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| 24 April 2019 | Reply

According to a recent press release: “LEELA JAMES has already conquered the R&B world after releasing six critically acclaimed albums, hitting #1 on Billboard’s “Top 10 Hip-Hop” and “R&B Artists To Watch” charts with her smash hit, “Don’t Want You Back” (the video for which has over 6.7 million views on YouTube), and performing at big music festivals such as Bonnaroo, Essence Festival, Capitol Jazz Fest, among others. She has opened the 2018 televised Victoria’s  Secret Fashion Show. She received a Soul Train Award for “Best R&B/Soul or Rap New Artist” and has been nominated for a NAACP Image Award for “Best New Artist.” Now she’s ready to break out her Rock ‘n Roll and Blues side with a new band and new EP, and excited for her fans to come along for the ride.” We get Leela to discuss new music, influences, and much more…

Toddstar: Leela, thank you so much for taking time out. This is an honor for me.

Leela: Thank you.

Toddstar: I want to talk a little bit about everything, but let’s talk about the most important thing – Are You Ready? And I don’t think anybody’s ready for Leela James + The Truth Band. Leela, what can you tell us about the EP that your fan’s might not grab the first or second time they listen through this?

Leela: It’s definitely a little edgier, and from what they’ve heard from me in the past it’s a little different. There’s an element of rock in this, but it’s still very soulful as my voice is the soul, and I just think it opens up the window for new horizons and just broadening my fan base. And showing people that my love for music extends well beyond what probably has been the projection of what it is that I do.

Toddstar: Listening through the lead track, “That Woman,” what’s it about that song that you feel is the right lead for the public to get their first listen and taste of this collection?

Leela: Because it was just very aggressive. Well it’s an extremely hard thing if you will and just rocks. It has an element of shock to it which I wanted coming out the gate to grab the attention like, “Oh my gosh. What is, huh?” You know what I mean? I wanted it to make you smack your head like, “What did I just hear?”

Toddstar: Well as a fan of yours – I go back to the Fall For You and I Did It For Love discs – it really kind of took me to the side to where I thought, okay, I can hear it’s you, but it has some piss and vinegar to it that your R&B / soul stuff doesn’t. Was that intentional for you to kind of step outside and just not turn into an angry woman, but turn into somebody with a little more purpose?

Leela: Absolutely. It was definitely intentional. With everything that’s happening in the world and again, not an angry woman, but it’s just sums up as far as being able to speak up for yourself, being fed up, enough is enough, and just standing up for women of our rights, and saying, “I’m here and I’m going to be heard, and you’re going to love and respect me the right way.” And her song didn’t call for sweet love songs, the music doesn’t feel like that to me. And then me being a lover of all kinds of music, it was intentional for me to kind of step outside of the norm of what has been heard, or expected from me. Because there’s so much more to me as an artist. And with this particular project it’s kind of an entry into that side of me of letting people know, “Hey there’s more than meets the eye.” And as well as the ear.

Toddstar: I had the privilege of seeing you live for the first time back a few years ago in Detroit; you were opening for Ledisi and one thing that really struck me about you is your stage presence and how you handled yourself and you could tell that you’re a powerful woman, and a powerful performer, but when it came time and your set was over, you mixed and mingled with the crowd and you enjoyed every minute of it. How do you flip that switch from where you’re totally controlling your situation, and you’re leading the audience to know you’re just one of them?

Leela: Because it’s not a switch for me. I am one of them. Now I happen to be able to perform and sing, but I’m still a human being. I’m still a person, and I’m no better than the next one. And we’re all humans. So I make music for the people and I’m the people as well. And I don’t think that you should separate yourself from that. So I feed off the energy of the people even coming to my shows. I don’t try to present myself as being greater than anyone. We’re all the same, and if it were not for the people I wouldn’t even be doing music.

Toddstar: I love to hear that because I think there are a lot of artist that could learn something from you on that note. I mentioned seeing you here in Detroit, now are you ready again, Leela James + The Truth Band, is this something you guys plan on hitting the road and kind of taking this out and bringing it to the people so to speak?

