On one hand, Leah Belle Faser is currently navigating her way through high school virtually and preparing herself for the SAT. On the other though, she’s laying the groundwork for what looks to be a long, successful country music career.
At just 16 years-old, Faser has already had a music video on CMT, released her debut EP, Crossing Hermi’s Bridge though showcases her songwriting and vocal chops, and most recently, was named one of Bust Magazine’s Five Artists to Watch in 2021. The sky is the limit for Faser, and coupled with her great perspective and the talent to back up the hype, she’s going to take a great shot at it.
We chatted with Faser about connecting with songwriting at a young age, what her success has meant to her, all about Crossing Hermi’s Bridge and more!
Pro Country: Who are some of your biggest musical influences who have had an impact on your sound?
Leah Belle Faser: I listen to a lot of different genres of music, so it’s hard to pinpoint this but in terms of Country/Americana/Folk, Patsy Cline, Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt would be the ones that immediately come to mind. They are each so unique, but I think the thing they have in common is the incredible richness of their voices and the level of emotion and authenticity they sing with. I love listening to Eva Cassidy’s music as well for this reason. As a songwriter, I love a song with an interesting storyline and particularly, a twist or surprise. Taylor Swift has been an influence on me in that way, and lately, I’ve been listening to Bobbie Gentry and Nanci Griffith songs for the stories and plot twists as well.
PC: You began writing songs at just seven-years old. What was it about songwriting and expressing yourself in that way that drew you in at such a young age?
LBF: My songwriting started during my first guitar lessons. Instead of learning and practicing the songs in my guitar teachers’ curriculum, I would try to impress him by playing songs I’d made up myself. It was sort of a lazy approach to practice that led me down the path, and it stayed pretty loose like that for a pretty long while before I was encouraged to start writing in a more disciplined way. I have always been drawn to creating melodies and knowing what stories I want to tell comes fairly easy. The big challenge is that many of the themes I relate to are stories that other songwriters have delved into, so the trick is to find a new, unique way to present it. But I’m always looking for the story that hasn’t been told at all as well, and one of the best pieces of advice I’ve gotten is to be an observer, so I try to think about that every day.
PC: When did you realize that you wanted to and could pursue music as a career?
LBF: I really can’t remember a time when music wasn’t part of my life. I started out as ½ of a singing duo with my older brother, Hoke, who plays the piano and sings. We performed together around town at coffee houses, festivals and showcases when we were little. It’s always been a passion. Our musical paths diverged when he chose to seriously pursue musical theatre and I began to start writing songs in a much more disciplined way. It wasn’t until more recently that I realized I could pursue music as a career. Although my dream is be a recording artist singing my own songs, I now know that, as a music creator, I can try to make a living in a lot of ways other than just that. Music is literally everywhere.
PC: What went in to the decision to release “Better Than Mine” as the lead single from your debut EP, Crossing Hermi’s Bridge?
LBF: I tend to write about things that younger people experience, so I always stretch and reach to create a song that people of all ages can relate to. I think “Better Than Mine” does this well. It is relatable to anyone who has experienced the pain of realizing their ex has moved on way too quickly and the questions that leaves you with. I also love the way “Better Than Mine” takes what would be considered a relatively weak position in the story line and empowers it through the driving energy and tempo of the song. It isn’t a typical up-tempo song to come out of the gate with, so there was a lot of discussion about this, but I felt strongly that it represented the album as a whole the best.
PC: The music video for “Better Than Mine” went on to earn over 50,000 views and was featured on CMT. What did that success and support mean to you?
LBF: I am so happy that the video found an audience. It felt very vulnerable to demonstrate the emotions of the song on camera. I really had to get outside of my own skin to do this, so the fact that it’s been well received means a lot to me and it helped in building up my confidence as a performer.
PC: Why did you feel that “Second-Hand Store” was the right follow up single after “Better Than Mine”?
LBF: Of the songs on the album, “Second-Hand Store” is the most sassy and upbeat. I tend to gravitate toward songs with that spirit myself, so I wanted to showcase it in some way. If you look at “Second-Hand Store” and “Better Than Mine” together, you’ll see two sides of the break-up coin. “Better Than Mine” is as raw and vulnerable as “Second-Hand Store” is strong and empowering. It made sense for it to be the follow up based on that.
