Monday, September 2, 2013

Pittsburgh’s Leeja Stark Discusses Going From Underground To Viral With New Video In Her First Interview Ever

Photo Credit:  Alyssa Battin
With 100 hours of video being uploaded to YouTube every minute, the dream of an independent artist making a viral music video is getting more and more elusive.  Even getting 1,000 views can be a challenge.  Yet, every now and then, an artist breaks through the clutter and gets snowballing attention.  One such artist is Pittsburgh-based Leeja Stark.

Her video for “Symptoms of Insanity” was approaching 200,000 views just three days after release.  Beyond the hit count, however, you will find a musician and songwriter with true substance.  Sometimes, when a passionate artist is about to break, one can feel it and Helping Hands Rock Reviews is feeling it with Leeja Stark.  We were fortunate enough to have the chance to sit down with this newcomer to the female-fronted metal world for her first interview ever.  In the interview, we learned more about the making and promotion of the video, her forthcoming EP, and what else is on the horizon for this exciting, up-and-coming artist.

Helping Hands Rock Reviews:  You're a relatively new artist on the scene and this interview may be the first time people are hearing of Leeja Stark. Can you give us a brief history of your band?

Leeja Stark:  Yeah.  We’ve really only been working on this for a little under a year.  It spawned from myself just writing some songs that had dark lyrics but big melody/choruses.  It had an electronic or industrial kind of sound in the beginning.  My dad was saying “It would be cool to do a female Nine Inch Nails or KMFDM” – something more electronic.  Then, I caught my brother’s attention and he’s like “Oh, let me see what I can do with that” because he plays guitar and he started writing to it.  But he’s really heavily influenced by symphonic metal.  So, we kept writing and it got heavier and heavier and the concepts were dark so it seemed to work that it got heavier.  So, now I don’t even know what genre it is [laughs].  It’s a metal but it’s definitely got an electronic kind of feel.    Really, that’s it.  We just write together.  He does all the music and I come up with the lyrics and melodies.  Sometimes I go first and sometimes he does, but we’re pretty much the band.   

HHRR:  Your music is very current sounding modern rock/metal. Yet you juxtapose that heavy music with vocals that occasionally sound pop-influenced. Who are some of your singing influences and do you think that your crossover vocal style can earn you some fans who wouldn't normally listen to metal?

LS:  One of my biggest influences is Gwen Stefani.  I like her versatility and her originality – you always know it’s her.  Another one is Stevie Nicks.  She just really conveys emotion well through the speakers.  That’s kind of what I want to do with my vocals.  I’m more of a storyteller than a singer.  I want to deliver the lyrics and if it sounds pop, then that’s what it sounds like.  But, I write sing-songy choruses and I want it to stick in your head.  And I had tried to do that on every song.  So, yeah, I think it’ll cross over.

HHRR:  You've just released a video for your song "Symptoms of Insanity" that has gone viral, getting about 200,000 views in just its first three days. It's a very dark video. How did you come up with the concept for it?

LS:  The song kind of led us there.  The song was written about a person suffering from multiple personality disorder.  And I kind of looked that up while I was writing it to really go back and forth between the personalities as the song goes.  So, if you catch it, one line will be myself yelling at the person who is inside of me that I don’t want to let come out.  Then, it will be that person yelling back at me “Take that tube of poison and pour it down the drain,” meaning take their medication they’re giving you and get rid of it so I can come out.  So, I wanted to show the different personalities and show the girl that was trapped with the disease.

But then the filmmaker – he kind of saw the song a little differently and he incorporated the theme of the drug testing, which was cool because, in today’s society, we see drugs are more and more a problem and, specifically, prescription drugs are more and more a problem.  So, we took an old-school approach with the insane asylum and the scientist kind of doing work on the girl and making her crazy and have these delusions through the use of the medication.  So, I think it’s kind of a cool message either way you look at it.  But he just took it that one step further.  I liked it.

HHRR:  The video looks like it would have been expensive to make. There are bands on major labels that don't even have videos that good. As a new artist, how did you fund it? Did you use Kickstarter or a similar crowdfunding service?

LS:  No, I just was lucky.  The filmmaker, who doesn’t want to use his name, liked my songs.  And he had done another video that I saw and he wanted to make the video.  So, I just had to come up with the locations - which was easy [because] I have a really nice job that lets me use the place - and the costumes and the props.  But, he just did it.  Now, for this EP, I am going to use Kickstarter because I want to do one video or more. I want to do a video series with it, is what I’d really like to do and tell the story of the songs from beginning to end. 

