Since arriving in New York nearly 5 years ago from her home city of Philadelphia, Lesley Barth has honed in on her signature blend of folk, pop, rock, and soul. Influences from Carole King, Fleetwood Mac, and Motown inform the melodic, piano-driven tunes thick with vocal harmony, and Barth’s wide range and soulful, strong voice frequently draw comparisons to Sharon Van Etten, Christine McVie, and Natalie Merchant.
She independently released her debut EP ‘Good Like This’ to a packed house at New York’s Rockwood Music Hall in 2015, in addition to consistently performing at top singer-songwriter venues including The Living Room and Pianos. Having successfully completed a crowd-funding campaign as part of OvationTV and Rockethub’s first ever Creative Studio, Lesley is returning to Brooklyn’s Mission Sound to record her first full-length album in early 2016.
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Sean Ritchie: You’re originally from Pennsylvania, but now live in New York. Let’s start off on your hometown area of Philadelphia and maybe Pennsylvania as a whole first? What stands out? What makes it home?
Lesley Barth: Well, I grew up in the suburbs of Philadelphia and we actually moved back to the states when I was about six years old. My father is an opera singer so we lived in Switzerland and Germany until I was about six. We were in small apartments in Europe and that was a very different setting. It was a much more socialized and communal type country. Then we moved to the rural suburbs of Pennsylvania. That was definitely an eye opening experience. It was a very urban type environment where we were. When I think of Pennsylvania the first thing I think of is Wawa. It’s an integralpart of the state. I’m sure you appreciate that as well being from New Jersey.
SR: We actually don’t have many of them in northern New Jersey. It’s something that I miss out on a little bit, because everyone speaks so highly of it.
LB: I’m sorry to bring that up! I didn’t realize how rural the area where I grew up was until I moved back to the states. They call it the suburbs there were some shopping and things, but it was also just a lot of working farms and cornfields. It was just a lot of open area everywhere. It wasn’t the suburbs, but it has built up a lot recently with the shopping malls and new housing developments. I just didn’t realize how rural it was. I spent so much time outdoors our house backed up into the woods by a creek. Many times I found myself just playing in the woods and really being enchanted by it. I think especially during my early childhood days. It being such an urban experience. Then today, I’ve been in New York for about five years and I was in Philly for a year or two before that, so I always feel nature starved.
Whenever I have the chance to be out somewhere green I really revel on it, I mean to an embarrassing degree. I have friends in Portland, and we decided to drive to Silver Creek Falls State Park and do some hiking. The whole time I was blissfully exuberant. Friends of mine still live in places where they can do this on a regular basis so I feel very much like the city native in that setting. When it comes to being draw to nature I think it’s a very basic human thing you just feel closer to being a human. I love cities and I love being near people, exposed to different cultures and art and not feeling so isolated and being part of a community.
SR: It’s actually really nice to have the differentiating perspectives of living in the city, opposed to your time in the more rural areas. It gives a certain appreciation to each. To tie it into your music, what gave you your initial inspiration? I know you said your dad was an opera singer. Is that kind of how you got your first initial start or put you on your path?
LB: Yeah in the broader sense. My father is an opera singer and my mother met him when she was choreographing in the opera. She was the dancer. I grew up around music. I was down in the suburbs for mothers day weekend and my mom and I were going through some cartons of old vinyl’s and Mo-Town singles. A lot of music from the 60’s and 70’s was what she kind of listened to. I was thinking about how much of my childhood and time spent with my family was listening to music, talking about music and sharing what we find with other people. My mom and I were driving home from Philadelphia and she was like, “I have to play this music.” It was some old tunes that my brother basically put together for her. We’re always playing music for each other and talking about why we like this sound and why this specific lyric is captivating. I grew up in that environment and I was really drawn to it.
SR: For sure, that’s wonderful to hear. To tie this all into your video premiere of “Good Like This”, give some of the mindset behind the track. What is a little different for this compared to some of your other music in the past?
LB: So, “Good Like This” is a song that actually came out on the EP release last year. It was my first album. I have always found that tune to stand out to me. There is this sort of piano tune through out the song which is something I had been fiddling around with. I think that there is a theatrical aspect of the song, which I’m sure was influenced by my parents. We closed a lot of sets with that tune and people really love it. It’s fun to play live because I find it a very thrilling song. In the sense that it’s all about finding something amazing. In this case finding amazing love and finding someone that blows your mind. Also, what you do when life gets complicated. I think that I’ve had that feeling. I think most people can relate to it.
