Making a Scene Presents an Interview with Lea McIntosh
It’s only natural that pundits attempt to put artists in boxes and define them within a specific scenario. Yet when an individual is as multi-talented as Lea McIntosh, confining them to any one niche becomes a challenging proposition.
An exceptional entrepreneur, Lea initially made her mark in the culinary world as a successful chef, designer, marketing and multimedia businesswoman, one in high demand and with any number of promising prospects before her.
Nevertheless, Lea knew that music was her calling since early on; and for that reason, she turned away from those earlier achievements and chose to focus on a sound and style uniquely her own.
“I was thirteen years old, sitting in my dad’s truck listening to the radio while he was loading it up and a song called “Where’ve You Been” by Kathy Mattea came on. I was completely captivated by the beauty of the music and the lyrics. It was my first exposure to a long-lasting love story and made me hopeful that someday I would fall in love and grow old with someone. When the song ended, I was in tears and remember saying to myself, ‘Someday I want to do that. I want to sing and tell my story through music.’”
Not surprisingly, her daring and distinctive album debut, Blood Cash, reflects an innate talent that’s been apparent from an early age. An exceptional offering that spotlights her intrinsic abilities as a singer and songwriter, it boasts seven original songs that Lea co-wrote with collaborator and guitarist Travis Cruse, aided and abetted by veteran musicians Myron Dove on bass, drummer Deszon Claiborne, and keyboardist Eamonn Flynn.
“I’ve never been afraid of approaching people and asking if they would work with me,” she says. “I am genuine and nurturing, and I love sending out good vibes. I try my hardest to bring the best out of everyone around me. I’ve studied long and hard when it comes to music and continue to do so. I think the musicians I collaborate with recognize this and respect that about me.”
Given a bluesy sway and swagger, the material clearly affirms Lea’s confidence and clarity. From the sass and strut of opening track “Blood Cash,” the assertive stance of “Blue Stoned Heart,” “Tennessee Hurricane,” and “Fantasy Woman,” the supple shuffle of “Purple Suede Boots,” the quiet resolve of “Soul Stripper,” through to the spunky finesse of the prophetic track “The Fire Is Coming,” Lea demonstrates the verve, vitality and versatility that clearly belie the fact this is her initial recording.
Indeed, Lea was born to sing the blues. She grew up in a troubled household where she witnessed drugs, violence, and criminal mayhem. Her mother was murdered when Lea was only eleven, and her early years found her dealing with physical and emotional abuse. As a result, she’s given voice to her troubled, tumultuous past and reasserted herself with a record that reflects both her talent and tenacity.
Lea’s album marks a return to her early love of music. She learned to play fiddle at age nine and as a young adult went on to learn other instruments as well — bass and mandolin from Jack Tuttle who was the catalyst for her love of bluegrass music. Dabbling in bluegrass allowed her to channel what she calls “her inner hillbilly” and helped her expand her vocal palette by learning to sing with controlled straight tones, bends, and voice cracks.
For well over a decade, Lea classically trained as a singer and primarily studied the Spinto and Dramatic Soprano repertoire with the legendary operatic bass, Gregory Stapp. “Greg provided me with a solid vocal technique that I continue to use and build upon to this day,” she says. “Without him, I wouldn’t have the stage presence, confidence or power that I do now. I am forever grateful to him and his musical genius.”
In 2012, Lea made a bold decision to turn down an opportunity for a syndicated cooking show that would have brought her further recognition, and she left behind a multifaceted career to become a first-time mother of a son. Four years later, it was by chance that she stepped into the rabbit hole of blues music by walking into a Santa Cruz guitar shop. The shop’s owner invited her to join in on jam nights and wouldn’t take no for an answer. Soon after, she started connecting with the local music community, including Myron Dove and Travis Cruse.
For Lea, the journey continues. “I finally found the courage to face my real heart,” she says. “I’m not scared anymore; things might still fall apart. Brick-by-brick I’m going to fix this road and keep telling myself there’s no place quite like home.”
Prior to the spread of COVID-19, she was starting to attract notice on the West Coast, and once the pandemic passes, she looks forward to sharing stages again. Also, she’s begun working with the iconic blues master J.P. Soars, and the two have some recording projects and a California tour in the works.
“I first met Lea as a fan of my music; but after hearing her, I quickly became a fan of Lea’s,” Soars says. “What struck me was the power and authenticity of her voice, as well as her lyrics and songs. She has an amazing original voice; it cuts right through you and goes straight to the soul. It’s real and genuine, and that’s why it moves me.”
As for Lea herself, she couldn’t be happier. “I feel like I’ve lived nine lives. I’ve worked hard and always tried to help others. These days, I simply love soulful music and, of course, an extensive dessert menu. I’m almost to the point where I just want to sit down, have my cake, and listen to the blues.”
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