Motherhood. Femininity. Family. Independence.
These are the recurring themes of While She Sleeps, the solo debut from indie-folk artist Leah James. Written shortly after the arrival of her baby daughter, it's a stirring, sweeping record, decorated with symphonic strings, tenor guitar, piano, and the soft swoon of James' voice.
"After becoming a mother, I felt very inspired," says James, who wrote all 10 songs alone, hammering out the music's melodies and cinematic arrangements from a yurt outside of her Los Angeles home. She pulled double-duty as the album's producer, too. "I began making music during the little moments while she slept as a newborn," she adds, "and became fiercely inspired to step into my femininity. I was influenced by her —and by today's world —to write an album that both supports and encourages women with every word. Maybe I was writing these songs for myself. Maybe I was writing them to her."
Although While She Sleeps marks Leah James' first release as a solo artist, the album also carries on a family tradition. Like her own daughter, James grew up surrounded by music. Her father, Don Felder, was the Eagles' lead guitarist for decades, as well as the main architect behind the band's biggest hit, "Hotel California."
"There was an acoustic guitar in every single room of the house when I was growing up," she remembers. "My dad absolutely loves music, and that's how we bonded growing up. I was born while the Eagles were still broken up, and until I was 10 years old, I didn't know that he was a famous musician. He was just my dad. He'd drive me to school and cook perfect pancakes in the morning and play guitar around the house. It wasn't until the Hell Freezes Over tour that everything changed."
When the Eagles hit the road again during the mid-1990s, James tagged along. "It felt like an outrageous extended family," she says, remembering a childhood spent backstage, in the wings, and aboard the tour bus. The experience was eye-opening, teaching James about the love, passion, and connectivity of live music at a young age.
That said, While She Sleeps stands apart from James' family tree. This is a singular album, intimately hushed one minute and as lush as a Hollywood film score the next. With one foot planted in her influences — from Mazzy Star's reverb-heavy haze toSimon & Garfunkel's acoustic folk —and the other pointing toward newer territory, James turns While She Sleeps into something that's at once fresh and familiar. It's real, raw, and romantic, offering up a mix of lilting lullabies ("My Love Will Follow," "One andOnly"), cinematic campfire songs ("Wildfire"), elegant pop-noire ("Love Me With Madness"), airy instrumentals ("The Moment I Met You"), and showcases for James' thrilling, cooing voice ("Big Sur," "That Fateful Day").
It's the sound of a woman embracing her own womanhood. The sound of a mother embracing her own motherhood. The sound of a lifelong musician finding her footing alone, even as she shares the studio with session musicians like slide guitarist Greg Leisz and former Tower of Power horn player Bill Churchville.
"When Eva arrived," she says ofherbaby daughter, "my perspective changed. I realized that while I'm watching her to see what she does with her life, she's watching meto see what I do with mine. It was just time togo for it and see what I could dobymyself, without anyone to hide behind. I decided toputmy music into the world notundermy husband's last name, or under my father's last name, but under a name I give to myself. Instead of standing on a platform that someone else built, I felt like it was so important to stand onmy own."
The record is called While She Sleeps...but Leah James has never sounded more awake.