Leslie Mendelson: Tales of Love and Murder
Leslie Mendelson was already a rising singer-songwriter with some serious indie-rock cred when she entered the Grateful Dead universe. The New York-bred musician released her debut in 2005 and quickly earned comparisons to Carole King and Joni Mitchell. She truly broke through with her Grammy Award-nominated sophomore album Swan Feathers in 2009, but weathered some setbacks in the following years, including management issues, the loss of her label and the death of her friend and producer Joel Dorn. But, thanks in part to a Relix in-office session, Mendelson has since found a new jamband fanbase
Around the release of her first album in eight years Love and Murder, Mendelson discussed the stories behind her new set of songs, her friendship with Bob Weir and how The Who fit into her unconventional comeback story.
Let go back to the start. What was it that motivated you to pursue music?
My dad was a music teacher and we had a baby grand piano at home and I would play it, and try to mimic what I heard on radio and the records we had.
Did you learn to play by ear?
I did which made it really hard to go and take lessons after that.
It has been eight years since your debut album Swan Feathers. What have you been up to artistically in the period between Swan Feathers and your upcoming release Love and Murder ?
I made a couple of other records and they unfortunately never came out. One was with record producer Glyn Johns. I moved to London for two years and worked with him, but that music has yet to be released. While I was in London I was able to do quite a bit of writing, and wrote a song that Roger Daltrey cut. During that time is when I met the people from Tamalpais Research Institute (TRI Studios). So there was a lot of work that happened in that time frame that hasn’t been heard and the next thing I know I turn around and it’s been eight years. After I got back from London, record producer Mark Howard reached out to me and asked if I wanted to make a record, and I said sure. I’m so happy it is coming out.
How have you evolved as an artist in that time?
I feel more comfortable in my own skin, I’m not as cautious about mistakes, and I’m embracing the things that happen. And that has made me more present as an artist.
Can you talk a little bit about the title Love and Murder ? What are you trying to evoke with it ?
That title just kind of happened as Mark and I began picking out songs for my record. We kept coming back to this mood and it was a bit darker. At the time I was in a dark place and dealing with a broken heart. Not necessarily from a relationship, but from putting things out there and then it not coming to light and it started to play on me. My heart was heavy and a lot of that emotional heaviness is on the record.
As I’ve listened to the album a few times I’ve noticed that it is stripped down, which allows your voice to really shine. Did you begin the record with that intent in mind?
It’s just how it happened. It was a great opportunity to make a record with just Mark and I. We chose not to get a band so it was a real adventure for me. I played a lot of the instruments and we didn’t rely on a lot of outside help. So this record really feels like it is mine.
What are you hoping listeners come away with after listening?
That they get a sense of who I am. It is really personal and a departure from my first record. My first record had a lot between me and the listener and with Love and Murder it’s just flesh and bone.
As you mentioned the music definitely seems darker than your last record. Can you share a little bit more about where you were personally as you were writing it?
Heartbroken. For example the song “Crazy” is an example of how I felt in the music business at that time. I was touring, I had prospects, I was recording and things seemed amazing. Then things just stopped, and I felt like the rug was pulled out from under me. So the song “Crazy” feels like the pinnacle of my record because I’m communicating sometimes the difference is the way the light hits you. I didn’t change, but everything changed around me. I was in a foreign country, very alone, and I felt like I didn’t know what I was doing with my life. It summed up the feeling of being heartbroken.