Leah Felder, half of the musical duo Brandon and Leah, just released her album, California Christmas featuring unique, beach-inspired re-makes of holiday classics and an original title track. The tracks are infused with her honeyed vocals and the distinct sound of the ukulele, perfect balmy sweet sounds to light up the season. Inspired by my recent conversations (ranging from being finding joy in the awareness of the present, liberation and music and mindfulness) with this socially conscious and talented couple, I decided to inquire and find out what inspires them and keeps them churning out good vibes and beautiful tunes.
People love your newly released album, California Christmas, and the self-released video for “Life Happens” has reached close to a million hits. And many of your fans frequently mention how refreshing your music is, how inspiring your lyrics are and how distinct and unique Leah’s voice is. Can you name some of your musical influences?
L: When I was a kid I would go down to The Warehouse…remember that place? I’d get CD’s, come home, slam the door shut and I would listen to Etta, Nina, Billy and Aretha. And then I started getting into Erykah Badhu. I loved her for her, like… I think I was 12-years old and I loooved her “Call Tyrone” was my favorite song ever. I’ve grown to admire Nick Drake’s song writing and, of course, I love John Lennon and Dusty Springfield and the list goes on. And during my teenage angst there was a lot of Rage Against the Machine. I still keep that around, just in case. And I’d also like to add Edith Piaf. I think I am in love with her.
So how did a little girl from Malibu get into all of this old music in the late 1980s?
L: My sister listened to New Kids on the Block and my brother was into crazy speed metal. My dad didn’t really listen to a lot of music, he just played a whole lot of music. My mom listened to The Gypsy Kings and stuff like that. And I got my introduction to “real music” and the music I fell in love with at a young age from the woman that would help take care of all of us. Her name was Dolores and she was about 65-years old and when she’d pick me up from school would have Frank Sinatra on. We’d get it into her car and we’d blow up the speakers with Frank Sinatra and Nina Simone. And Dolores had this taste… I started listening to this at about 7-years-old and listening to how it felt and she definitely got me into that era. And that’s when I really fell in love with music.
What a gift. What about you, Brandon?
B: I initially grew up listening to a lot of the very the beginnings of hip hop. Bands like A Tribe Called Quest, Brand Nubian…things that were hip hop based and funky at the same time. I also loved Al Green. I remember when I first heard his music and it was just so great. I can still listen to that all day and I’ve heard it a million billion times. And, Bob Marley has to be mentioned, of course. I always loved Marley but then I just saw the documentary Marley recently and it was just awesome. I also listened to a lot of blues stuff like John Lee Hooker. Sublime was a big influence.
What was the last great book you read? Why?
B: I’ve been reading this awesome book called How to Train a Wild Elephant. It’s strictly about how to be present and gives you simple tasks that build mindfulness.
L: A book that I just finished, but keep re-reading and re-reading is Leonard Cohen’s Fifteen Poems. I have absolutely fallen in love with it. The book I read all the time and keep next to my bed is Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet. Another book that has expanded my perspective is Eckhardt Tolle’s A New Earth.
What does a typical day look like for the two of you and what sorts of things do you do to stay balanced and present?
L: I meditate two times a day, 20 minutes in the morning and at night. That helps. And hanging out with my dog.
B: Yeah, actually the dog is a big deal. There’s surfing and exercise. But more than anything is keeping a certain perspective about things whether they’re good or bad. I remind myself that things may seem one way one second, but they may seem a completely different way another second. It’s about being flexible and accepting.
L: “Blessed are the flexible for they will not be bent out of shape.” And a typical day, if we don’t have any meetings or anything, is waking up, taking a shower, taking the dog out, meditating and then driving to the studio and spending the day there. Whether we’re starting songs, finishing songs, or recording songs, we’re just working. It’s about being in the environment and having our energy present in that room so when little bits of creativity come, we’re right there to pounce on them. It’s important to us to have that repetition and a rhythm.
B: I’m a big believer that if you have any job that is sedentary and the studio very much is so…there’s a lot of computer work, that you have to switch it up and take little breaks. So we take little breaks here and there. We throw the ball for Gus or jump in the ocean.
L: Jumping in the ocean really helps with lyric writing.
I bet. It literally and figuratively washes you clean.
Photo credits: Hillary Cramer