Leslie Stevens of Leslie and the Badgers, now billed just as Leslie Stevens, is back playing shows with a new band and new songs.
I’m glad I caught her set recently at Echo Park Rising — it was fun to hear new songs live, like “Depression Descent” and “Sylvie,” and see the new band (which features Tripp Beam on drums — check out our interview with him from March 2013).
I spoke to Leslie about songwriting, her country/Americana sound, and the upcoming record produced by Jonathan Wilson:
After The Show: Do you have any plans to release the “Teen Bride” music video you filmed?
Leslie Stevens: Yes…I’m going to put that out when we put out the record that I recorded with producer Jonathan Wilson. As far as when that will be, it is not clear. But I’d love to optimistically say it’ll be as soon as 6 months and at the longest a year, but we’re still finalizing the business side.
Not even finalizing [laughs], but talking to several people about assistance with putting it out in an official way on a label. I just started performing again and I think that any solid label wants you to be performing live if they’re taking the risk of putting out a record…But I’m so happy to be doing shows again.
Your “It’s Okay To Trip” cover and “Little Bit By Little Bit” have glimpses of humor, but I think that kind of subversive humor is fully realized in “Everybody Drinks and Drives in Heaven” – what were you aiming to do with that song?
I think you hit on something when you say subversive elements because there’s definitely a black humor to all of those songs [laughs]. So thanks for recognizing and acknowledging that because a lot of people are just offended in general by black humor – for whatever reason they just don’t get it.
I think a movie [Heaven Is For Real] just came out based on a book about a boy’s near death experience…so the song is in part inspired by near death experience. It’s funny when you write something, the intention is very clear what you meant – I wrote it a couple years ago, and sometimes the further away [you get] from that, the intention gets further away from the artifact, the piece of art. That song is the idea of there being an afterlife and everyone just being able to do whatever the hell they want in the afterlife.
I like the references to living in Italy in “Americans in Rome” and skiing the Matterhorn in “As Beautiful As You” – what was your experience in Italy like?
I did live in Italy for a time – I worked for The Claremont Colleges for one of the study abroad programs there, and I had the opportunity to sing some opera as well. I don’t really do that so much anymore, but I appreciate the art form of opera. There aren’t many things that make you feel distinctly American as living in another country…I loved how it made me feel so American.
I really think of my music as very American music. That’s something that’s important to me – that what I’m doing comes from that folk tradition that is part from Appalachia and Oklahoma and the west coast and Laurel Canyon. At least that’s the intention of mine…I think that music can combine so many influences in a way that a lot of other art can’t.
I read that you like East of Eden and The Grapes of Wrath – would you ever write a song from the perspective of one of the characters or would that be too weird?
Woody Guthrie did some of that…with “Tom Joad.” I really like John Steinbeck – I didn’t study those in school but I studied those on my own. I just think John Steinbeck is incredible and I would definitely consider writing from a character perspective, but I haven’t really experimented much with that…or attempting to take someone else’s character and put my spin on it. I think I write best when it’s something that is close to me. I feel close to those characters, but it’s a completely different experience to the closeness you feel with your friends or your family.
Given that some of your songs are story songs like “Old Timers” and “Depression Descent,” how much fictionalizing do you do in your songs?
What matters to me is that there’s truth…so that there’s a type of truth. In the story songs, there’s always a type of truth and both of those songs were written from an autobiographical perspective, embellished in some ways…but they were both written from experience.
So back at Sxsw 2011 you recorded “You Don’t Have To Be So Tough” for the Japan tsunami charity record that Hanson put together – how did you get involved with that?
I got a call from Hanson and I believe Rain Phoenix told Hanson about me — do you know Rain? I think it was her…I was really glad to be a part of that. There’s a recording of that song on the Jonathan Wilson record.
Will the song “I’m Taken” be on your upcoming record?
That song will be on an upcoming record but it’s not going to be soon, not for a little while. I think I’ve only performed it one time ever!