Wednesday, November 30, 2011
Finding Her Way Back Part III: Leszia Renee
This is the third and last part of our interview with Gospel singer Leszia Renee. Here she talks about her current--and first--album "What About Me?"
BBP: Tell me about your music career. I’ve got something that you’re singing in dinner theatres, apparently.
Renee: Yeah, I often perform with a theatrical production company. It’s called Stage House, musical production and they’re based out of San Bernardino as well. And I’ve been working with them over the past several years. It’s been a blast. I always—because I don’t desire to sing for the world, so the parts that I accept, I have to make sure that I know that they’re Christ-centered, they’re Christ-grounded. We also did Roger’s and Hammerstein’s Cinderella and I was quote-unquote the Fairy Godmother. We’re doing the musical production of The Wiz. I’m Dorothy. We did Oklahoma. So musical theatre, I have a good time with, you know? I have really good time with. And the songs that I’m chosen to sing I can reference them to God. I can reference them all to God because they bear witness to His goodness.
BBP: And I also understand you have a CD out?
Renee: Yes I do. It is entitled What About Me? And it’s interesting because again it comes from, when you listen to it and you hear the songs and of course the fast ones, you’re going to dance to because you’re like “Hey, that has a really good beat.” And I want you to know, as God does, that you can dance for Him. And you can shake your tail for the Lord. And when you listen to the slow ones, you know, you listen to the words and you’re like “Oh wow, oh boy, you were somewhere on that song, weren’t you?” And it was. And the title of the CD again is What About Me? And that came about from me doing that God when-why-and-howcome and when-are-you-going –to-do-what-I-want-you-to-do and Lord-I’m-tired-of-waiting, and the Holy Spirit said to me one day “Well, what about Me?” and (makes a gasping noise)….
Renee: ……You just asked me “what about you” and all of this time I’ve been saying “what about me” and it just broke my heart. It broke my heart, and then you know, Jesus,that place that I was at where I was contemplating driving off of, off of a cliff. They are all living testimony of just how good God is and what he’s brought me to. There are some crazy songs on there. It shows the side of me that he’s placed in me as far as that loving to just rock. It’s like “what if?” and it’s like “what if God wasn’t on the throne and what if we were out here alone?” So I stepped back and, as he was giving them to me, I was going “Are You sure God you want me to sing it like this? Really God?” And then, especially the really personal ones, I’m like: “God are you sure you want me to tell people this, God? Really? I thought this was between me and you. I’m not supposed to be telling everybody this. You said that I can take everything to you and you’d keep it to yourself, and now you want me to do what?” And the Father was like: “Yeah. Because you’re not the only one who’s living it. You think I brought you through it so you could hold it all to yourself?” And I said: “Well I guess that’s it. I’ll open up my mouth and sing.” It is a collection of fast songs, slow songs and medium-speed songs that anybody can appreciate. There’s a song on there that’s close to my heart, because again, the love of children that I have, it’s called “Hallelujah Yeah” I specifically wrote for children. Something that they can catch on to and it’s happy. Because children need to learn from a young age it’s okay to praise God, it’s okay to go this route. You are not uncool because you love Jesus, because you love the Lord, you want to work for Him, and as a matter of fact, you’re way cool because you do so. I’m happy with it because it is a complete dedication to the Father and to just how wonderful He is.
BBP: What’s the name of that song again?
Renee: "Hallelujah Yeah"
BBP: Hallelujah? Yeah?
Renee: Hallelujah! Yeah!
BBP: Yeah, like “Yeah?”
Renee: Yeah. Exactly. Because like a little kid, like, you know, they’ll go “yeah!” And the chorus is just (sings) “Hallelujah..ye-e-ah! Hall-e-lu-jah! yeah!” Something that a child can do (laughing).
BBP: And when did this album come out? Is this your first album?
Renee: It is.
BBP: Oh, okay…
BBP: And this is all original material?
Renee: It is all original material. Oh my Gosh, and it’s released from GVR records. I have to give through God thanks to Larry (Martin Kimpel) because he’s a good guy in and of himself and the fact that God pulled on his coat strings. When I first met him and I had the opportunity to speak to him, because we have a mutual acquaintance, that’s how I heard of him. And so I sent him a couple of songs and never got a response and (you’re thinking) maybe he didn’t like it, and so we got together coincidentally at that mutual acquaintance’s birthday party and it just so happened that I sat right next to him. And I’m all talking, and whenever given the opportunity I will talk about God, I love to talk about how amazing God is, and he said “I’ll have to revisit those songs that you sent to me!” And he did. And he loved them. And he said “okay, let’s get together. We need to get together. We have to do something.”
