Rewind to the 1940’s and 1950’s in America. Blues artists like Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, and Etta James were greatness epitomized. Blues and Soul ruled the charts due to its infectious, gritty, and emotional nature. Blues started to fade when the disco-era of the 1970’s overtook the popular musical arena and it sadly became a thing of the past.
But wait a minute Blues fans – things are looking up. Los Angeles based Blues and Soul singer Leela James is bringing the Blues back. Her powerful soul is conveyed through every song she sings and it’s impossible to not feel through her music straight into her heart. Leela’s new album My Soul drops May 25th and we sat down with her to discuss the new album.
Spoiler alert: You’ll also be seeing Leela on a BET talk show in the very near future.
Parlé: Tell me about your early childhood and being born in L.A. and how that’s formed who you are as an artist.
Leela: I was just always exposed to music like soul music and pop. I think it shaped and molded me to be that type of artist right now. I’m into a lot of gospel music and a lot of blues and my family is from Texas so it was near me. I heard a lot of music and it was just an environment that was full of soul.
Parlé: Who are some of your musical inspirations? Who have you always looked up to as far as music goes and who do you still look up to now?
Leela: As far as music goes I looked up to, and still look up to, artists like Aretha Franklin, Prince, Al Green, James Brown, y’know, artists that are very, very soulful.
Parlé: So talk to me about the blues. I was introduced to the Blues and Soul music about 3 years ago and fell in love. The thing is, a lot of people my age – which is 24 – aren’t into the Blues. So tell me about what you do to make the Blues current and make Blues and Soul part of today’s culture?
Leela: I haven’t really done anything except be me. I’m like you, I’m a lover of the Blues. A lot of the Blues is in delivery. In addition to the music behind it, it’s in the delivery. The Blues is also soulful so I think from my standpoint I’m old and I’m new in my style in that vocally I’m a throw back to that time when people sounded and sang blues-ier and more soulful but my music is a little more updated.
Parlé: How do you think you’ve evolved over your musical career?
Leela: I’m definitely involved more in the production of things, and that is a big part of the music.
Parlé: Lets talk about your new album that’s coming out, My Soul. What does it mean to you? The title insinuates that you’re bearing a lot of your self to your listeners, so tell me about how this album represents your soul.
Leela: My Soul is coming out May 25th of 2010. With the album, what I’m basically trying for, is that every single record on the album comes from my soul and in the delivery, that’s my soul. Even if the track might sound more Hip-Hop from the next track, it doesn’t matter, because it’s still coming from my soul. I was involved, I wrote or co-wrote all the records with the exception of a couple. So what I’m trying to convey is that this is all a part of my soul. The variety, the range, everything, it’s coming from my soul. Nobody else’s soul but Leela’s soul.
Parlé: I’ve always had this hope that Blues will come back and be really popular and an integral part of pop culture again. Do you see this happening?
Leela: Hopefully, I’m not sure. It’s all about a matter of taste, and anything is possible.
Parlé: One thing I’ve noticed about Blues and one thing that really attracts me to it is that more than with Pop or Rap or Hip-Hop, in Blues you feel the music. You feel the emotion and you feel what the singer is going through and you feel it coming from deep inside of them. Tell me about where this comes from you with you. Tell me about how you get this deep emotion engrained in your music.
Leela: It’s just from life and life experience. Life, that’s where it comes from. Living life, experiencing life, my experiences direct and indirect, that’s where it comes from. Also, I’m a woman so I’m going to be even that much more emotional.
Parlé: What do we have to expect from you in 2010 and beyond?
Leela: Well, of course, as you know this album is coming out. So, you can expect that on May 25th. I’m also doing a show on BET called My Black Is Beautiful and it’s a talk show I’ll be co-hosting with Tasha Smith, Kim Coles, and Alesha Reene and that’s going to air May 2nd on BET. Then I’m going to be touring this summer so it’s going to be pretty busy.
Parlé: I’ll finish up with this question. Do you have any expectations for My Soul? Is there a benchmark you’d like to reach or are you just taking sales as they come?
Leela: Well of course I would say that I want this record to well and I would love for everybody to go out and purchase it and get it on iTunes on May 25th. I’d love for it to be considered a success in terms of sales numbers, but also I just really always want to be respected and revered as a true artist that’s about real music.
Parlé: Well thanks so much Leela, and thanks especially for bringing the Blues back.
Leela: Thank you so much, I appreciate the support.
You can find Leela on Twitter (http://www.Twitter.com/LeelaJames ), Facebook, and on her home page (http://leelajames.com/).
Written by Jake Coughlan for Parlé Magazine