Interviewed by: Anders Sandvall
Thanks to Emil Westerdahl at Inner Wound Recordings for setting up the interview.
Thanks to Inner Wound Recordings for the promo pictures of the band.
From British Columbia Canada comes Leah, a singer that released her second album KINGS AND QUEENS early this year. Her music is best described as symphonic metal influenced by world, Celtic, and middle eastern music. A few of the topics we handled include: the new album, her new label, the guest musicians (Tim Somers, Sander Zoer and Barend Courbois), her background, and why she hasn’t toured. Leah has gained a big fanbase with huge internet support from fans and I’m sure that the fans wants to see her live. Leah’s label has also re-released her debut album OF EARTH AND ANGELS. Enjoy.
Hi Leah, and thanks a lot for taking the time for the interview. Are you ready to begin? Your debut album OF EARTH AND ANGELS was released 2012, how long did it take you to write the material to that album?
Thanks for having me. It took no time at all to write OE&A because I already had so much material to choose from. It was a matter of a process of elimination. But while in that process and recording the demos, I did end up writing a few others that stayed on the album, such as “Remember”, “Prisoner” and “Confess My Love”.
Where do you find inspiration to write lyrics/music?
Usually my inspiration comes to me in the quiet moments. Often entire original songs are playing in my head when I’m trying to fall asleep… very annoying! I end up singing into my iPhone and recording a melody before I forget what it is. They often turn into songs later.
How come you choose the title OF EARTH AND ANGELS; does the title have any special meaning to you?
I like to summarize all the songs or general theme into a phrase if I can. “Of Earth & Angels” is the general theme and content of the songs as a whole.
You recorded the album on your own, how was that? What’s the pro’s and con’s with recording on your own?
Yes, and the first one took longer than I would have liked. The pros are that you get to do whatever you want and have no time constraints or pressures. I had to learn everything myself, from the recording process to making contacts, to music marketing. It was a very steep learning curve. The cons are that you need a lot of determination and self-motivation to do that kind of thing. It’s not easy.
Did you ever think of searching for a label to help you out, or did you prefer to do it on your own?
I did think of searching for a label, and honestly I don’t think any of them would know what to do with me. I sometimes have a hard time fitting into categories. But being independent taught me a lot too, so now I like how I have my music career set up.
The disc was released by your own label Cathedra Records, is it possible to buy the album in stores or is it only available as download?
Yes, my private label is Ex Cathedra Records, which is like a business name. The physical album is available on my website www.leahmchenry.com and is also available for download everywhere (iTunes, Amazon, etc.).
Is it correct that it took you 2 years to finish the debut?
Yes, mostly because I had a very time-consuming family life and could only work on it 1-2x each week. So I just chipped away at it.
What did the media think of OF EARTH AND ANGELS? Do you care about what the press thinks of your work?
I guess they liked it. I only had a few fans when I released it, and they were relatives 🙂 After I put my songs on YouTube it really took off from there. About six months later, all the sudden people were talking about it and I started getting reviews and such. It was nice. Good press is important for marketing, of course, but I never write songs with that end in mind. I only write what sounds good to me.
You have gained your fanbase through social media and mouth-to-mouth, you must have loyal fans? 🙂
Yes, so far that has been my only measure of marketing – having an Internet and social media presence only. I think metal fans are great – they seem like the most loyal fans in the world.
In retrospect what do you think of OF EARTH AND ANGELS today?
I still really like that album, and think it’s a nice reflection of who I was at the time. I hope to continue to grow and stay true to my creativity.
The bio says that you found and unfamiliar terrain as your homegrown music faced professional critics, industry insiders and global scrutiny of symphonic metal fans who compared your music to long established artists. Could you explain a little closer what the bio means with that?
