In 2009 I had the privilege of meeting Leslie Rodriguez at a collegiate event at Montreat Conference Center in North Carolina. Leslie was a member of the music team and I was one of the speakers. I remember having some great conversations about the state of the church, issues of justice and life in general. Through the wonders of the interwebs we have stayed in contact over the years even the point that she and Javier came to photograph our family portraits.
Leslie is an amazing singer, talented photographer and oh, yeah . . . and she’s also a PhD student. Whaaaaaat?!?!?
But now, I wanted to give some blog space to her latest project as a member of the band, Humming House. Leslie is bringing her gift of song, social media and spirit to this band and they are taking some next big steps in their careers. I caught up with Leslie for a little interview about her life, passions and her glamorous rock star life.
But first things first — linkapalooza!
- Humming House Debut Album [FREE DOWNLOAD]
- Humming House Second Album [KICKSTART IT]
- Website: http://www.humminghouse.com
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/humminghousemusic
- Twitter: https://twitter.com/humminghouse
- Instagram: http://instagram.com/humminghou
- Youtube: http://www.youtube.com/humminghousetv
- Photoblog: http://humminghousewithaview.com
So Leslie, I’ve known you for almost 5 years now and one of the most interesting things about you has been the breadth of interests and passions that you have. You also don’t dabble in any of them, but seem to go all in be it academics, music, social media, the dogs, gardening, etc. For those who might not know about all of your interests and passions, can introduce yourself?
There’s a lot going on, but it boils down to music, photography, social justice, languages, and other cultures. I have been singing on stage since I was a kid – starting with open mic nights in Louisville with my dad to playing actual gigs are bars and restaurants around Louisville. We moved to Nashville in 2004 and started playing shows around town, including at the Bluebird Cafe, 3rd and Lindsley, Puckett’s – a few iconic Nashville venues. I moved to Nashville to go to college at Belmont University, and it was there that I developed an interest in languages, particularly after studying abroad in Spain and learning Spanish. I met more Brazilians than Spaniards in Spain, which sparked an interest in Latin America and Portuguese. I got my first Master’s degree at Vanderbilt University through their Center for Latin American Studies and was a FLAS (Foreign Language Area Studies) fellow with a specialty in Portuguese. I married Javier in 2009 and together we started my photography business (capturedbyleslie.com). I’ve been working on photography ever since, shooting weddings and family portraits as a side business. It”s been a really great artistic outlet for me. Through the CLAS program I began to get involved in immigration issues around Nashville, which directed my interests toward Sociology and ultimately funneled me into the Sociology PhD program at Vanderbilt University, where I have been studying racism and immigration since 2010. I completed my second Master’s degree this past summer and passed my first qualifying exam on race and racism in May before I decided to take a one-year hiatus to tour and make music with Humming House.
Wow. You are such a slacker
Okay, so now that you are on hiatus from academic life and going all rock star on us . . . how DID you connect with Humming House?
I’ve been friends with two of the four guys in Humming House since college and was actually in another band with the Humming House mandolin player (Josh) in college, so this was an easy transition for me. Josh actually overheard me making a new years resolution in January to play more music in 2014. Shortly thereafter, the guys in Humming House called me up in February asking if I wanted to join them. Kristen Rogers, the previous female vocalist, decided to leave the band in January to pursue other musical endeavors in the city, so there was an open slot and I was thrilled to have the chance to play music with them. I was a fan of Humming House from the beginning, so not only was it an easy transition for me in terms of knowing the guys in the band but I also liked the music. It’s very similar to music I grew up listening to and playing with my dad around Louisville and Nashville, so it was a great fit for me.
I bet most of us deep, deep down would love to be rock stars. That said, I realize that it’s probably not all red carpet walks and caviar dreams. So tell us, what is it like being in a band trying to make it in music world?
I’ll admit, the guys are much better at answering this kind of stuff than I am since they’ve been in this world longer than I have. That said, it can be awfully tiring and stressful, particularly since two of the guys work full time jobs and the other three of us are always looking for ways outside of touring to pay the bills. Both of those situations add their own special kind of stress to this job. On the bright side, it’s a highly creative and rewarding experience. We all really like each other, and we like our contemporaries. Sure, the Nashville music scene is a competitive place, but from personal experience Nashville is full musician friends that actually want to support each other. We want to see our friends’ bands succeed, and collaboration happens all of the time. I think being on the road does take away from the creative processes that tend to happen when you’re at home and have time to think, rehearse, arrange, marinate on ideas and see them come to fruition. So that’s probably one of the more stressful parts of this job: making sure that in the process of bringing the music to as many people as possible all over the country that we maintain a creative edge.
