Creative Soul Records artist Leslie McKee is back with her new album, "Another Mile" - the long-awaited follow-up to her 2009 debut EP, "Trust In You." Delivering a mix of powerful ballads and infectious pop-infused tracks, McKee's vocals soar to new heights on her first full-length release, sharing a message of redemption, restoration and relationship woven through songs and stories that reflect her heart.
Q: Leslie, thanks for doing this interview with us. Let's start with your journey-- how did you feel led to sing for God?
Music has been a significant part of my life since I was a little girl. In my teens and early 20's, I was involved with different singing groups and would occasionally go to churches to sing a few songs on my own. It wasn't until 2005 that I felt called to step out on my own in music ministry. A mentor in my life, who is also a fellow artist and now a dear friend, called one day and said that she felt she was to invite me to go along with her to a conference for artists in Nashville.
At the time, I had been doing some side work as a Pampered Chef consultant and was contemplating going to the national conference which was coming up. It wasn't a sit on it and pray kind of thing. When I received that call, I knew in that moment that I was supposed to go to the conference in Nashville. While we were at the conference, my name was drawn to win a free week to go to GMA Week and the Dove Awards.
An evening outdoor concert was part of GMA Week, and the artists were Casting Crowns, Chris Tomlin, and Steven Curtis Chapman (who just so happens to be my singer/songwriter hero). Under a star-lit sky, SCC was singing, "I want to make much of You, Jesus. I want to make much of Your love. I want to live my days to give You the praise that You alone are so worthy of. I want to make much of Your mercy. I want to make much of Your cross. I give you my life. Take it and let it be used to make much of You." That was the moment that I clearly felt led to step out on my own and sing for God.
Q: Who would you say influenced your sound? And how would you describe your own music?
Hmmm...musical influences in my life would be SCC, Natalie Grant, Kari Jobe, and Jeremy Camp. I probably don't sound a bit like any of them, but those are the artists that I have listened to the most and whose music was impacting my life when I started down this road. My debut EP, True to You, was a bit eclectic with a mix of pop, inspo, and even a hint of jazz thrown in. We were trying to figure out who I was as an artist and experimented with some different genres. "What Love Looks Like", which was originally released as a single and is included on Another Mile, was a pop driven tune that I really connected with. When we began writing for the new album and exploring songs from other writers, I wanted the album to lean more toward pop/rock, but also include a few big ballads, and that's exactly what we ended up with.
Q: Congratulations on the release of "Another Mile." The album, I believe, took some time in the making. What were some of the challenges in the making of this record?
Thank you!! How long do you have? :)
The road to Another Mile was indeed a long one! One of the biggest challenges with any record is being able to swing it financially...at least I think I can use that as a blanket statement, especially for indie artists. My husband and I have three children who attend(ed) a Christian school in our area, which carried with it a hefty tuition bill. I was fortunate to be able to be a stay at home mom until my youngest started kindergarten, at which time I started working as a nurse in an office setting. After five years of going through the motions of work while dreaming about doing music, which is what I felt passionate about, we decided it was time to step away from my nursing job and trust God to provide through music opportunities. I was able to increase my teaching load of piano and voice students, which previously was somewhat limited due to working an almost full time job as a nurse, and God opened doors of opportunity to sing at various places. I share all that to say that finances were pretty tight and there was never really any extra income to put toward a recording.
About four years ago, we felt led to apply for a ministry position in our church and were led to believe I would step into that position. In light of the anticipated extra paycheck coming in, we decided to start the process of the album. I held a fundraising concert to kick things off, and the church position came to an abrupt halt, which in turn brought any thoughts of production to a halt as well. The circumstances that took place at the church and things we would learn over the next few months as to what transpired, triggered a long battle with depression, anxiety, and a significant loss of self-esteem. Time would reveal lies that we were told and violation of trust, which led to me having significant issues trusting not only man, but also God. In some ways, I felt as though He had abandoned me. Sadly, the enemy had me just where he wanted me! We removed ourselves from the unhealthy environment that we were in, but it has taken years to walk through healing and learning to trust again.
Early in 2016, I felt God saying it was time to go with the album. We still did not have the financial means to dive in, but He said go, so we did, and we're still trusting Him to provide what's needed. Twice throughout the production process, I ended up with respiratory infections that kept me from being able to do vocals when we had band tracking days scheduled or vocal days scheduled. The month leading up to finally recording my vocals, a friend who had reached out to me on my Facebook artist page several months prior, attempted to commit suicide; we found out another friend was battling addiction; my son was in an accident that totaled his car; a "forever friend" was pulling away from our friendship; our dog tore her ACL and we needed to decide whether to put her down or not because she was too old for surgery (BTW...she is still with us. We tried a brace that has been amazing.); my daughter decided she was in love and got engaged and we had a week and a half to plan the wedding before she headed back to college.
There were a couple more things that happened in that month, but I can't seem to find them in my memory bank. Needless to say, there were challenges galore in the making of this record.
