Interview with fresh Jive signing LESLEY ROY - June 30, 2008
"HitQuarters gave us a great start, a great boost."We are very proud to feature this exclusive interview with new Jive sensation Lesley Roy. Through her Artist of the Week page on HitQuarters (and her amazing songs!), she attracted the attention of Jive's top A&R Jeff Fenster, who signed an international licensing deal with her Irish label Religion Music.
This is a huge step forward for the young artist who started out playing talent shows and open mic nights in her native Dublin.
She is now hotly tipped to be a major player, as can be hinted by the impressive lineup of industry names who worked on her forthcoming debut album 'Unbeautiful' - Desmond Child (Bon Jovi, Aerosmith, Kiss, Robbie Williams), Dave Hodges (Evanescence, Kelly Clarkson, Celine Dion), Brian Howes (Hinder, Daughtry), Dr. Luke (Avril Lavigne, Kelly Clarkson, Sugababes), Nord/Hansen (The Rasmus) & Chris Lord-Alge (Green Day, My Chemical Romance, U2, Pussycat Dolls).
She talks to HitQuarters about moving to the US and the competitive challenge she faces there, about the benefits of co-writing, and about staying true to one's artistic vision.
How did this amazing rollercoaster of success start for you?
I grew up around music. My mum was a singer in bands all through my childhood. Iíve always been surrounded by music. I adored it since I was a child. I got a guitar when I was 10 and I started writing songs.
I was on the Dublin music scene all through my teens. I luckily got involved with Glenn Herlihyís Religion Music, who took me on when I was 16 and signed me. Iíve been working with them ever since.
Glenn Herlihy got us a licensing deal with Jeff Fenster in Jive. There we finished the album.
Was it always a wish for you to become a star?
The fame thing is bizarre and itís a very strange world. But there was always a wish for me to be involved in music in some way, whether it be writing, producing or just to be around it, maybe even actually teach it.
What did you have in mind when you wrote your first songs?
I was very young when I started writing songs. I watched older people in relationships and I tried to talk about that and what was going on around me as a 12 year old. And as in my teens different experiences happened I would write about those.
How did you approach the music business at first?
In Dublin, Ireland there was only a very small scene. I was playing in talent competitions. I played a lot at school and with a lot of bands when I was 16, 17.
I would be in small bands in open mic nights in Dublin. I started recording when I was 15, 16, and thatís when Religion Music heard my demo and I got involved with the label.
I was just playing gigs in and out of school, after school and on weekends. And then fortunately came the label that was ready to look after me and help me along.
Did you ever have any vocal training?
I never had any vocal training. I had a small problem before Christmas after a long period of recording the album where I tired my voice. I went to a trainer in LA, who just helped me learn how to warm up. But I never had any training before that.
Who were your big heroes?
Melissa Etheridge, Stevie Nicks, Tom Petty, Bruce Springsteen, Stevie Wonder, Aerosmith, Bono of U2. The list goes on and on.
Iíve had a range of influences all throughout my life. I listened to a lot of soulful music when I was a kid. Marvin Gaye, Otis Redding.
Then I went into more country when I first got my guitar. Sheryl Crow, The Dixie Chicks. It kind of goes full circle.
Who introduced you to Glenn Herlihy of Religion Music?
I just recorded a song when I was 15, in my hometown Balbriggan, and he just came across my CD. Demos float around in the music scene.
It just made its way to his studio. A lot of people send around demos to independent labels in Ireland to see if they can get interest. He heard the demo and asked me to come for a meeting and to see if I actually write myself.
He wanted to get involved with an artist that could actually write and who wasnít just a singer. He enjoyed my lyrics and enjoyed my ideas and where I wanted to take it. I had production ideas as well.
He got the demo, we came together, and we got along so well that it worked out perfectly.
Did you go through a whole development process in 2005?
We spent a lot of time figuring out what direction I wanted my music to go in. We spent a lot of time doing demos and knocking out songs that we knew werenít going to work. We kept writing and figuring out where we wanted to take it.
How did you negotiate the six-album worldwide record and publishing deal with Religion?
Iím involved in all my legal contracts. I spoke to my lawyer almost every day. We came to an agreement that suited both of us. Like any legal contract.
Wasnít your track ĎThereíll Be Angelsí supposed to be featured in a Warner Bros film starring William Baldwin, DMX and Michael Madsen?
It was, but we took it out because we didnít want to release anything yet.
In what way did HitQuarters.com contribute to your first steps in a successful music career?
HitQuarters gave us a great start, a great boost. When we were working on those early demos a couple of years ago, HitQuarters put me up on their main artist page and so many people go there to check out who HitQuarters is getting behind.
We had interest from outside of the country. A lot of great labels. Famous people in Germany started contacting the label, which also helped us later on when we finally did the deal with Jive - having so much support from Europe. HitQuarters gave us a lot of support at the start.