BBP: So he produced the album? Is he the producer?
Renee: No.No.No. No. No. I produced. I co-produced with a gentleman named R.J. I am the producer and the executive producer, but his label, GVR Records, is where it’s released from. He is the one that had been working to get me out there, you know. I just finished..had the opportunity to perform at the San Diego Gospel Fest..
BBP: Yeah. Kirk Franklin..
Renee: Yes! It was cool! It was cool as all get-out! I very much enjoyed that! And I’m always, I’m always, whenever given the opportunity to minister, I will sing. I want to sing for God. I just do. I don’t care where the venue is. If you say, can you be there to sing for this, I’m like “Sure can.” Because that’s just another opportunity to let God get the glory for that. Someone can be reached, you know that, someone can find out that, in spite of me and all I’ve done, He can give her joy..He can do the same thing for me. So you know I’m just blessed. I’m grateful to be blessed by the father.
BBP: How is it to meet Kirk Franklin and did you actually sing with him? Did you get on stage and sing with Kirk Franklin?
Renee: No, No. We shared the stage. I’m the little fish in the pond. (laughs). He’s the bighuge fish in the pond! So unfortunately I did not get the opportunity to do a one-on-one with him. I shared the venue with him.
BBP: But still that must have been..
Renee: ..It was okay because I am speaking prophetically. Praise God. And yes I will. And not only will I get the opportunity, but we’ll see what God does.
BBP: Okay. Let me ask you about some of the songs on your album. How many are on there?
Renee: There’s a total of 15.
BBP: And of those 15, which ones..I mean they all stand out, I know, for something..
BBP: ….Various reasons. But is there one that, if you were on an island and a radio deejay came to you and said: “This is the last song of yours that will ever be played.” Which song on that album would you want the world to hear?
Renee: “What About Me?”
BBP: Okay. And why?
Renee: Because it’s God asking us the same question that we all ask Him. What about me? What about what I need. What about what I want. What about the life that I want you to live? Again, it is a knife in the heart when God audibly speaks to you and he asks you the question: “Okay Leszia, what about me?” And “What About Me?” would be that song because it’s not about me. I know with that being the title of the CD, God chooses things for the reasons only He knows why He chooses things. I’m pretty sure, especially as a gospel singer, you’d see that as the title of your CD, “well what about me,” you’d go, “My God, how vain is she? Yeah, well what about you?”
Renee: But then when you listen to it and you actually see and you actually hear that it’s God asking you “what about what I need?” We have this picture of God as—and He is—all-encompassing. He is all-powerful, He is the Alpha and the Omega, and that He needs nothing. He doesn’t need anything. But what He wants is for us to love Him. And He wants us to want Him. That’s God’s Heart. Through that song, it’s God’s Heart speaking out. It’s God saying: you know the best that I have, I gave it to you. I shed My blood, I suffered for you. And it’s like: “Wow, you’re right. Because I sent you to that cross, Jesus.” “But what about me” is what he’s saying.
BBP: Tell me a little bit about some of the other songs on the album. What they talk about and how they may have come about.
