Singer-songwriter Leslie Cours Mather has certainly endured some dark times recently. At the age of four her daughter Stefani was diagnosed with leukemia. Thankfully, Stefani, now eight, has been treated and is doing just fine. But it was a tough patch there for a bit. Out of it all, however, came an added bonus. As she and her family passed through this emotionally wrenching period, Leslie found solace and release in writing songs. Several of these songs are found on For My Children, her astonishing new album.
Given all that Leslie endured, For My Children somehow doesn’t sound sad. Vulnerable at times, yes. And soul-searching. But sad? Not at all. Instead, it’s an album that’s uplifting. Affecting. And, most of all, comforting—all qualities you don’t seem to find enough of in today’s world of overly shallow, short-attention-span music. In addition to the songs that sprang from those difficult days—the fragile ballad “I Will Go with You”; the defiantly upbeat “I’ll Run”—there are also tracks inspired by the simple but overwhelming happiness of being a mom. Take “Beautiful One,” a tender ode honoring the birth of her first child; or the jubilant gospel workout “Sing,” which Leslie calls a “bottle of pure parental joy.” With a mainstream country/adult contemporary sound and an undercurrent reflecting the singer’s Christian beliefs, For My Children is steeped in deep emotion that flows straight from her heart to the listener’s. One might even say the record is like a new baby.
“This album is my most intimate project,” says Leslie, a mother of three. “It is my most personal creation, aside from having my own children.”
Born in Singapore, Leslie grew up moving around a lot. Her father is a retired Army officer, who also performed in a professional doo-wop group. He exposed her to music early on. After begging repeatedly for piano lessons she finally started them at age eight, although she’d already been writing songs by then. Leslie was active in musical theater in high school and eventually enrolled at Vanderbilt University’s Blair School of Music in Nashville. Working at an off-campus job on Music Row, she discovered the country sound. In 1992 she won a full scholarship to study acting in Los Angeles, where she currently lives.
In 2000 Leslie performed her original ballad “Why Choose Me” as a duet with Tony Award winner Scott Waara, who said, “It lifts the spirit, which music does at its very best.” Her single “The Pledge” won an Honor Award 2004 in the Great American Song Contest and was featured on the Armed Forces Radio Network and other stations worldwide. Paul Wilson from TyneFM.com regards it as “Most impressive” and Brooksy from UnsignedBandWeb.com said, “I’m hooked on ‘The Pledge.’” In 2003 she released an acclaimed instrumental CD, Spontaneous on Piano.
Recently, Leslie joined with a team of doctors from Children’s Hospital Los Angeles where Stefani was treated, to establish the Parents’ Advisory Council of the international consortium TACL (Therapeutic Advances in Childhood Leukemia and Lymphoma). Together, they are working diligently to develop new treatments, support families and raise money to eradicate these diseases. Fifty percent of the purchase price of each For My Children CD will go to TACL.
“Sometimes life hands us things we don’t choose, but as we walk things out we grow,” expresses Leslie. For My Children is the beautifully stirring sound of an artist growing. A sound sure to resonate, not only with mothers and those whose lives have been touched by cancer, but with compassionate listeners everywhere.
How do you describe your music to people?
My music is always an expression of my heart, which is deep, compassionate, and constantly looking for a light at the end of the tunnel. I have a desire to bring hope, even if I am writing about something heavy--like going through cancer, infertility, losing a loved one, or having someone cheat on you. I've written about all these things. I also love comedy and I love to make people laugh, even at my expense. I get a kick out of writing songs with punchlines. As for my sound: I'm energizing-Martina McBride-power-Country blended with relaxing-and-soulful Nora Jones-ease.
Tell me about how you originally got into your craft.
I don't remember a time when I did not sing and write songs. My father is my musical inspiration and whenever he introduced me to a new song or artist, it immediately spoke to me. I could remember whole songs or themes or grooves after a first hearing. I thought everyone could. My mother used to say, "If they'd put math and science to music you would have straight A's". I begged my parents for piano, singing and dance lessons. When they let me start piano at age 8, I zipped through the every book, wanting something more interesting to learn. I wasn't allowed to take singing lessons until I was older. So I wrote and sang my own songs and made the best of it. I was fortunate to have both a piano teacher and a voice teacher who understood pop music and how to accompany yourself. That was the best foundation I could have asked for. When I auditioned for Vanderbilt's music performance program, the piano professor looked at me sideways because I brought a pop style to Mozart and Chopin. The head of the vocal department told her he wanted to duke it out over me. She looked at him sideways and said "You can have her". I was never designed for classical music, but I must admit I love it too. I've just always needed more freedom than it offers.
What is your favorite thing to do in the whole wide world?
Stay home with my family and closest friends, get in my sweats, make a giant pan of paella and a huge pitcher of Sangria, and just hang out. Second favorite thing is to be all alone in my studio writing and creating.
I love to be around my family. They come first no matter what. It's hard to look at my kids and tell them I have to leave town.
When you were a kid, what did you think you were going to be when you grew up?
There has never been anything else for me. It's always been variations of performing--Broadway, Pop, Country, TV and Film acting. My mother tried to talk me into becoming a dentist and my grandparents thought being a Vet would be a good fit. I'm happy being an artist who brushes her teeth and owns a dog.
In what way has your community impacted your development as a musician?
I am the proud product of U.S. Army life. I was born and lived my first two years overseas, and by the time I graduated from college my family had moved 10 times and traveled a lot. I loved the adventure, and picked up culture everywhere I went. It can be tough on one's identity though. I remember when I was planning my wedding, I didn't have a home town. That was hard. But musically, it's difficult to pin my style down. I am a mixture of my life experiences, and I like that.
What other artists out there do you love?
Martina McBride, Ella Fitzgerald, Jennifer Hudson, Bernadette Peters, Trisha Yearwood, Keb Mo, old Van Halen and Aerosmith, Nora Jones...I get bored easily, and love to hear something new and different, as long as it's done with excellence. I'm really turned off by music that sounds like it's done to make a quick buck or as a cookie cutter of something that worked before. I love it when two styles are fused together experimentally. I also love strong singers.
What does your future hold?
I have the advantage of having some years and life experiences behind me. My music has so much more meaning than it ever has before. I have inspired a lot of people who are walking through parenthood, cancer and other life experiences. I want to do more of that--I want more people to hear about me and my experiences, and the beautiful things that have come out of them. Too many people are depressed, lonely, and defeated, and too many songs are quite frankly, full of wallowing in your own pain. I think any artist who does this just to make money is missing out on his or her opportunity.