Get To Know Michal Leah [Interview]

Kieran Kohorst

If the name Michal Leah doesn’t sound familiar to you, her voice almost certainly will. You’d be in the minority of TikTok users to have not heard “The Way I Love You,” Leah’s breakout single that inspired a trend on the app that saw Leah quickly rise on Spotify’s Viral 50 charts. Self-described as “the perfect first dance song,” the 19-year-old prepared her debut EP Part One with songs to soundtrack the lows of a relationship with equal potency. While she is unabashed in her love in the lead track, Part One’s second release, “Used To It,” is a departure from Leah’s typical romantics. The heart-shaped eyes Leah sings with to begin the EP have effectively grown worn and empathetic as the project’s closer, “I Almost Loved You”, comes to a harrowing end.

Ahead of the release of Part One, Michal joined me on Zoom to share more about her viral moment, her experience on the road with Eloise, and all that has made her the promising artist we hear today.

How are you feeling just a week out from, from your release? Any emotions going on right now that you can really describe?

Yeah, I'm excited. It feels really good. Like it, it just feels so good that this project was made the way that it was made, and it feels (like) very right timing. Everything panned out the way that it was supposed to, and I feel like this EP is a lot about change and overcoming things and not overcoming things and going through the troubles that life throws at you. And it's such a smooth progression of all of that. It feels really awesome to be releasing a project, period. Especially it being my first EP.


Yeah, you definitely hear that in the music too. I listened to it, I loved it. I've been playing it for weeks now, both getting ready for this conversation and just for my enjoyment too. Speaking of timing though, I did notice it is pretty close to Valentine's Day when (Part One) is coming out, which seems a little cruel to me. Was that intentional for you at all or is that just kind of how the chips fell?

I think it's kinda just how the chips fell. I don't mean to make anyone sad this Valentine's Day (laughs). For sure it wasn't purposeful, but, hey, at least there's "The Way I Love You."


There's a song for everybody, no matter where you might be romantically. One thing I noticed, for your age and how early on you are in your career, your music is really impressively assured. There doesn't seem to be any hesitancy in your voice or lack of direction in your songwriting. I was wondering where your confidence comes from when it comes to writing and performing, or whatever it might be.

First of all, thank you very much, because that's very sweet and I really appreciate that. I think a lot of it just comes with being sure with what I'm doing. I know it sounds really simple, but I really, really love making music and I grew up in a way that I didn't think I would have the chance to. So I just feel very grateful and it's so amazing to be able to express your emotions and everything that you're feeling into something that you can release into the world. It's like a release in general. It's such a lift off of your shoulders. So I think that's a big part of it is that you can just kind of let it go and let it be what it is. I think that gives me a lot of confidence in what I'm doing, because it's like a form of therapy.  It's nice to just let it go and know that other people feel the same or hope that other people feel the same, or see if other people feel the same. But then I think it's also just, you know, my love for music. It's really special and I so love what I'm doing.


In addition to your original work, you've been sharing covers for years on social media, on YouTube, whatever it might be. And you can hear your passion for the music in there too. With that, is there a song in particular that you've covered or one that you haven't covered yet that you just feel is the gold standard of writing? In that, if you could have written that song, that'd be the song you'd pick and you just want your name on it so bad.

Well, that's a hard question cause there's so many songs that I feel that way about. But if I had to choose a song that I wish I could have written, it would probably be...I think "Something Stupid" by Frank Sinatra. I don't know if it's originally by him. I don't know who it's originally by, but I know he's sang it and that's the one that I usually go to.


Awesome. Either way, it'll be yours now. So who cares, right?

I wish.


Getting back to stuff that you did write with "The Way I Love You." Can you take me back a little bit to October of last year? The video people are most familiar with, of you in a Chicago Cubs hoodie, just singing to your camera. Millions of people have seen it at this point, and then you go on to have a sound that's used hundreds of thousands of times. What do you remember about the development of your viral moment? What was going through your head as you saw the number climb and the attention grow on that video?

I remember thinking it was really, really weird at first. It was weird because it was my first viral moment, of my own song, and it feels very different from a cover going viral. It's very personal and it feels so intense and almost rushed, but not necessarily in a bad way. You know, it's like you feel super rushed in the sense of you want to get things out and you wanna keep sharing it. But it was really weird because I remember I had posted the very first video about ("The Way I Love You") and I remember texting my manager and being like, "Go look at the video! You have to go see how many views there are!" It was so insane and we were freaking out. I just kept going with it and it connected in a way that I never imagined it connecting. I'm so grateful that it did. I'm so lucky that it did, and I'm so happy that people feel that way about people in their lives as well, you know, that people can relate to such a loving, amazing feeling. I feel so grateful for it.


I think that was the really awesome thing about "The Way I Love You" going viral and the trend that went along with it. It stayed so genuine to the song.
Millions of people were able to view that video and more have streamed the song. How are you handling having a bigger audience now? Is there more pressure or nerves or has anything changed really at all?

 Honestly, I don't think much has changed other than the fact that I just feel more loved. Other than that, I just think it's so much more fun. You get feedback from more people and you experience moments with more people and you connect with more people. I mean, that's one of my favorite things in general about what I do, is the connection you make with people who listen to your music and people who want to follow along on your journey. It's been so fun. I can't say that I've experienced much pressure from it, honestly.


