Interview: Leslie Barkman – by Liam Sweeny
Written by Liam Sweeny on January 11, 2023
There’s something pure about a singer. The voice is the most root instrument, almost certainly the first instrument among the cave people. But a singer, especially one sitting behind a piano, brings us along on a journey down a river of club smoke and soft lights.
Leslie Barkman can sing. Really. She is exactly who you would expect in a posh clun playing on a Steinway, accompanies by hushed whispers and the crackle of ice. She has been a fixture in the Capital Region, and for good reason.
I sit with Leslie and we talk about the encore.
RRX: Bands have origin stories, usually about a chance occurence or a crazy jam session. But for every one who takes to a piano or a guitar, or picks up a microphone and sings, there’s a different origin story. Not when you first started playing, but the moment that told you you’d never stop playing. What was that moment for you?
LB: I don’t remember when I wasn’t singing. I’ve been told I sang on bar tops when I was three. My family sang and singing meant we were happy. We sang in the car and around my grandmother’s piano. My moment of bliss came when I was about seven or eight sitting at that piano. I realized I could read the words of a song and I could find the notes and play them while I sang. Wow.
RRX: Singing feels effortless when you’re on the receiving end of it, but it can be tricky on the giving end. Even more so, it can present a challenge in songwriting. You have to come up with lyrics that not only express what’s in your heart, but they have to be in a melody that hooks. How do you go about putting great lyrics to great melodies?
LB: I mine my life experiences. Things occur to me. I write them down. I look for alliteration, for rhyme, for theme, for phrase, for story. I run them with a chord pattern within a key I have been toying with. Then I dance or take a walk to find the right rhythm for the words. Some songs come easy, some I have worked on for years.
RRX: You’ve been in the area for a while. You have a style that can blend in with a lot of different musics, so that would lend itself to you being brought into a lot od musical events over the years. Can you think of any one event in particular, one event that should’ve been filmed but maybe wasn’t, somewhere everyone should have been?
LB: Anyone who wants to play should go to as many jams as possible. These are the events that are most memorable to me. I came to the area fifteen years ago after retirement from teaching and raising a family. My music during that time included church choir and community theater. I bought an electric piano and picked up where my ten year old self had left off. I dragged that piano to Pauly’s Hotel and the Fuller Roadhouse and I met jam masters Buck Malen and Jeremy Walz who shared their talent and advice with kindness and generosity. These places were my classrooms. Jams are the places where I met my own kind and those are the players on my cd’s. “When I Remember” is about Buck and Jeremy plays on my latest cd.
RRX: I’m listening to ‘My Upstairs Parlor’, which you released in June of 2022. I have a whole feel about this that makes me glad I do this. I love the blending of piano and organ. They’re so interconnected, especially across songs in a collection. I’d ask you which you prefer, but rather, which one do you go to when you’re feeling most creative?
LB: I am a piano player. My keyboard has an organ function which I use from time to time, but most of the organ work on “Upstairs Parlor” was done by Mike Kelley.
“Upstairs Parlor” was recorded in my home piece by piece by Will Kachidurian. We started with my piano and vocal with percussionist Bob Assini. Steve Kirsty sent in bass and saxophone from his home studio. Mike Kelley added organ and clavichord. Jeremy Walz, Joe Lowry, Scotty Mac and Todd Nelson came in to record guitar. John Dievendorf, Lester Figarsky and Will Kachidurian played bass. Al Kash brought in his drum kit. Terry Gordon played trumpet. Eric Kreplin played harmonica. I added back up vocals and Will put it all together.
RRX: You were nominated for the 2022 Listen Up awards, the inaugural award event for Radioradiox. This was a selection by your fans and listeners. Do you have any cool words of wisdoms for the fans who supported you? And can you think of any other band or performer to nominate for the next one?
LB: Thanks to Radioradiox and Xperience for recognizing local artists. There are many very talented people in the capital district working hard to bring you great music. Come hear us!
RRX: The floor is yours.
LB: Thank you to those of you who have enjoyed my music. It has been a joy to share it with you. I have upcoming solo gigs, gigs with my band Lou’s Blues and I will be singing with the Hammerhead Horns. Watch for postings on Facebook.
You can see Leslie on January 12th at Suga Foot’s Soul Kitchen, 165 Madison Ave, Albany solo, 6 to 8 pm. Also February 7th at The Lark Street Tavern, Albany, jazz trio 7 to 9pm, February 18th at the Rustic Barn Pub, Speigeltown, Lou’s Blues Band at 8pm, and March 18, full band Lou’s Blues at Lawrence St Tavern.