Leah Martin-Brown: Transcending Acoustic Rock Boundaries

Photo provided courtesy of artist
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As seen in Guitar Girl Magazine Issue 10 – Winter 2019 – Acoustic Artists

Whether it’s fronting a hard rock band or belting out acoustic ballads, there are few musicians that can pour their raw being into a song the way that Leah Martin-Brown can. Originally from Queensland, she cut her teeth in the Australian music scene as a solo acoustic act performing in bars and clubs around Brisbane and the Gold Coast. It wasn’t long before she captured the attention of an American A&R company and relocated to Los Angeles, where she currently resides. Leah’s primary project is serving as the frontwoman and principal songwriter for her heavy-hitting rock group, Evol Walks. When she’s not being backed up by her band, Leah can be found wielding an acoustic Gibson guitar in more intimate performances around greater LA. No matter what stage she’s on, this dynamic powerhouse is sure to leave every note dripping with passion, intensity, and truth.

When did you first start getting into music?

I’ve always been a music lover. I think it all started with the old organ that used to be at my Grandparents’ house. From the time I could crawl, I was always asking one of my relatives to lift me onto the stool so I could press all the keys and make a bunch of noise. That and forcing them to watch me act out the entire Lion King Soundtrack.

What, or who, inspired you to pick up a guitar?

There were a few different factors that led to me picking up a guitar. Firstly, I loved to sing and write poetry, and I wanted to be able to accompany myself and turn my “lyrics” into proper songs. The guitar seemed like the natural choice due to its stylistic versatility and (also) portability. I also LOVED listening to artists like the Gypsy Kings, AC/DC, Black Sabbath, Bob Dylan, etc. I wanted to play music that sounded like that!

How has your tone evolved over the years?

I predominately play acoustic guitar, so most of the changes in tone are due to a change in my playing style. When I first started, I was 11. I would just hammer away at the strings and not bother with making anything interesting. I just wanted to get the song out. Over time, I realized that there were so many different and interesting ways to play the same chord. I’m a huge fan of open chords, inversions, suspended chords and hammer-on and pull-offs during parts that may not necessarily have them written in the music. For example, I play an acoustic version of “Square Hammer” by Ghost and during the ‘C,’ I like to pull-off and hammer-on my second finger — it adds a little bit of pizzazz! I also use heavier gauge strings on my acoustics to really help deepen my overall sound. I’m also a huge fan of fingerstyle.

What does the songwriting process look like for you?

I will usually play around with riffs and chord progressions at home on my acoustic and record them on my iPhone. Then I will get into the studio with our producer and really map out what we want the song to sound like. Sometimes, like in the case of “Without Me” or “Burning in Silence,” I had some chord progressions and lyrics put together, and we rearranged them. Other tracks, we build in the studio often starting with a basic riff idea and going from there.

Do you have any sound preferences when you play acoustic shows?

Not particularly. The two acoustics I own have beautiful tones, so I usually just plug and play and let the rest happen naturally.

You have an exceptional way of breathing new life into some well-known songs. What is your approach for playing covers?

Thank you! As I touched on earlier, I love open chords, inversions, etc. When it comes to covering well-known tunes, I like to keep the soul of the original but add my own spin on it. I’m a bit of a sad girl, so I may change a major chord to a minor or open things up with a different version of the original chord. For example, instead of Am in the traditional position starting on the 1st fret, I play a more open, two-fingered version starting up on the 5th fret. It’s so gorgeous and really adds something extra to the track plus blends well if you’re playing with someone else.

Is there anything you regularly do to sharpen your skills as a musician?

I’m constantly practicing my aural skills by playing tracks on Spotify and figuring them out by ear. I also like to test out different styles that I’m not as familiar with to try and incorporate it into my playing.

What advice do you have for other artists?

Practice makes perfect! Be extremely passionate about what you do, and don’t be afraid to try new things.

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