Leslie Mendelson: A New York throwback

by Lizzie Morelli

Singer/songwriter Leslie Mendelson is to put it simply, a product of New York and very interesting opportunities. Her career, which really started in 2009 with her Grammy-Award nominated debut album Swan Feathers, has been laced with setbacks. Her early success led her to work with some big names and eventually to London. Though projections of musical success did not come to fruition initially, she found her way back to the states with knowledge, experience and a handful of really cool stories. Some times fate leads us down the long way and this is true of Mendelson. Her journey led to her album Love & Murder, which was released this year and is a beautiful collection of emotional originals and flawlessly chosen covers.  Live Music Daily recently had the opportunity to talk to her while at home in New York and this is what she said. 

How did you first get involved in music?

At an early age…I had a lot of music at home. My dad is a musician. He is a trumpet player. We had a good hi-fi system and played music all the time. I played a lot of piano as a kid. I learned by ear. My dad and I would play songs together.

What are your musical influences? I am going out on a line here but I bet you’re a Bob Dylan fan?

I was about to say he’s my number one. I just saw Dylan a couple weeks ago. He was just at the Beacon Theatre in Manhattan. Let me tell you, I love his evolution. I have seen him a few times, sometimes its been hit and miss but this show was amazing. He did some new stuff but when he did his old stuff it was incredible to watch him interpret his own songs. It was almost like watching and artist interprets a Dylan song. It transcended into this other song. I was blown away. It was very child like… he is one of my favorites. I love Joni Mitchell, Jackson Browne, Neil Young and Carol King… the seventies, ugh, it’s everything to me. The whole singer songwriter movement in the seventies thing I feel like. I love modern music too but I just feel like that time was such a brilliant era for songwriting, pop folk songwriting.

I was recently discussing Dylan’s transition into electric and his ability to take risks and I am glad he is still doing stuff like that.

Yeah, I know. I was thinking about that too, as I was watching like “Man! He has seen it all and he has all of that experience, and I am still feeling like he’s in front of that audience forty fifty years later and its s a gift to still get to see him.

Do you have a favorite Joni Mitchell song?

It depends on the day. I love the whole Blue, I feel like every song on that whole album is incredible but River has always been one of my favorites. Also, Other Peoples Parties off of Court and Spark, I have always wanted to do a cover of that song.

 What is your song writing process like?

Well, sometimes I will be walking around not even thinking about it and an idea will pop into my head…a melody. I kind of take it from there. Sometimes I will sit down and just see what comes out. I have a writing partner that I work with; we bounce ideas back and forth.  My writing partner is Steve McEwan.


 Are you a lyricist? Do words come naturally to you?

I am more…I would say I am better at the melodies. Steve is a brilliant lyricist. I will come up with lines and hooks and ideas but I would say I tend to do more melodies then I do lyrics. It goes back and forth but that how I see it.

How did you choose Blue Bayou for the album?

Well its always been a favorite of mine and I was at TRI…I had met Bob Weir maybe a year prior to that session and during the time I was at TRI they were rehearsing for Dead and Company, right at the beginning.  I had a room there. They made me an artist in residence. I was there a lot doing little things.  At the end of the week, I was doing some recording. I was playing around with that song and AJ, Bob’s guitar tech came in and said “You sound great, I bet Bob would like that”, then Bob came in and said “That’s one of my favorite songs, too” and right then and there we went into the main room and laid it down with two guitars and sang it.

What was that experience like? Was that a pinch me moment?

Pretty much, yeah! It’s a pinch me moment. I am a Grateful Dead fan so Bob Weir…and I love his songs. Some of his songs are absolutely incredible. I love his voice and just to hear it next to me…You know it so well but to hear it next to you…happening! Yeah, and us singing together. We resonated well together too. It was all very surreal.

How did you originally meet Bob Weir?

It was when I was in London, and Justin Kreutzmann, he is the son of Bill Kreutzmann the drummer from The Grateful Dead, he makes films. He was doing a documentary on Pete Towsend and my management group represented The Who so when they were in town so my management said why don’t you come and check out my new artists. So they came and we were talking, and they had seen a video of me doing  Friend of the Devil, I had done an interview with Relix and sung a Dead song. So they were like “Oh, she’s a head!” and they were doing “Weir Here” at the time that webcam, so they said they were going to give my stuff to Bob he will like it. I was like “sure” but he did and that was the day I met Kimock and Dave Schools,  that’s a relationship we still… cause Dave Schools just produced the Kimock record, so it was a great day a lot of friendships came out of that day.

You just finished up with the Kimock Satelite City tour?

We did a few dates in Colorado to finish up the year. We are planning to go back out in April to the West Coast, we will probably spend the year promoting as much as possible.

What’s in the works? What’s next?

I am going back in the studio. I am going to record my new record.  I have a bunch of songs that I am really excited to get started on. We are kind of at the beginning of it. That is going to happen in the next few weeks.

Any idea where you will record it?

We are figuring that out right now, we are thinking up in Woodstock.


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