By Christopher Treacy & Sonia Leigh
Georgia-to-Nashville transplant Sonia Leigh likes to keep multiple irons in the fire, continually stoking her creativity. Her songwriting skills are already established—she wrote “Goodbye In Her Eyes” and “Sweet Annie” for longtime friends and associates Zac Brown Band. You may also have caught her in an opening set supporting Blackberry Smoke or Jason Mraz among numerous others. With a trio of additional projects releasing new music this year, Leigh is poised for a very busy 2023. But it’s her upcoming solo album that brings us the barn burner, “Thin Ice,” which premiered in the CQ Roundup a couple weeks back. The track boils over with contagious energy that simply won’t take no for an answer. We recently got a chance to ask Leigh some questions about the anthemic new song, her multiple collaborations, and her forthcoming album. What comes through is a woman blessed with a creative restlessness that keeps her on the move, one outlet fanning the fire for the next. Sonia Leigh is finally showing us all the creative things she’s made of.
“Thin Ice” is such a no-bullshit song. It can’t be restrained, can’t be contained… and yet, you’re on thin ice. Out on a limb? There’s a sense of precariousness within it, but there’s no question: you’re barreling on through. Can you talk a little bit about the personal trials that led to writing this?
Yeah, this was somewhat of a revelation moment, writing this song. I have been battling a lack of self-esteem, depression, and anxiety my whole life. Over the pandemic I started to deep dive into myself, to uncover some things and begin to face them and heal them. It’s a struggle every day for me. I think my self-doubt about where I fit in musically was starting to get to me a lot and I stopped releasing music and stopped believing in myself. I was overthinking it a lot and this song kind of inspired me to just say ‘you know what? Fuck it! I don’t have to fit into any genre, I am just going to release the music I love and let the chips fall where they may.’ There’s always a sense of frustration, wanting to kill those negative voices that hold you back once and for all. This is about rising above the hesitation and making a decision to go for it, and believing in yourself again.
The production is dense, which suits the spirit of the song. It’s a wall of sound, giving you ample support. Did you try other treatments for this track en route to arriving at this one? Did you produce it alone or did you have help?
I co-produced this with Mitch Dane at Sputnik Sound Studios in Nashville and Teddy Morgan. We recorded live in the studio with my band and Teddy and I added some guitar and synth overdubs later to make it bigger. I think the final touch was when Piper Payne at Infrasonic Sound did the mastering and that gave it the final bang we were looking for!
You’ve got multiple projects going at once, satisfying different creative itches. Can you explain how you contribute to TYGR/TYGR, Indica Girlz, and ROB THE MAN?
TYGR/TYGR is a female empowered fueled rock/hip hop duo—I feature under my hip hop alias ELYVN/ELYVN and my duo partner Daphne Willis and I came together to make our EP Still Standing (out this week) as a creative outlet to inspire women to step out into their strength and be fierce. We get a lot of syncs together, so this was a great fusion to be able to release this music to the public.
Indica Girlz is a project that kind of started as a fun hang with my longtime friend 24/7 and I just mostly wanted to learn how to produce and make tracks and beats. So this was an excuse to get some friends together to feature on the songs and have some fun without taking ourselves too seriously. It’s low-fi, 90’s hip hop… kinda Beasties meets Salt’n’Peppa with a Queen Latifa attitude. Our 3rd single, “Make A Wish Bish” featuring Little Mae Mae (Audra Mae) drops on 4/20.
The first single and video for Rob The Man, “Bury Me Alive” is out on March 17. I’m an executive producer/co-producer along with Nick Furlong and Colin Brittain. This is a project I’ve been working on over the past 7 years. It’s a collaboration with handpicked artists/writers/producers that I love working with. Carmen Vandenberg played all of the guitars and bass on this project—she is part of one of my favorite bands, BonesUK. Rosie Bones is also a co-writer and featuring on one of the upcoming releases that I am super excited about, but that’ll come along later. Think Gorillaz meets Pink Floyd’s The Wall. It has a post-apocalyptic edge to it. With nods to greats such as The Beatles, Joan Jett, Ozzy Osbourne, Pink Floyd, Rage Against The Machine, Tears For Fears, etc… I am very excited to begin to share this GRUNGE POP project finally with the world.
These are stylistically varied and, I’d imagine, require different creative visions to be brought to them. Are you able to get something different from each of them as a result? Is that something you think about or are even conscious of… or is it all just one big ball of music to you?
I tap into different versions of my creative well per project. It keeps me inspired and helps me at least try to organize it a little. It is a blessing and a curse for me to have such varied genres of inspiration. I want all of my music to be heard and I think a lot of my frustration over the past years has a lot to do with the dilemma of ‘how do I present all of these sides of my creativity?’ I’m learning to let it all go and start releasing music without worrying too much about it, but these projects definitely help to give me a ‘go-to’ for each side of my abilities.
Separately from all of these other ventures, you have a record coming out this year under your own name. It’s an exciting time for queer artists, perhaps especially those with ties to Americana and/or Nashville… and you’ve got both. Does this forthcoming album feel like a definitive moment in your career?
I feel like this is a great moment for me to own my individuality in music. It has been a long road as an openly gay woman in this industry. I have probably not gotten the shots other women have gotten due to my sexuality over the years. I am excited to see these things are somehow starting to change. I hope that in some way I have paved the way by being open about who I am when it wasn’t accepted. I am excited to come out swinging with such fierce, honest music. I am super excited to be a part of this moment of momentum in music and I hope to help it continue to grow and move forward to a world of 100% acceptance in all areas and walks of life.
What can you tell us about the new album? Is the production varied? Does it have more intimate moments, or is it an anthemic-sounding album, much like the single?
There will be some flexibility and genre fluidity as always on this record. It is still unfolding, I would say it’s going to have some flares of modern rock, Motown nods, and rock and roll surprises. I want it to hit all of the sweet spots and feel sincere, raw, and honest.
You’ve released a ton of singles over the years. It’s interesting how we’ve come full circle to artists releasing stand-alone singles, almost like back to the ‘early rock’ days before albums were an accepted conceptual format. But is there more to the story of what’s kept you from making more full-length records—time? Money? Is the single format more attractive to you somehow?
My answer would have to be all of the above. I mostly feel I’ve been trying to figure out what I would like my next record to feel like and what I wanted to say. I’ve released singles because I was not sure how they would fit on a full length as my creative flow spans genres. I think I have been taking time to marinate on what my next full-length effort would look like. It’s time now and I feel I am on to a great start! I’m excited to work with producers like Niko Bolas, Sylvia Massy, and Mitch Dane and to record in legendary studios such as Black Bird Studios, Sputnik Sound, and, Sunset Sound Studios as well. One thing I can say is that it has been a super exciting journey so far!
Christopher Treacy has been writing about music and the music industry for 20 years. He’s contributed to The Boston Phoenix, The Boston Herald, Nashville Scene, and Berklee College of Music’s quarterly journal, as well as myriad LGBTQ+ outlets including the Edge Media Network, Between the Lines/Pride Source, Bay Windows and In Newsweekly. He’s the Managing Editor for CQ and lives in Waitsfield, VT.
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