There are the very top and most famous symphonic-metal bands that people always compare you to. In so many reviews, people were comparing me to this band and that band as a form of measuring how “good” my music was. Luckily, they thought my music was of the same caliber, but it’s still a bit terrifying when people do that 🙂 I like to be taken as-is. But I understand, people feel the need to compare, it’s pretty natural.
You won “The best symphonic metal album” at Metalstorm Awards, how was that? Was it expected?
When I was nominated for that title, it was definitely a surprise, since I was pretty unknown.
A year after the release of the debut the EP OTHERWORLD came out, what did the fans think of the EP?
Most of my fans knew it was an “in-between” project, and they were songs I really wanted to put out before my next full-length album. I think they liked it? 🙂
Eric Peterson makes a guest appearance on vocals on the EP, how did he end up singing with you? Are you long time friends?
Yes, we met several years back through my old band. We ended up jamming and doing a little writing and hit it off pretty well with our ideas. We kept in touch over the years with the goal of eventually collaborating one day. I really wanted some male vocals on the song “Dreamland” and he was happy to do it!
Did you do anything different music-wise on the EP compared to the debut album?
Yeah, it’s a bit softer and more New-Age, mixed with a bit of metal. I really wanted something more atmospheric than heavy for that one.
You also released the EP on your own, was it easier to release the EP if you compare it to the album?
Yes, by then I knew a lot more about how things can or should be done, and what I could do to promote my music. It worked out pretty good in the end.
According to the bio you haven’t done a lot of touring, why?
Because I have a family and my main gig is being a mother. Music is a very serious hobby for me, which is turning into more of a career, but I want to be as dedicated to my family as possible. Touring is a whole different animal, and I’d love to do that one day when my kids aren’t so little.
Just one, actually. It was very well received, and I took like a duck to water on stage. I used to live for performing when I was younger, but now I think I can leverage the internet much better than live show for the time being.
Your international fans are calling you Metal-Enya, what do you think of that?
It’s pretty cool. Not too many artists have that description. I think it certainly paints a picture in someone’s mind about what the music might sound like. My voice is soft, I enjoy layering many harmonies and I love ethereal vibes in my music, so I can see where they are coming from.
You’re active on a lot of social forums like Twitter, Youtube and so on, do you think it’s important to be active on the internet?
Absolutely, yes. I hope to be even more active in the future. I think as an artist, that’s really the most important thing you can do for your band after having great music, to build a fan base.
New album KINGS AND QUEENS
For how long did you work on the material to the new album?
I started during my crowdfunding campaign in Spring of 2014 and released it January 30th of 2015. So it took about nine months from start to finish from writing to recording to releasing it. That’s a lot!
Do you write the material on your own or do you co-write anything of it?
I write all the songs. On Kings & Queens, Timo helped to flesh them out and develop them. He metal-fied them!
Kings and Queens album teaser
What are the lyrics about on KINGS AND QUEENS?
All kinds of things, ranging from empires and dystopias to fantasy worlds, Narnia characters, betrayal and hardships, to long desert journeys. Lots of folklore in my little world 😀
Just before the album was released, you put out the lyric video to “This Present Darkness” on youtube, what did the fans think of the song? Is it a good example of what the album is about?
I think people liked it from what I can tell. I think it’s a pretty good example of the album. It’s a little more progressive, it’s longer than usual, there’s some Celtic flare in it, and lots of metal!
This Present Darkness (Official lyric video)
How come you named the album KINGS AND QUEENS?
Also the same way I named the other albums, I like to think of the whole album as a theme and how I would summarize it into a nutshell, and Kings & Queens seemed both fitting and memorable. It’s also a line taken out of the song “Palace of Dreams”.
Yes, to me the art should always reflect the album as a whole, if at all possible. He’s a very talented guy and knew what to do after chatting about the songs, and after he heard some of them.
Musicians on the album are Timo Somers on guitar from Delain, Barend Courbois on bass from Blind Guardian and Sander Zoer ex-Delain on drums. How come they ended up with you? Did you know all of them before you made the album?
