FYIG Chats With Singer/Songwriter Leah Harris

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Tell us a little bit about yourself.

First of all, can I just say that I love “Find Your Inner Geek”! As someone who has worked in music, gaming, and tech, I love that you cater to so many different interests.

Whenever I’m asked to describe myself in a sentence, I usually end up saying that I’m a musician, tech-lover, and entrepreneur who doesn’t really fit in anywhere. I live for music, my biggest passion, but most of the time the industry really drives me crazy. As a result, I’ve built my brand on applying the principles of the tech startup world to the entertainment business. It doesn’t always work, but I have a lot of fun doing it!

How did you first get into music?

Music has been my main channel for interpreting life since I was very young. I started piano lessons when I was little and did a lot of singing. By age 9, I was writing music and playing music for 1-2 hours a day. I just loved it.

I come from a family of music-lovers. My dad was a Country songwriter who worked a full-time job in insurance. My mom was an entrepreneur who built a business around teaching piano. In both cases, they were not traditional musicians, but they truly supported me and my love for it.

How would you describe your musical style?

Ray Charles is my biggest influence, especially when it comes to piano. I grew up on the border to Detroit (I could see the skyline from my bedroom window!) listening to a lot of Motown, Soul, Blues, and R&B. I grew up on 90’s R&B singers, especially Whitney Houston and Aaliyah, as well as legends like Aretha Franklin and Ella Fitzgerald. When it comes to songwriting, I try to keep a very raw, authentic energy, inspired by artists like Fiona Apple, Jeff Buckley, and Hozier.

My music has developed in a live setting, mainly at blues jams and solo gigs. For this reason, even my recording sessions mimic a live setting, with the whole rhythm section recording together at the same time. I never do too many takes of any song, as I’m a big believer in keeping the natural live energy that one would hear at a concert.

How have you evolved since your first EP in 2014 called “I Don’t Believe in Love”?

Yes! Although my dating life has not evolved as much as I would like (lol), my music certainly has. At the time of the first EP, I was still figuring myself out. I wasn’t quite sure how to incorporate my love for jazz into the raw songwriting style I identified with. I went through a phase after that EP where I made everything way too complicated; then, I matured a lot and found a deeper level of simplicity than I’d had before.

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Credit: Evgenii Dobranski

Since the release of my first EP, I have lived in 3 countries, worked in 4 industries, and overall just been exposed to so many new things. I went through the learning curve of Nordic dating (which is much harder than it sounds, and I still never figured it out!) and was faced with many defining moments, alone in new cities, where I was forced to really strengthen my understanding of who I am. I believe songwriting is just an expression of what’s happening on the inside, so I would think that this growth comes through quite a lot in my new music.

You had a two-year 15 country tour from 2016-2018. How were you able to keep up with so many shows for such a long period of time?

Like most things in life, this idea started with being frustrated by something and wanting to find a better solution. I had been working in Helsinki at a tech startup called Yousician and had really gotten used to the innovative, measurable, and positive approaches found in the tech space.

Then I made the decision to return to the music industry, and I almost lost my mind! I saw with fresh eyes how difficult it is to plan out any steps or to make any real progress. I realized at some point that if I were to move forward with the traditional path of the music industry, I would always have to deal with a certain level of frustration, confusion, instability and even the desperation that comes from being the creator, who typically has very little control over anything.

I created a mission statement, which was “to live a happy, healthy life within the music industry” and I decided I would say no to anything that didn’t support that. I started by tackling touring. The usual issues with touring are that it’s expensive (breaking even is considered a huge success!) and rushed to the point where many musicians feel they don’t get to really experience the cities. The best solution I could think of was to run a remote digital marketing business by day that would allow me to support myself and take my time traveling. I did my own booking, going only for venues that already had a keyboard, and learned some digital marketing from scratch! I would highly recommend this “digital nomad” approach to any artists who want to do some slow-paced soul searching while also developing other online skills.

You just released a new single called “Treat Me Good” What can you tell us about this song?

This song was written when I was sitting at home in Stockholm waiting for a guy to call. I think his name was Jimmy. I have since taken the empowered approach that nobody should ever have to wait around like that… but let’s be real! It still happens.

