Leah McFall is a Northern Irish pop singer who finished runner up on BBC TV series The Voice in 2013.
After being viewed by millions and mentored by some of the biggest names in showbiz, Mark Dean chatted to her ahead of her new single release HOME, and to also catch up on what she has been doing since the series ended.
I note from my research that you are a former pupil of Antrim Grammar school just like myself. I was wondering what role if any that the school music department played in your decision to pursue music as a career?
“I entered a wee competition when I was fourteen that Antrim Grammar were involved in called ‘Stars in your Eyes.’ I ended up coming in first, and it was open to all the schools in Ireland. I won two and a half grand for the school and that was amazing. It was good – I did a couple of competitions like that. I would have sung a lot there for them and it was good fun.”
How did you feel going into The Voice competition? Did it bring any additional pressures because you were representing a small country?
“To be honest with you I love where I come from and I am proud of it. We are loved because we are a nice wee country. Northern Ireland is also very good in backing and supporting anybody from the country. Since the first audition I had fantastic support,through Twitter, Instagram etc.”
What about coming to terms with the public recognition? Obviously being featured on a TV show means that you will be recognised often when you are just out and about trying to live your life?
“I know, and sometimes when it isn’t the best time – for example, when you are at the doctors or when you are buying loo roll from Tesco. I get recognised on the Tube and because I have been away for a year a lot of people ask, “Where have you been?” There you are in a very small and confined space. Its great, to be honest, and I quite enjoy people recognising me. It just means that they are still waiting for your music and that there is still some momentum there. Sure that’s all a part of it.”
When you come back to Northern Ireland do you stay in touch with the local music scene? Do you go out and watch some live bands?
“Yeah, I mean I haven’t been able to come home much this year, but I just found out and its on my schedule. I have been told that I am coming home for part of a radio tour. Literally that day I was on the phone to my manager. I have always been keen to do a gig in the Empire because I used to go down there every Sunday night to watch Ken Haddock and his band. I always used to look at that stage and think that I would love to perform there one day.
“We just announced that on Twitter as a wee pop up gig and the venues capacity is only around 200 people downstairs. It was packed and we ended up turning away about 100. I felt bad because I would have loved them all to have been there. There is still that amount of support and momentum is really high, which is really incredible. Obviously before I moved when I was twenty I used to gig all around places like Laverys, Auntie Annies and places like that.”
Both Will.i.am and Jessie J have been very supportive to you while you were on the show and also afterwards. I understand that you have toured with them both.How have they helped you with your music career to date?
“Will.i.am is very supportive. Two days after the show he flew me out to Los Angeles and we wrote the first song. After that he has been keeping in touch. I would work with him four months straight in LA. I came back to perform at some festivals with him like at Wireless. I went on tour with him and he wanted my support slot to be shortly before he was due on stage so that the place was always packed when I came on. He is still very much being a mentor to me. I think that he has even done more than he has let on through Twitter. Probably more than most people will ever know.”
What about Jessie J, you also played some shows with her?
“She was great on the show also, even backstage when I got so nervous. She was great and told me to just go out and enjoy it. When I got the call to go and support her on tour, that was amazing.We did four gigs and it was lovely and relaxed backstage. She would always come into my wee room and ask “how is it going?” and give me really good girl to girl advice. She would talk to me about being a woman in the industry and obviously meeting my family. On one of the shows she invited me on stage with her which was lovely. She has just been so supportive as well and really welcoming into the industry which I just really appreciate.”
Obviously The Voice has helped your music career, but paradoxically has it not also hindered it by bringing additional pressures.Perhaps that without it, you may not have encountered?
“I think that if I had released something straight after the show it would have been there. Really now I am building again, and we wanted to take our time and release something that we would be proud of. There is not one cover on the album, it is all original songs. We had over thirty, and then we were like “We should probably release a single.” It really is a very authentic album. A fusion of like jazz and soul, samples in with pop and R&B beats.I am very, very excited about it.”
Are they all songs that you have composed solely?
“Yes, I co-wrote them and Will brought in top writers from the industry including Diane Warren. It is just insane the people that I have got to be in the studio with and write songs with.”
And I understand the single coming out soon?
“Yes we are releasing “Home” on 27th July. The video is out online – the response to that has been amazing. In terms of pressure from the show the answer is not really. I am coming out now as an up and coming artist really. The show was just an amazing platform for me, it was a big open mike showcase. Then choosing Will as a mentor and having him come on board and having him produce my entire album its just been a blessing to me.”
Is the album all recorded and ready to be released?
“It is, it’s going to be released in October called “Weird to Wonderful” which is one of the tracks that I wrote in LA. The whole album is very eclectic,and the title I think just sums it up.”
I guess with your art college background you will be able to design the album cover yourself?
“Actually my cousin Timothy Farrell, who has done a lot of artwork for bands in Belfast, has done the artwork for me. He is amazing. I am still working with the same people that I have helped me since the beginning of my career and even before the show. They are now involved also in my label meetings, and involved also with Will. He has a phrase “Create your own world and invite people in” and that was very important for me.
Finally what’s your plans leading up the album release? Can we expect to see you returning to play a show on your home turf?
“We have just completed the regional radio tour Belfast, Birmingham and Manchester. Just consistent promotion and then there will be a lot more live gigs. The home show is something that is very important to me, obviously following the lovely pop up gig which was literally my favourite gig. That is top of my list, when the album is released, I love coming home. There has to be a Northern Ireland show, has to be.”
Leah’s new single Home is available now.