I met Timo through Spacelab Studios that mixed Otherworld. I was looking for guys to help me with my project and Timo ended up hearing my stuff and liked it, and of course, I liked his stuff too – so we ended up collaborating that way. He helped me find the remaining guys and produced their instruments. Now we are all friends 🙂
Was it easy to work with the guys?
It was a bit odd, since I am in Canada and they are in Europe, but also very convenient at the same time! I love the internet 🙂
Maybe, I guess it depends on the project – you’d have to ask them. 🙂
Besides vocals, you also play piano/keyboard, is it hard to do both things at the same time?
I’ve been doing it since I started playing. As soon as I could, I was playing and singing at the same time. I’m sure it’s a little more difficult in a live setting. But it’s natural for me.
Is the orchestration done on keyboards?
A lot of it is virtual instruments that I compose through a keyboard controller.
The album is pretty long and clocks in at about 80 minutes. Was it your intention to make a long album or did it just end up that way?
It wasn’t intentional. I just wrote the songs and let them be as long as they needed to be to feel complete. I ended up shortening several of them because otherwise it wouldn’t fit on one disc.
Almost all of the songs are about 5 minutes, except for the 8 minute long “Palace Of Dreams” what is the song about?
That one was sort of a story I made up in my mind. I wrote the song, and then fleshed out the story afterwards, so I could tell fans what it was about. It’s mainly about a Usurper who has the whole kingdom under a spell, and the slow undoing of it. I would consider doing a Part 2 to tell how it ends.
Yes, that is an older song of mine. It’s about someone in a situation of losing someone, either through relationship or by death, perhaps. It’s the process of mourning and letting go.
The song that ends the album is “Siúil A Rún (acoustic version)” could you tell us about that song?
Yes, it’s a traditional Irish folk song. There is more than one rendition of the lyrics. Supposedly it’s about a woman who is mourning her lover who decides to be exiled, rather than join the English army.
Are there any plans on releasing the album on vinyl?
I suppose if there is enough demand for vinyl, then yes. I haven’t had too many requests so far, but that could change.
How would you like to describe what kind of music you play?
That’s a hard one. Basically, Celtic and World-fusion metal. But I like incorporating, folk, new age, and even my more singer/songwriter roots. Pretty hard to describe.
Are there any plans on shooting a video to any of the songs?
That’s another thing I’d really like to do as well. Nothing is set in stone at this point, but I’m sure I will do videos in the future.
Do you think that you have developed music-wise if you compare the debut album with KINGS AND QUEENS? If so in what way?
Yeah, I think I just understand my own direction a little better now. I’m not afraid to experiment, and I also know my audience a lot better.
Do you think that fans of OF EARTH AND ANGELS are going to like KINGS AND QUEENS?
I do 🙂 It’s just gone deeper and further than OE&A. I keep the Celtic and folk influences while also getting a bit heavier, which is really what I’ve been wanting to do for a while.
Yeah, so far so good! I’m pleased with how the album has been received.
Are there any differences in how native and the foreign media treats you and writes about you?
I haven’t seen much difference actually. Symphonic metal is still pretty small in Canada, so people are just now starting to discover it.
The bio states that KINGS AND QUEENS is sure to be loved by fans of symphonic metal and female fronted rock, do you think they are right?
Yeah I do, I have not heard anything to the contrary 🙂
Are you happy with the outcome of the album or do you feel that you should have done anything in a different way?
Yes I’m happy with it. Once a project is finished, I try to just accept it for what it is, with any imperfections it might have. It’s a piece of artistic history of my life.
Studio and production
Where was the album recorded?
Here in BC, Canada and also in Holland and Germany.
Were all of the musicians gathered at the same time in the studio or did they recorded their parts in separate studios?
A lot of it was separate parts, but Timo produced the guitars, bass and drums, so they were all together for that part.
When did the recordings began?
