Tuesday, 18 June 2013


Story and photo by Marc Watley

Tea Leigh makes perfectly imperfect, delicate music. Wonderfully lo-fi. This is your girlfriend singing to you intimately over a plate of cold blueberry pie on a hot summer's day. Her dream pop collaborations with Boston's Luke Reed are just plain addictive. Just since last summer, her sounds have amassed some 130,000 likes on Soundcloud. Tea has been featured recently on The Hype Machine, and profiled by music blogs including The Wild Honey Pie, Generator UK’s The Tipping Point, and MTV Brasil's Teco Apple.

Since growing up just outside of Dallas, Tea Leigh has lived just about everywhere in the country, and now calls Brooklyn home. We are thrilled to feature Tea for our first budtobud #CRUSHWORTHY artist spotlight series, and we caught up with her at Brooklyn haunt The Bearded Lady for a chat over several beers.

So, evidently Billie Holiday, Jonsi, Bon Iver, and Martin Tielli had a baby. What's going on here, Tea?  

Wow. I don't think I've been compared to Billie Holiday, ever! I'm originally from Texas, and grew up on Billie – and Patsy [Cline] – and Loretta Lynne. (Thanks granny!) Recently a blog related my style to CocoRosie and Sufjan Stevens. You don't take those things lightly, and it's crazy the weight it has on you. [Laughs] My head is floating!

Clearly these artists had an impact on your vocal style, which is crazy unique. The first track of yours I'd heard was Stormy Weather, and was like, where the hell did this voice come from?  

That's a sweet thing of you to say. Stormy Weather is a very special song to me. I feel like it's where I really grew into my sound, kind of just took off! About my voice – I remember as a kid, sitting on my dad's bed. He was an opera singer, and he'd sing to me before his performances, saying, 'Listen to me. Do I sound alright?' He taught me about pitch, harmonies, and vibrato. The weirdest thing though... when he'd sing, the walls would literally melt before my eyes to his vibrato.

Acid at a young age?  

[Laughing] Right!? No – I'd discovered what I had was synesthesia. My dad would tell me, 'You have these magical powers, and it means you're going to be something in the world of sound. I was five, so in my mind I was all like, 'oh fuck yea – I'm gonna be a HUGE pop star'. Ha!

Synesthesia is a neurological condition, where one type of stimulus involuntarily triggers another; 'seeing' music, etc.

An amazing gift, I'd say – Tori Amos and Pharrell are known to have synesthesia, as well. Pops is a smart dude.  

I don't see [sounds] in that same way anymore, which sucks. I still have it, but these days I tend to translate it into imagery – it's kind of under the blanket. I guess it kind of manifests itself in other ways – in other people, I think. I don't really think explaining it would help or do any justice. Anyone who reads this and has synesthesia will feel me. Tori Amos is a beautiful woman, her mind seems like such a wonderful and complicated place, I bet she has the greatest synesthesia of all!

Speaking of imagery, the video for your new single, Rushing In, is delightful – just like the song itself. The lyrics seem to tell a story from a tough experience. What was the inspiration?  

You know, it's that point when you haven't had your heart shattered yet. You're close to someone and believe what they tell you. Then there's all this heartache. It's only after that point when you actually start growing – like "quick before we grow too old" in the song. It's the build. As for the imagery, this was the first video I put out, so I very much wanted it to have an ‘introduction to Tea’ type feel.

A story about learning and true personal growth.  

Yeah. Only last year did I come up with that song. Once you forgive people for breaking your heart, you really grow infinitely. Actually, forgiving people for anything. I've really learned to let a lot go with that song – not just the relationship at the time.

I love how your voice comes together in such a harmonic, alliterate way – on your Postal Service cover of Such Great Heights, for example. So nicely done. I Will Make You Tea, as well. It's kind of like going through old records in the attic and discovering gems from a great old crooner. And at what, 25? Clearly you're an old soul.  

Haha. I've been told that my whole life. My granny always told me that I was way too old for my age, and to be careful. I would brush her comments off in my 'young age' all the time. If only I'd really understood how wise she was. Hindsight is a bitch! Without my 'old soul', I'd probably be wasting my twentysomethings going to way too many parties, instead of being in the studio every weekend. I think the old souls of my generation are the kids who get shit done – the kids who are successful. I'm proud to surround myself with many of these people. I have a lot of great old souls in my life. Together, we're not so old!

You played Pianos here in NYC on Saturday, which was fantastic. You're getting crazy attention on Soundcloud – your Color Theory track and remixes have more likes than some tracks from Beach House. Talk to me about your dream pop sound with Luke Reed, and where we'll be seeing you on stage this year.  

Tea Leigh & Luke Reed is a project I'm really excited about. I met Luke on Craigslist almost two years ago. He came over to my house, and in that first night we made some incredible/terrible drunk music. I'm still not even sure how we made Color Theory [laughs]. Every time I hear it, I'm like 'damn dude, this shit is real good!' Whatever! We've got some exciting things happening for that project that I'm really looking forward to sharing with the world – but for now, we shhh! My own folk music is equally as important as the dream pop with Luke. My goal is to be a full-time musician by the end of the year. I feel it getting close, but there are no guarantees in life!

Well, we can all but guarantee you'll be hearing more from Tea Leigh. Check out the video for her latest single, the ethereal Rushing In, and watch for her upcoming album (including a limited vinyl pressing) out later this summer, on Zap Records.

Tea Leigh on Soundcloud

Tea Leigh on Facebook

Tea Leigh on YouTube