LESLEY BARTH is a singer-songwriter and entrepreneur who believes music has the power to change lives and help us to better understand ourselves, and each other.
With her rich voice, relatable lyrics and 70’s sound (and vibe) she’s been compared to music greats like Joni Mitchell, Carole King, Carly Simon and Cat Stevens.
Last week, I had the opportunity to speak with Barth. She talked about why flying solo is so important to her and how she’s overcoming the habit of worrying about what others think.
I encountered Barth on Instagram. It only took a few minutes to identify that she has the same kind of greatness as the award-winning musicians she’s been compared to.
Last March, Barth quit her day job to pursue music full-time. And in January 2017, she debut her crowdfunded album Green Hearts.
The album has been met with great reviews. Take a listen and you’ll see why. Lesley Barth has true talent, substance and star quality. I believe she’s on the cusp of something more.
(Please note this post is longer that my regular posts, but it’s so worth the read!)
First and foremost, Lesley Barth is a storyteller.
April: Hi Lesley! Thank you for taking the time to chat with me. I’m kicking this interview off by telling you how much I LOVE “Just Like Summer.” It’s not my only fave, because you’ve given us plenty to love with your album Green Hearts (self-released in 2017). But it’s the one song I keep going back to. It’s my feel good song. I love the video as much as I love the song! The video has a simple, clean, retro vibe.
I see you in that video as cool, confident, casual and unpretentious. Would you say that’s an accurate description of yourself?
Lesley Barth: First of all, so glad to hear you like that song! It’s definitely a feel good one! In terms of whether that’s an accurate description of me, I’d like to believe I’m casual and unpretentious. But I rarely feel cool or confident. I think very few people do today in our always-on, achievement-obsessed society. I do feel the most confident when I’m on stage performing, so I’m glad that comes through in the video. We had a lot of fun filming it with strangers we met in Central Park.
April: Do you direct your videos? Is it your vision?
Lesley Barth: In the past for music videos, I’ve worked closely with two different friends of mine and we sort of share the vision and shoot it together. It’s nice to have someone to collaborate with and shoot ideas back and forth, though I’d love to work with a director who has their own vision of a music video one day, mainly because it’d be awesome to just show up and be in front of the camera, and not have to worry about anything else!
April: When did you know music was going to be your career?
Lesley Barth: I’ve been singing and writing songs since the age of 5 or so. I grew up in a musical household (my father was an opera singer and my mother was an actress/dancer/director who met him choreographing a show he was in). Actually, for the past 7 years, I’ve had a totally different day job (that inadvertently turned into a career–be careful of that!) working in public relations, then the tech world. I just quit my day job in March to focus on music! So I guess, to answer your question, either when I was 5 or about 5 months ago (laughs)!
April: You seem so comfortable on camera. Have you ever thought about trying your hand at acting, too?
Lesley Barth: Thank you! I did some acting in high school and college, but, to be honest, I’m just not super drawn to it. I have quite an anti-authority strand in me, so the idea of auditioning or being directed just never really sat well with me (laughs). I kinda like to be in charge of what I’m putting my creative energy into.
April: You’ve been compared to some music greats; Carole King and Carly Simon. What a compliment! When you perform “Song Without A Name” your presence and voice is very reminiscent of those women. I’d also like to add that I see and hear a young Linda Ronstadt and, Sinead O’ Connor (who was famous in the 80’s and 90’s). Are you influenced by the music of the 70’s or the women you’re being compared to?
Lesley Barth: I’m definitely influenced by those women, and many others, most notably Joni Mitchell and the Indigo Girls. My piano teacher told me I had to buy Tapestry if I wanted to write music, and I did. So many songwriters alive today owe a debt to Carole King specifically. I get Linda Ronstadt comparisons every so often and delight when I do. She is a goddess and if I could be half the singer she was, I’d be happy.
I never intended to write music that sounded very 70’s. It wasn’t until I released my first EP that I got that feedback and realized, oh. Right. Of course this is what my music sounds like. My parent’s taste in music had a huge effect on me, and the 70’s and 80’s were a big part of that.
April: I hear a theme of love and relationship in your music. The kind of love that has potential to be great but doesn’t work out (boy, can I relate to those!) I know you’ve found love. You’re married…to a musician, right? But, are your songs inspired by your own experiences?
Lesley Barth: I am! I’m married to a wonderful musician and songwriter, Chuck Ramsey. My full-length album Green Hearts ended up being an album that charts the arc of young love. The songs are all inspired by my own life and feelings, but not in a strictly confessional way—in other words, things didn’t literally happen the way the songs suggest. I’m too private of a person for that! But the feelings and sentiments were all things I experienced. Lately, I’ve drifted away from writing love songs, but every so often one pops up. Music and love are a little bit one and the same in a certain way, so that’s not surprising.
April: Let’s talk about “Elaine.” For those who don’t know “Elaine” is about a woman who realizes she spent too much time worrying about what others think. I don’t know any woman who hasn’t had to deal with that! In your Behind the Song series–I love those, by the way–you said after writing “Elaine” and processing it, you identified that “Elaine” was in you. And as a result, you decided you were going to “Stop trying to make things work that don’t work” and get real about the things you care about.
Lesley Barth: Ah! I’m so glad you like Behind Green Hearts (the album where I strip down to acoustic versions of the songs and tell stories behind some of them). It was really fun to make. And yes, Elaine is in all of us! There’s a certain kind of worrying that seems to be uniquely culturally feminine. And it serves no purpose! I’m still writing songs about other people that really end up being about me—and I’m surprised every time! (laughs).
