By MIKE CHAIKEN
Connecticut will be country singer Bari Leigh’s temporary home this weekend as she sets up shop for three separate Nutmeg State gigs, including a Sunday night performance at The Space in Hamden.
Leigh’s new album, “Tonight, I’m Unchained” comes out in July and it’s the sound of a woman who wants to be noticed for who she is not because of her gender. We caught up with Bari via email to talk to her about her music and the string of shows in Connecticut:
Observer: You cite Dolly Parton, Bobbi Gentry, and Etta James as female artists you like to channel for your own music. How do you think these influences reflect the final product when Bari Leigh hits the stage or commits her voice to record?
Bari: Dolly, Bobbi, and Etta influence my writing and how I handle myself on stage in many ways. I write songs about being a strong, empowered woman. When I’m on stage, I want to portray that strength. It’s my job as a musician to be taken seriously as an artist, and as a writer, that is especially true. It’s really easy for a woman to get attention just by being, well, a woman. It’s a lot more difficult to get people repeating your songs back to you because you touched their heart with your music. These women have all effectively done that through their voices AND their writing.
O: A lot of how women are handled in the music industry these days is as a kind of window dressing. A voice on EDM track. A bit of eye candy. How did the current status of women in music influence how you approached your own music and your own image?
B: When I’m on stage, I dress the way I want to dress, I sing the songs I want to sing, and I write the songs I want to write. I grew up playing in all-male bands and I fought really hard to be viewed as “one of the guys.” I wanted the other bands to treat me equally and I wanted to be viewed as an artist, not a girl they could ask out after the show. When I was younger, I quite literally did dress like one of the guys. Now, I’m at a point where I can completely be myself and dress however I want (granted, it’s mostly band shirts and cowboy boots) and I’m okay with that. I don’t have to prove anything. I can be myself.
O: What’s the significance of the title of the album, “Tonight I’m Unchained?”
B: I am a very complex person, to say the least. I fight for animal rights. I genuinely care about people and their well-being. I have a major soft side. But then, I love my Jack Daniels. I’m not afraid of fighting if it’s warranted. And I can drive a lawn mower with the best of them. There are many sides to me and you can hear that on my album. I wanted people listening to know that you can be multiple people in one body and it’s okay
“Tonight, I’m Unchained” means just that. Tonight, I’m going out and taking shots and I may possibly come home with a black eye. But tomorrow, I will do whatever I can to help whoever needs it. That’s what we should all be doing. That’s why I titled my album, “Tonight, I’m Unchained.”
O: What influences your songwriting… what causes you to take up a guitar and start picking out notes, trying out melodies, and testing some lyrics?
B: My songwriting is influenced by everything. I can wake up at 3 a.m. with half of a song already written in my head, or something can really affect me and I have to write about it, or I can just be practicing my guitar and I get an idea. It’s really random but it works for me. I have songs that I love and songs that I hate and would never show anyone, but I guess that’s the point of being a songwriter. You are allowed to have songs you hate, you just to write until you feel better.
O: I understand for the record you also took a lead role in production. Why was it important for you to not only perform but take a role in how you were represented between the grooves?
B: I co-produced this album with Jack Shackelford. I wanted an engineer/co-producer who would let me call the shots, while also bringing some great ideas to the table. Jack did just that. I was able to take the wheel and produce the songs the way I heard them in my head. I can’t imagine writing a song that means the world to me, and then being told I’m not allowed to have any say in what that song sounds like. That would be horrible.
O: What did you learn from the experience of being part of the production and how did it help the songs evolve as you learned what was technically possible and you had a chance to hear what was working and what wasn’t working in terms of arrangements or musical delivery? How do you think the experience behind the boards will impact the next record?
B: I own my own label, Starfish Music, and I feel it is very important for me to know how to produce a record. I’m very picky about my own music, but I would also like the chance to work on other albums in the future. I learned a lot by making this album. I learned what I like, what I don’t like, where we could have saved time and energy, where we could have spent more time; it was a lot of work and I loved every minute of it. My songs went from ideas, to being something tangible. It’s incredible.
O: You have three live shows coming up in Connecticut. First of all, what do you like about the live experience of being in front of an audience?
B: I’m so excited about the rest of my shows. I absolutely LOVE being on stage. It’s a feeling unlike anything else. A complete adrenaline rush that combines everything I love about music into one moment. There’s nothing like being on stage, singing a song (an original or cover) and having the crowd sing it back to you. I’m so lucky I get to do it for a living!
O: And how do you approach your show… is it a solo gig? Are you bringing a band? What’s your set list like?
B: I’ve been performing for years and after a while, it comes naturally to you. I’m fortunate because I get to do so many types of shows. I do solo, duo and full-band gigs, it just depends on the show. This tour, I’m performing with Victor Avellino. A talented multi-instrumentalist originally from Connecticut, now living in Nashville (where I met him). The two of us have been playing together for the past year and it’s been fun. Our set list includes all of the originals from the album and our cover songs include Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones, (Creedence Clearwater Revival), Susan Tedeschi, Bonnie Raitt, Miranda Lambert, etc. We try to incorporate songs people love into our set list.
O: When audiences leave at the end of the night, how do you want the audiences to feel about the experience of a Bari Leigh performance?
B: There are many reasons I love being a performer, but the main reason is how we affect the audience. I want people to leave feeling inspired. I want everyone to have a great time, I want them to enjoy the music, but most of all, I want them to become a fan. I have an album coming out, but that means nothing if no one wants to listen to it. Every show is a chance to make someone’s day better and a chance to gain a new fan.”
Bari Leigh will be performing Friday, June 13 at 8 p.m. at Vazzy’s, 3355 Main St., Stratford; Saturday, June 14 at 7 p.m. at Bar 140, 140 Center St. Shelton; and Sunday, June 15 at 7 p.m. at The Space, 95 Treadwell St., Hamden. Admission is $10 at The Space. The Vazzy’s and The Space shows are all ages.
For more information about Bari Leigh, go to BariLeigh.com