Leah Daniels Learns From Her Past

Leah Daniels started writing music young, and her early start has given her a unique voice as an adult. Though she's a country artist now, her rock-based upbringing found her in bands throughout her teenage years. Now appearing on CMT and releasing a new EP, she's ready for her next big step. We caught up with Daniels ahead of her new EP to talk about her single "1st" and how appearing in a School Of Rock musical gave her an education in the industry.

Ottawa Life: Looking at your new EP, how did you get Sam Ellis, Brian Howes, and Karen Kosowski involved in the record and what did each of them bring to the album?

Leah Daniels: It would've probably made sense to just use one person. But for me, each producer brings a different element to specific songs. Sam and I go way back to my first trip to Nashville, he's the first person that encouraged me to song-write. He's the person I've worked with the most so it felt natural. Karen is someone I've written with for ages, and in the last few years she's really made a name for herself as a producer. I thought it would be cool to work with her, and she brings a completely different dynamic to things. I picked songs for specific producers because I felt I knew where their strengths were and I saw how they could develop them. Brian produced my new single "1st" out in L.A., and that was my first time writing there. It was a completely different vibe than Nashville, it was so much more laidback in his nice home studio. He comes from a rock background (Daughtry, Hinder, Taylor Swift) it was a different dynamic but he knew exactly what to do.

Why did you decide to reflect on the past decade for this EP, considering this isn't your debut?

Specifically with "1st" it's talking about first love, which obviously for me was years ago. It came about in September in L.A, when young summer love comes to an end. I had been feeling nostalgic and the song writing was just like therapy for me. Writing about my first relationship in that way was something I'd never done, and I realized I did have to get it off my chest. Those experiences stick with you and you never forget it, so it comes naturally.

"1st" is also very different from your previous songs, was this a matter of where you made the track or who was producing it with you?

Doing it in L.A. with a producer I'd never worked with before definitely influenced the sound. Brian is this long-haired, rocking dude, so he brought a different element to it. It's a more playful song than I've done in the past. When I was putting songs together for this album, I was thinking if I could play them in a live situation and what would the band do. "1st" was one I would absolutely play live and could see myself playing at a festival, so that was a big part of it. There's nothing like having that connection with an audience.

Considering you started writing back at age 12, what big lessons from an early age are you still using?

All those things from my youth are still a part of my writing. Those early songs were just awful, but I kept doing it and took any chance I had to perform. In high school I formed my first band with my brothers, and we'd enter competitions. The thing was not being afraid to write the song and avoid being picky. It's good to just push your way through a song, and then you can come back later and tweak it.

What was your experience like performing in a School of Rock show at Canada's Wonderland as a kid, and were there any lessons about performance you still hold to heart?

Canada's Wonderland was my training ground, and I got that job straight out of college. It's based on the movie, I was a singer dancer with a live band, we had to do some acting as well. We did five shows a day with all this live music, AC/DC, Led Zeppelin. We were rock stars at the park, we had a light show and confetti. That's where I really learned to read an audience and stamina, because when you're doing five shows a day it's crazy. We also learned to deal with a lot of technical difficulties because there were tons. It was a chance to try things out too, because there were so many shows that you could experiment more. I did two summers of that and I look back on it fondly, and it really trained me well. After that, the band from Canada's Wonderland ended up in my band, so it was a really big turning point in my career.

Despite appearing on major venues like CMT you're very connected with your online fans,  what keeps you going to them?

For me, when I was starting out social media was one of the only ways to reach out to people. I loved YouTube because I'd do a lot of covers and blog about my life. I loved it because I could get this instant feedback from people in the comments. As things have gone on I've just kept it up, and I'm still an independent artist who wears a lot of hats. There's still a lot of roles I fill to make that happen, and I do have control over it, but I love doing that and sharing. A big role as an artist is to make that conversation and connection with your audience to make them feel a part of it.