Jeff Fenster received my demo. And the support that we had from HitQuarters through which we were talking to Jeff helped us a lot because it enabled him to know that we were attracting interest outside of Ireland.
Glenn Herlihy sent a ten-song sample CD produced by Mark Murphy to Jive Records, is that correct?
Thatís correct. Fenster enjoyed a lot of the songs and he came over to Dublin for a showcase.
How did you prepare for that showcase (in the Sugar Club in Dublin), which Jeff Fenster and Ricardo Fernandez attended?
I rehearsed for three weeks with a band that I was working with in Ireland. I was getting mentally prepared for that big moment when such a huge A&R person would come over all this way to hear me. Just preparing myself to really try and get Jive involved.
I was extremely nervous. I told myself Iím probably never going to get an opportunity like this again. Iím sure I would get interest from labels, but I would never get somebody of such high profile, considering who he has worked with.
Heís really one of the best A&R men in the world. So I kind of got rid of the nerves and said to myself I have to go for it and forget about being nervous.
What was discussed in the first meetings with Jeff Fenster?
It was just like the way I was starting with Glenn. What my ideas were. Where I wanted to take the album. What radio I would go to. How much time I thought we need for the project, and who would be the writers that I would like to work with.
Did they explain to you the differences between the American and European markets?
Yes. We had conversations during the past two years about how different the marketing is and how to approach it. But generally speaking, all over the world itís a basic universal thing: a good song is a good song, and only then marketing follows.
Who chose your first single, the Max Martin-produced ĎIím Gone, Iím Goingí?
We all chose it together: me, Jeff, the radio promotion at Jive and Max Martin, who I wrote this song with. We all came together and agreed that this is our first single, this is what we feel is the song to come out with.
Jeff is very close with Max because of the connection to NSync and Backstreet Boys. Jeff goes to Max whenever he feels he has an artist that could co-write with him. We wrote a lot of songs together.
The single is on iTunes now, and the album is coming out in a couple of months.
You recently did a video shoot as wellÖ
Yes, the video for ĎIím Gone, Iím Goingí is finished. We shot it in LA a few weeks ago. It was great. It was a really good day. We are all very happy with the final version.
The whole concept behind the video was me leaving a small town, a claustrophobic feeling of trying to get out of a small place. And I try to make it in LA.
Itís like a journey. You watch me getting in my car and leaving a small apartment and going on this trip where I get together with my band. I meet with the band and we do a performance scene.
Then I keep on driving, try to make it to LA, and Iím walking to the Viper Room at the end. Then the video ends, and we donít know if Iím going to make it or not. The whole idea is this journey of trying to succeed in life.
Your forthcoming debut album ĎUnbeautifulí has taken two years to complete. Does that feel like a long time for you?
I was first going to call it ĎSilently Screamingí and then I had some changes with songs on the final list of the album. My next choice was ĎUnbeautifulí.
It does feel like a long time. You spend time working and working on songs and then you start to second-guess yourself. You ask yourself, am I doing the right thing? Is this the right way to go with this song?
It did feel like a long time, but it was time well spent. Iím glad that we took that amount of time to do it. And we didnít rush anything along.
You wrote about 50% of the album. Why not 100%?
I co-wrote with a lot of different writers on every song. I had an opportunity to work with great writers. It was a learning opportunity as well.
I learned so much about writing that it advanced my skills tenfold, Iím way down the road where I would have been if I had just wrote by myself. I got great help from all these writers.
I would rather have 50% of an amazing album than 100% of an album that wouldnít be played so much if I didnít have those writersí influences on it.
Was it Fenster who got you involved with all these industry pros like Desmond Child, Dave Hodges, Brian Howes, Dr. Luke, Nord/Hansen, Chris Lord-Alge?
Yes. They started to hear some of the earlier songs, the demos that we were working on, and then word spread around and more and more people started to call Jeff.
Writers were calling Jeff to see if I was available to work with them. After I had done a couple of songs with Max, we had songs to play for different writers and different producers.
It was a really great feeling that these successful writers wanted me to sing on some of their songs.
In 2004 you worked with top songwriter Rory OíConnor. Did he help you with your first demos?
Yes, he did. I recorded my very first demo with him, which was the demo that Glenn Herlihy heard and got him interested. Rory was a great help for me. He was one of the first writers Iíve ever worked with when I was very young.
Glenn Herlihy thought you had Sheryl Crow style songs in the beginning. They were middle of the road, very safe but very, very good. How were you able to change your songwriting?
It was indeed a lot softer. As I got older and was more developed in terms of what I wanted to share in life, the music started to become a lot rockier, which is what is on the album now.
It was actually just a natural progression. It was not something that I really planned or forced. My lyrics changed and so did the music.
Going through your teens, you go through so many different experiences, and then my voice got stronger as I got older and I got more comfortable with it and became surer of myself.
What do you write about?
