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TC in Conversation with Leah Turner

Born in Morongo Valley, CA Leah Turner is a third-generation Mexican-American who now now calls Nashville home. She is an artist with a really distinct and powerful voice and a fun loving larger than life personality that is truly infectious. Her debut single “Take the Keys” which she wrote with Jesse Frasure and Cody Barlowe hit the top 40 at country radio then in addition to this she has played shows with the likes of Brad Paisley, Rascal Flatts and Jake Owen plus was in 2019 named by CMT amongst their Next Women of Country in the same class that also included the likes of: Ingrid Andress, Lainey Wilson, Rachel Wammack, Stephanie Quayle and Tenille Townes. She took some time out of the Palm Springs heat to take Jamie on a wild ride through her world and talk about diversity along with her delightfully spicy new release.

Frasure returns to the producers chair and is once again Turner’s co-writer on her new single “Once Upon a Time in Mexico” which is out today (July 10th) and you can find on all streaming services HERE. One of the things that make both country and Latin music so special is how they tell real stories, which in this instance tells the story of her own parents. Her father, Don Turner became a champion rodeo star (the vaquero) that fell in love with jewellery designer, artist and ballet dancer Susaña Galvan (his señorita) which their daughter brings the story of their beautiful romance that blossomed under “la luna” (the moon) on the beaches of Mexico exquisitely to life with her powerful yet elegant dynamic voice which combines the beauty of both country and Hispanic story telling. She genuinely is the result of a good-old fashioned country song!

It’s a very exciting thing for me because a lot of people are surprised to find out that I’m half Mexican and half Latina with me having lighter skin, lighter eyes and light-coloured hair. I have a new song called “Once Upon a Time in Mexico” and it’s the true story of my parents love, a vaquero which is a cowboy who fell in love with a señorita down in Mexico, which is really cool to bring the diversity into country music which is an exciting part for me.

The country music and Latin communities share the same things. They share “fe” which is faith, “familia” which is family, they share passion, they share “amor” which is love. It’s all the same basic fundamentals of life plus country people love to drink and so do Mexicanos.

Music is currently a real vacuum of creativity incorporating influences and sounds from across the spectrum to develop unique and progressive ways to do things within a certain genre box, in country we have particularly seen the likes of Florida Georgia Line, Willie Jones, Sam Hunt, Brothers Osborne, Maren Morris and Danielle Bradbery to name but a few look to bring in big R&B or rock or hip-hop or EDM into songs or production. Other genres too have looked to branch out across stereotypical lines and we have seen Latin influence or Spanish vocals finding their way more commonly into the mainstream and even here in the UK where Ed Sheeran collaborated with Cardi B and Camila Cabello on his top 5 smash “South of the Border” and the small matter of a track called “Despacito” which despite only being just over 3 years old is one of the most commercially successful songs of all time with Justin Bieber joining Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee. We  haven’t quite seen the open marriage of the 2 genres in as much of a commercial sense like modern country is enjoying it’s new found love affair with EDM for example, there are not a lot of obvious examples of country/Latin collaborations although there is clear influence in the work of artists like Aaron Watson, Midland or The Mavericks who have just announced their next album will be released entirely in Spanish. Becky G working with Kane Brown on “Lost in the Middle of Nowhere” is the most obvious track recently to bring this relationship more out in to the open but why has the worlds most popular genre not been as fast to openly interact with Nashville in a commercial sense:

I think there are not a lot of Latinos that think they can be a part of country music and I’m here to say that country music has always had such a love affair with the Hispanic or Latino culture. There was always a vaquero looking for a señorita down in Mexico and drinking tequila. There has always been this really beautiful dance that they have had between the 2 styles. When someone’s not really country there’s a feel that you can’t come into country music, so for me being a Latina raised by a cowboy I’m given that gift and that ability to bring this love affair into a marriage which is very exciting for me. It’s a true story, I’m a product of the American Dream and a product of love always wins when 2 worlds weren’t supposed to collide which is exciting to show that diversity and show that story.