Timo and I did a lot of pre-production after my campaign ended, and then we worked on the rest over the Summer of 2014.
Christian Moos at Spacelab Studio mixed it, and yes I was very involved in the mixing process, and Timo was as well.
Who produced the album?
It was somewhat self-produced, but Timo produced the live instruments (guitars, bass, drums).
The mastering was done in Eroc’s Mastering Ranch, where is that place located?
Eroc is in Germany.
Personal with Leah McHenry
When did you first start to sing?
I discovered my love of singing around age 10 or 11.
Are you classically trained or are you self taught?
Self taught 🙂
Besides piano do you play any other instrument?
Guitar was my first instrument. I hope to pick it up again in the future.
What came first, the piano or the singing?
It was singing and very soon after, I realized I had songs in me, so I needed to play something like piano and guitar so I could write them.
Do you have any idols or such that inspired you to start to sing?
Yes, I liked old-school Mariah Carey (ha!), whose mother was an opera singer, so I was very intrigued by that and her vocal control.
Do you have any idols when it comes to the piano?
I really enjoy Tori Amos’ playing a lot as well as Ludovico Einaudi.
When did you start to write lyrics and music?
As soon as I started playing. It was instantaneous.
What comes first, lyrics or music?
Usually music. I have to feel out the vibe and mood of the song. The topic comes to me after I have music and a melody.
You’re from British Columbia, Canada. Could you tell us a bit about your hometown and what’s the climate for metal/harder music in British Columbia?
I’m not in the live seen much, but I hear there is a growing fan base for metal in Vancouver. Some great bands come here to play, so there has to be the demand in order for them to come here. The metal scene is not as active as some other places in the world, though. Hopefully I can do my part to spread the word about symphonic metal in Canada.
Are you well known in your town? Can you walk around the streets without being recognized?
No, I don’t think I’m well-known here, since a) I’m mainly a recording artist and b) I’m in the symphonic metal genre. Most people don’t listen to that here.
What do you like to do when you’re not writing music?
I’m usually spending time with my family. Aside from that, I have a pretty entrepreneurial spirit, so I’m always thinking about other projects and things I can do.
Label and management
How was it to release the debut album and the following EP without any back-up from a label?
It was a big learning curve. I’ve learned so much since 2012. I hope I can help other artists too eventually, since when you’re starting out it can be overwhelming to know what to do.
How come you chose to do it all by yourself?
Mostly because I didn’t feel like waiting around to get “discovered”. It was just something I had to do as part of my “bucket list”.
Have you invested a lot of money in your musicianship?
Probably not compared to some people. Right now I keep it pretty simple. I don’t have tons of expensive gear – I just have what I need to get by for now.
I guess that you own the legal right to both the debut and the EP?
Yes, I own the rights to all my songs, and have re-released them through Inner Wound Recordings.
When did you start to search for a label and were there many that showed interest in signing with you?
I was always curious about what a deal might look like, but it seemed I was too heavy for some labels and not heavy enough for others. For that reason, I had inquiries, but none that were the right fit.
Are you happy with the sales of the debut and EP that you released on your own?
Yes, if an artist can self-fund their projects for the most part, that’s how I define success.
How come you chose to ink a deal with the Swedish label Inner Wound Recordings?
Because I really like the owner and heard nothing but great things. To me, who you work with is more important than fame or a big name in the industry. When you work with good people, you can achieve great things.
Well you have the extra support, of course. But the process is similar.
Do you see any difficulties in the fact that the label is based in Sweden and you in Canada?
No, not really.
Is IWR releasing your album in South America and Asia?
My album is available worldwide and on all major digital platforms.
IWR is working together with the promotion label Connecting Music, are you satisfied with the co-operation?
I’m happy with the results so far and I’m sure as time goes on, there will be more music to promote.
KINGS AND QUEENS is available on Spotify, what do you think of Spotify?
