Interview: Josiah Leming
Fri, 09 Jan 2009 08:34:06
Josiah Leming is only 19-years-old, but when I tell him I have to put an "away message" up on my AOL IM so as not to be disturbed during our evening chat, he says, "IM? Like AOL IM? Wow, that's old school!" Sure, AIM may be a "classic," if you will, mode of technology and communication, but it's still a way that many people keep in touch. Leming, however, uses an even older, much more direct method of connecting with other human beings. He sings. He writes lyrics. He plays the piano. He speaks through his music, perhaps one of the oldest and most effective modes of getting an emotional point across. I spoke to the Tennessee transplant about the journey which got him from the South to the meaner streets of Los Angeles.
You've had a lot of hardships to overcome in your very young life. You have a family of eight siblings and a mother with terminal cancer. Did you take the road to make music to help support your family because that was all you knew?
Well, I don't think I grew up any harder or easier than anyone else, first of all. Everyone's hardships are on their own scale. There is no universal balance. Things were as they were. My parents were supportive of me doing what I wanted to do, and they supported my creative freedom. Slowly over time, I started doing music. It's not like I was singing in the womb, like some of those child prodigies are! It slowly developed with me playing piano and writing words. Both of those things came together to what it is now.
How long ago did you get your start with music as a career?
I have played the piano since I was nine or so, maybe even 10. I was writing words when I was 14 or 15. Ever since I started writing, I tried to play music in front of people at school or at a friend's house. You know how there is always that annoying kid, who is like, "Listen to me! Listen to me!" I definitely wasn't that kid, doing that. It was always people asking me, "Hey Joey, can you play something?" and I would do it. So it slowly went from there. Next thing you know, I'm on the road.
How is your family life now?
It's the same. They do well. They are proud of me.
You have six adopted siblings! The Leming family was doing it before Brad and Angelina Jolie started getting tons of press coverage for doing it!
I guess we have a less glamorous version of their story. My mom loves kids. As a child, it was strange, but I got used to it.
Has that influenced any of your lyrics?
I don't write songs about specific things, like blended family. They are more like emotional ideas and awareness. It's not like I am signing, "I was raised with six brothers…" [in a singing voice]. There was none of that!
You're living in Los Angeles now. Are you, or have you suffered from culture shock since you hail from small town Tennessee?
I have not lived there in a while. It's different; that's for sure. It's laidback, to me, and there is so much to get into in L.A., which is a good or bad thing, depending on who you ask. I miss the elbow room, but not the people in the South. Ahh, for too many reasons.
“The more you think about what people think about you, the less you focus on what's important.”
You were also an American Idol contestant a little bit ago. The premise of that show seems to be at odds with what you appear be as an artist, since you give off a passion for making music, while those hopefuls are obviously looking for fame. How was that experience for you, looking back?
It was a steppingstone for me in my career. I cannot deny that, but I had written songs and performed before the show. I am doing the same thing after the show, and it's really just a piece of the story. I try not to keep up too much with the fanfare from the show. The more you think about what people think about you, the less you focus on what's important.
You are definitely the sensitive, singer-songwriter type. How do you deal with playing a very naked form of music where it's just you, your words and a piano?
The most important thing to me is that I don't write unless I have something to say. I am someone who can put it all together and the cornerstone of my songs is having an emotion to get out. You are not going to hear a song from me that doesn't speak some sort of truth and some kind of feeling that I can put in it from my life.
Which song on Angels Undercover do you recommend people listen to first?
"Arctic Outcry Wind," which is a simple song about something that everyone has felt, which is being disconnected and overwhelmed by everything at the same time. It's a feeling that's too much and a lot of people can relate to it.
Tennessee is an musical state, with the Grand Ole Opry and the musical traditions from Memphis and Nashville. Has that affected you or not?
If you ever get a chance, and I encourage everyone in the whole world to do this, go to Memphis and feel the atmosphere and see what it's like. Then go to Nashville and feel what it's like. Walk around those cities, since they are so music-driven. Eastern Tennessee is the complete opposite. Music does not play a big role there. People don't believe in it there. They don't hold onto it strongly, especially not alternative music. But it's where I was raised, so all those things, like the Southern quality, I cannot escape those or throw them out the window. There are good and bad things that come from that area.
Any famous last words?
A unique quality about the EP and album is that it touches on a broad range of subjects, like a girl I am in love with, a girl I was never in love with that I actually kind of hate, life, death, the world and many subjects that are interesting to people. I think people will like what they hear.
— Amy Sciarretto