Diversity and equality are issues which are currently having more attention, scrutiny and most importantly action. Nashville has the well-documented bullshit that still continues in the industry which still holds barriers for female artists that in turn is inspiring women to just put out things that are most true to who they are which becomes more relatable and if radio isn’t interested it is their fans that really matter: “Women are just being like we have some stuff to say, we’ve got some shit to say and people have different narratives than others but we’re coming to a place to just be who we are!” Then there is also action growing worldwide and in the States particularly in regard to discrimination and prejudice which she very openly talked about her perspective and what we need to focus on to change this:

The country is built on everyone and our forefathers being immigrants you know, I think if we start looking at our differences as what makes us individuals it won’t be as scary because it’s ok to be an individual. I am just grateful for the opportunity to be diverse and be a woman because it’s an incredibly amazing time. I was raised by a cowboy and I’ve never been told that I couldn’t do something because I was a girl so this is very foreign to me. It’s like what do you mean? I ride and I rope, I do all of these things and I’ve also never been told I can’t do something because of this race. I grew up in a very colourful and diverse household in a time when you stand by your truth and love always prevails! I hope that this becomes more of a normalcy that we all come in shapes, sizes, colours and different views. What I always look at is I may not always agree with people from a political stance or this or that but what I hope I can agree with and the people I surround myself with is a heart. Always look at the heart! The heart bleeds the same and beats the same so if you have a good heart it doesn’t matter if you are black, white, brown or whatever, I don’t care as long as your heart is pure. If we can get back as a world and as a country because I do live in the United States, that if we can get back to the heart of people we can be in a lot better place!

The music video for “Once Upon a Time in Mexico” will get it’s official premiere with CMT on July 15th and will be available to view on other platforms a day later. Both Leah and her publicist were very excited about the video which was shot in Rosarito, Mexico and really visualises this beautiful, real life love love story. The background of the song being about her family it was only fitting for them to share the experience with her as they spent time at a family restaurant where her mother came down to cook with them and prepare breakfast every morning whilst her cousin who is an incredible hairstylist played her part too.

We were able to really encompass the Mexican culture and make it real because this story is real and it is my heritage. I’m third generation Mexican-American which is crazy to think about so it was really awesome to do that where my roots came from. It’s a beautiful video, Ford Fairchild the director did an incredible job and my management team had an incredible videographer who is half Mexican, Cody Villalobos and he shot it. We just had an incredible time crossing the border and bringing country music there!

Going forward, we are obviously in the middle of a crazy situation globally. The best description I have heard about how crazy 2020 is turning out is along the lines of: Now we know what level 7 of Jumanji looks like! Whilst she has come to the right conclusion that on her Birthday at the end of the month, that this isn’t a year that we are ageing and “I’m not taking the age on the chin for this year!” Leah had initially been at her home in Nashville during quarantine where in addition to some virtual writes, she had fixed up her old piano, painted her walls gold and had a few days of binge watching Netflix and Disney+ all day but after her parents came to visit her, she decided she would follow them back to the West Coast for some Californian sunshine just over a week ago. Currently the world is revolving around Zoom for press and writing so there isn’t the need to be in Music City right now and it also brings her closer to more Latin producers that don’t necessarily live in Nashville. The goal is to continue encompassing the Spanish theme to intertwine with country in future releases and emphasise that influence that is true to her roots.

My dream is to diversify country music and take country music even more global than it’s already going with something that people may not necessarily think would be there but has been the foundation.

Naturally we touched on why this dream of hers hasn’t yet included a trip to my side of the pond. I gave her COVID as an acceptable excuse right now but she is fully aware of the support that she has received from the UK and Europe from “Take the Keys” and all the way through her career, so now with a really strong and supportive team behind her it is definitely something that (when travel and shows become a little easier) she says she is ready for and wants to happen. Her honesty and humour is something that people on this side of the Atlantic will fall in love with as she is so loud and proud, plus she is such a great storyteller that really is full of energy who we would have such a riot with in the pub as she is so much fun. You can keep up to date with Leah (and her new rescue pit-bull) on her socials below but for now:

It’s July 10th! Get the tequila because we’re going to Mexico!

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Annette Gibbons
Hi, I’m Annette, I have been a huge country music fan since the early 90s those were the days we were lucky enough to have CMT in the UK. I enjoy nothing more than listening to country music whilst having a cold beer (or a moonshine) with friends. I try to as many gigs as I can here in the UK and in the USA; I think of Nashville as my second home and I am lucky to have made some amazing friends in Tennessee. Think Country is something I am very proud of, I just want to share my love and passion of all things country music related with you all.
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