Charming, whimsical, nostalgic. These are all words that I would use to describe my pick for Woman Crush Wednesday: Lesley Barth. Her unique take on retro pop and soul might have you thinking that she comes from the 70s – fitting nicely somewhere between Carole King and Fleetwood Mac, but her career’s just kicking off in the here and now. She released her debut EP, Good Like This, back in late 2015, and is currently hard at work on a forthcoming full length record.
We described the music video for “Oh, Andy” as being ‘personal and fun’ a few weeks back, so we were really excited to have a chance to chat with Lesley about crowdfunding, her relationship to New York City, and her favourite song to perform.
CONFRONT Magazine: Your vocals, especially on “Oh, Andy” bring me back to a different time – they’ve very much got a sort of vintage, old-time sheen. Do you draw inspiration from any particular period or specific vocalists?
Lesley Barth: I do! I grew up listening to my parents’ 60s and 70s vinyl – a lot of old 45s. I listened to artists like Linda Ronstadt, Dusty Springfield, tons of Motown groups like the Ronettes and Shirelles. I think Linda Ronstadt especially is a huge vocal inspiration – she is just a goddess and a master of song interpretation. In terms of the writing, Carole King, Bruce Springsteen, Fleetwood Mac – they were all big for me.
CONFRONT: You’re currently in the studio recording your first full-length album. What does a typical day in the studio look like for you? What is your writing process?
Lesley: Yes! A typical day in the studio involves a bit of water/coffee (you have to get the balance right or you’re shaking all day); some delicious takeout (my go-to is a catfish banh mi), and a lot of pacing and listening to things. Oliver Straus, the owner at Mission Sound where I’m recording and where I actually did the last EP, is producing this time as well and it’s been great having him and other musicians collaborate on the sound with me and push me creatively. The songs were all written, save for a lyric or two, prior to going into the studio, so being in the studio is really all about channeling my vision of the songs into something concrete and real. I tend to do my writing while walking around in the city, so my iPhone is a critical part of the process. I then review all my fragments of ideas, decide which seem most promising, and then plug away at the keyboard or guitar. I need a lot of quiet and alone-time then, but my husband, who is also a musician and songwriter, gets it.
CONFRONT: You moved from Philadelphia to New York City a few years ago. How big of a role does geography play in someone’s musical career? What role has New York City played in your career, specifically?
Lesley: That’s a great question. I’ve gotten a lot out of being in New York. I loved Philly (and still do!) and there was a good creative scene there and plenty of talented musicians, but Philly as a city seemed less understanding of people who pursue the arts. It’s hard to make money in music down there, so it can be hard to feel legitimate in wanting to pursue music, which I think is a really important thing in a world where the broke musician is such an unfortunate stereotype. New York makes me feel like being a musician is not an irresponsible choice; it makes me feel like I can ask people for money for my music. Doing that felt hard to do in Philly – and I’m sure some of it could just be me – but the fact of the matter is the creative life is a well-trod path here in New York, and it does make it easier.
CONFRONT: You’re financing your debut album through a crowd-funding initiative. Can you tell us a little bit about that experience?
Lesley: Oh man – that was a real journey. OvationTV and Rockethub were partnering to help a group of artists on their crowdfunding projects and my project was selected to be a part of this group. It was great having the support and advice of both organizations, and really helped me be successful with the crowdfunding. Going back to your last question – being able to feel like I could ask people for money for my music was obviously really critical in crowdfunding! It’s a skill I got to really develop over the month we were raising funds, and, ultimately, I expect the money to cover about 60% of total cost of the album. So I’m able to make a MUCH better album than I ever could have otherwise, and really see through my vision for these songs. I cannot express enough gratitude for my supporters. All that said, the confidence I got through just seeing fans and friends SHOW UP and support me during the process is really what’s invaluable. It’s given me a totally different degree of belief in myself, and it’s that belief that has been the most transformational for me over the past 6 months or so.
CONFRONT: What’s your favourite song to perform live, and why? This can be anything – whether it’s from Good Like This or your new material.
Lesley: I love performing “Can’t Do Both” – it’s a bit of a slow-burner, but the song really grooves live and I sing harmonies with my guitarist/husband, Charles Ramsey, so that’s really satisfying and always seems to get people moving to the beat. That said, I have some brand new stuff I cannot wait to start playing out. I’ll be putting together a summer tour in the Northeast US, so keep an eye out on Facebook/Instagram/Twitter for those dates and the album release date!
WATCH “Oh, Andy”: