As I write this day 2 of Boots and Hearts is well underway and 8 tensions are likely starting to grow between 8 emerging artists set to take to the Front Porch Stage Saturday afternoon all vying to be chosen for the coveted opening spot for Thomas Rhett on Sunday afternoon. One of the top 8 is Winnipeg Manitoba’s Leanne Pearson. In less then two years, Leanne has had one single hit Top 50, “Get Outta My Heart”, and one single hit Top 90, “The Only Thing”. Leanne shows that there are no limits to an Independent Canadian Country Girl. We had the chance to chat with her a few months back about her career to date and what it meant to be chosen for the top 8 at Boots and Hearts.
SC: Okay, so we’re talking to you today because you were picked as one of the top 8 for the Boots & Hearts Emerging Artists Contest. Of course, a pretty big deal, so, whole process- where were you and how did you find out you’d made the top 8?
LP: I was pretty excited. I mean, I haven’t played too much in, uh, in Ontario, or… a little bit in Alberta as well, so it was kind of nice to branch out and play, play somewhere new.
SC: Just kind of get your music heard, right?
LP: Yeah, I just went on a radio tour through.. through Ontario, so, yeah, I’m kind of familiar with the towns now, and a lot of the radio personalities are excited to see me play as well.
SC: That’s good. It’s always good to have the radio stations on your side you need to help tune your career as well. Now, you’re described as a country rocker. Now I’ve seen artists similar to that, where you’re walking out, you’re not sure really what you’re about to get. Now you’re kind of described as- the description on your website says you walk out on the stage in a pretty dress and a big smile, and you shatter the expectations as you tear up the stage with your edgy stage presence. So, when you look over your career, and you look back, at what point- you’re only 25, right? So at what point in your life did you decide that music was the direction you wanted to go in, that it was what you wanted to do for a living?
LP: I’ve always known that it was something I wanted to do for a living, but uh- and I wanted to pursue it right out of high school, but I value education, and I decided to go to university and finish my university career before pursuing music full time, and it was a great decision for me because it helped me learn a lot about myself and about the industry, and gain a- a bigger catalogue of songs, and yeah, so I think that everything that I’ve done up until this point has just moved me in the right direction.
SC: I read that you majored in psychology, so I mean, from a songwriting perspective and a musical perspective, do you find that plays a lot into the inner workings of the mind, plays a lot into how you write your music? You kind of dig a little deeper than most might?
LP: Yeah, you know I think so, because I think that in order to co-write, or to successfully co- write I should say, you have to be very comfortable with yourself and in your own skin. Because if you are somewhat insecure in any way, you’re not going to pitch those ideas, um, that you think maybe they’re not good, or maybe this isn’t good enough, you know. You have to really feel comfortable with yourself in order to just be open to pitching ideas, because that’s when most of the brilliant songs are written is when you’re comfortable with yourself and with your co- writers, and I think psychology plays a lot into that. Because it is, it’s mind over matter sometimes, and you never know when something brilliant is gonna come. It’s usually when you least expect it.
SC: Now, you mention co- writers a lot. Are you a songwriter who prefers writing either with one or other writers, or a solo writer, or which one do you prefer?
LP: Hm, I think a lot of my really, really great songs in the past several years have been uh, have been co- written, and I think there’s just something great about it, pitching ideas back and forth, um, because it gets you outside of yourself a little bit, whether it comes to the core progression, or the lyrical content, or the melody, you’re getting outside of yourself a little bit when you co- write, and that way, all of your songs are not going to sound the same, you know?
SC: That’s true, that makes sense. I don’t know anything about songwriting, but to me that makes perfect sense, because I can see if you’re always writing your own music, how it can get a little repetitive after a while.
LP: Yeah, exactly.
SC: Unless you’ve got a crazy life, then maybe you could.