I write about personal experiences. Things that Iím going through in relationships, or relationships with my best friends or my parents.
I watch what my friends go through as well. I like to observe a lot of people and try to put myself in their shoes.
I just watch the world around me and try to write about it from my point of view and how I feel about what people are going through.
How did you find out that writing from a storytelling point of view was a good way of writing for you?
When I came out with some songs and people really connected to them, I felt that that was a good way of going because itís what theyíre going through, so they obviously feel attached to it straight away.
Writing from a storytelling point is great to connect with people.
Whatís the difference between writing with Dave Hodges in LA or with Max Martin in Sweden?
Every writer that I work with is different. They have different personalities. But the key thing that is the same is our love for music. If we sit down in LA with a piano and write a song with Dave, thatís one experience.
And then if I go to Stockholm and just sit down with my guitar with Max, itís a different experience.
But the main goal is to come out, have fun, express yourself, and come up with a good song that youíre happy with at the end of the day.
Isnít it confusing to do a lot of different co-writings?
No, not at all. Itís refreshing. I get to meet different people and see their ideas and songs and how they would approach it differently.
Itís not confusing at all. Itís really amazing to watch all these artists work with me and to get a song where I wanted it to be.
How do you work in the studio?
When youíre in the studio and itís going wrong and you really donít feel good about what youíve just written or how your vocals sound, there is not much you can do.
You can keep singing and try to make it better. What I find is best for me if Iím really having an off day is just to take the day off, because itís worse if you force it.
If you really try and force it and you go back and listen to it, youíll have to do it over again.
When will your tour begin?
Iím gigging with my band all summer. Iíve been doing radio promo for seven weeks now. I kind of consider that as my tour already happening.
Who is your target group?
Itís such a wide range of people that have been enjoying the music so far. Anywhere from 14 up to 40-50 years old.
Thereís a lot going on in the lyrics and the music that a lot of people will get. Not just young girls. Itís a bigger audience than that.
Are you working out to stay in shape?
Yes, I go to the gym. I work out just to get my lungs ready for actually singing the songs every night and running around with my guitar.
I warm up my voice every day and I make sure Iím looking after my throat. Thereís a lot of preparation involved, but itís kind of a continuing thing that you need to keep doing while youíre gigging. You need to get up and work out before you do the radio shows too.
I actually like discipline. I like routine. I love my job. I love my work. Looking after myself is not a hard thing to do if I know Iím going to perform better.
Did you have to move to the US in order to be closer to the big music world?
Iím actually living in New York now for seven months. It works so easier rather than flying home all the time. It takes so much time.
You have to play every show and every radio station to try to push the songs to do well in the States because itís so big and because they have such a huge market.
How do you feel about competing with the best of contemporary American talent?
Itís tough. There are such amazing artists I am competing with. But I think thereís room for everybody. Itís nerve-wrecking knowing who Iím going up against. But I enjoy the challenge. I wouldnít have gotten into it if I was too nervous.
Have you any idea how big your fanbase is right now?
Itís growing very quickly. Thereís like a thousand people on MySpace. I played a radio show in Cincinnati and all of the audience were singing the songs, because they all went on MySpace.
The songs have been playing on an MTV show called ĎThe Hillsí. So it seems like there are thousands of people getting into it already.
So many up-and-coming artists want to be successful. Is there any secret to your success?
I donít think thereís any secret. I love my music. I love writing songs. I feel I stayed true to myself because I kept pushing myself all the way through the writing process. I kept digging deeper to find different experiences that I was going through.
I stayed true to myself because I believe in myself. Iím confident that this is going to work. And Iím very happy because of the people that I have behind me at Jive and Religion Music.
What advice would you give up-and-coming artists on how to present and prepare themselves in order to achieve a professional music career?
What I would say is, always remember who you are and not who someone else wants you to be. Believe in your songs. Believe in your voice. Believe in your talent. And youíve got to keep pushing the doors to actually have a break in this industry.
In what way would you like to develop musically?
Iím sure Iíll start to venture. The next album will musically and lyrically change, but Iím not too sure where it will go because I never know which way Iím going to go musically. Itís always a natural progression because it just happens.
If you could dramatically change some aspect of the music industry, what would you do?
I would change the emphasis that the industry puts on how people look. The way you should be, all these girls having to be so skinny.
I would change the emphasis on appearance. Be yourself. Donít let anyone tell you you should be different. If your music is beautiful then that will radiate through.
All those girls making themselves sick because they see singers that are anorexic and unhealthy. Health is balance. I would like the industry to be more about being healthy rather than underweight.
Being a young woman taking the world by storm with your music, how do you view your future for now?
Iím very hopeful for the future. I feel like Iím doing a good job right now. I obviously want to continue in music. I hope this album is as successful as I feel it should be. Iím hopeful for the future and Iím happy about how far I got so far.
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Interview by Kimbel Bouwman
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