Leela: Yes, there’s a tour. It’s in the works coming up and we haven’t announced it per se yet, but yeah, I’m going to be hitting the road and performing some of the songs, and I’m looking forward to it.

Toddstar: If you had to pick a couple of songs off of this, and I don’t want to know your favorites because they’re all still your brand new baby, but what song or two do you think would mix the best in a live set with the R&B stuff you do?

Leela: “I’m Out.” For me, that’s closer to the roots of what I’ve done and what I do, with is soul music, with blues undertone, rhythm and blues, and it’s just a really really dark soul, soul, bluesy, edgy, raw rock record, with heavy blues inflection, you know what I mean?

Toddstar: You bring up something interesting. You mentioned ‘soul’, which when most people think of Leela James, and when you read any of the bios, or you read any of the write-ups, or critiques of shows or albums, R&B is always the lead. But do you consider yourself more R&B or more soul?

Leela: More soul. Definitely more soul.

Toddstar: In your opinion, what’s the difference between a soul singer and a R&B singer?

Leela: Well, R&B is basically rhythm and blues, real R&B is rhythm and blues, so most soul, real soul singers they sing rhythm and blues. The only difference that would be considered in today’s era, if you will, is that some R&B has been watered down, where you don’t hear as much soul from it. The true R&B, rhythm and blues, is this soul singer, singing rhythm and blues, and there isn’t really a difference in my opinion. But, some R&B has been watered down where you can have people that can sing and sound good, but they might not be singing it with soul.

Toddstar: Well, listening to some of the stuff you did on your Etta James album, you definitely sing with soul. And again, seeing you live, you sing and you bring the soul across even when you’re just talking back and forth with the crowd. Leela, what’s it like for you when you get a fan who you can tell is starstruck when they approach you?

Leela: I’m usually taken back a lot of times, and you’re always like ‘wow, I didn’t realize that my music touched people in that manner, and it is inspirational of course, it’s inspiring to want to continue.

Toddstar: That said, when was the last time you felt like you were starstruck, and who was it?

Leela: The last time I was starstruck? It was years ago, seeing Prince perform at the Hollywood Bowl and I didn’t get a chance to get up and close with him, but seeing him perform live I was just like freaking out, again and again like oh my gosh, it’s Prince.

Toddstar: Who’s out there that you’d still like to collaborate with, Leela?

Leela: Wow, who would I like to collaborate with? There’s so many artists. From the old school perspective, I would love to do something with Al Green.

Toddstar: That would be amazing.

Leela: I also would like to collaborate with Alabama Shakes.

Toddstar: What’s the one guilty pleasure you have musically that your fans would probably not guess. What album artist do you really dig that your fans would really be confused about?

Leela: Oh. I listen to a lot of Hip Hop trap music [laughs].

Toddstar: Really?

Leela: Yes!

Toddstar: Very cool. Well I know you’re busy, I know you’re trying to get out and spread the word about Are You Ready?, but I’ve got one more for you before we cut you loose. If you could go back to the history of music Leela and be a part of any one recording, one album, what would that album be?

Leela: Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On. It is timeless, classic, amazing, beautiful, and powerful.

Toddstar: I agree with that – as a Detroiter that grew up on Motown that album hits hard and hits home with me. Leela, again I appreciate you taking out the time, this has been so much fun as a fan of you and your music, and now the Leela James and The Truth Band EP, I can’t wait until you get this thing out on the road and hopefully we’ll see you sometime this summer here in Detroit.

Leela: Sounds good, thank you.





Category: Interviews

About the Author ()

ToddStar - that's me... just a rocking accountant who had dreams of being a rock star. I get to do the next best thing to rocking the globe - I get to take pictures of the lucky ones that do. I love to shoot all genres of music and different types of performers. If it is related to music, I love to photograph it. I get to shoot and hang with not only some of my friends and idols, but some of the coolest people around today.

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