6/8: We’re in love with your vintage music style. Who are some of your biggest musical influences?
Thank you! Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen, The Beatles, Bruce Springsteen are some of my favs. And just massive amounts of Motown alongside that. Did you know I had no idea that the music I was making was vintage/retro/throwback until I released it? It was just what I liked, and until everyone started telling me how 70s it was, I had no idea!

You released Green Hearts, your debut album, in January 2017. Tell us about what inspired that album, and about the creative process behind it.
The songs were a collection of love songs written over 6 years or so. It’s an album about young love (not jealous love, as Green Hearts could also suggest), and the tracklist covers the arc of young love.

The creative process was varied – I wrote the songs over such a span of time that they were born in different ways. All but one (Best Thing) I wrote on piano – which is very different from my new material which is largely written on guitar – and sometimes the words came first, sometimes the chords, sometimes the melody, sometimes it was even just an idea or topic that I’d start to work off of.

What inspired you to release Behind the Green Hearts, the stripped back version of your Green Hearts album?
Until last year, I almost always played with a band. I decided to strip my live act back after the album release (partially because making an album is EXPENSIVE and so is paying a talented band, partially because I wanted to challenge myself on the foundations: solo live acoustic playing), and ended up playing over 35 shows last year that way. Far more than I’d ever been able to do with a band in one year, because of cost and logistics.

So I wanted to have music that was representative of this new live act, and doing stripped down versions of the songs off of Green Hearts just seemed like a fun way of doing that. It was a celebration of the songs in their purest form, and took me back to the basics that I really love: an instrument, a singer, and some good songs.

Lesley Barth
Photo by Chris Owyoung

A little while ago, you participated in (and completed!) a 30-songs-in-30-days project. How incredible! Tell us a little bit about that process. What were the best parts? What were the challenges you faced?
I learned SO MUCH and honestly think every songwriter should do this. I did it to celebrate my 30th birthday (thus the 30/30/30 project, as it was titled), but you definitely could do it at any time. During it, I learned to stop judging myself and just DO THE WRITING. And it’s hard, but like anything else, songwriting is a muscle you have to work out.

The best parts were collaborating on songs (I did about 7 or 8 collaborations out of the 30) – just because it was basically hanging out with friends (while drinking wine, typically) and playing music – and the other great part were the days where I wrote songs I was really proud of. In fact, almost half of my live set today are songs from those 30 days! Apart from getting sick for a few days and losing my voice, the only real challenge was just having to finish a damn song every day! Haha. I have a TON more to say on this in an article I wrote for Songfancy.

For 2018, you’re writing one song a month, which is another amazing feat. What inspired you to start that process?
I wanted to keep some of my 30/30/30 energy alive, but also learn more about production. The songs I wrote and shared during 30/30/30 were not produced – just me with an instrument in front of the camera (sometimes with multiple parts) but usually one-take and a little rough since I was pretty strapped for time.

Giving myself a month for each song allows me to tackle production as a beginning-stage producer, and I wanted something special for my Patreon members, so giving them a free song each month (for everyone who contributes $1/month or more!) while working on my production chops seemed like the perfect plan.

You’re a singer-songwriter through and through, and we’re amazed by what you’re able to produce in such a short amount of time. We’re curious: what does your songwriting process look like?
Thank you so much! I write in different ways, but my old go-to process tends to be: go to an instrument (piano, guitar, ukulele, and lately banjo a bit – always inspiring to pick up a new instrument), play a few chords, riff a melody with maybe some words, and see where that takes me.

I also do A LOT writing while I’m walking, though less so during the winter, since my walks tend to be as short as possible in this weather! Honestly, I learned so much during the 30/30/30 process I just might do that again, too, this summer! Even if you write 29 horrible songs, and 1 good one, I know a lot of songwriters that would see 1 good song per month as a HUGE win.

We know choosing a favorite song is like choosing a favorite child, but if you were to pick one song from your Green Hearts album for people to listen to, which would it be and why?
Ooooh man. I would say the title track. It’s a heartbreak ballad, but it’s also the last track I wrote on the album, and think its closest to what I’m writing these days, though it’s piano-based and my new stuff has a lot more of an acoustic, folky guitar feel.

But if you want to dance a little, check out Just Like Summer – it’s the single disco funk track I have on there. It’s an eclectic album…haha.

You were one of our featured artists on our Valentine’s Day blog post, 14 Fabulous Females. Any advice for other female artists out there?
I got three basic pieces of advice I think about a lot from a UK songwriter who had a lot of commercial success (who also happened to be the sister of an old boss of mine): write the music you like, collaborate with the people you like, and release music often.

To that I would add: write as many songs as humanly possible – let the metric be quantity, not quality (I think John Mayer recently tweeted something to that effect??), and you will get better so much faster than if you focused on quality.

And also (gosh, I have a lot of advice): be kinder to yourself. Just try it! What can it hurt?

Thank you so much for speaking with us, telling us more about you, and for sharing some of your wisdom! Anything you want to let your fans know before you sign off?
I do! I recently left my career in tech to focus on my music – it’s been so wonderful/ scary/ exhilarating taking a leap and trusting myself to figure it out.  I’m excited for this year in a BIG way – to always be in the know on the latest (and hear what quitting your job and rebuilding your life is like!), sign up for my mailing list at lesleybarth.com

I’ll be going on tour this July (letsgetrealtour.com) to play songs and tell the stories behind them with two artist friends of mine, and have the conversation around what it means “to get real” in the digital/social media age. We aren’t sure exactly what it’s going to look like, but we think it’s an important conversation to be having and can’t wait to hit the road!

Be sure to keep up with Lesley on InstagramTwitter, and Facebook, her website and Patreon, and check out her music on Spotify. And fellow NYC-based fans, head over to see Lesley live at Arlene’s Grocery on May 21 at 7 PM! Grab your tickets here.

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