That's great to hear. Another song on the EP, "Pretending," you sing, "I miss pretending that I'm good for you," and this is just one example of how, in your lyrics, you're very upfront with the realities of your relationship. Is that something that is difficult for you? I know you mentioned it being therapeutic in a way before, but lyrics like that, that are very kind of on the nail and emotionally vulnerable, are those difficult for you to write at all?

I think honestly through my writing, it is a lot easier to be upfront. I also feel like it's helped me in real life to be more upfront as well. But yeah, it can be tough. I think, like I said before, it's very therapeutic and it's important to me and I try to be as honest with myself as I can. I've learned through making honest music and actually writing pen to paper how I feel has helped me in the real world and helped me understand and go through the things that I need to go through.


When I was looking at the track list for the project, I just wanted to note that I love the way that you sequenced it. Even just reading the titles of the songs, you go into "The Way I Love You" to "Pretending" to "Used To It", "Tinted Windows" and then "I Almost Loved You." It's almost like you can see in the names of the tracks, kind of a disintegration or a realization of where the relationship is heading. I think that especially with the first and the last tracks, you can tell how things change and the reality you come to. Was this something that you were aware of when you're putting the project together or is that just kind of how things fell into place?

The way that we put the track list together was planned, so it does resolve the way we want it to. But I think that as we were putting the songs together and as we were putting the project together, everything just kind of fell into place, but in a planned manner. We were able to figure out where each thing fit in the best and listen through it and make sure it all makes sense. It happened to be such a beautiful story, such a sad, heartbreaking story as well. It's just something that we wanted to put out like that.


With your writing, when do you feel you're at your best songwriting-wise? Where are you mentally, maybe physically? Do you have any routines or best practices to kind of get the most out of yourself writing?

When I exercise and when I'm getting sun and when I'm going outside and when I'm getting up earlier, I'm definitely doing a lot better mentally. Um, I think sometimes that can be a push, especially after COVID. Of course we're still going through the midst of all that, but I've talked to quite a few people about it and it's like, I feel like it's been really hard to get out and to do things post pandemic, and to connect with people and to connect with music and to connect with really anything. You know, it's hard. It's a really different way of life and we're getting used to things that we weren't used to before. So I think my biggest thing is just pushing myself outta my comfort zone and really making sure that I'm taking care of myself and the people around me.  Also reading helps me a lot, helps my brain work. And coffee, because I can't do anything without coffee (laughs).


I feel the same way with my writing. Even though it's a different medium, it's still the same approach to it. I'm honestly not a coffee fan, but maybe I can start drinking it so I can, you know, even just to enhance my writing a little bit.
Getting to your list of influences, it's a very eclectic group. You list Aretha Franklin, Billie Eilish, Daniel Caesar, Frank Sinatra. Is there a common trait you see between those four artists that you admire? Or is there something they all contribute that brings different things to you musically?

I think that something that's very similar about all of them is their voices. I have always been a huge fan of an excellent voice is a good way to put it. It's because they all have such unique tones and unique ways of portraying their artistry. My favorite word to use is it's just very special, you know? It's honestly hard to really describe it, because I'm such a big fan of all of them. But another part of it would be just growing up listening to them, like Frank Sinatra was a huge inspiration in my childhood. (My family and I) listen to a lot of jazz music, which I think has something to do with it. I'm such a fan of an upfront vocal, when you feel like you're right next to the person and it feels so intimate.


Are there any artists you're listening to right now that are particularly inspiring for you?

Yeah. One of them would definitely have to be Jessie Murph. She is killing it and I'm obsessed with her music. My boyfriend and I will literally play her in the car every single time we're going somewhere. We're like, "turn on Jessie Murph!” But then I also am a huge fan of Stella Cole. I think her music is insane. I feel like there's a lot of people that I'm listening to right now that I can't pinpoint exactly.


I'm the same way. When somebody puts me on the spot, they all leave my mind, I gotta go back to my playlist and figure it out. So I'm sorry I put you on the spot.


No, it's okay. Right after this call, I'm gonna remember like 20 people... Lauren Spencer Smith! She's incredible. We're actually pretty good friends. She's just such a genuine human being and so talented.


I wanna talk a little bit about Eloise and being on the road with her a little bit. It had to be exciting, obviously, with you playing your first shows on that tour. What did you learn the most from that experience?

Oh my gosh, so much. So much. I learned so much. I learned about what being patient really is. I learned about the nerves that you experience on stage, and I learned about the interactions that you have with fans on stage. It was such an incredible experience. I learned about how tours go, period. I'm sure it's very different for everyone, but just like the basics and logistics. It was so amazing and I learned so much that I could sit here all day and talk about how much I learned. Eloise is phenomenal and I'm so lucky that she let me come on a couple dates with her and it was so nerve-wracking, but amazing.


I'm sure the transition from the first shows into what you have coming up next is going to be pretty crazy too. With that being said, it's still really early in the year, but have you thought about what you want 2023 to look like for you, as an artist or personally?

I think a lot of that will come as time goes by. I don't want to set too many expectations for this year because I do wanna give myself room to grow on my own without expectations, but I definitely want to tour again, whether it's my own little show or it's opening for someone. Release more music. I have a lot of stuff that I'm really excited about in this new year. And just keep connecting with other artists and writing and pushing myself and getting outside of the comfort zone and all that fun stuff.

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