Welcome back to the Firepower Hot Seat, where we ask one of our Firepower recording artists and Fam member 5 questions. The artists have no idea what they will be asked, only that they better be ready. The answers we get, then, are hot as lava.
Today, we are happy to have Leah Culver, formerly MK Ultra, with us. Leah lends her vocals to Twofold’s gorgeous new single, “Taken Back”, which drops on Firepower Records August 21st. It’s a truly beautiful track and speaks to the helplessness of those who watch a good friend through a terrible drug addiction. Leah’s music, then, is a way to help people make sense of the emotional roller coaster of the experience. Here’s Leah with more:
How has your musical career evolved over the years?
It’s been a really special journey for the last 4 years. I just recently hit my 4 year mark since I started DJing, but I’ve been making music since as long as I can remember. I’ve always sang, singing was the first thing musically that I attached to. It was the first way I really learned to express myself. It’s something that I did all the time whether I was sad and upset or really happy there was always something to write about.
I’ve been writing songs since I was able to write. When I was a little girl I would force my entire family in to the living room to sit and listen to the nonsense song I had just written while I banged on pots. Needless to say I’m grateful to have had such a patient and supportive family all these years to guide me. My parents and both of my older brothers are very musical and, as the youngest, I wanted to fit in with them and do the things they did.
I was first interested in guitars and drums after sitting in on all of the band practices. I also had an interest in DJing at a very young age because my middle brother, Jon, was Djing since he was 10 and I wanted to be like him, too. He was one of the better scratch DJs of his time in Atlanta and I wanted to be like him. Any time they would leave I would be in their rooms being the sneaky spy little sister that was trying to get time in with the instruments. I knew their schedules and I always knew how much time I had until I had to race out of there or they would end me. If they only knew they would probably still be cringing at the number of times I tampered with their expensive Guitar Center treasures.
That’s what they were to me, treasures because I wasn’t supposed to be doing it. So I think that heightened my need to do it. This evolved for many years later as I got my own instruments. I was writing, singing, guitar playing, drum playing, and even learning to scratch better. I was very alternative-band-driven until I met my friend Curtis Williams when we were 17 who is now in a successful rap group called Two-9. He inspired me to start producing, and I started messing around in fruity loops making simple beats that, looking back, were absolutely terrible. This progressed for several years as I continued with all of my live instruments and played in my software later gravitating towards Ableton.
In 2011 I sort of fell in to DJing and, as it started really taking off quickly, I started taking production a lot more seriously. I kept this going for several years as I started to tour the country and even internationally but had never put my voice in an EDM song. That changed in January this year 2015.
Since January I’ve written, co produced, and recorded my voice on over 30 songs. My journey has gotten very interesting in the last few months especially now opening doors in to not only the EDM world vocally but the pop world as well. I’ve aligned myself with some really great pop producers (aside from working on my own EDM song projects) who have made some really big hits with Outkast, Ying Yang Twins, Usher, Missy Elliot, T Pain, TLC, Flo Rida and people of that nature. We co produce the pop songs and I write the lyrics and melodies. It’s a new exploration but I see potential there and it’s fun to venture out of your comfort zone.
I’m always trying to do something that makes me a little uncomfortable. I’ve even ventured in to the hip hop world working on something new with Lil Webbie, Boosie, Trinidad James, and I recorded a rap verse on a Waka Flocka track. So between writing and recording for other EDM artist friends and writing my own EDM and Pop tracks, I’ve been staying very busy in between all of the shows, and I feel very blessed to be pursuing the one thing that has been consistent through out my life, making music.
Your collaboration with Twofold for “Taken Back” is a really moving piece of music. What does the song mean to you and what do you want the audience to take from it?
Adam M has been a good friend of mine for a while now and we really get each other’s humor. I can count on him to make me laugh and not judge me for how truly weird I am. We talk all the time and I love TwoFold’s music projects. After I put out “Ghost” in January, I received a lot of requests to send people vox files. Adam was one of the people who was interested in doing this and, at the time, I felt a little overwhelmed with writing and collaborating with people who were also wanting to do so. I was about to take off on a plane to the West Coast and Adam sent me an email of this new track that he was working on. The first thing I do when I’m sent a song is I try and distinguish what the song is saying. Is it a love song, a heart ache song, and I can do this all by myself watch me song, or maybe it’s a sexy party banger.
