Today we're serving up a straight shot of some much-needed soul, courtesy of feel-good vocalist, Leela James. With a pianist and a pair of backup singers in tow, the lovely Los Angelino swung by Baeble HQ recently, previewing songs from her new album, Did It For Love, in a breezy, stripped down setting.
Performing four songs, it's easy to see how this "sanger" is staying true to the simple advice she once gleamed from the one and only James Brown. "One of the things that will always stick out to me was when he was like, 'We gotta keep soul music alive...I'm going to pass on the torch to you!'", she told us during our conversation. We also learned a bit about her musical journey from writing poetry as a kid, to eventually recording loving tributes to likes of Sam Cooke, Etta James, and of course, James Brown. Now six albums into her career, Leela has established herself as one of soul music's most vibrant musical staples. With her radiant personality beaming, all at Baeble HQ were feeling the truly positive vibes James and her band were dishing out. Now it's your turn.
Hi, I'm Leela James. This is my new single, Don't Want You Back. Two o'clock in the morning, you on the phone Tryna talk to me and you're saying that you want me back You need me back, and you should've never left me There you go, talking that shit, the same old shit Don't wanna hear that shit, no I remember when you had me, you treated me bad You treated me bad You had a good thing, yeah You had a good thing And you let it go And now you wanna tryna come back But, no, I will never take you back No, no, no, oh It's funny how you tryna come back No, no It's too late, I've moved on And I don't want you back I was so good to you Still, you wasn't true I was so good to you I was so good to you Through with you Through with you Through with you You didn't appreciate me It's funny how you do now but it's too late It's too late, I've moved on And I don't want you back Now you wanna tryna come back No, it's funny how you tryna come back (No, I would never take you back) No, it's funny how you tryna come back No, no, no, no It's too late, I've moved on And I don't want you back I don't want you back. My name is Leela James. I am a soul singer, a singer with soul, recording artist. I heard a little bit of everything throughout my childhood and just, in general, growing up, I heard gospel, blues, funk, R&B, rock. I heard it all, you know, so I sang it all. I don't remember the first song per se but I remember one of the first voices that I remember hearing consistently from house to house, whether it was my house or my aunt's house, and that was Al Green. It was just so soulful, so pure, so rich, and it was just vulnerable, and honest, raw. My mom says there's a difference between singing and "sanging," you know, so he could actually "sang" and it would just raise the See, my sun won't shine Ain't no stars at night I swear the skies ain't blue It's raining, storming, gray without you Ain't no flame in the fire I'm just empty inside I'm sick by the very thought of Spending my days of being without you Got me thinking about you You got me thinking, thinking To you, I always will be true I'll always, yeah And I know you feel it too So say that you want me Say that you need me Say that you'll have me Just the way that I am Oh, say that you love me With no one above me Say I'm your woman And you are my man, my man Oh, oh, oh, oh Oh, oh, oh, oh Oh, oh, oh, oh Oh, oh, oh, oh Oh, oh, oh, oh Oh, oh, oh, oh Say, say, say, say that you want me Well, I wasn't serious about music and didn't even consider, you know, making it a career until, like, high school, actually. Prior to that, growing up, it was just something I did for fun, something that was kind of natural, you know, at the family events and in church. It took actually one of my English teachers to tell me that I had something a little more than ordinary and took me into the studio to let me record one of the poems that I had written because I was writing poems all the time and kind of cutting up in class. And he was like, "Okay. Well, I'm going to put your, you know, money where your mouth is," so to speak. And I got a chance to record my own music. And once I heard it, you know, in a professional setting, I was bit by the bug. And I was like, "Oh, yeah, I want to do this. And I can make money? Oh, yeah. " Here we are together And everything between us is good I'm right here in this cloud, baby Ready to fly, but before I take Another step Would you catch me if I fall for you? 'Cause I'm falling, I'm falling, I'm falling Will you promise to be there? And stay by my side always? Whenever I need you Don't let me down If I give you my all, don't let me fall Would you do that for me, hold me? Would you love Would you love me? 'Cause my heart is ready For love and to be loved And I choose you, baby That's the one thing I'm sure of I will take this one last step So catch me, I'm falling for you Oh, I'm falling, I'm falling, I'm falling I'm falling, I'm falling, I'm falling Falling, falling, falling Falling, falling, falling I did a whole...yes, I did a whole tribute album to Etta James, but just before her passing, and it came out after she passed, but it was called Loving You More. We took 10 of her songs and I just flipped them and put, like, a "Leela James spin" on them, but it was more so still putting her music out there, because I always felt like she was such a great artist and a great, you know, singer, but she didn't really get her just due, so this was a way of, like, you know, saying, "Listen, check her stuff out. She was actually amazing. " I met James Brown who I toured with, and I paid homage to him on the Let's Do It Again album. And, you know, I had a great conversation with him and learned some things. One of the things that will always stand out is he was like, "We've got to keep soul music alive," and he's like, "I'm going to pass on the torch to you. " And I was like, "Oh, you know, what am I going to do with this?" But, you know, it was just a wonderful opportunity to actually see him, you know, be on the stage and watch somebody in their 70s, like, perform at the level that he was performing, his professionalism, and just his words of advice in terms of being an entertainer. So I met him. Didn't get a chance to meet Etta James, unfortunately, but she heard about me. I like your hair. Throw your hands in the air, and wave it like you just don't care. And if you're having a good time this AM, somebody say, "Oh, yeah. " Oh, yeah. Last night you didn't call Had me waiting all night long Why you keep doing me wrong? I don't know, baby! And it hurts so bad I'm tired of being sad This house is not a home The love is gone, baby! I just can't see it Wasting any more time Staying in this with you You, you! If you love me, ooh, set me free Because we're just holding to nothing Let me be If you love me, oh, set me free 'Cause I won't hold to nothing Just set me free if you love me! What happened to the love we had? It went away somehow It used to be so good But it's so bad now And I tried to make it work I tried to fit the play I gave it all I got Can't you understand? If you love me, ooh, set me free 'Cause we're just holding on to nothing Let me be If you love me, set me free 'Cause I won't hold to nothing Just set me free if you love me Set Me Free. Yay.
Like almost all other musicians hit with the neo-soul tag, the primary inspirations of Leela James -- a gritty-voiced singer and songwriter born in Los Angeles, California -- dated no later than the late '70s; Aretha Franklin, Chaka Khan, and Tina Turner were regularly cited. Her debut album, very much a throwback affair, involved assistance from a range of noted studio rats from the fields of rap and R&B, including Kanye West, Raphael Saadiq, James Poyser, Chucky Thompson, and Wyclef Jean. The album, titled A Change Is Gonna Come (a definite reference to Sam Cooke), was released in late 2005 and peaked just outside the Top 40 of Billboard's R&B/Hip-Hop chart. Despite poor sales, the album fared well enough to earn James nominations for the 2006 Soul Train Music Awards and the same year's NAACP Image Awards. After splitting from Warner Bros., the singer landed on the roster of Shanachie and recorded one of the label's more inspired all-cover sets, Let's Do It Again, released in 2009. The same year, she contributed to "Walk with Me," a highlight on Moby's Wait for Me album. She switched to Stax for 2010's My Soul, which featured some of her own songwriting input and peaked in the R&B/Hip-Hop Top Ten. A return to Shanachie yielded 2012's Loving You More...In the Spirit of Etta James -- a release more adventurous than the title indicated. She switched to J&T for her fifth album, the 2014 release Fall for You.