Renee: If I was given the opportunity to have two songs, it would be “I Won’t Stop.” Because while I was out in the world, I danced, I partied, I got my boogie on (laughs), you know. And just because I’ve decided to live Holy doesn’t mean I can’t dance anymore. And when you read the Bible you’ll see that David danced for the glory of God. So “I Won’t Stop” is like “hey yeah!” It’s a party tune. I’m dancing, but I’m dancing for God. I’m dancing because my soul is excited about worshipping Him and praising Him. And the dance that I’m doing, it’s not provocative, it’s nothing sexual, but it is a true joy that only God can give you, and I won’t stop until He gets enough (laughs). “Whatcha’ Gonna Do?” That was funny as well, that came from us living our lives, you know, me doing exactly what I wanted to do. I had stopped going to church. And God said “Leszia, what are you going to do? At the end of this day, meaning at the end of your life, when it’s time for you to stand before Me and you have to pay for everything that you’ve done, whatcha’ gonna do?” (She then starts singing the melody to “Bad Boys,” the theme song to the television program “Cops”) “What you going to do, when He comes for you?” Where you going to run, where are you going to hide? Where you going to run to? And I’m like “Wow. Really God? Really God?” and He’s like “Yeah, Leszia. Really.” And so “Whatcha’ Gonna Do?” came out of that. And then, another of the songs is “Didn’t You Know?” And, again, that’s an up tempo beat song, and it actually came from a sermon that I received, you know. That “Didn’t You Know” I would never leave you; “Didn’t You Know” that I would never let you fall. “Didn’t You Know” that I would never forsake you. You know He said he would never leave us, so I had to live that to know that God wouldn’t leave me. That God would not forsake me. That no matter how low I go, and how low I had gone, that He didn’t let me fall, because my life was still here. I still had the opportunity to glorify Him. And that’s where that came from. Then there is “Count Your Blessings.” “Count Your Blessings,” (laughs) “Count Your Blessings,” praise God, is not an experience in as much as a personal experience. I guess again maybe it was. “Count Your Blessings” I actually wrote for my sister. My older sister, who has four children. Who has a husband, who like myself is married but God has blessed her, but still unhappy with your life and you’re looking out, wishing and wanting for everyone. You need to count your blessings that God has given to you. One, two, three you know. And then you’re seeking and searching when Jesus is your answer. “Count Your Blessings,” that one’s dedicated to my sister. I love her (laughing). I hope she doesn’t hear this.
BBP: Well, it is an interesting part of the story, yeah…(laughs)
Renee: (Laughing); Yeah! I know! I know. I know. Oh no. Oh no. Oh My God. And then “Deliverance” was...”Deliverance” was just a question that the Holy Spirit had me to ask. You know, (quoting the song) “are you lonely, are you scared, are you tired and no one cares.” He was asking me this, you know….
Renee: ….and I was answering Him. So that’s where “Deliverance” came from. He told me “deliverance is waiting for you,” you know, and I’m like “wow.” “Can You Hear the Spirit Call?” I was too busy doing what I wanted to do and living how I wanted to live that I couldn’t hear God speaking to me anymore; I couldn’t hear his spirit calling out to me. And it wasn’t until I shut up and I actually heard him…Oh my gosh, and then…Oh My God...I feel pretty good here, reliving all of this again. “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus.” It’s a cry. It’s a cry. It is from a broken heart. It is from unrealized dreams. It’s from a repentive heart because at the end of “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus” I end the song with where my heart was, which was crying out, and I’m saying “I’m still Your child hoping that You still love me too.” But I didn’t know at the time. I didn’t know at the time if God could still love me, if God still wanted me. You know, here I am again, I’m jumping up and down God, I’m standing in the middle of this world that I’m screaming to the top of my voice because you don’t look like you see me. You don’t look like you hear me God. You know, I’m alone. I’m in the dark and I’m asking you to guide me through this. And so here I am. And then “This May Be Your Last Try” is just my heart compelling people to turn to Christ because it may be your last chance. Tomorrow—we’re not promised tomorrow. We’re not even promised the next five minutes. I’ve been given the opportunity to ask you, you know, I’m a messenger. God sent me to ask you “Will you choose Him” before it’s too late? And that’s where “This May Be Yours Last Try” you know, it came from. Oh my gosh, song after song is just a testimony that I love , or me being an empty vessel that God used to get his message through. I’m grateful. I’m very grateful. I’m honored that he will allow me to be used. Are you kidding? Me, of all people? “Lord, Do You Know What You’re Doing?” It’s the only thing I can say as I surrender my hands up. But…He’s amazing and there’s probably more songs that I could have put on the CD, but there wasn’t enough room.
BBP: Let me ask you, the style that you sing in, is it traditional gospel?
Renee: No, not at all. And that’s the weirdest thing to me. Because if I had to categorize myself, I couldn’t. I don’t sing traditional gospel because…to me, traditional gospel is singing “God, I don’t believe in you, or God, I don’t believe that You have given me everything that I need to stand waiting on You,” and traditional gospel comes from a standpoint of people begging God, and that’s not where I am coming from. I’m coming from a standpoint of standing victoriously because He brought me through. I’m praising God. I’m thanking God. So I would say—and it’s not inasmuch as contemporary Christians, because I got “Roll Up On There” which is a great hard rock song. (laughs). If I have to. If I were to put myself in a category, it would not be praise and worship. I’m not southern Baptist. I don’t do hymns. I just, I am, I’m just… Oh My God…. Oh my God, I’m… “Gospel Praise.” What about that?
