Leslie Stevens’ Songwriting Survival Kit

9 September, 2019 in Features, Gear, Interviews

Leslie Stevens’ Songwriting Survival Kit

Leslie Stevens’ Songwriting Survival Kit: “I see this as my opportunity to lay out what I really need.”

Whether it’s her sketchbook, guitar or an open mind, these are the essential items the LA-based singer-songwriter can’t do without

Reviewing Leslie Stevens new album Sinner in the latest edition of our digital magazine, writer Dan Marshall described it as the kind of record you’d like to listen to, “On a Sunday afternoon lounging on a balcony sofa with a partner, saying very little and sipping a cool drink.” Its relaxed charm and classic feel had a similar effect on the rest of team Songwriting and left us dying to know a little more about the LA-based singer-songwriter’s methods – not least, the pieces of kit that she just couldn’t do without.

“If you love writing songs as much as I love writing songs, you probably know the heavenly feeling you get when it all comes together. I have always said I could be happy locked up somewhere if I had a pencil, a blank sheet of paper, and a guitar, so I see this as my opportunity to lay out what I really need.”

“I head to the art supply store where the sketchbooks are blank and the pens are fast. ‘Le Pen’ made in Japan, gets all my ideas onto the page, and unlined sketchbooks give me the feeling that nothing has been on the page before me. Painters, screenwriters, novelists, songwriters, designers, artists of all kinds, begin in the same starting place, in the emptiness of the blank page or canvas. Could one go so far as to say this void connects all creatives?”

“I have a classical nylon-string Alvarez guitar that was given to me by a wonderful guitarist who lives with his hundred guitars in Tucson, Arizona. Though it may sound a bit mystical, instruments can have lives, and I feel like I adopted it from a pack. I also write on other guitars, friends’ guitars backstage and on my pink baby grand piano. Instruments of different types can be vastly different and produce different kinds of songs. For example, I notice that my process on the pink piano is a bit Liberace. I hope to know more soon and let loose and get country freaky on the pink piano.”

Leslie Stevens. Photo: Julia Brokaw

Leslie: “Songs have power of many kinds and it’s our job as writers to surrender and get out of their way.” Pic: Julia Brokaw

“I have come to depend on a recording app as a way to get ideas and melodies recorded for quick reference. I don’t have to like this and since I don’t like it, if I’m going to use a smartphone (the most distracting invention yet created) in the writing process I like to be certain my phone is in airplane mode or on ‘do not disturb.’”

“Hah! Be careful not to misunderstand this one, please. I ask my songwriting students, ‘Does it matter if a song is true?’ For me, the answer is no, it does not matter if it is true, but it does matter if there is truth in it. Music connects all of us, and we all feel things in similar ways, whether or not we think we do. We can all imagine floating in outer space, but how many of us have actually done it? The connection to one another through music is a similar kind of truth. To put it another way, as my dad likes to say, ‘Never let the truth get in the way of a good story.’ Sometimes you have to exaggerate to be true to a feeling or experience.”

“This may sound like an abstract concept as well, but an awareness of my state of mind can actually be a big part of whether or not I end up receptive to a song idea. If I make the choice to put the inner critic away, and let the judgmental editor take a break, I am in an open state of mind and in complete acceptance of what is coming through. Self-awareness allows me to be in the creative mode without fear. You can bring your inner critic to the party later when you have the first draft of the song fleshed out, but don’t feel obligated to hang out with it the whole night or hold its hair if it gets too drunk. I often find for me that it is the easy choice to be negative, and it can be difficult to choose to be positive; it can even be awkward, but I ask myself, ‘What do I want? An effortless victory?’ So begin on that blank page with an open mind, songs have power of many kinds and it’s our job as writers to surrender and get out of their way.”

Leslie’s new album Sinner is out via Thirty Tigers. For tour dates and further info, head to lesliestevensmusic.com

Related articles