Michelle Leigh Remains Edgy and Honest During COVID-19
By Frank Iacono
Michelle Leigh, who hails from Bakersville, North Carolina; a small Appalachian town steeped in the tradition of mountain music and gospel hymns, has been touted as “The New Queen of Southern Rock.”
Michelle’s songwriting style, often described as edgy and honest, amplifies real-life situations, real-life problems and real-life solutions. Ms. Leigh’s music says out loud what everyone else is already thinking. Her country rock sound has been described as Sugarland soaked in Janis Joplin and Tina Turner overtones, with a healthy mix of Dolly for inspiration. Her smoky vocals and driving rhythms, will break your heart with a ballad, and then heal it with a hard shot of whiskey.
In 2012, Michelle was listed in the Top 25 out of over 2,200 entries in GAC/ Music City Songwriter’s Competition for her ballad “Babydoll”, and Honorable Mention in the Smoky Mountain Songwriter’s Competition for the rock-infused song “Black Ink”. The following year, she was named the winner of the Charlotte Music Awards 2013 Women in Rock Showcase.
In both 2015 and 2016, she was presented with the prestigious Josie Music Awards Southern Rock Artist of the Year. Equally, she was awarded the highly-respected 2016 JMA Southern Rock Song of the Year for “Somebody’s Someone”. During 2017, she was honored with the People’s Choice Award-Jacksonville for Country ’Southern Rock and the JMA Southern Rock Video of the Year for “Devil Music”. In September, JMA awarded her with the 2018 JMA Entertainer of the Year Southern Rock and 2018 JMA Video of the Year for the hard-hitting “Blood Water”.
In this edition of Music Player Magazine, we caught up with Michelle Leigh and we discussed how COVID-19 and “stay-at-home” orders have affected her musical career as well as her new EP entitled The Yellow Brick Road Diaries Part 2: One Knight In Emerald City.
MPM: As a musician, how has this pandemic affected you both professionally and personally?
Michelle Leigh: Truthfully, it’s been pretty weird! Professionally, all of my shows in the months of April and May were cancelled, except for one at the AWESOME Southern Social Whiskey Bar & Lounge in Middleburg, Florida. Personally, I really missed playing, especially the Nashville-style songwriters’ rounds held in Nashville, Tennessee.
MPM: Is there something you’ve been putting off for a long time, but are now doing with this time at home?
ML: Yes. Reorganizing my closet and updating my wardrobe! That is my least favorite thing in the whole wide world to do, and it was so long overdue.
MPM: What financial impact has COVID-19 had on you and your band? Have you had to cancel or postpone any tours or festival appearances or postpone an album release because of COVID-19 and how will that affect you in the long term?
ML: COVID-19 has certainly had a huge impact on my finances. Equally, it has affected some future shows which would typically require a little more scheduling and planning on my part than normal. In fact, I am supposed to be in Europe for the first two weeks of November for my first European tour, but even that is still up in the air given the uncertainty.
MPM: As a musician, have you found this quarantine to be a highly creative time period for writing and recording new music or has it been difficult to focus on creative endeavors?
ML: Honestly, I’ve found this quarantine to be a highly creative time period for me. Within a two-month timeframe, I recorded at three different studios with three different producers and released an EP entitled The Yellow Brick Road Diaries Part 2: One Knight In Emerald City. Since we were all under different restrictions, our creativity was derived from having to “Frankenstein” everything together, but I think it turned out great. The tracks include, “He Said, She Said,” “The Legend,” “Steel” and “Just An Old Shirt.”
MPM: Describe for us the song writing process behind the track entitled “He Said, She Said”?
ML: “He Said, She Said” is a story about a lady who has a history of stringing this one fellow along. She thinks he’ll always be there, even if she goes out looking for a better deal. If she doesn’t find someone, or if she gets tired of her latest flavor of the month, she can always go back to him, “old faithful”. Unfortunately for her, he gets fed up with it after a while, and he tells her he’s through with her. I think it’s safe to say that there are MANY people who can identify with both characters. The song writing process was easy. I just had to rhyme the experience.
MPM: Tell us about the history behind the song “The Legend?”
ML: “The Legend” is a tribute to the lives of all moonshiners and mountain men BEFORE it became a so-called reality show life. There were many men who made their living by making and running shine. It’s not easy work, but as long as you don’t get caught, you answer to no one.
I loosely based this song on the rise and fall of the world’s most famous moonshiner, the legendary Marvin “Popcorn” Sutton who was an American Appalachian moonshiner and bootlegger. His widow Pam Sutton asked me to write a song commemorating Popcorn. The first attempt ended up being my song “Devil Music.” I didn’t like that for the tribute to “Popcorn” because it was way too flippant. However, it was way too good to discard, so it just became its own entity. That same night, I penned “The Legend.” It’s far more somber and more befitting to his legacy.
MPM: Can you share with us the songwriting process behind the song you co-wrote with Corey Lee Barker entitled “Steel”?
ML: Basically, I sent Corey Lee, Creative Director of Publishing at MC1 Nashville, the lyrics for “Steel” and described to him the specific flavor I was looking for and he composed the music. He changed up some of the words, but in the end, when it came time to record, I changed them back. He actually helped with the overall structure quite a bit.
The song is very near and dear to me, simply because it’s EXACTLY my day-to-day thought process. I am constantly beating myself up, questioning my ability, my choices, my existence. The most awesome thing is God made me, he ALREADY KNOWS the how, what, when and where I’m going to screw things up and guess what? He loves me anyway!! I’m just now, at this stage in my life, starting to learn that God actually doesn’t hate me…. He loves me.
MPM: What kind of advice would you give to other musicians who are trying new creative ways to supplement their income during COVID-19?
ML: I would provide practical sound advice. If you are in financial distress as a result of COVID-19 then get a day job. You would be very surprised to learn about the number of musicians who actually have day gigs. I suggest sucking it up and finding a good part-time day job but continue to do your music. Yes, it’s hard but I’ve done it all my life.