BBP: “Gospel Praise.”
Renee: “Gospel Praise.” Yes.
Renee: “Gospel Worship Praise.” Because again, I don’t do typical gospel because gospel is (sings) “Oh Lord Help me to…” Really? (chuckles). (sings) “and soon and very soon.” No, that’s not where I’m coming from.
BBP: Are there any secular artists that you like?
Renee: No. And again not taking anything from them because God has given us all of the ability to do what we do. It’s just, what you choose to do with what he’s given you the ability to do. I don’t listen to secular music, so I couldn’t tell you a Beyonce song, you know? I know the name Beyonce because it’s plastered everywhere, but I couldn’t name her song. However, if I reach back in the day, I like Whitney Houston’s voice. When Whitney sings “I Love the Lord,” oh my God! That melts my heart!That melts my heart! So I very much love Whitney’s voice. Whitney, the old Whitney. Oh… Who else? Rachelle Ferrell. She’s a jazz singer, and just her vocal ability sends chills. She can sing! She can sing. But that’s it.
BBP: The reason I asked you that was because you mentioned one song you described as hard rock, and I was thinking…
Renee: Yeah! It’s the “What if?” And again, I have no idea where it came from! I used to listen to, when I was younger…what was the name of that group…God…Eagles!
BBP: Yeah, Eagles.
Renee: It’s the words that I would classify as hard rock because rock words are just so in your face…it’s like “as a matter of fact.” (makes a sound like a guitar playing). Like, what are you going to do with that? And that is very much “What If.”
BBP: Where do you want to go now? You have an album out, you’ve had it out for a couple of months now. First album. First of all, what are you hearing and what feedback are you getting about the album?
Renee: All positive. And that’s very strange because I’m just in awe. I am surprisingly shocked and wonderfully in awe that people can bear witness, that people can receive it, because they’re living it, or they have lived it. So the feedback I’ve got, everything has been positive. Because you expect to have your nay-sayers. You expect to have someone to say, “Well how come you don’t sound like Mary Mary?” Or ”You’re not sounding like Kiki Shepard.” Because I’m not Mary Mary and I’m not Kiki Shepard. Can I blow? Yeah, I can do all things required through strength of me. Yes I can. Can I go behind them and we sing the same song and it will be two separate versions that are as compelling? Yes! Because I know what God can do through me. But the feedback has just blown me away. I’ve had people to come up and say to me “I have just lost my mother, and here I am, minister to me. Because you were able to sing exactly what I was feeling.” Again, my response to all of the feedback that I am getting is always “Wow God, really?” I mean I’m in awe of Him. In awe of Him.
BBP: Where do you want your career to go? What’s your next step? Are we going to see a sophomore album anytime soon?
Renee: Yes. Larry and I were just speaking the other day about going into the studio to do the sophomore album. I’ve written a lot of songs, and yeah, there’s like a sophomore album coming out within a year or going into production of a sophomore album, which I’m looking forward to, because, in and of itself, this is his gift, this is what God has given him the ability to do. And I understand now why God allowed me to go through so many other people before, you know, because before the original thing comes the Devil is going to deceive you. He will send people your way—I have other labels, other publishing houses saying “yeah, that’s great, and we want to work with you, and we want to do this, but we’re going to need 75 percent of your royalties, and given the fact that you’re giving up a finished product, we’re going to need you to do x, y and z and….” no..and God did not give me this just to give it away.
BBP: Do you want to experiment with different styles? Do you want the sophomore album to be like the freshman album, or do you want to take it in a different direction?
Renee: I am led by the spirit always. So if God wants it to reach people who like to listen to jazz, there will be songs on there for that. If God wants it to reach people who like to listen to hip-hop, there will be (hip-hop style) songs on there. I don’t really classify myself because when you hear this CD, there’s no category that you can put it in and say “Okay, it really kind of fits all in this, or it really kind of fits all in that, or it kind of fits in all of this,” because there’s something in it for everyone.