Leslie Stevens of Dear Lemon Trees shares all about her experience singing with the trio and her work as a backup singer. She also talks about providing backup vocals for Father John Misty and performing as part of the annual fundraiser The Merry Minstrel Musical Circus.
After The Show: How do you split vocal duties with Kathleen Grace and Jamie Drake in Dear Lemon Trees?
Leslie: When I sing with Dear Lemon Trees, I sing the melody sometimes and backup on other songs and it’s planned and arranged and rehearsed so that we know what we’re singing before the show or before a recording and we can be pretty precise and controlled with one another.
Singing back-up on a record or live are both a bit different than being in a set band act or show, although singing in a rehearsed band can be one of the best ways to acquire the skills to do back-up live or in the studio.
What differences are there between singing backup live vs singing backup in a studio?
When I sang on Father John Misty’s record Fear Fun, I was not given the songs before the session, so Josh sang the harmony parts to me through the headphones from the studio control room, and then I would sing them back while it was recorded.
So in that situation you are kind of practicing right to the record the first time you sing the line and you are really concentrating and your vocals are under the microscope. Sometimes singing live with someone you can’t hear yourself onstage at all and that is another kind of challenge.
I have had the honor of singing back-up as a part of The Merry Minstrel Musical Circus fundraiser each year since it began and I’ve had the experience of being onstage with artists I admire and respect greatly and even after a great soundcheck something just isn’t quite right during the show despite an amazing sound crew, and it doesn’t go the way it should have.
But I will say, there are also the times that the band will play a song out of nowhere and you get to sing the hell out of the harmonies because you happen to know the artist’s work and that is the greatest feeling to me. That happened once with Jeff Lynne, John Fogerty of CCR and also once with Joe Walsh of The Eagles. Live is live and anything can happen kind of…that’s what makes it so fun.
Is there anything that you think non-musicians would be surprised to learn about backup singers?
You don’t have to even think about hearing yourself in the studio. You have complete control compared to a live scenario. I think non-musicians are surprised to find that recording a voice or any instrument is almost a different skill from playing live. Studio recording of any kind puts you under a microscope and that takes a good amount of precision and technique from the player. In the studio you hear every little detail. Your voice is…naked.
Many singers get into the studio to discover that their vocals aren’t quite where they had hoped.
Has singing backup improved any aspects of your musicianship?