So with all of this going on in your life, how do you stay balanced?
To show you how fancy it is That’s me, in the back of the tour van, with a blanket over my face to block out other noises so I can talk to my husband, Javier, in “private.” Javier has been an amazing source of support and enthusiasm. I can’t emphasize how encouraging and helpful it is to have someone back in Nashville to root for me while I’m gone and welcome me when I come back home from a stretch of time on the road. Of course having Javier (and the dogs!) far away from me is something incredibly difficult, but Javier knows as much as I do how important it is to follow a path toward a meaningful and fulfilling career. Javier recently quit his job to go back to school for nursing, so he’s busy studying at Vanderbilt while I’m on the road. We both made a career switch at the same time, so we’re supporting each other. When I’m home, we do everything together – gardening, cooking, hiking, training the dogs, being outside as much as possible. We also spend a lot of weekend time with my parents and gma. When I’m away we talk every single day. I make a point to make sure there’s a window in the day when we can talk – my schedule is more flexible than his. That said, our schedules are totally opposite – his day ends around 4 or 5PM and that’s around the time when we arrive at a venue for soundcheck. I also keep in touch (though not quite as well, they’ll tell you) with my folks, sending them photos of the venues where I’m playing, views from the road, etc. Communications technology is a game changer in this business. We can do FaceTime, we still blog while I’m on the road, we text all day every day when I’m gone – all of which helps. I can’t imagine being married and in a touring band before we had all of these wonderful gadgets…
My church family is another part of maintaining a balanced life. I love Second Pres in Nashville and all of the folks there. I’m on the communications committee, so I try to keep in the loop on the things I’m missing when I’m gone. I’m glad we’re not on the road during the advent season…that’s my favorite time at Second Pres!
Okay now the important stuff . . . Humming House seems to be going for it in a big way by launching a Kickstarter Project for a second album while offering a free download of the first album on Noisetrade. This seems like a great idea, what can people expect from both albums?
This was actually a happy accident. We knew we wanted to go into the studio in January, and we knew we wanted the money before we started recording. Meanwhile, several months ago we already arranged with Noisetrade to have the first album available for free for two weeks starting Nov. 19. We didn’t want the Kickstarter to overlap with Christmas, and the most convenient time to start happened to be toward the end of November. Turns out, the timing is great – we’re hoping the free album will help us reach a wider audience that will in turn be enthusiastic about contributing to the second album. We’re also releasing the album (along with a B-side, unreleased track called “Anywhere”) as a huge Thank You to all of our supportive fans. Anyone who hasn’t had the chance to own the album yet but likes our music can take this opportunity to download and listen to their heart’s content.
The first album is rooted in folk, roots and Americana influences, with some traditional Irish flare infused in a few of the tunes. Our lead singer Justin Wade Tam wrote all of the songs on the first album, and his lyrical stylings hinge on storytelling, which remains true for the second album as well. The next album, however, is more of a collaboration between members in the band – Josh is another fantastic songwriter in the group and Ben and Bobby both brought their talents for composition and arrangement to bear on the new tunes. It’s still folksy, but this time there are stronger elements of rock and pop in the mix.
Particularly after the devastating typhoon in the Philippines but also because of everything they do, I know Presbyterian Disaster Assistance is making a huge difference in the world. On the local level, I really believe in the organization known as Tennesseans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty (TADP). Tennessee has the 10th largest death row in the country, and this organization is doing everything in its power to fix this broken system and fight for better alternatives. I have always been strongly against the death penalty and I want to do everything I can to support this group. There are so many other local groups in Nashville – I really love Nashville advocacy – but another group that I’m closely tied to particularly because of the work my church does with them is Room in the Inn. Room in the Inn started through four Nashville congregations that made a commitment to provide shelter to homeless individuals during the cold winter months. Today there is an entire campus in downtown Nashville that provides a number of services and programs for the Nashville homeless population to help the homeless regain control over their lives. My congregation continues to shelter the homeless through Room in the Inn during the winter months, and I think this is a really important and compassionate program that helps make Nashville great.
Thanks so much Leslie and I am looking forward to following your adventures as they unfold in music and life!
Good luck Humming House and for those who want a little taste . . . from the parlor sessions, a little Billie Jean cover magic with Leslie on lead vocals.