PC: “What Could Have Been” is our favorite song on Crossing Hermi’s Bridge. Can you talk about the inspiration behind that song?
LBF: So glad you like this song! I was inspired to write it when I was down on the Florida Panhandle on summer vacation; an area where a lot of high school and college students have summer jobs on the beach. I met someone who I really connected with during the last few days we were there, of course we had to go our separate ways. I think I spent the entire Fall wondering what could have been had the timing and geography been different.
PC: You said in another interview that “Back Home” is a personal, autobiographical song for you. Can you talk about what that song means to you?
LBF: When I was younger, I had big dreams of living a glamorous life with a glamorous job in a big city one day. As I’ve gotten older, I have started questioning whether that is really my destiny and whether I could actually cut ties from my home and my family to do this. “Back Home” is about that wondering. It’s me imagining what life would look like and what I think I would miss the most.
PC: “Ruled” is the most-streamed song on Crossing Hermi’s Bridge. What do you think it is about the song that is allowing it to connect with listeners the way it has?
LBF: “Ruled” is the most empowering song I’ve ever written. I think there are a lot of people out there who feel like they’ve been denied opportunity and fairness. “Ruled” is really about the strength and the courage it takes to walk away from someone who stands as a roadblock to your happiness and success. Musically, it’s been described as a kickass anthem with a juicy hook, so that helps too!
PC: Throughout Crossing Hermi’s Bridge, you tap into contemporary, folk and even more classic country sounds. Is it at all important for you to tap into various influences and have that level of sonic versatility in your music?
LBF: I personally love it when I listen to an artist’s collection of music and I hear what the artist can do through the range and diversity of their sound. It’s that surprise you love when you stumble on that song that is so different from the rest. Growing up, I listened to bands like The Police and REM along with my parents. Sometimes I had to ask if we were even listening to the same group from song to song. So I never really had the expectation that any one artist (myself included) would have songs that all sound the same or that don’t tap into various influences and even different genres.
PC: What do you hope listeners take away from Crossing Hermi’s Bridge after listening all the way through?
LBF: I hope listeners love the melodies and sounds of the songs and that they find places in the storytelling to insert their own truths that relate back to their own lives. And I hope they want to share it with their friends!
PC: Crossing Hermi’s Bridge is named after a bridge near your home. Can you talk about the significance of it to you and why you decided to include it in the name of your EP?
LBF: Hermi’s Bridge is a historic bridge near my home that is named for Hermoine “Hermi” Alexander; a civil rights activist in the 1960s. There is a plaque on the bridge that reads “she built bridges across gulfs of prejudice and ignorance.” It was an inspiring message when it was written, and still now, and it’s something I will try to do in my life through music or in whatever way that I can. Crossing this bridge (which I used to do daily) also represents a time of transition in my life where I was making the difficult decision of switching schools and leaving the familiar behind, so it represents a certain degree of courage for me personally as well.
PC: You’ve worked with Grammy-winning producer, Casey Wood. What can you take away from working and collaborating with someone who has had that success that can help you at this early stage in your career?
LBF: Working with Casey was amazing! Nothing like this gets done without a tremendous attention to detail, and Casey is a master at that! In many ways, I felt like he was inside my head hearing the songs as I heard them as I was writing them, but then he’d come up with some completely different interpretation of the sound and I’d end up loving it. What I’ve really learned is to keep my mind completely open when you take a song in to record; particularly when you are working with someone proven and who has an ear like Casey.
PC: Of the things you can control, what are your plans for 2021?
LBF: Beyond continuing to write on a solo basis, I am working to develop more co-writing relationships in 2021. I am also focusing on providing good quality music content more regularly via social media for people to enjoy in their homes. Music aside, I will be attending high school (virtually for now) and studying for the SAT!
*Leah Belle’s music is featured on The Best of Pro Country playlist!*
**All images by Deborah Celecia Wagoner**