Leah Weller has had a busy few months. Managing to write and release debut single ‘Change’ back in April despite the difficulties of lockdown (Ocean Colour Scene‘s Steve Craddock produced her single remotely), she now shares new song ‘Strangers’ today as part of an EP, or “possibly an album”, Leah says.
“I do have enough for an album now,” says Leah, daughter of Modfather Paul Weller and soul legend DC Lee. She’s written music non-stop during lockdown. “There was nothing else to do!” she tells NME over the phone from her home in London. “It has been a good, reflective time for writing and I feel quite grateful to have had that.”
We caught up with Leah to hear all about her early career as a DJ, overcoming confidence issues to write her own material, and how her love of Marilyn Manson inspired her songwriting (but annoyed her dad)…
Hello Leah. What can you tell us about your new single?
Leah: “I first sent the song to Steve Cradock, and we just met up as and when we could. A lot it was me just sending my dodgy GarageBand recording files backwards and forwards to him whilst he worked on them from a distance. Eventually, it just turned out great and we were like, ‘let’s release it!’”
What’s it been like working with Steve Craddock?
“We’ve been working together a lot. It’s been really amazing – he’s like family to me and I’ve obviously known him since I was a kid. He produced my EP that was meant to come out this year, but instead we’ve decided just to go with singles for now, because of this climate and the fact it’s been a crazy time for all of the music industry.”
Is there a theme or style connecting all the songs at this stage?
“A lot of the songs are a social commentary either on things like mental health, stuff that I or other people I know, have been going through. It’s a commentary on life and issues that are not dealt with, that are not spoken about as much. It’s just what came out when I started writing: it wasn’t intentional. Every song is connected too with a soul theme in some way but there’s also a lot of musical variety there. For example, ‘Strangers’ has more of a ska, pop feel, but I’ve got other stuff on there that’s a little bit heavier. It’s got a 90’s grungy vibe to it, I’ve also got a country pop song on there too. It’s a little bit eclectic, but I think it’s cool that it’s not just one thing. There are no rules anymore.”
Who are your musical influences?
“As a kid, I was really into Marilyn Manson and I think he’s probably one of my main influences lyrically. His lyrics were just so different from anything else that was being written about when I was that age. I think he’d already been out for a very long time when I was a kid, but it didn’t matter – I had never heard lyrics like that before. My dad wasn’t super thrilled with the whole Marilyn Manson era I went through though! I loved a proper eclectic mix of music when I was growing up – from Deftones to Missy Elliott. As I got older, I got more into much older stuff. I’m actually very into country music at the moment and a few of the new tracks have a country vibe to them. I love Kacey Musgraves.”
Will any heavier songs make it onto your eventual EP or album?
“There’s one track that I did with Paul Barry called ‘Something Sacred.’ It’s got a proper 90’s grunge guitar in it. I would say it’s got that Marilyn Manson, Nine Inch Nails grit to it and I think will be a great a live track one day!”
Do you worry about comparisons to your parents?
“Yes, there is always that thought but more than anything, they are just my parents. I think that with anybody who puts something out, there’s always the fear that it might be judged, as it’s something that’s very personal to you. I do usually run stuff past my dad to see what his opinion is, from the musician’s point of view. I would rather show it to my dad and him give me his feedback than release something that’s really not good and hear it from someone else.
“My parents have always been just very supportive no matter what I wanted to do, but coming from a musical background, I knew from an early age that I was into music. I was always singing; I was always trying to pick up guitar. My dad got me my first guitar for my 12th birthday. I remember writing my first song. I think it was called something like, ‘Same Shit, Different Day’ – I was a bit of an emo kid!”
Prior to this, you were a DJ – what made you take the leap into writing your own music?
“It’s only the last two-three years that I’ve been writing my own stuff. I just wasn’t ever confident enough and I didn’t think I was good enough. I got into it quite young and then I wasn’t really sure if it was for me; I was very shy. It was a proper learning curve and I think confidence came with age too, as I got older. Now, I’ve found my feet in what I want to do. I’ve found my voice, as it were. With the DJ-ing, that was just a great, fun job, which unfortunately I can’t really do right now either. I just think anything music-oriented was always something I wanted to be involved in.”
How did you overcome your confidence issues?
“Just finding that confidence to put music out was the biggest challenge for me, the one thing holding me back. I’d written these songs and felt that they were very personal to me. Obviously putting them out somewhere means they could be criticised, but I just learned to let that go. That’s been the biggest thing to overcome. I think it’s been a case of learning to listen to yourself, not doubting yourself before you’ve even begun.”
You’re taking part soon in The Big Busk event with mental health charity Nordoff Robins soon…
“Yes, it’s such an amazing charity that helps so many people. Music is something that can helps anyone through numerous problems, so I think it’s a great thing to be associated with. It’s going to my first time being able to play music since lockdown; I’m very excited about that too.”
Are you planning to get back on the road next year?
“I’m definitely going to plan a tour either way, as soon as it’s safe. I’ve got another gig coming up on October 8 at the Clapham Grand. They’ve been doing some social distanced gigs; it’s a bit of a trial thing at the moment but it’s going to be fun. I’m also thinking about trying to attempt some more outside gigs as well and then eventually, tour the UK and just get out there again.”
You were planning to go on tour this year with your dad too…
“Yes, I was meant to do his tour this year, but unfortunately it got cancelled, postponed. Maybe next year. I got to go on tour with him as a kid, see him play. Of course, that inspired me, as did just seeing how amazing his fans are. It makes you feel like you want to do the same thing. It’s definitely good to have someone to go to for advice like him.”
‘Strangers’ by Leah Weller is out now.