April: I think so many of us can relate to that, too! What are the things you truly care about? And how are things going with the Elaine in you?
Lesley Barth: I’m slowly getting better at not worrying. But it’s a lifelong process, I think. Some days are better than others. The things I truly care about; my family, my friends my health, self-care, my music, my fans and social justice. Not a whole lot else, to be honest! It’s amazing how insignificant most things that we worry about, are.
April: As an independent musician you’re more than talent, you’re a businesswomen, too. Why did you choose to fly solo?
Lesley Barth: Thank you for recognizing that. I feel very fortunate to have worked in business and learned a great deal about PR, marketing and sales over the years. I realized I had to fly solo when I suddenly felt like what I was putting into my day job was not equal to what I was getting out of it.
It was something mundane (some everyday workplace drama) that just tipped the scales for me. I wanted to quit for a while to pursue music. I slowly realized that I started to have some success with music that was worth investing in, but my job was holding me back from opportunities.
And then, like I said, there was a specific moment where I thought “Oh, I’m going to quit tomorrow!” It wasn’t out of anger. I wasn’t upset. I just realized that something internally had shifted. I called my brother and told him and he told me something that I’ll always remember: “You have to make room in your life for the things you want.” And that’s what quitting was—making room for music.
April: All who choose a DIY career have some fears going into it. What fears did you have? How did you overcome them? Or, have you?
Lesley Barth: Money is the biggest fear (and not talked about enough). I saved a lot of money to give myself some breathing room after quitting. I also have a part-time job, 18 hours a week, that helps to cover the bills as I begin to get my business in order and set myself up for 2019. The other fears are feeling alone/isolated, and I actually do feel like I’ve overcome that. There is literally no way that I could have gotten to where I am without a strong community of musicians. We all lift one another, and we’re all better off for it.
April: Is it harder to break into the music business when you do it on your own?
Lesley Barth: I’ve never done it any other way. I think there are pros and cons to both ways, depending on what your goal is. The kind of music I make is not mainstream per se. As I mentioned, I don’t love being told what to do, so going the big label route never honestly occurred to me!
April: Does writing lyrics and music come easy to you?
Lesley Barth: Mostly, yes. I wrote 30 songs in 30 days last July to celebrate turning 30, and I (basically) don’t believe in writer’s block. Just write. Some things will be good. Some won’t. But what you should measure is quantity, not quality (shout out to John Mayer who said something like this on Twitter!) If you focus on quantity, quality improves.
April: What’s the best advice you’ve ever gotten?
Lesley Barth: One of my previous bosses has a sister who is a very successful UK songwriter. On a work trip to London we went over to her place for wine and a chat. She told me three things: “Write the kind of music you want to write, work with the people you want to work with, and keep releasing music.” That advice is honestly my North Star in this wacky industry. I’m so grateful she took the time to speak with me, it was very kind.
April: A few weeks ago, on Instagram, you talked about your struggle with anxiety and self-doubt. Tell me more about that. How do you cope with those feelings as they arise?
Lesley Barth: Hoo boy. Yes. I talk through it with friends, my husband, my brother, etc. Just talking about it helps a ton. Sometimes just acknowledging it makes me feel less like I’m anxious, and more like I’m experiencing anxiety. But also, sleeping regularly, eating well, drinking less, yoga, swimming and the gym. Basically anything that makes my body feel better and my brain feel quieter.
April: I believe success looks different for everyone (or it should), what does success look like for you?
Lesley Barth: I agree wholeheartedly! For me, success is making a living from my music, touring regularly, making real connections with people, and making an impact on people’s lives.
April: There’s a lot going on in the world and everyone has something that troubles them or keeps them up at night, what is that for you?
Lesley Barth: Oh man. Donald Trump unnerves me, but not as much as a world that enables someone like him to be elected. I think there is so much work to be done. I try to focus on making small positive changes in the areas that I can control and influence.
April: Who would you most like to collaborate with?
Lesley Barth: I would love to do something with Jenny Lewis!
April: Who inspires you on a personal level?
Lesley Barth: My fellow artists do—every damn day. It makes me so happy and proud when good things come their way. And feeling genuine joy for other people is one of the greatest treats in life.
April: What are you binge-watching?
Lesley Barth: Queer Eye. I think they are making TV that can change the world in such a positive way. Dismantle toxic masculinity!
April: What’s next for you in your career? I saw you recently tweeted a teaser for a new song (Yay), tell us more!
Lesley Barth: Well, I’m trying to grow my community over on Patreon (patreon.com/lesleybarth). I put out a new demo song every month that can’t be heard anywhere else. That’s been so wonderful, because I get to share more personal behind-the-scenes stuff, and have some predictability in income every month (if you’re not familiar, Patreon is like a fan subscription–you can give as little as $1/month for access, extra music, and things like that). I’m also so excited because I have a single coming out in the next couple of months!
April: Great! I’ll be looking for that! Okay, last but not least, can I be in your next video? (Laugh).
Lesley Barth: YES!!! Hahaha, that’s great. Get to NYC!
April: Thanks so much for chatting with me, Lesley. I can’t wait to see what’s next for you!
Lesley Barth: Thanks so much for taking the time to chat with me, April.
If you’d like to learn more about Lesley or her music and tour dates, follow the links below!
Connect with Lesley Barth