Twelve years after first making her mark on the music scene, Leslie Nuchow returns with a brand new album Balm For Gilead and, to celebrate, is playing a comeback show at Joe’s Pub in NYC this Saturday, October 8th. Prior to the show, she chatted with PopWrapped about influences, social media and her musical legacy.
PW: How would you sum yourself up in five words?
Leslie Nuchow: Alive, kind, musical, spiritual, justice-wired. Sorry, that's six.
PW: At what age did you first realize you wanted to be a performer? Was there a concert you attended or album you listened to that inspired you?
LN: I can't remember when I DIDN'T want to sing and perform. When my parents had dinner parties -- which they did a lot when I was young -- I would BEG to sing for everyone. They'd have to ask me to stop after a while. Whenever I felt something, whether it be sad or happy or angry, I would go directly to the piano and play what I felt. I sang to myself alone in my house for many years. My parents were activists and took me to many protests. While the speeches were stirring, it was the music that moved my heart and soul. I remember weeping hearing Pete Seeger and Joan Baez sing out about injustice.
PW: Which bands and artists influenced you growing up, and how, if at all, have those influences changed as you've gotten older?
LN: As a little kid, I loved “Free To Be You And Me”. OMG. I would play that Rosey Greer song over and over and over. It killed me. As I got a little older, I loved Joan Armatrading, Elvis Costello, Tracy Chapman and Sinead O’Connor. Each and every one of those artists were and are emotionally plugged-in, and that is what got to my heart. They also are lyric-driven, which I love. I sing from my heart, and I love writing lyrics, so I guess they got to me.
PW: What would you say makes you different from the other bands and artists around today?
LN: All I want to do is to sing my truth from my heart and soul. When I do that, I feel I am singing songs from the ages, from forever ago and what will always be. I want to crack open your heart. My main message is that we are all connected. When we see and feel how connected we are, it isn’t so easy to hurt each other. Because the truth of it is, until we are all safe and free from harm, we cannot fully heal.
PW: Is there a band or artist you might say you sound similar to?
LN: I have been compared to Sarah McLachlan, Sinead O’Connor and more recently to Adele. But, really, I sound most like me.
PW: Who or what most inspires your song-writing?
LN: Nature, people and God.
PW: In your opinion, which is the greatest song ever written and why?
LN: I don’t think there is such a thing, but “Imagine” comes pretty close.
PW: As a lesbian, do you ever feel like you're at any kind of disadvantage in your profession? Do you find yourself being discriminated against at all or would you say society has grown more accepting of sexuality now?
LN: I haven’t experienced discrimination for being a lesbian -- that I know of. But I have experienced judgement from others about my body. I don’t fit into the typical performer-looking box, and that is hard for some people. We have come a long way in terms of the “isms,” but, if you take one listen to Donald Trump and many of his supporters, or see what is happening to black men and women vis-a-vis our police force, or the school-to-prison pipeline, or how we are treating our beloved earth ... it is clear we have a very long way to go.
PW: Tell me about your new album, Balm For Gilead. How does it differ from your first release, Tenderland?
LN: Since Tenderland, I’ve gone through some big life experiences that changed me. My son was born, I cared for my sick mother for years, and then she died. I went through a big illness, myself, and then there’s all of the beauty and craziness in the world. Balm for Gilead has a broader perspective on life. It is a bit more zoomed-out than Tenderland. There is pain in it, like there is in my last album, but the pain is in a different context now, so it is more contained.
PW: Could you pick a favorite track on the collection, and, if so, which is it and why?
LN: I love “I Don’t Want to Die Before I Die”. It is uplifting to me. It makes me want to LIVE. And I love the voices of the children on it. I also love “Water” because it captures how we are all connected, which is a giant theme for me.
PW: You've got a comeback show at Joe's Pub in NYC on October 8th. Excited?
LN: VERY. Joe’s Pub is an amazing listening room. I’ve wanted to play there for years.
PW: Aside from that, what are your upcoming performance plans?
LN: I’d like to play out around the city a bit more and then do some small tours around the East Coast.
PW: If you could share a stage with four other bands or artists (who can be living or dead), who would they be, and where would you play?
LN: Four??? I can’t. I just can't. Eva Cassidy, David Bowie, Mozart, k.d. lang, Annie Lennox, Van Morrison -- we’d sing “Tupelo Honey” for my wife -- Bob Marley, John Lennon, Sinead O'Connor and some ancient, indigenous, first-singer people. We’d perform at the beach.
PW: How has social media impacted your career, and would you agree it's a vital tool for those in the entertainment industry?
LN: I have been SLOW to social media, kind of resistant. It all feels so overwhelming to me. But, once I started, I was amazed at the impact. I have been able to reach so many more people in a moment than I ever could have before. In this world as it is now, it is indeed a vital tool for people in the entertainment biz.
PW: You've been championed by the likes of Rolling Stone, but do you pay much attention to what critics and the media think of you?
LN: Well, who doesn’t want to be loved? But I try to stay focused on what I feel I am here to do.
PW: What does the rest of the year have in store for you?
LN: I’d love to get Balm for Gilead out into the world as much as possible. And then I want to start writing my next album.
PW: Finally, then, where would you like to see yourself five years from now, and what would you like your musical legacy to be?
LN: In five years, I’d love to have another two good records out, and it would be great to have some more foundational support, so my career can keep growing. I’d like to be healthy and for my family to be healthy, and I'd like to see myself in a world that is more peaceful and kind. As for a musical legacy, I’d like my son to be proud of me.