SC: Um, now um, so I mean, so, you’re still at the very early stages of your career. Now you’ve collaborated with probably a lot of different songwriters, now looking ahead to the future as far as a larger career in, in the country music industry. Can you kind of envision, or I guess maybe do you have a bucket list if you want to call it that, of artists that you either want to share a stage with, or even collaborate with when it comes to either songwriting, or, um, maybe a duet or something like that down the road?
LP: Well, I definitely am very open minded, I think. I’ve ran into and met a lot of different people, and sometimes if you think that something’s not gonna work, then you’re instantly almost forcing it not to work, you know. So I’m very open minded and I just, I just love to meet people and work with anyone and everyone really, because you just never know what’s going to work, right?
SC: Then there’s always crossing genres. Of course the big thing nowadays is of course the series on CMT, we talk about it a lot, is the CMT Crossroads, where they take one artist from one genre and they cross them with an artist from another genre. It’s very interesting because I can identify with any genre, I mean, I’m a music fan. I don’t think it has to be any specific genre; I think a good artist should and can be able to perform in many genres.
LP: I basically have the exact same mentality as you.
SC: Yeah, to me that’s the description of an artist in the sense that you’re not limited to one- I find that’s the nice thing that’s happening with music, um, nowadays, is that we’re- more so I guess in country music- it’s the one that’s more open to the crossover, where you see Stephen Tyler releasing a country single. So, um, do you see yourself down the road performing with- let’s use Stephen Tyler as an example. It might be a far reach, but performing an, uh, Aerosmith type song with a singer like Stephen Tyler, is something like that something you see yourself doing?
LP: Yeah. I actually grew up listening to a lot of male rockers, which is where, you know, my country rock is coming from basically, but I grew up listening to Tom Petty, Eagles, John Cougar Mellencamp, Rolling Stones, um, a lot of stuff like that, and that’s where most of my influences come from, so, I’m the first person who wears a little bit of everything in me, and when I open my mouth to sing, there’s just a little bit of everything, which is why I think I appeal to a wider range of fans, because I’m not JUST country, although that’s where my roots are. You know, sometimes there’s a little bit of jazz in my vocal hooks, and sometimes there’s, there’s pop in my lyrics and vocal hooks, and, you know, there’s a lot of rock when I’m on stage, and I think that’s the beauty of music now, is that people are open to you being yourself, and, you don’t have to try to hide your background, or where your influences came from. You know, when it comes to radio you do pretty much have to be- you know it is pretty black and white, and you gotta be pop or country or rock in order to get played on mainstream radio, and, yeah, that’s why I love playing live. Because I get to just be me, you know, and if I do cover songs, say a Tom Petty song, it’s still me, you know?
SC: Right, right. And it’s true. I mean I grew up in a small town in northern Ontario, and we had one radio station.
SC: If it was a popular song then, it was on the air, whether it was country, rock, pop, maybe not classical per se, but adult contemporary, a little bit of everything, and that’s probably where my kinda cross- genre interest was born, and of course now that I’m living in the larger centers where everything has got to be spurred up, and I hear what you’re saying. It is difficult, on the radio side, to really find those radio stations that will play… everything. I mean, there are radio stations that say, like we had one here called BOB FM, and it was 80’s, 90’s, or whatever, but it really wasn’t whatever because if you called to request a country song, it was “oh we don’t play country”. Well then, hey, you’re not whatever.
LP: Yeah, I know, it’s funny. There are a couple of stations around… I’m from just outside of Winnipeg, so I usually wouldn’t get the big stations, so we would be listening to, you know, a lot of the rural stations, where usually the genres cross over, it’s country to rock to pop, then to jazz, and to hip hop, you know, they kind a play a mix of everything and I guess because of me being used to, to hearing that, um, it’s just been a big influence on me. So, I don’t think it’s a bad thing at all, you know, everything in your past makes you who you are.
SC: That’s true, absolutely. Now, of course you’re no stranger to this kind of competition. You were part of the Dauphin Countryfest lineup, as well you were- you competed for theirs, right? Now you won, right, their competition?