The lyrics are more or less about doing everything in your power to get the best results with dating, but still not getting much out of it. Musically, it’s got a jazzy, swing feel and has these dramatic, soulful vocal runs that lead into the final little line “treat me good.” Something about the contrast usually makes the audience laugh. Songwriting-wise, I was channeling my inner Fiona Apple for sure!

“Treat Me Good” is the title track of your latest EP. What can audiences expect from this set of songs?

The full set of songs in the EP contains a mix of soulful ballads, swingy tunes (like “Treat Me Good”) and one final Motown song. As usual, the songs are quite intense, so I always try to end with an uplifting one. “I’ve Lived” is about taking chances now, since there will never be a risk-free time to do them. I wrote the song when I was leaving my dream job at Yousician and just starting my indie tour, with no idea that it would last for two years or ultimately bring me to New York. I didn’t know what to expect, and I am so grateful everything turned out as it did.

How does it feel to have the honor of having one of the last records recorded at Brooklyn’s renowned Systems Two Studio?

I am so honored to have recorded at Systems Two. The studio was breathtaking, the owners were lovely, and it is, of course, exciting to have recorded in such a legendary space! I recorded both of my EP’s there, and after seeing it the first time around, I made sure to have a videographer (and make-up artist!) attend the session this time. I wanted to document the whole experience, and I’m so glad I did since I had no idea they would be closing. Overall, it was an absolutely incredible experience that I will never forget.

You also designed “Yousician Piano”, a popular piano learning app with over a million users. How did you come up with that idea and how is this app more efficient than other similar apps out there?

I was hired to design a new instrument, piano, to add to the company’s guitar program (now the app offers five instruments). Above all, I really wanted to make sure that piano learning would be more engaging and inclusive than what we see traditionally. I created a Pop path and a Classical path, with the hopes of catering to different learning goals. I also insisted on throwing a bit of my 90s R&B and Detroit Motown influence into the app’s song catalogue! Being based in Finland, Yousician consisted of mainly metal and rock at the time, which also reflected the interests of many of my awesome, long-haired team members!

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Credit: David Jakob

The whole Yousician app as a whole is pretty incredible. The company has an advanced research and development team that is constantly looking for ways to optimize its incredible technology, allowing the app to detect the notes you play and present this evaluation to you in real time. The entire team, from the developers to the marketers and education designers, are so gifted at what they do. I would highly recommend this app to anyone looking to learn music. It works and it’s so fun!

What advice would you have for aspiring singers/songwriters?

I know it’s not always easy to do, but be authentic. I wasted too many years being intimidated by some of my teachers and musician friends or comparing myself to other artists. The truth is, finding your own style will still take time no matter what, but I would really encourage artists to just focus in on what their own souls are really saying. Another general piece of (unoriginal) advice would be “less is more.” I believe that a songwriter should be able to get the feeling and message across without making things too complicated (but that’s just my opinion!).

What’s your life like outside of the studio?

I moved to New York about 5 months ago and am still building my life here. To be perfectly honest, I have given so much of my life to music – between the traveling, personal branding, social media, and financial investment – that I am kind of excited to learn more about the other areas of myself. I guess the ultimate goal for me was to get here, and now that I’m here, I’m going to enjoy it!

I love walking around and exploring the city, dropping by R&B, jazz, and singer-songwriter open-mics, reading books with a glass of wine at random places, and hanging out with other entrepreneurs. I prioritize surrounding myself with positive energy and good people since that sets the tone for everything else in life.

Let the readers know where to find you online.

To my surprise, I am now an Instagram “macro-influencer” (whatever that means!). It’s a new thing and I’m still figuring it out, but that’s where I post the most content. My new releases are available on most digital platforms, including Spotify and Apple Music. I post here and there on my other channels, with some plans to start releasing YouTube vlogs about my NYC life! Any support is appreciated, and I do my best to respond to all messages! Thank you!

IG: @leahharrisofficial

Spotify: bit.ly/leahharris

FB: @leahharrismusic

YT: @leahharrismusic

Website: www.leahharrismusic.com