We are delighted to welcome Shay Leonia to Divine Magazine. With a penchant for nostalgia from songs that have acted as the soundtrack her life, Shay has emerged as a multifaceted artist ready to build her own musical legacy. Music was inescapable as the youngest in a family of musicians and a mother who “played the radio”. Shay soaked in each genre she was exposed to and depended on melodies as a life force, even more so when her mother became ill and passed away leaving behind the songs they once cherished together. Between the sounds of Michael Jackson, George Michael, Barbra Streisand, Led Zeppelin, and Miles Davis just to name a few, Shay persevered and continued pursuing her dream of becoming a performer.
Among her career highlights so far, Shay has had the honor of singing and dancing with Janelle Monae on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” as well as singing in the Vh1 commercial for Season 12 of “RuPaul’s Drag Race”. With each sentiment of congratulations shared for her achievements, Shay feels like she’s making her mother proud as she had always been the one to encourage her to reach for the stars.
Getting to know Shay
As a kid were you ever frightened of a monster under the bed or in the cupboard?
To this day, I am so scared of Chucky. I used to spend hours awake in bed weighing the pros and cons of sleeping with my feet outside of my blanket. If my feet were uncovered, then I could run to the door faster but Chucky might be able to grab my feet more easily, but if they were covered, then maybe he wouldn’t have a grasp, but it may be more difficult to reach the door in time. I’ve still never watched the movie, and I still run and jump into my bed when I turn off the light.
If you could learn any language fluently what would it be?
I’m actually a massive fan of learning other languages. I have every intention of becoming a polyglot, but for now, I’m just comfortably bilingual. On my list of languages to master, I’d have to say that the most difficult are Xhosa & Mandarin. But I’d love to be able to sing Miriam Makeba songs some day, so it’ll be worth it to invest the time to learn.
What’s your favourite board game?
I’m all about my nostalgia so I’d probably have to say Run Yourself Ragged – I used to play that game for hours. Dream Phone and Crossfire deserve honorable mention, though. I still remember the theme song, “Crossfire, you’ll get caught up in the – Crossfire, Crossfiiiiire!” And nobody ever liked Operation because that *bzzz* scared the life out of us!
Are you a valuable asset on a Pub Quiz team?
I never thought I would be, but the last couple of months I’ve been attending and I’ve become this go-to for answers on most things music or 90’s-related. Geography and history are another story!
What’s your favourite children’s story?
Of course, I can never choose just one, so I’d have to say Tikki Tikki Tembo, Harold and the Purple Crayon, and Where the Sidewalk Ends. Shel Silverstein is the author that got me interested in writing my own poetry which ended up being my stepping stone into writing songs. But I’m so pitifully nostalgic that I feel like everything played a part in my artistry as it is today.
What is one message you would give to your fans?
Absolutely any and everything you’re going through is temporary, even when (and especially when) it doesn’t seem to be. We call it “going through” something because we get to go “through” it and not stay in it forever. You don’t have to let it win or define you.
In your opinion, how do artists in this industry stay on top of the game when faced with so much competition? What’s the secret to making yourself noticed?
See, I don’t believe that other artists are my competition. I’m my only competition, and the part of me that competes against myself are the voices that tell me that I need to be more like this person or that person to be valued and “noticed”. That’s where we go wrong as artists – If Picasso had tried to be like Degas and Degas like Dali and Dali like Monet, then we’d have missed out on each artist’s unique contribution to art. And it’s so silly to think that people can be a fan of just one artist! If we start valuing what we each have to offer, then we’ll see that not only are we the only ones who can tell our stories the way they need to be told, but we’ll also learn that there’s plenty of room for a lane for each of us.
If you could change anything about the industry, what would it be?
I would want there to be more accountability for what women experience from the bottom to the top of the pyramid. I’m so proud of what #MeToo has achieved, but I don’t feel that there’s been a level of accountability in music. I want fans to feel confident that approaching their favorite artist won’t mean that they’ll be taken advantage of or assaulted. I want to go into writing sessions to be more than just “the female energy” in the room. Like, wtf is that? And I want lawyers to not be able to try and say, “She just wants money & attention” when survivors come forward. It isn’t right and it’s disgusting that this hasn’t happened in music yet.
If we were to look at the artists you are listening to, who would be on your playlist?
Oh, man… My music library is so weird! Whenever I put my music on shuffle, my friends make fun of me because it makes absolutely no sense. It can go from Jackie Wilson to Alice in Chains, George Michael, D Train, Mariah Carey, Led Zeppelin, George Lamond, Alex Isley, Clifford Brown, DMX and Liza Minnelli, and that’s just a few!
Of your own music, do you have a favorite? If so, can you pin down why?
I think my favorite so far is an unreleased song of mine called, “Associated”. I’d had this beat for at least a year and it was my first time not knowing what to write to a track. Then I ran into a friend of my ex’s and she introduced me to her people as “so n’ so’s ex-girlfriend.” I was so flabbergasted that I told her, “Oh no, we’ve been done for a long time, I’m just me, we’re not associated anymore,” and the song just poured out of me. I wrote it so long ago that the beat has since been redone and it’s just this perfect blend of old-school and “F you” vibes, I just get into a zone whenever I hear it. I cannot wait to do a video for that one!
What are your ambitions as a songwriter and musician from here?
Ha, totally humming “Ambitionz az a Ridah” now! Set off my mental music rolodex, why don’t ya.
I’m dying to work with Janet Jackson and Stevie Wonder in some capacity, so they’re both on my vision board. But I also want to travel around the world and meet people who’ve felt a connection to my music. Some of my life’s regrets are that I didn’t get a chance to have that moment with some of my favorite artists before they left us like Michael Jackson, George Michael, Whitney Houston, Prince, David Bowie, and so many others. I just want to know in my lifetime that what I did was able to help someone else and make my mom proud.
What is your biggest musical challenge?
Staying out of my own way! I know there’s a lot I have to learn, but sometimes I let myself get so overwhelmed by all the technical things I don’t know that I forget how awesome I am at other stuff. I just have to remember that it’s okay to not have it all figured out as long as I’m still doing what I can with the knowledge & experience I do have.
How do you deal with writer’s block?
Writer’s block is so wild because it’ll have you thinking that you’re finished – that you may as well pack up and close shop, and it was fun while it lasted. But all writer’s block really is, is the pressure that you almost always put on yourself! It’s this pressure to show up and write your magnum opus each time you sit down with a pen and paper.
The way I deal with writer’s block is with these 4 resources: 1. I “free journal” by writing absolutely anything for 5 minutes straight and not worrying about grammar or concept or anything at all. It’s like “word vomit” and it helps dust off my brain. 2. I grant myself permission to suck. 3. I countdown from 5, AKA “The 5 Second Rule” by Mel Robbins, and just go for it. 4. I commit to writing for 10 minutes. That way, it’s not some afternoon I’ve “wasted away” on trying to write my “Bohemian Rhapsody”, but it could be just what I needed to find a gem to work on next time.
Shay releasing a powerful song, ‘Crumbs’ on May 14.
About ‘Crumbs’, Shay says:
“My boyfriend and I had just gotten into a horrible fight, and when he left, I resented the fact that I was still having to be in that apartment with the air still feeling so tense. I tried to distract myself by washing dishes, and that’s when I noticed there were crumbs on the stove from the meal I’d just cooked him minutes before our fight.”
The song is sure to bring up raw emotions from past, and even current relationships, and serves as a beacon of light to all who listen- we’re excited to share this story with your readers.
Pre-save Crumbs https://distrokid.com/hyperfollow/shayleonia/crumbs