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L.E. Stokes

Talk It Out - L.E. Stokes - April 2004

LE_StokesJodi: I don’t know when this is going to be printed, when it will match something else I’m doing, but let’s just go with it.

LE: Cool.

Jodi: I’m going to open myself up to the creative universe to guide us and make whatever information we’re supposed to create.  Feel comfortable.  Whatever you want to say, say, and whatever you don’t want to say, don’t say.  It’s voluntary.

LE: Okay.

Jodi: So, I love your CD.

LE:  Thank you.

Jodi: It’s just the most beautiful…really.  Your singing is so, so beautiful. How did you develop your voice?

LE: I performed before I talked.  When I was a little kid, I could sing before I could talk.  I was really shy. I still am.  I had a lot of introverted tendencies, but I could perform.  I would be timid all the time, and then walk up on the stage and perform and it would be fun.  I performed through middle school and high school, and then I went to Pepperdine on a vocal scholarship, and I ended up majoring in music which was kind of odd. I remember thinking it wasn’t really pragmatic, it was self-indulgent.  I really don’t think that’s the case anymore, but I was eighteen, and I thought I knew everything.  I was classically trained.  I never really wanted to do classical music, never really wanted to do Opera.  .  I started writing music five and a half years ago and I slowly started employing the aspects of my training and discarded some of it because it could give you a lack of style.  But at the same time, we live in a world of singers who can’t sing, and I never wanted to be one of those people.  I wouldn’t compromise quality for style.  You know what I mean?

Jodi:  Totally, and your style, Gosh, it’s like blue-grass, it’s kind of  folksy, pop-rock, singer-songwriter, and spiritual.

LE: Yeah, definitely.  Most everything is a learning experience.  The first project, we did in a week, on a really low-budget.  It wasn’t about the songs finding the expressions, it was about putting something clean down.  It’s clean, it’s pretty, it’s nice.  It’s not necessarily the fullness of what I envision those songs to be had I had more time to work on them.  With the second project, I did a lot of rewriting.  I didn’t want to tell what the story was about, I wanted to tell the story.  I was getting used to songwriting and writing in reaction to what was happening, which generally boiled down to what boy had broken my heart or blew me off, or both.  And that’s a totally legitimate niche, that’s the one universal language we all have – the broken heart. Then I didn’t want to write so much in reaction to what was happening to me, but what is it that I actually want to say.  I’m motivated – I think a lot of people can be motivated by the craftsmanship of the songwriting, or they get off on playing with the other musicians, or they enjoy the affirmation that they get from the performing, and then there are the people who want the connection.  That’s the category I relate to. I want the connection.  I want that symbiotic relationship that can develop between the audience and performer. I give, and they respond and give back.  There’s vulnerability.  It’s almost like every performance has the potential to have its own child.  Two things marry themselves to one another, have a merging of its own little personality, even if you’re singing exactly the same song.  The uniqueness of the people in the room wanting to have that experience and what you’re bringing into it at that same time.  That’s what I crave.  I crave that connection with people.

Jodi: What’s your family background?

LE:  My parents were hippies.  My dad played rock and roll.  My parents sang in church.  My mom was a teacher.  We lived in Reno until I was nine and then I moved to Dallas.  I have an older brother and older sister.  My mom had a lot of birth defects in her back, that caused her pain, but didn’t really manifest in the debilitating way that ended up happening when she was 40.  She went from being Supermom working three jobs to physical therapy three times a week.

Jodi: She had birth defects giving birth?

LE: When she was born, she had birth defects.   She’s in medical books.  They don’t have documented cases of people living with all of the things that she has, much less walking, much less functioning, much less having three children.  She is a complete and total miracle.  All this happened when I was in high school, and my brother and sister were away at college.  And they were both really young parents.  She got married when she was twenty, twenty-one.  She was done having kids at twenty-six.

Jodi: Have you had a wonderful life?

LE: Absolutely!

Jodi: Were they encouraging of your talent?

LE: Always. Even when I would say, “This isn’t pragmatic, this doesn’t make sense, what use would it actually be?”  They would say, “Just because you don’t know why you’ve been given what you’re been given, doesn’t mean you get to run away from it.”

Jodi: Wow!  So they were really, really supportive.  They believe in talent.

LE: Absolutely, and they believe in the power of art and music and expression.  How music has the ability to bypass peoples’ brains and touch their hearts.  They stop thinking so much when they are just moved by something.

Jodi: That’s such a beautiful way of saying that.  It’s true.  So where do you find your spirituality?  Your music is really emotional.  It’s uplifting.  It’s promoting.  It helps people.  The first song is my favorite.  I love that one, and I love the “God” song.  You know?  The first song…”And I think I’m gonna be…” How does that song go?

L.E.:  (singing) “And I think I’m tired of trying to find my way.  That these good intentions could rain on my parade.  And I think I’m tired of trying to convince you that I’m worth your time.  It’s worth my time to find my life again.”

Jodi: Yes!

L.E.:  I was crazy about this guy, just crazy about him, and he was totally in it, like me, game on.  And then he was just got off the mat, and I was like, “what the hell’s going on with this kid?”  And then I was just like, “I have an ability to make a decision in this situation, regardless of whether or not you’re making one.”  And then I just wrote that song.  I was like, “you’re not doing anything wrong, you’re not being malicious, you’re not trying to be nasty, you’re just – you’ve got good intentions, but they’re just not up to snuff for me.”  You could be negatively affecting my life that could be completely unnecessary.

