Leah Finegold

by
Leah Finegold
Nickie Shobeiry had a chat with Leah Finegold, a singer-songwriter who is studying English and Drama at Exeter.

You were ten when you first began playing guitar, but had been singing long before that. What did you want to be when you were younger?
I always answered that I wanted to be a pop star, which is the classic, childhood answer! It wasn’t about fame, it was more about doing what you love to do, which for me is singing and playing guitar. I always loved music, so that’s what I wanted to do.

Do you remember your first ever performance?
I think it was at my primary school – I sang a Christian Aguilera song in front of the whole school, which was my first major performance. I think it was Beautiful, which is quite weird as I can’t even remember how it goes! [laughs] Christina Aguilera seems like quite a long time ago. I think I was ten, which is quite young actually – so that was definitely really nerve-wrecking. But it opened up a whole new realm for me.

You mentioned you find gigging a bit scary sometimes. What advice would you give to someone who is just about to go on stage?
Take deep breaths. I think one of the things people worry about when going on stage is judgement, because people judge you within two seconds of meeting you. But it’s important to just be yourself and go for it! That’s what I always tell myself. Also, don’t be intimidated and don’t hold back. What have you got to lose?

What’s the most distracting thing to you when you’re on stage?
People talking in the background. You can’t expect people to have their full attention on you – they might not be very interested, and they might not even think you’re that good. At John Gandy’s, I did an open mic night – all my friends were there and they weren’t talking which is polite [laughs], but there were loads of other people standing up and talking. It’s not hurtful or anything, but it is distracting, and that can be hard. You have to keep going and just keep your eye on the horizon.

Can you share some of your most memorable performances?
I performed at my sister’s wedding in Italy, which is probably one of my favourite performances – it was just one of those things you never forget. One of the first gigs I did was in Camden Town because I live in London, and that was one of the first gigs I’ve done in front of strangers, not just school kids. That was one of the things I remember the most.

You say you write when the mood strikes. Is there a specific place you draw most of your inspiration from?
Whenever I feel anxious or stressed, I’ll just grab a guitar and play something. I’ll think “Ooh, that sounds kinda good” and I’ll write down the chords, and then later I’ll just jam and try to figure out some lyrics. I don’t think my inspiration is from a specific time or theme. When I think it’s right, I just write.

What was the inspiration for your songs Flowers and Maybe?
When it comes to Flowers, to be honest, I don’t even know. My mum always makes fun of it – she’s not actually mean [laughs], but she’s always like, “What’s your next song gonna be called, Clouds?”. I guess it’s about nature and growing up. I chose flowers because that seems to be the main theme of nature. Maybe was about someone I liked, a past love, which sounds so cheesy. But a lot of songs are about love, and I think that’s where you draw that inspiration from; wondering what’s going to happen next time.

Do you have a person you show your music to before you show anyone else?
Not really – I’m quite private about it. I wrote Maybe two or three years ago, and I wrote Flowers in the Summer. I’ll probably play to my parents and my sisters because they’re very supportive, and naturally you’ll want encouragement. I also play to a lot of my friends who really support me, but there isn’t one specific person I play to first.

Your family clearly support you a lot. Is there anyone musical in your family?
My Uncle on my Mum’s side is a professional opera singer, so they’re very musical on that side of the family! My Mum played the guitar and sang when she was younger, although she can’t now, which is weird. And my great-great Grandfather was in a jazz band. I listened to him and they were really, really good. My Dad’s side has no musical talent, on the other hand – he’s tone-deaf [laughs].

What was the last song you wrote about?
The other day I was playing some chords and it sounded good, and then I just started singing about the wind [laughs]. I don’t know, you sing whatever comes into your head and go with what sounds good. So I’m going to see how that goes. It takes quite a long time; it’s a build-up over weeks and months. It takes a long time to perfect things.

Why do you think music is important?
It’s a way of expressing yourself by speaking to someone through sound, melody, and lyrics – it’s a release of anxiety and stress; it’s really calming. It’s so important to me – I think without music the world would be such a strange place, because everyone loves music and everyone can relate to it and love it. It’s really rare that you meet someone who doesn’t.

What’s your favourite song to perform?
Jolene by Dolly Parton. I mentioned it on Xpression FM when I played the Music Show; they must think I’m obsessed with it! I just love that song, it’s really relatable and I love its melody. I really love country music and that sort of style, that’s why I also mentioned Fleetwood Mac.

So who are your top five influences?
Dolly Parton, Fleetwood Mac, Jack Johnson, Ben Howard… who else do I like? Maybe Amy Winehouse and her style of singing. I don’t think she played guitar, but yeah.

In what way do you think being at uni affects you as a musician?
It’s definitely enhanced my love of music and made me want to do it more, like with this interview. Promoting yourself is easy and everyone is so nice and willing to help you. Playing gigs, open mic nights… I played Children In Need too. University has definitely helped me to explore music more. I study English and Drama and in school I did more acting and put the music on the side. Yet here, it’s reversed, which is interesting. It’s so difficult to get into plays here – I’m a tiny fish in a massive, massive pond. Being in your first year is like being in Year 7 all over again.

Do you think being a Drama student helps you perform as a musician?
Definitely, 100%. I did a lot of acting on stage and that helps a lot with confidence. It’s scary standing up on stage to play music – it’s scarier than acting, to be honest! I gig a lot on my own, and standing on a big stage, just you and a guitar.. it’s scary. With acting, there’s a script and you sort of know what you’re doing and you have others to rely on. But with gigging, it’s just you and if you screw up… [laughs]

Playing live on Xpression FM was not your first experience with being live on radio. Can you describe your first time? What’s it like being on the radio?
The first time I went on the radio I was excited, and I really wanted to play as I hadn’t done it before. It was really fun and different. It was less scary because you don’t have cameras in your face and you don’t have a massive audience. It’s just your voice and no one is looking at your appearance, which can be terrifying. In that aspect it’s quite fun. Plus, the people on Xpression are very nice – Saskia and Lucy are really lovely and so encouraging.

What is your greatest achievement as a musician, and what are your hopes for the future?
I don’t know, really. I was proud of myself for putting myself out there with gigs and open mics when I started, because it can be really scary. I’d love to get paid to perform! That’s the dream, because that makes it a job. I’d love to do that and play my own gigs, and for people to support me. I’ve created a Soundcloud which is exciting, and I’ve got loads of followers which is great!

What’s next for you as a musician?
To try and keep going, writing more music, doing more promotion. You have to be really determined to do well, and that’s what I’m trying to do. There’s just millions of talented people out there. As I follow people on Soundcloud that are so talented, it’s easy to think “Why do I even try?”, but I’m not in it for the fame – I just want to share the music, without sounding cheesy. [laughs]

And if you could have any rider request in the world, what would you ask for?
I don’t know, definitely water! That’s really important. And maybe a mascot? A lucky mascot would be good.

Do you have anything like that? A lucky charm?
I don’t! I do name my guitars though, and they’re sort of my mascots.

What are their names?
The electric one – [laughs] this is so embarrassing, I was ten when I named it so no one judge me – is called Rocky. The acoustic-electric, which I always play and is the best one, is called Stevie. I’m not sure why, I think my friend named it. My first guitar ever is called Bob. And the ukulele doesn’t have a name.

And where can we find you?
You can find me on Soundcloud, Twitter, and Instagram. I’ve also got a gig on 22nd March at The Old Firehouse, so if anyone wants to come along and show their support and hear some music then yeah, that’d be cool!