|Igniting a Fire
Nancy Chow - January 7, 2012
Leah Siegel wears many
faces of what she calls “characters.” An active performer in Citizens
Band and Brooklyn Boogaloo Blowout, Siegel also has written a number of
albums under her own name before she founded Firehorse. With Firehorse,
she boasts a range of roles on the debut album, And So They Ran Faster,
in the diverse tracks that explore pop, rock, jazz, funk and soul with
electronic touches. The genre-leaping tracks showcase Siegel’s
acrobatic vocals that lead her band into challenging sonic landscapes.
From the sparse yet stirring “If You Don’t Want to Be Alone” to the
hazy bliss of “Baby Bird,” Siegel and her bandmates, featuring members
of My Brightest Diamond and Rosanne Cash, drive a tumultuously
emotional experience. Her inspiration from Joni Mitchell, Nick Drake
and the Velvet Underground show, but the songs sound thoroughly fresh.
Firehorse is definitely a band to watch out for, and it doesn’t hurt
that Siegel has receive Prince’s stamp of approval.
the creation of Firehorse? Why did you decide to move away from writing
under your own name?
I felt limited performing as Leah Siegel and was definitely limited as
a writer. A lot of my writing comes from character ideas and “Leah”
seemed defined. But what I really felt was confined. So I killed the
whole thing and almost started from scratch. This is a very long story
actually and begins in the darkest place I've ever found myself. It's
hard to condense it all into sound bytes, but the moment I trashed Leah
Siegel, I was on my way out of the abyss.
You are also
involved with Brooklyn Boogaloo Blowout and the Citizens Band. How do
you stay focused on writing for Firehorse?
The Boogaloo's been around for 12 years, and it takes up almost no time
in my life. We don't rehearse we just play. And when we do, I get such
a kick out of it. I don't have to lug any gear at all, I get to play
one of my favorite characters, and it's such a great party I basically
feel like it's my birthday. The Citizens Band is a collective of
creative professionals, so everyone's incredibly busy. The band hasn't
performed too much in the last few years, but we're expecting to do
quite a bit now that we're coming up on an election. So there's plenty
of time to write. It's probably the session work that gets in the way
of my writing the most, because it keeps me singing and writing and
thinking, “Hey, cool, I just did a bunch of stuff.” And stylistically
I'm using so many different voices in my sessions that it can be
befuddling to then go home and be like, “Okay, so who am I?”
Tell me about Prince
lavishing you with compliments.
He came to see a Citizens Band show and then came to the after party. A
few of the cast members kept coming up to me saying that Prince
particularly liked my performance, until finally Prince walked up to me
and told me his thoughts. Lavishing seems like a strong word, but he
was really sincere and he used the word “brilliant.” It was a
Cinderella moment if I've ever had one. My mom told me much later that
this was when she and my dad stopped worrying about me so
When writing for And So
They Ran Faster, did you plan to write a collection of such different
songs? Is your music taste as eclectic as your album?
I can't say
honestly that anything was planned regarding this album. I remember
talking to Geoff the day before we started the post-production, and we
were kind of thinking, “How the hell are we going to make an album out
of this collection?” But what we were really questioning was public
perception. We had no problem at all making the album we were already
set out to make, and it made perfect sense to us in our heads. I think
the real question at the time was, 'How much do we care about whether
everyone else gets it or not?” And the answer was “not too much.” The
other answer was The White Album.  Yes, my tastes in
everything are just as eclectic. Music, fashion, dancing, décor – I
have a huge appreciation for art. Life might be easier for me if I
practiced a more judging way of being.
Where and how was the
album recorded? Any stories you want to share from the process?
The band and
I tracked at The Magic Shop in NYC. The songs were tracked live except
for the ones that had yet to be written. I hadn't written “Machete Gang
Holiday” yet, but the sound was in my head, so I told the guys to jam
on it with me. We had two feels: big feel and broken down. I wrote the
first verse in the studio. When I met Geoff at his studio in Seattle, I
finished the song. I also wrote “Our Hearts” and the rest of “If You
Don't Want To Be Alone.” It was a long process. Made longer by the fact
that I had recorded two albums, in fact, and we didn't know which songs
would go on the first one. They were both meant to come out. But we've
since dismantled the second record.  The public service
announcement in which “If You Don’t Want To Be Alone” is used is so
How did you get involved
with the Topsy Foundation? Did you write that song exclusively for the
I got into session singing about five years ago and slowly built a
career in that industry. One of the studios I sing and sometimes write
for asked me to submit a song pro bono for this PSA. When I heard about
the drug, I was totally shocked I had never heard of it before and
without hesitation I said, “Of course, I would submit.” I watched the
video and cried for a long time. I knew exactly what sounds I wanted to
make, and in about 45 minutes, I wrote the one-minute of song you hear
in the PSA. I hadn't written with precision like that since I was a
kid. Then I cried for a couple weeks. Then I received word that they
were choosing my song for the piece. Then I cried some more.
This is a very long story actually and begins in the darkest place I've ever found myself. It's hard to condense it all into sound bytes, but the moment I trashed Leah Siegel, I was on my way out of the abyss.