Jodi: Why do think heartbreak causes artists to discover who they are and what they think and feel?

L.E.: I think heartbreak can be such a rejection on a personal level. We all want to be accepted.  We all want to validated and told how unique and wonderful and one of a kind we are.  When you suffer heartbreak, whether you’re the one doing the break up or not, at the very core, you are feeling, “I wasn’t good enough or I wasn’t something enough.  There is some sort of tragic flaw in me that produces this situation that says I’m not lovable.” And when you start really feeling that way, you discover so much about what’s unique in the world, because there’s the concept of thinking that way, and then there’s “how am I going to get myself out of this feeling.”  The process of self-discovery is a global process, because you’re not finding out what makes you unique, you’re finding out what makes you just the same as everyone else.

Jodi: My second favorite song on your album is the one about God. “God Are You Listening?”  Will you sing it?  I haven’t been star-struck in a really long time, and can I tell you, L.E., I’m like star-struck around you, and I meet a lot of people.  I am so excited to meet you.  Your voice, you  have one of the prettiest voices I’ve ever heard.  That’s all I can say about it.  It’s a really exciting thing for me, and I’m like, almost embarrassed by it.  It’s really funny.

(we are both laughing now)
Jodi: Okay, go ahead.

L.E.( singing) “I’m just trying to figure out life, learning the lessons of chaos and light.  Pushed in the corner, can’t feel my way out. God are you listening now?”

Jodi: Okay, that’s my favorite song.

L.E. Yeah, that seems to be a big favorite.

Jodi: That is just the best song!  I want everyone reading this right now to have your CD and listen to it as I have.  Who are your inspirations out there?

L.E.: Oh, geez.  They run the gamut.  I grew up on a healthy diet of The Beach Boys, The Beatles, Anne Murray, and Ella Fitzgerald, and The Kingston Trio.

Jodi: I love Anne Murray.

L.E.: (sings) “I’ve cried the tears”

Jodi: I know!

L.E. My dad played rock-in-roll.  It was in eighth grade when I really got into folk music, Simon and Garfunkle, Peter, Paul and Mary.  Sitting down, and picking up the guitar and writing down all the lyrics, trying to figure what the Sounds of Silence was all about.

Jodi:  How cool is that?  How fun to have a rock-n-roll dad!

L.E.: Yeah, it was pretty cool.  He introduced me to Cream, and Buffalo Springfield, The Beatles.  I just the last few years started getting into U2.  I listen to Bono, and I just think some of the images he created.  I’ve just recently stumbled upon Damon Rice.  I’m totally in love with him right now.

Jodi:  I love him, too.  I just recently saw him live.  You remind me of Karen Carpenter a little bit.

L.E. I’ve heard that before.  Sophomore year in high school, I discovered Janis Joplin.  If it wouldn’t destroy every ounce of vocal chord, I would totally go Janis.  Shoot career longevity right in the foot.

Jodi: She knew what she was doing.  Her Higher Power already knew she could use her voice like she did.

L.E.: She could use it up.

Jodi: Exactly.  She could use it up in the short time she had it.

L.E. I heard someone say that about Kurt Cobain.  “He knew how to yell, and not affect his voice.”  I’m all, “how long did Kurt Cobain sing?”  We don’t have the proof that he didn’t do lasting damage to his voice.  It was a short span, just like Janis Joplin.  We don’t know what would have been.

Jodi: Right.  I just wonder they had so much rage, that it killed them.  I think rage kills.

L.E. Desperation combined with rage hurts.

Jodi: What we have is an experience of just how much pain they were in.

L.E. And how isolating even the expression of that pain still was.  That’s the thing that I try not to be naive about.  I may have my own demons that I’m throwing out there, and I know that it’s somewhat therapeutic, but expression doesn’t eliminate.  I think they were the kind of people to think, “If I could just get this out, it will go away. If I could just say this one thing”  Some people, their rage isolated them even more than they were before.  I think I try to be conscientious  about what I say and how I say it, and whether it’s being melodramatic or whether it’s really expressing something honest.

Jodi:  So where can we see you?

L.E.: Fine, fine, question, Jodi.

Jodi: We’re your fans, we want L.E.  How do we get you?

L.E.: I need to start playing.  There are so many limited venues in Los Angeles toward songwriters.

Jodi: I know, because it’s all pay-to-play.

L.E. It is, and it’s so not a live music scene.  People go out to see their friends, to be supportive, and that’s the antithesis of what it is that you want to do.  “Thank you for being supportive, but who are you supporting me to?”  There’s no one here.  If I heard that someone big was coming, that would be terrific, but –

Jodi: You have to tour.

L.E.  I know.  I’m trying to get up to Santa Barbara.

Jodi: Get your single, and start promoting it to college radio.  That’s my words of wisdom.

L.E. I have my indie bible.

Jodi: Welcome to the Talk It Out club, because we’re all do-it-yourself artists.  You know?  We’re all up-and-comers, and we’re all up-and-running.  I see a revolution coming.  I see people joining together and making a difference through their music.  Welcome to the circuit, and I hope we see a lot more from you, L.E. Stokes.

L.E.: Cool.  Thank you very much!

Good Intentions can be found on