Blending Grit and Grace in Americana With Leah Tash

Leah Tash, a New York-artist born and raised, blends together country, blues, folk, and rock and roll, and emerges as a contemporary Americana artist. Growing up with an actress mother and a father who was once a roadie for Alice Cooper, Tash was raised in a household where music and the arts were taken very seriously. She taught herself to play guitar at age 16, and amidst the emotional changes that come hand in hand with being a teenager, she fell in love with the work of legendary folk artists like Bob Dylan. A preschool music teacher by day, Tash is an artist who prioritizes being raw and open with her music, as well as the connections that one can form through music. Her low, raspy voice helps create a distinct, grungy sound that embraces its own flaws and brings forth a sometimes-crude but always honest performance. She has taken the stage at various New York City music venues, and can often be found playing her guitar at 11th St. Bar. 

We spoke with Tash on her own emergence as an artist and what she wishes to convey with her music. 


Did you have a musical upbringing? Was it a part of your life growing up? 

Neither of my parents are professional musicians, but my dad has a really beautiful singing voice, actually. So I would grow up with him singing around the house. And my mom’s an actress, so she has a theater background. So I kind of had those two things. And it was never like they never pushed me or forced me into anything, but it was like always around me and like kind of always something that was talked about in the house. We take movies and songs and albums very seriously. Not in a bad way, but in a fun way. They got me guitar lessons when I was like seven and even though I always loved music, it was really hard for me to play guitar. I still have very small hands, so I could not figure out how to play guitar. But I kept the guitar and when I was 16, I picked the guitar back up and started teaching myself. And then the rest is history.

How did you get into music professionally? 

I went to the New School and I went for just an ambiguous music degree. And around that time was when I started performing. So I guess I would say that starting to perform smaller shows was like dipping my toes into doing it professionally, and then it just kind of has become a more serious career as time has gone on. I started by doing open mics and playing the Sidewalk Cafe, which isn’t there anymore, but it was in the East Village. I remember I played there and the woman who was hosting the open mic really liked what I was playing, and she invited me while I was still on stage to book a gig there. And that was the first gig I ever booked. It was such a small, cool little venue. It was like the first time someone had ever seen me play and wanted to be a part of their establishment. 

Describe your sound. How has it evolved over the years?

I would describe my sound as, um, Americana, but I would say more on the kind of grungier side of Americana, more, um, a grittier side of Americana. I feel like when I first started singing, I was singing, but I was also like, barely singing. It was just teaching myself how. And I naturally have a deep voice, and I feel like I just kind of kept embracing that. I would embrace bringing rasp into my voice, like what vocal range would make my voice raspy. I definitely feel like that has carried through. But I’ve also developed other types of vocal techniques and, and for songwriting I’m kind of leaning more towards the country side of Americana at this present moment. But there are times where I will go through phases where I’m leaning more towards, like the bluesy side or the folk side. So I’d say that country, blues, folk, and rock and roll are like the four genres that really shaped what I do. And I feel like I learned from each of those genres, and sometimes I’ll just blend them all together in a song. 

How did you get into these genres? 

I started listening to Bob Dylan when I was in high school. I came across him through  other artists that had covered him. I remember being 15 and I had just fallen in love for the first time. And so I heard his song Boots of Spanish Leather, which is a crazy, beautiful love song. And I remember just like listening to it on repeat, and I started getting really into music that sounded like that. And that song has a lot of old folk, traditional roots. So through Bob Dylan, I started opening up to all of these other types of artists that were making music that sounded like that. Also, just music that was written, whether it be like 50 years ago or 100 years ago, or 200 years ago, but the concepts and the lyrics are timeless. It feels like they could have been written by a 16 year old girl now, you know? So I resonated with that at a young age because sonically it just spoke to me. 


How do you bring authenticity into such established genres? How do you distinguish yourself from other artists?

I’m the kind of person that really believes in live performance. It doesn’t need to be perfect. If it’s flawed, that is secondary to what? Like if it is genuine and if it is honest and if it is passionate and real—I would so much rather hear a flawed piece of music. If it’s really speaking to me and it really comes from a passionate place, then usually that’s the kind of stuff that’ll speak to me more than something that’s technically perfect, or something that uses a lot of technology to make it perfect. So I think especially when it comes to rock and roll, and playing with a band, you don’t need to add crazy amounts of effects and crazy amounts of computer work to make it sound good. The thing that will sound best to me is having a really great live feeling between me and the other musicians. That’s something that’s gotten more important to me as I’ve gotten older. 

What was the vibe at your show in Mercury Lounge?

The reason why I loved that show so much is because people were really listening and they were also very excited. So I had a lot of fun with the crowd that night. Like I was able to have them sing with me at certain points. And one of the biggest compliments you can give a musician is when you dance to their music. So seeing people dance in the crowd that night was great.

Do you have any particular artistic goal? Is there something specific that you’re trying to communicate with your music?

Just getting more in touch with yourself and also getting more in touch with each other. Also just letting yourself feel things and letting yourself be raw and open. And another big artistic goal of mine is connecting to nature. That has become a very important part of my life. And I think music has really helped me in that regard. I feel like I am inspired a lot by nature, and I learn a lot from nature. The best way to get into a peaceful zone and to get my mind to work in a creative way is spending time in nature. 

How do you incorporate your own relationship to music into your teaching? 

One of the coolest things about my job is that I’m sitting in a New York City classroom, but I get to teach the kids about animals and help them make sounds of nature using music. So that part is really cool. I love traditional blues and folk and, and one of the things I’ve been doing with the older kids who are around 4 or 5 is I teach them about a new musical artist every month, and I teach them to sing a couple songs from this artist. So I’ve been getting to teach them about these artists that I love and that have inspired me. And then I’m getting to hear them sing these songs and then love these songs, and then their parents tell me that they’re asking about these artists at home or singing those songs at home. And that’s just like the coolest feeling, because I’m really passionate about it. 



Do you have any new releases coming out soon? 

I’ve been sitting on a bunch of songs that I really want to record. I’m trying to put together an EP release and I also try to record live videos as much as I can. So hopefully we will have a couple of those coming out soon. But there’s definitely going to be new releases coming up. I’m going to say that spring is the goal for the next single.

Any artist recommendations for us?

I’ve been listening to Esther Rose recently. She is an amazing songwriter from New Orleans. I’ve been listening to her a lot recently because she just came out with a full EP and a cool album. She kind of surprised me by writing songs that were less country than I was expecting, and they’re more like country, grunge, Americana. I highly recommend listening to the songs she just released. And then someone who I’m a huge fan of is Sierra Ferrell. She’s an Americana artist that I just love. And then the list goes on. Lukas Nelson is a contemporary artist that I highly recommend listening to. Also, another band called the Deslondes. They’re a New Orleans band. I love their music. So yeah, those are my recommendations for stuff that’s similar to what I do.

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