Bluegrass/Americanan artist Miss Leo is breaking into the roots music scene with her much-anticipated debut album, All I Need. Inciting “all the feels,” this record is a must-listen for any true bluegrass and Americana music fan. Recorded live in the coastal rolling hills of San Luis Obispo County, California, Miss Leo’s soaring vocals and skillful songwriting come alive in the raw, emotive performances with the support of stellar stringed instrumentals (particularly fiddle, mandolin, and pedal steel) and well-rehearsed harmonies. She has released three singles on all streaming platforms leading up to the album release.
Tell us about your new debut album All I Need released on October 29.
This album was recorded live over the course of four days at the home studio of Eric Patterson (Turkey Buzzards) in Adalaida, California. An authentic, rootsy quality characterizes the emotional performances of every track. In true bluegrass style, most instrumental parts and solos were improvised in the studio after carefully arranging each song’s components and harmonies prior to recording. The third single, “Desert Queen,” released in September, won first place for the Americana/Country section of the San Luis Obispo New Times Music Awards. “Desert Queen” and the previous single “Sparrow” are nominated for the Reader’s Choice section of the New Times Music Awards. Results will be announced mid-November!
What was the inspiration for the new music and the songwriting and recording process?
As this is my first full-length album, some of the songs were written a few years ago, while others are more recent. I feel like this album is a reflection of my best works as a songwriter; all songs share stories and experiences from different aspects of my life. As a writer, my songs are almost always inspired by personal events. Writing is always deeply personal for me and always reflective of what I’m feeling at the time; I use it as a form of therapy and release. I wrote “Sparrow” at the beginning of the quarantine phase of COVID-19, and the lyrics reflect the feelings of isolation and loss while being stuck at home. “Darling Boy” is an ode to my old dog, Chucho, who passed away during the making of the record. I wrote it a few years back as a way to help myself cope with the inevitable fact that he wouldn’t live for much longer. “High Country Love Song” is the true story of how I met my husband while we were both working in Yosemite National Park. Even “Desert Queen,” although not a true story, was inspired by an epic road trip I took through the South-Eastern deserts of California.
Based on my musical preferences and inspiration, I wanted to record the album live in the studio with a very simple setup since that is a pretty typical recording process for folk and bluegrass music. Much of what my bandmates do is often improvised rather than meticulously composed or arranged, and it is hard to capture the emotional quality of improvised solos, for example, unless it is performed live with everyone playing together. Since I have always been drawn to folk and traditional music styles, a simple recording process and minimal post-production is fitting for the musical essence I was seeking to create.
What do you hope your fans/listeners take away with them when they listen to your music?
As a folk songwriter and singer, my ultimate goal is always to make people feel things. I want people to connect with the lyrics and remember them, be inspired by them, or anything along those lines. I also hope to help preserve folk and Americana traditions in modern music, as more electronic, heavily produced, or dance-oriented music is taking over the airwaves (not that dance music and electronic can’t be great too!). I just fear that the simple magic of friends picking and singing in a room is being lost.
You have a deep love and respect for bluegrass and Americana. Who were some of your early musical influences?
My Dad is a huge deadhead, and I grew up listening to the Grateful Dead constantly. Other early influences were Bob Dylan, Cat Stevens, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, and other classic rock and folk songwriters of the sixties. I didn’t get exposed to actual bluegrass and country/folk music until high school and even later when I made friends with some cute boys that had a bluegrass band. I was instantly drawn to bluegrass as I learned how much that music inspired the bands and folk artists I loved. Bluegrass is just another branch of folk music, and I consider it as something distinctly different from what we think of as country music, which I’ve actually never really enjoyed much.
What are you listening to today?
Nowadays, I’m always looking for new, great songwriters and folk musicians that are doing similar things as me. Other female folk/bluegrass artists I love are Sierra Ferrell, Bella White, Gillian Welch, and Sarah Jarosz. Lately, I’m really into Charlie Crockett and this California band called Mapache. I also still listen to a lot of classic music from the sixties and seventies; lately, it’s Taj Mahal and a lot of soul music.
When did you start playing guitar, and what gear are you currently using?
I started playing guitar when I was 12. I had a Taylor Big Baby for many years, but now I have two other acoustic guitars I use for different purposes. My favorite is my 1978 Gurian, a rare and special vintage acoustic, but it’s not always great for performance. I had an LR Baggs pickup put in for performing, but it doesn’t quite capture the tones well enough for me. So for performing, I often use my Eastman E1SS Limited edition dreadnought. It has a very loud, bright sound that is great for bluegrass, and it came with a built-in pickup. I use my LR Baggs Venue DI for my guitar at shows frequently, but oftentimes when performing with my band, we opt for the traditional bluegrass style of crowding around a single condenser mic. We use an Ear Trumpet Labs ‘Myrtle” condenser mic for these performances… a mic that sounds just as beautiful as it looks!
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