SR: I had a chance to listen to it and I really enjoyed it. I loved the video. Definitely cool.
LB: Thanks! I had two of my girlfriend’s film it, telling me when to step in and out of shots.
SR: Cool! How did you shoot and edit it? What type of camera?
LB: I shot and edited it on an iPhone 6! I had no plans to shoot anything, but I thought this is really beautiful. I’m editing this other music video for a song that I’m releasing this summer, so I’ve been in this music video mindset. Thinking of where there are gorgeous places to shoot. What are the settings that are going to translate well through camera. We were taking selfies and I thought this is spectacular! It was so green, overwhelmingly vibrant and lively. So, we started shooting pieces. I think that there’s something related about the setting and the meaning behind that song. I almost didn’t know what to do with how amazing the setting was, because I’m so not used to it!
SR: I support that. I do like those cultural vacations where you get to see a little bit of how someone else lives and how different a way of life is. It’s definitely cool to take that in as well and compare it to your own life.
LB: I haven’t traveled internationally besides Europe and the Caribbean. There are so many places that I haven’t seen, and a vast majority of the world that I want to see. I think within the coming years there are many places on the bucket list I would like to travel to.
SR: Awesome, we’ll touch on that in a bit. But first, how does music and travel fit together for you?
LB: That’s a really good question. I have not toured yet. I would like to start that up this summer. A small East Coast tour. What I found, and my husband is a musician as well, when we travel is there inevitably ends up being a piano at the hotel bar or something and we end up playing and singing. Then everyone kind of joins in and there is a sing along. The beautiful thing about music is that you can take wherever. It’s fun that people respond to live music. One of these days, booking a small gig in the Caribbean or something, we could do a two-for-one vacation and work — would be a lot of fun. You can cross cultures with it and cross language barriers.
SR: Yeah, totally. I feel that music is the sound track of wherever you are so you can be not necessarily in a destination, but anywhere and have a memory that ties to a sound or track. That’s something cool for me. I still remember trips where I went to Mexico and there are certain songs that stick out from certain vacations. It’s cool to have those memories with music.
LB: Yeah, there is this Paul McCartney song from his late 90’s album and its called “The Song We Were Singing”. At any particular time we would think back to that song that would transport us back memory wise. I can only imagine for him the depths and meaning of that song. I certainly really just love it.
SR: I’m sure it’s mind-blowing memories for him! Now, lets dive into your bucket list. What are some destinations on yours? What stands out about them?
LB: That’s a good question! I would like to go to Greece. Just because having studied a lot of Latin, Greek and Ancient Civilization stuff from when I was younger I found it fascinating. It also looks gorgeous. I would love to go there. It was silly of me not to go when I was in Italy. I haven’t given this too much thought which is something I really should do. I would love to go to Japan it’s culturally intriguing to me, and from what I hear from people that have been there it’s like going forward in time. When you’re in Tokyo you’re in the future.
SR: Yeah of course, with the LED screens everywhere.
LB: Yeah, and I think that would be really cool to see old-world Japan as well. To travel around the country would be amazing. I haven’t been to Asia at all or anywhere in Africa. I would love to travel more when I retire, have fun and see the whole world. My experiences are super limited to Europe and Western Europe primarily.
SR: Lastly, to wrap this up, when’s the next trip and what for?
LB: The next trip will be somewhere in the Caribbean. I feel like these days I’ve been living week-to-week. I think there is a good chance the next place we go we’ll book last minute and go retreat somewhere. I do like taking day trips to the Hudson Valley and walking around the little towns there. It’s also very nearby. It’s a nice quiet change of pace.
LB: Yeah, I haven’t been there yet so hopefully with the spring coming that would be a great opportunity to hike.
SR: Definitely, I’ve hiked there a few times and it’s amazing. The mountain has some great views! I recommend it.
LB: I will definitely have to take a trip there and I know there are a few wineries in the area, as well. That’s a nice day trip. It’s a nice way to convince my husband to go too! Day trips are going to be more frequent in the future.