LP: Yeah, that was, wow, what a crazy time. I had been in their contest for a couple of years in a row, and I really didn’t expect to win, you know. I played, and then, it was just a smoking hot day out and I went backstage and I took off all my jewelry, I tied my hair up, and was just sitting backstage talking, and they’re announcing the winner, and someone goes “Ma’am, they called your name” and I was like “Who did?”, and I’m looking around, and like “no, you just won, someone called your name” and I’m like “stop screwing with me” and I walked on stage, you know, no jewelry on, I had a belt, a waist belt on, I took my belt off, my hair’s tied up, and I just kind of walk out super stunned, and they’re like “Yes, you won. You can come here.” And like “would you like to say anything?” and I’m like “Hi, I don’t even know what to say. Did you actually call my name?” So it was a super cool moment to just um, not be expecting something like that, and it happened.
SC: Now you’ve also had some success on CMT. You actually had a song last year that went onto the charts, and you had a music video on CMT. What was that like?
LP: Oh, that was just super cool too, uh, you know- you’re driving in the truck and having the radio and your song comes on. That is a super cool feeling, but it’s almost a different feeling where, you have CMT playing, and all the sudden it’s “Oh, okay, there’s me on the TV”. You know, it’s just super neat, and the one thing I’m very fortunate for is that I have a very loyal fan base right now. It’s just like you said. They’ve been watching me grow, and they want me to do well, just as much as I want to do well, and each step I take in my career, they’re beside me and they’re just as excited as I am. I usually can’t wait to share things with people, because I know they’re going to be as excited as I am and, um, and when it comes to the CMT or hearing the song on the radio, people are always tweeting at me, they’re on Facebook or Instagram and they’re saying “Oh my gosh I heard your song” and everybody’s retweeting it and going “oh I missed it this time” you know, and um, it’s just such a good feeling. There’s no words to really describe it.
SC: Now, when you’re talking about your music and all the stuff that you do- you’ve been doing this for a long time. I know for the first 7 years of really getting into this, according to your bio, you were doing musical theatre.
LP: Uh huh
SC: What made you decide to make that switch from maybe gearing towards going to Broadway, and going to a different type of stage? Same type of entertainment I guess, but it’s just a much different style.
LP: Well, I always knew that music and being a solo artist was something that I wanted to do, but there was really no way of me doing that at such a young age, and I just had this urge to be on stage, and that’s just what I wanted to do. So I would just enter talent contests and play at fundraisers and do whatever I could to get onstage, but really the only option for me was musical theatre, and I played every sport through elementary school and high school, so it was always hard to juggle everything ,and musical theatre just kind of fit nicely into my schedule, and that’s where I just learned to just love being onstage, and being comfortable, and I guess it helped me mature as a vocalist and as a performer, you know.
SC: So it’s safe to say that it’s laid the foundation for where you are now.
SC: Let me just ask you quickly, as a woman in country music. There’s been a lot of talk about, you know, the whole bro country and the lack of, over the last few years, well known female performers that were really doing well, that were seeing success. I mean there’s always female entertainers out there, but they’re not seeing anywhere near the success that the men were. What is your take on that? I mean, is there a problem in the industry, is this a phase, and what do you think needs to happen to kind of see the women get their fair shake again?
LP: Well I think everybody’s just scared to take a chance on a female, given the way the industry’s been the past few years, and, um, I disagree with all of that because, um, I’m an independent female artist and I’m doing all of this on my own, you know where it come to, um, a lot of my music videos I’ve edited myself, not professional ones, and I do my own website, and booking of shows, and I hire my own musicians and I do a lot of that stuff myself. And I do disagree with people being hesitant to sign female artists, because I’m all about girl power, and I always say that there is nothing that a female can’t do that a male can do and vice versa. I think um, I’m all about empowerment of women, and I think a lot of my songs are like that, and given that I do everything for my career myself I just show that it’s possible. It’s very possible really, and I think females will break, um, and you’ll hear a lot more of them on the radio soon, it’s just a matter of time.