Immediately, I got chills when I heard it. I frantically downloaded it to my laptop before the plane took off so I could start working on it because I refuse to buy the wifi sometimes. I had just recently had a friend of mine that meant a lot to me pass away due to drug addiction which ended abruptly in a heroine overdose case. I had been there for him before as I was one of his only friends that didn’t do drugs and I wanted to save him by being there with him every step of the way as he would go through horrific withdrawals. I spent weeks with him watching him struggle. I just wanted to help him out of this hole that never stopped deepening. This has been a life lesson for me my entire life–growing up with family members and friends with serious drug and alcohol addictions. The truth is and will continue to be you can’t save people, they are the only ones who can save themselves. If I could advise anybody of anything I would tell them to learn this, know this, and live by this. You can get them help but will only become real if they want it and are willing to make the changes.
I had never been around people who did heroine before, and I hadn’t experienced how awful that drug is and how it destroys people slowly like venom from the inside out. When I met him I had no idea the impact he was going to make on me, but I wholeheartedly fell in love with his soul faster than I can say I have ever fallen for somebody before. Of course, I found out later that he had a problem I ultimately couldn’t fix.
I’m a fairly guarded person and don’t open up very quickly to people but his mind was like magic to me, and I had known him forever it felt like, I recognized him to be somebody I could do nothing but care for. We spent weeks with each other from the first night we met onward through all of his ups and downs. It really broke me when I found out he had left us. I hadn’t seen him in quite some time because he had decided to move to a place he felt he could get better and all I could do was support him on it. I felt a slight guilt when I found out but I knew I was being irrational and hard on my self almost in an attempt to fully feel it so I could hope to fully process it and move on to feeling better again, which ultimately didn’t work either.
I wrote the words in less than 10 minutes; they were coming out so fast through my pen. I sent Adam what I wrote when I landed. It was a no-brainer that we had to do this song not, just for us, but for other people dealing with similar life situations. I’m really happy the way it came out.
Why do you think so many people turn to music to gather strength when things in life go bad?
It’s a way to express yourself whether you are writing the music, singing the lyrics, or belting it in the shower when you think nobody but your cat is judging you. It’s a way for people to relate to each other and come together in a moment of unity. Music is art and art is something that people can create to give to others. A big part of writing this song was selfish; I needed to write about it and I needed to get that out of me. Another part of writing this song was hoping that I could help others who can relate to this life experience. I wrote it hoping to be a little vague on what had happened to give the listener capability of relating to it in their own way whether you lost somebody in the way that I did or if you lost somebody to battle over seas, or a friend that got lost along the way. Maybe the song is about you. I just wanted to be able to maybe bring solace to others who have felt the heaviness and weight of loving and losing somebody they loved. Music gives us the ability to do that.
What else should we expect from you in the future?
I started in bands, came in to DJing and production, and now record and sing for other artists and write pop tracks as well. My most genuine answer to that is: you can expect bigger things than before. I’m working non stop on new music and new ideas for myself. I honestly feel this whole journey is really just leading me in to the artist I was always meant to become, which heavily involves vocals and live performance. I almost feel like I’m watching the changes from the outside looking in sometimes, and it doesn’t even seem real. If you had told me I would be working with some of the people that I’m working with now several years ago, I would have giggled. I always had these images of flying in planes and singing in front of large crowds since I was really little. It’s been a consistent perpetual knowing that I don’t want a nine to five. Working on anything else other than music, entertainment, or anything that didn’t benefit people in need will never service my soul. Entertainment was always the constant variable. I just wasn’t sure how I would get there, and it’s been kind of surreal watching the pathways unfold in the direction of my dreams.
You can expect more EDM releases, a lot more vocals, collaborations, and more live aspects to my sets. You can expect to see me working in new genres, and I intend to bring even more energy to the table. I’m excited for the future.
If you were sent on a mission to mars and could only take three personal items that reminded you of home, what would they be in order of importance to you?
My dog, a shareable space suit for me and my dog, and a overwhelmingly substantial supply of yummies–screw space food it’s not happening. But if we were good on space suits to begin with which I feel would be fair, I would say I would bring my guitar or keyboard. Or maybe I would bring another singer so I could be the first person to hang out with Bruno Mars on Mars. I change my answer to 2 sticks of gum and a personal electric Segway so I could make it float and become an actual hoverboard.
Listen to Twofold’s Guestmix for Firepower’s Locked and Loaded Radio Show here, which includes a teaser of “Taken Back”.