Today we have a Spotlight – Leanna Oki. We spend some time chatting with Leanna about her music and how she got to be there. Check out what she had to say right now.
How did you transition from a university acting major to music? Do you have adjacent plans for acting and music?
I was very passionate about acting during my childhood and teenage years when I was in a drama program and took acting lessons. I actually started gravitating more towards music during my freshman year of university when I learned the guitar and started writing my own songs. Music is now my main passion and occupies my mind nearly every second of every day, so I am definitely more focused on building my career as an artist, but I still enjoy acting and auditioning for gigs here and there.
Could you tell us about the album art? Was it done by yourself or did you have a collaborator? If you did it yourself is art an interest of yours?
Yes the cover art represents the imagery of the song by depicting a girl (who resembles me) sinking underwater. It was created by my very close friend Katherine Yao who is a super talented artist and illustrator, so I knew I could count on her to bring my visual idea to life. She also created the cover art for my first single “HEISENBERG”!
As an independent artist what step in the song process is the most time-consuming? What step in the process is your favourite?
Typically, the final production and instrumentation is the most time-consuming part of creating a song. There are infinite ways to produce a song and I am a very indecisive person, so that is definitely a challenging part for me. My favourite part is usually the beginning stages where I come up with an idea for a song and start experimenting with melodies and writing lyrics that allow me to tell my stories.
You listed Adele, Phoebe Bridgers, Maggie Rogers and the Breaking Bad as inspirations for your music. Specifically what characteristics of these people were channeled into “Sink”?
Adele has been a strong music inspiration for me and I am drawn to her soulful voice and harmonies. You could perhaps hear hints of Adele in the chorus of “Sink”. People have said my voice sounds like Phoebe Bridgers and I think I channeled her soft and somber tone in parts of the song, specifically in the verses and outro. I love Maggie Rogers’ style and energy and she tends to make music that you can cry and dance to at the same time, and I think “Sink ” is that kind of track. Breaking Bad was the leading inspiration behind my last single “HEISENBERG”, but you could say the character’s dramatic downfall resembles the ending of “Sink” as I drown in my emotions.
This song feels very raw and personal. You have even said songwriting works as therapy for you. How does it feel to be so vulnerable with your audience?
It feels very liberating in a way because it is often quite challenging for me to talk about my feelings in person. Songwriting really helps me release those emotions. I want to be as real and authentic with my audience as possible. Writing these vulnerable songs allows me to do that. Songwriting gives me the ability to share my personal diary with the world in a way that feels safe to me.
Your music has been described as indie, alt-pop, R&B, and electronic dance. Do you feel partial to any of these genres? How would you categorize your music?
It really fluctuates depending on the song I’m working on, but recently I’ve been more immersed in pop and electronic music and am having a lot of fun creating more up-tempo dance tracks. It’s difficult for me to categorize my music into a single genre because I draw inspiration from a whole spectrum of artists and usually integrate a variety of elements and styles into my songs. At the moment, I would describe my music as emotionally freeing soulful pop music!
Now that you have released two singles, what have you learned about the song process from writing to producing that you will apply to your future music? Anything you wish you knew before you started?
I have learned that it’s important to take time with each song and not rush the process, so I’m going to apply that mentality in my future work. I also think you should never set limits to your music and be opened to experimenting with as many instruments and sounds that come to mind. A valuable lesson I learned is that no song will ever be perfect or complete, so don’t strive for that. Instead, focus on creating music that you enjoy making and is true to yourself. Everything I know about music is pretty much self-taught, so I wish I had more formal knowledge and experience on music composition and production, but I know that this is all part of the process and I’m continuing to learn as I go.
Toronto is a massive, transient, and multicultural city. Do you have any spots that have served as inspiration for you?
I think just walking downtown and soaking up the city energy gives me a lot of inspiration and motivation to write. Especially vibrant areas like Kensington Market and Queen West. You can really experience the diverse culture of the city. I don’t think there is a particular spot that inspired my previous songs. The subway, live concerts, and bars have sparked a lot of emotion and inspiration for me.
Who are your biggest supporters of your music?
I have a solid group of family and friends as well as other people I’ve worked with in the past who support my music, so I am very grateful for that! My passion for music I kept very low-key for the longest time, so it feels good to openly share it with the people in my life now.
What part of performing live do you miss the most? Do you have any favorite local Toronto spots to perform at?
I really miss the energy and people. It’s just not the same as performing in front of a camera alone in my room haha. I used to perform at local bars downtown including Watson’s and The BOAT, which was super fun. Also, I love the live music at the Poetry Jazz Cafe and would love to perform there someday.
What are your alternatives to performing live? How are you keeping up with your music during the pandemic?
I am thinking of live streaming and doing virtual performance for my listeners hopefully sometime soon! It will be a great way to connect with my audience and prepare myself for in-person shows, which will hopefully start happening again soon. I have been trying to consistently practice my songwriting and production abilities and do something every day that helps me grow as an artist.
Any plans for an EP?
Yes, I would love to release an EP in the near future and have a vision for what I want it to represent, but I’m currently focusing on releasing more singles first to give my audience more samples of my style and sound.
What topics are you hoping to cover in your future music?
There’s a lot that I want to touch upon in my music including mental health issues that I’ve experienced and witnessed people close to me encounter. It is such a prevalent issue, but something that is often so difficult to talk about, so I hope to create music that can connect and resonate with others going through similar challenges. I would also like to address certain social issues that have really impacted our society like racial injustice and equality and hopefully find a way to advocate for unity and peace in my music.
Have a fun fact you can share with us?
I am secretly a crazy cat lady, but I guess that’s not a secret anymore.
Since its COVID have any small businesses, you want to give a shoutout to?
Yes, I know some delicious vegan and vegetarian spots in the city! Vegan Danish Bakery (@vegandanishbakery) is owned by the sweetest Danish family. They make delicious cakes, pastries, and other sweet and savory treats! Ital Vital has the most comforting and flavorful Caribbean food with wonderfully large portions. Gourmet Vegetarian (@gourmetveg) is a great spot for Chinese food. Dim sum and Tinh Tam Trai (@saigonlotustoronto) has delicious pho and banh mis.
Spotlight – Leanna Oki is a wrap. Big thanks to Leanna for taking the time to talk with us.
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