I don’t personally use Spotify, though my albums are available on it. It’s one medium among many to distribute music. The whole industry is changing, and I try to focus on new and better ways for fans to interact directly from me as opposed to some of the streaming sites. But I don’t think they are evil. I’m sure I’ve gained many new fans because they were able to easily hear my music.
Is it possible to download your album on iTunes or similar services?
Yes, it is available on iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, and pretty much any digital platform out there.
If you buy KINGS AND QUEENS from your website, a hidden track follows, is there anything you can tell us about that hidden track?
Yeah, it was a bonus rock version of the track “Siúil A Rún”. I did that one just for fun, because I love mixing traditional folk sounds with metal, so I wanted to see what it sounded like. I thought my fans would enjoy it too, that’s why I added it.
You have a really nice website, who runs it?
I run my site, but it was created also by Jan Yrlund.
You also have a blog on the website but you don’t write there any more, why?
I think I should write more, shouldn’t I! I’ve mostly used Facebook as my main source of interaction, and found it to be the best use of my time as I can interact directly with fans and friends. But I would like to write more again. Soon..
Do you think it’s important to interact with fans through Facebook and other social forums? What’s the most common question you get from fans?
Yes, definitely. That’s been my main source of promotion. I get asked a lot about everything from songwriting to how I balance family and music life, to music business questions. I like them all. I plan on writing some things on that to answer people’s questions and hopefully help other artists getting started.
You have almost 45,000 likes on Facebook, are you happy with that?
Sure, why not. Likes are not the end of the world. It’s never good to have all your eggs in one basket, since Facebook owns my page and could shut it down any time they like. So I’m encouraging people to join my email list so we can interact directly with each other without a middle-man.
Where in the world do you have your biggest fanbase?
Seems to be in Europe, some South America, and US.
You auctioned your dress that you wore on the cover is on Ebay, why did you do that?
Mostly because it was sitting in my closet and I no longer need it. And also because I’m saving to get something special. 🙂
Now that the album is out, are there any plans on doing shows or maybe a tour this summer?
No plans to tour for now. I decided to focus on family life for 2015 and see what happens after that.
Which musicians would you bring a long on a tour or shows?
I guess it depends if the guys are available, so I can’t say for sure.
You released a cover of the Stratovarius song “Unbreakable” at the beginning of March, how come you wanted to cover that song?
Actually it was a fan that asked for that song, who was involved with my crowdfunding campaign. I do enjoy the challenge of a cover song once in a while.
Unbreakable – Stratovarius (cover by LEAH)
IWR is soon going to re-release your debut album OF EARTH AND ANGELS, are there going to be any bonus features added?
Included is new artwork, photos and a special message from me 🙂
Are you currently working on any material for the next album? If so, when do you think we can find the next Leah album in stores?
I’m not officially writing anything for a new album, but I could see focusing on that towards the Fall and we’ll see after that. I’ve always got lots of ideas, so I’m trying to be diligent to record them and get my ideas down for later.
What would you like to say to those who haven’t heard the music of Leah?
I would say if they have read this far, they will probably check my music out! I hope they like it 🙂 It’s a blend of metal, Celtic, folk, and world music with some ethereal vocals. Come say hi to me on my Facebook page!
Are you happy with what you have achieved in your career so far?
Definitely. For a full-time mother who’s never done a tour, I’m quite happy.
1. Timo Somers (Delain guitarist)
2. Sander Zoer (ex-Delain drummer)
3. Barend Courbois (Blind Guardian bassist)
These guys rule and made my songs so much more amazing. Each of them added their own flare and I love listening to what they did. I’m proud to have them on this album.
What are the plans for Leah during 2015?
My plans are to focus on family life, keep writing songs, and hopefully have some great content by the end of the year to consider the next album.
Well, that was all for me and metal-rules.com for the moment. Thanks a lot for taking the time to hook up with us. I wish you all the best in the future, do you have any final words of wisdom to share with the fans and readers?
//Cheers from Canada!