HHRR:  Free is a pretty good price for a video like that!

LS:  Yeah, I know.  I just really got lucky with that. 

HHRR:  Why do you think the video has gone viral?  Did you purchase a view-boosting service to help out or did it all happen naturally?

LS:  No, I didn’t do anything other than I put some comments on the Miley Cyrus video.  And I think the timing was perfect because “Symptoms of Insanity” and Miley Cyrus kind of went together.  So, literally, that is what happened.  People clicked on it and then ended up watching it.  I’d go to sleep and I’d wake up and there’s 55,000 views and comments: “I love this…Where can I buy this?...I want a download…I could listen to this a hundred times.”  And I’m thinking, “Did my Facebook friends do this?  [laughs] How do you get this kind of response?”  And that’s the only thing I can think of is that maybe that’s what helped it blow up.  But, either way, it worked and the timing couldn’t have been better.  With the VMA’s, it was just perfect.

HHRR:  So, you have an EP coming out soon?  What’s the story with that?

LS:  It’s kind of weird because “Symptoms of Insanity” is the latest song that I’ve written.  But it didn’t fit with the previous five songs that are going to be on this EP.  The EP basically is of a dark time in my life that lasted about seven years.  It kind of tells the story throughout.  And it also touches on a little bit of fairy tale fiction.  There’s a song called “Supernatural” and it has an exorcism spell in it.  So, it gets a little fantasy but it’s just about a girl who is kind of trapped.  She’s trapped in this life and she doesn’t know what to do or how to get out because she’s in love.  So, beginning to end, it tells a story.  I really want to do this video series.  I have this awesome kind of like story series or TV series written and it would be just these short, 3:30 pieces that would continue through each song.  It would be like five songs of this story.  And then, at the end, I think it would be done.  And maybe on the next CD, the characters would carry through but it would be a different time.  So this [EP] is all about the dark times.  

HHRR:  How far do you want to take your music?  Can you see yourself touring and drumming up label interest or is being a regional rock star enough for you?

LS:  If you asked me “What did you want to be when you were eight years old?” I wanted to be a singer.  I can’t ever remember wanting to be anything else.  And, because of that, I’ve only ever been a gymnastics teacher.  I’ve never had another job because that has allowed me to have enough time to still write and record and sing and perform on the weekends.  I’ve never even had a real job because I never came out of “I’m gonna make it in music, that’s what I’m gonna do.”  I love performing.  We did a show at Mr. Smalls with Second Empire a couple of months ago and I just got off stage and thought “That was the best time of my life.”  I just love, love, love performing.  I’m good at writing and I figure I might as well put ‘em all together and if people like it, let’s hope, ya know?  I would love for it to go big.  I was so excited to see the view count [for the “Symptoms of Insanity” video].  I couldn’t believe it!  

HHRR:   So, if you and your brother comprise the writing and recording team, how do you handle performances? Do you use hired hands, guest musicians, tracks, or other approaches to reproduce the big sound of the recordings?

LS:  I am looking for [musicians to round out the performing lineup]. I would love to write and perform with a band, I just need the perfect match.  I don't like the idea of hired guns, I want people who truly believe in the music and are into the style themselves. I will find them!

HHRR:  Anything else you’d like our readers to know about what’s going on with or coming up from Leeja Stark? 

LS:  “Symptoms of Insanity” [is] for sale [as of] Sunday [September 1, 2013].  Then the EP and the Kickstarter thing and that’s about all I have planned for now, you know?  We’ll see what the future holds.

HHRR:  Do you have a release date for the EP?

LS:  It is looking like September 15.

HHRR:  Is the Kickstarter for the video series going to be before that or after that?

LS:  The Kickstarter is going to be about a week after that.  So, “Symptoms” will come out then the EP will come out and the Kickstarter will follow that because I want people to be able to hear it and really get into the music and understand the story and kind of feel it so we can all bring it to life together.  As far as how much it will cost, I don’t know.  I want to try to raise like $20,000 on Kickstarter and go with the guy that [filmed “Symptoms of Insanity”] and really do a big filming of it.

HHRR:  Our site, Helping Hands Rock Reviews, is all about raising awareness and money for charities.  Do you have a favorite charity that you’d like to give a shout out to?

LS:  St. Jude!  We always donate to the NOCC - National Ovarian Cancer Coalition. My mom is fighting ovarian cancer so it’s a really important charity for me. Also they have their North Park walk coming up September 8th in North Park.

Here is Leeja Stark's video for "Symptoms of Insanity":