Q: You also have some really big names working on the record. Who are some of the songwriters and producers on the album?
Yes! This record has been the stuff that dreams are made of. If we had worked on the album a few years ago, I would have never had the opportunity to meet some truly amazing people. I did a couple writing days with Luke Brown and we ended up using three songs that came from those sessions (I'm Alive, Love Won't Let You Go, His Love). Luke also shared a couple of songs he had written with others that we used on the album (Hold On(He's on His Way) written with Chad Cates and Rest Assured written with Becca Mizell). Other writers on songs include Justin Ebach, Lindsay McCaul, Ashley Gearing, Steven Dale Jones, Molly Reed, Robbie Earle, and Jeff Pardo. Phil Naish and Lowell Alexander penned "What Love Looks Like" based on some suggestions I had passed on for the song. Eric Copeland took my lyrics and added a few and turned Simpler Time into something I never could have imagined! Ruth Wood shared her powerful balled, Broken, with me many years ago. It connects with people so much that it had to go on the track list.
Jonathan Crone programmed several song tracks for the album, was the vocal producer on a couple songs, and did mixing for the album. Other band tracks were done at Sunset Blvd Studios with Steve Dady and the incredible guys he uses ( Dave Cleveland, Steve Brewster, Gary Lunn, Jason Webb, Blair Masters, Mike Payne, Jefffey Roach, Garth Justice). These guys are so good, yet so humble. It's amazing to watch them at work. Brian Green (Castlebury Productions) did orchestration for Broken.
Keith Everett Smith (plays in Toby Mac's band Diverse City and has quite the list of artists he has worked with) and Tasha Layton Smith (American Idol contestant, background vocalist for Katy Perry, voices for Disney and Nicklodeon, worship leader at Church of the City) were my vocal producers on six of the songs. They brought so much to the table with how crazy talented they are. I was pushed to new places vocally, which was amazing by itself; but, through the process of working with them for a rehearsal week and the recording week, they spoke so much truth into my life, and were significant in helping me walk through some remaining healing that needed to take place in my heart from the experiences I had mentioned earlier in the interview. Tasha was my daughter's vocal teacher at the National Praise and Worship Institute at Treveca University in Nashville. It's funny how God orchestrates things to bring people together.
Q: Why did you call the album "Another Mile"?
With all the challenges of seeing this album to completion, the lyrics to this song perfectly reflected my life and the challenges of getting to this point. It was the perfect choice for the album title. Another Mile is the culmination of the many miles traveled to work on this project and the many places my heart has journeyed over the past few years.
Q: After all the hard work, you must be overjoyed to know that your new single "What You're Made of" is #1 on the CRC Chart. Tell us more about the story behind this song.
Oddly enought, this song was perhaps the hardest song for me to do in the studio. I had to come to a point of truly believing what I was singing to be able to deliver it in a believable way. I was already wrestling with not feeling beautiful, good enough, skinny enough, pretty much any "enough" that you can throw out there. To top it off, when we first recorded vocals on this song, I did not deliver. It was awful! I had already had a vocal day scheduled for the following day with a group of students from the NPWI choir to do gang vocals for the song. I went ahead and had them do the vocals not knowing for sure if we would even keep the song on the album or not.
A few months later, I spent a week working through my vocals on the songs with Tasha, and I could not wrap myself around this one. I didn't believe any of the things listed in the song (about myself) and since I had completely bombed in the studio with one of the other producers previously, all I could do was cry. When we got to this one during the actual recording week for vocals, I still cried. It was a life-changing experience for me, though, because I had to completely let go of all that I was tripping over in the song, and let God redeem the situation and speak His truth into my life.
So yes, overjoyed that the song did so well out of the gate on the CRC Chart, but there was such irony in the fact that this is the song that was chosen to promote and that it was doing well.
Q: I have read that you are also a worship leader too. Do you lead worship in church? Ever thought of doing a congregational worship live album down the road?
There are a couple churches that I lead at on a regular basis, though I do not serve in a Worship Director position at a church. I also lead worship for retreats or conferences. I have thought of doing a worship album, but I had not entertained the thought of a live album. You now have me thinking about it :)
Q: Many of your songs speak of our brokenness and hope in Jesus. Is this autobiographical of your own life? Can you recall a time when God used brokenness to draw you to Him?
Absolutely! The songs reflect where I've been the past few years of my life. At times I've felt broken beyond repair and wanted to give up on living. I had to dig in to God's word perhaps deeper than I ever had to before to find his truths and promises. The experience taught me much about learning to hear His voice above all the other noise and lies that the enemy wants me to hear and believe. I'm learning to embrace who He says I am and to know I have value and worth, that I'm loved unconditionally and have a purpose in this life.
The song Broken was another song that I struggled with in the studio. I couldn't get through the first verse without tears flowing. Yes, I felt the brokenness the song tells of, but I was also overwhelmed by the love of a Father that bore the weight of both my own sins and the sins of others done toward me. He endured more pain than I can ever imagine. He understands.