SC: Well I agree, I think there’s an immense amount of female talent that’s just in the emerging artist phase right now, and once they break through they’re all going to come through at the right time, and they’re all going to put that nail in the coffin of bro country for at least a while. Now, in your career so far, the number of years that you’ve been doing this, um, what would you say is your defining moment to date?
LP: Wow, that’s a tough question. Hmm, maybe I would say having a top 50 and a video on CMT, um, being an independent, because I don’t think that happens very often. It’s hard to compete as an independent artist with people who are on major labels, because you know, there’s more push behind them and radio’s more inclined to add them. I think that that would be it. You know, it’s just me showing people, I can do this, you know. I’ve always known in my heart and in my gut, you know, that this is what I’m meant to do and I’m gonna do it, you know, and there’s nothing that’s gonna get in my way. I think having that top 50, you know- that’s not a huge number, but it’s a number. And to accomplish that on my own, I think that that probably is it. Just to get people to, you know, to do a double take at me and say “hey, what is she doing, what’s she up to, how’d she accomplish that” and I think it’s just about always being true to yourself and releasing music that defines you as a person, and always putting your best foot forward, and yeah, it really just comes down to being… being you, and being determined and working hard.
SC: Yeah, definitely working hard is a very, very critical piece of the puzzle. Um, now, what can your new fans, unless you have fans, yeah you may have fans in Ontario. You may have fans who have travelled to Ontario to see you play. What can they expect to see, I mean you end up on stage at Boots and Hearts, I mean you’re guaranteed to perform at Boots & Hearts, whether you’re on the main stage remains to be seen, but what can fans expect to see from your performance?
LP: Just a show. I mean, I love to engage the fans and uh, get people… excited, you know, just as excited as I am. Everyone can expect to see a show, and I’m gonna smile, and I’m gonna have fun, and I don’t know if I’m allowed to swear, but you know, just kick ass, basically. I’m gonna go out there and just do what I do and have fun doing it and um, I’m looking forward to it. I’m excited to be on that stage and I can’t even explain what opening up for Thomas Rhett would mean. I would be so, so, so excited for that, that moment, and I think that there would be a lot of people that would be just as excited as I am and, you know, knock on wood, I don’t want to jinx anything, but uh, I’m just looking forward to it. People can expect to – to have fun.
SC: I have read that you’re a huge supporter of a number of different organizations, and the Boys and Girls Club of Winnipeg is a big one, and you’re really big on volunteering your time to help others. Why is that so important to you?
LP: I just really enjoy doing stuff like that. I love meeting people and I love helping people, because there are a lot of people who have helped me get to where I am, and I just want to give back to other people and, whether that’s serving a meal, or playing sports, or playing Wii with some kids, you know, whatever it is, it just feels good to help people and to know you’re helping them further in life you know, and I coach a lot of sports too, and coaching hockey, and just knowing that if I go in there with a smile on, and I teach them to skate around a pylon, that’s going to be with them for the rest of their life, and, and I just fully enjoy doing it, I look forward to it every day.
SC: Awesome. Well that’s fantastic Leanne. Hopefully we can connect with you at Boots & Hearts. I wish you the best of luck in the competition and perhaps we’ll see you in front of Thomas Rhett.
LP: Yeah, oh my gosh! I don’t even want to think about that or I’ll get too excited. But thank you! I appreciate you taking the time to chat with me and it was nice meeting you.
SC: Yes! Same here. We’ll talk to you later.
LP: Okay, take care.
We are also excited to announce that our friend Cory Marquardt will be joining Leanne on stage at Boots and Hearts on Saturday as her drummer! You won’t want to miss this performance!
For more on Leanne be sure to visit her website: www.leannepearson.ca
For more on the Boots and Hearts Emerging Artist competition visit: bootsandhearts.com/showcase/
Here’s Leanne’s video for “Worth Fighting For”, her fifth single to Canadian Country Radio