Jackie Leahy ’14
How would you describe your music?
I call myself a folk singer-songwriter. I believe my music embodies the peaceful, nostalgic, sometimes sorrowful sound characteristic of folk music. I try to tell a story in my lyrics, whether it’s a story of love, loss or joy.
Tell me about your musical history.
I have been singing as long as I can remember and playing guitar since age 12. I took guitar lessons for six years but have never been formally trained as a singer.
How do you write a song? What’s your process?
When I was quite young, before I learned to play guitar, I would go on walks by myself, preferably in the rain at night, and sing to myself. It sounds funny, but honestly that habit has stayed with me. I tend to sing to myself while I’m walking or driving or just sitting alone, and the words and tunes just come to me. I often frantically jot down what I think of, and later I sit with my guitar and hammer it out.
Can you tell me about an inspiring musical experience you had during your time at Smith?
I spent the spring semester of 2012 abroad in Córdoba, Spain, where I performed at a couple of local bars … The audience was made up of close friends and whoever happened to be there, but I cannot begin to describe how affirming those nights were for me. It speaks to the universality of music that the audience members, most of whom were not English speakers, expressed such pleasure at listening to my music. The language barrier fell away, and that was very inspiring for me.
How do you think music will continue to fit into your life after graduation?
I have decided to devote myself to music after I graduate and to attempt to make a career as a singer-songwriter. I have no illusions about the difficulties inherent to chasing one’s dreams, but I think that there will be no better time to try.
How did being at Smith factor in your songwriting/practicing?
Being a serious student makes it very difficult to devote myself to songwriting and performing. I take great pleasure in my academic work, but as we all know, homework is extremely time-consuming, so it’s often hard to find creative energy and the time to work on my music. I have been a member of the Smithereens throughout my time here, which is a blessing because I am always singing, but again it takes time away from my solo work. This time at Smith has only affirmed my belief that I must pursue a career as a singer-songwriter; I am drawn inexorably to my music, and that is proof of its importance in my life.
What musicians have inspired you?
I grew up surrounded by my parents’ extensive vinyl collection and have always been inspired by some all-time favorites in the folk and folk-rock genres. Tracy Chapman, Jackson Browne, Joni Mitchell, Joan Baez and Bob Dylan are essential to me.
Can you tell me a little about recording/your CD?
My second album, “The Clearing,” will be coming in the next couple of months. The recording process is entirely complete, and I am now working with a friend on the artwork and layout. In high school, I recorded a short, self-titled album as part of my senior year project. It was incredible to be in a studio and really make recordings that I was proud of. Since that first album, I have evolved significantly as a songwriter and have been eager to have a CD available that truly represents the work I am doing in the present. As soon as it’s all done, The Clearing will be available in hard copy as well as online.
Who has encouraged you musically?
I have been lucky to have an incredibly supportive team of loved ones, including family, friends and my boyfriend Josh. In particular my father, who passed away in 2009, was among the most encouraging, inspiring individuals in my life. He nurtured my love of performance and helped me to cultivate the all-important balance of courage and humility.
What does music mean to you?
I suppose the simplest answer would be “everything.” Music – listening to it, playing it, writing it – is inseparable from the way that I live and experience the world. I cannot remember a time when I wasn’t driven by some inexplicable force to sing and write lyrics. Childhood memories, important people and places in my life and significant events are vividly associated with particular songs, albums and musicians. Music has the power to transport me to other places and times, allowing me to remember myself and my past.