Monika Leigh featured on The Voice (Season 5) continues to sharpen her talent and pursues her musical, career goals. Embarking on her latest project, Monika Leigh and The Swamp Rebels, Grateful Web talks to Monika Leigh in Colorado before her show in Denver.
Grateful Web: Hi Monica. This is Vinh Nguyen with Grateful Web. How are you?
Monika: Hi Vinh! Good. How are you?
Grateful Web: I’m doing well. How is your day going?
Monika: It’s going. I woke up kind of late [laughing]. It was a late night for me. I think today I’m just going to take it easy until the show.
Grateful Web: Yeah, yeah of course. You need a break. You got a show coming up here tonight in Denver, right, at Herman’s?
Monika: Yeah, that’s correct. Doors will open at 7:00pm but I’ll be there at 9:00pm.
Grateful Web: You’re headlining tonight.
Grateful Web: Your band now is Monika Leigh and The Swamp Rebels. How did you form this band?
Monika: Well, I’ve always had this guitarist with me. His name is “Panda” [Andrew Gordon], like the bear. After I did the show The Voice [http://www.monkleigh.com/ for featured videos of The Voice Season 5], it was difficult to book gigs because we didn’t have a full band. I’m sure you know when you have a full band the sound is just so much bigger – it sounds better. We then went looking for a drummer and a bassist. We looked almost everywhere. And sure enough, the gods are good to us -- we got Morgan [Morgan Harris] on bass and one of his friends Corey Ballentine on drums as a team. They just came to us and kind of sought us out needing a singer and a guitarist. So, it just worked out perfect.
Grateful Web: How long have you’ve been with the Swamp Rebels.
Monika: About two months.
Grateful Web: You’re a blues band, right?
Monika: We definitely try to market ourselves in the blues genre. However, we have different…songs, and that’s where the name “Rebel” comes in. We have a jazz song. We have a funk song. We try not to limit ourselves in one specific genre and we try to branch out a lot. Which again, why we say that we’re Rebels. We kind of do what we want [laughing].
Grateful Web: [laughing] Right. How did you get started in blues?
Monika: My stepdad, Leo Aston, introduced blues to me when I was about 12 years old. He was a wonderful guitarist and he just sort of always played around the house – always had blues music on. I remember when I was younger. I didn’t want to be a blues singer. But, I think subconsciously it just kind of caught on in my brain. That’s what I leaned towards when I started to write and sing. It just kind of happened.
Grateful Web: Right. You’re from Texas?
Monika: Yes, Houston, Texas.
Grateful Web: Now, you reside in Colorado?
Monika: Yes, I’m in Boulder, Colorado.
Grateful Web: Wow, they’re kind of outdoorsy there. Do you do outdoorsy things like climb or hike or anything like that?
Monika: I used to not. When I first moved to Boulder, I was quite closed off in wanting to try anything new. But, Colorado has something magical about itself. If you’re going to live here, it’s almost like how do you not want to be outside. It’s just so beautiful all the time. When I took a trip to Telluride, there were all these waterfalls. My friends and I would go hiking to see the waterfalls. And, I fell in love with hiking. So now being in Boulder, I’m always hiking. I love it. I never thought that I would say that. But, I absolutely love hiking.
Grateful Web: Yeah, you sort to have to fall into it while you’re in Colorado.
Monika: Yeah, yeah.
Grateful Web: You were featured on The Voice – Season 5. Wow, tell us about that experience.
Monika: It was a wild ride for sure -- lots of ups and downs. And, I couldn’t even believe that I got picked by any of the coaches. The fact that people turned around just kind of validated me as an artist and thinking that I should be confident in what I do. It was really intimidating. Some days were really intimidating and some days were just mind opening – and I never wanted them to end.
Grateful Web: Blake Shelton, Adam Levine, and CeeLo Green, I think all three turned around for you, right? [Monika performing B.B. King classic “The Thrill is Gone” - http://www.monkleigh.com/#!eyes-and-ears/ci5r - on The Voice]
Monika: Yes [laughing]
Grateful Web: When you say intimidating, was it those guys [Christina Aguilera, Carson Daly, Shelton, Levine, and CeeLo] intimidating or national television…?
Monika: Honestly, it was a little bit of everything. You’re competing against talented people. And, who’s to say what the judges are looking for. We don’t know. That’s intimidating in itself that I’m going to compete with somebody that I have no idea what the judges are looking for. And, the person I’m competing with is super talented – so that’s intimidating. And then everything behind the scenes, wardrobe and…it’s so much bigger than what you would think…and production, and meeting Blake Shelton, and meeting CeeLo Green and Adam Levine. You’re just like…I…it’s beyond words seeing them in person when you’re used to seeing them on television. [sigh] It’s just very…very weird almost. And, it’s very humbling as well, so…
Grateful Web: Wow. I saw you in the knockout round and you are right up there with them so you’re doing good.
Monika: Thanks Vinh. I appreciate that, thank you.
Grateful Web: With all your wisdom now, would you do anything different if you had to re-do The Voice?
Monika: I would. Before, I wish I had all my ducks in a row. Meaning, I wish that I already had a band waiting for me when I had gotten done. I already maybe start to think about Kickstarter and all the things that artists should be thinking about now, regardless. I kind of wish that I had all of those things set up prior.
Grateful Web: So, coming into this with more experience…with a band and all that.
Monika: Yeah, that’s correct.
Grateful Web: Well, hopefully The Voice and your band will be an experience in itself.
Monika: I hope so. So far, it has been! We’ll see.
Grateful Web: You have an album out there! Seize the Day EP.
Monika: I have a solo EP on iTunes, yes. It’s just me and a guitar. All originals. [https://itunes.apple.com/us/artist/monika-leigh/id716937325]
Grateful Web: You have Soundcloud recordings as well and a video, “I just want to be loved”. [http://www.monkleigh.com/#!eyes-and-ears/ci5r] This is your first video?
Monika: Yes, that’s my very first music video.
Grateful Web: That’s great. You just started gigging with the Swamp Rebels for a few months. You did The Voice, you have your band, and you have an EP out there. What’s next for you?
Monika: Hopefully touring! I feel so…even saying this. I put together a five-year plan. I have so many goals and aspirations…and I like to put an album out there. I like to start touring. I like to be invited to do shows and play all the time. I would like to make this a fulltime career. So, fingers crossed for me, Vinh [laughing].
Grateful Web: Hey, that’s great [laughing]. What is at the end of that five-year plan?
Monika: Well, I would like to continue this until the end of my life. I think most artists feel that way. I think I would be really satisfied if I was invited to play at the Grammy’s. I would be even more satisfied if I actually won a Grammy.
Grateful Web: We want to see you there as well.
Monika: Good, thank you! [Laughing]
Grateful Web: You’re performing tonight in Denver at Herman’s.
Grateful Web: Monika, thanks for joining us today. We hope many doors open for you in the future.
Monika: Thank you Vinh so much for having me.
Grateful Web: If there’s anything else, I’ll leave the last word to you.
Monika: I appreciate you guys so much and I appreciate you Vinh, thank you so much. You can check out my website also at http://www.monkleigh.com/
Grateful Web: Thanks again!