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Odie Leigh on TikTok, Louisiana and the Having a Good Time

If you scroll to the bottom of rising star Odie Leigh’s TikTok—past tour announcements and snippets of new singles—you’ll come across a short video of the musician in her bedroom, playing guitar. Posted in December of 2020, in the midst of the COVID pandemic, the clip features Leigh softly smiling into the camera as she finger-picks a song (“Ronnie’s Song”) about a friend who’s the Thelma to her Louise. The video, captioned “wrote this song to cheer up a friend”, eventually garnered over 40.4k views, inspiring Leigh to produce it and release it as her first single. 

“It all happened so quickly,” she tells me over the phone when I call to interview her, “I just started writing songs and really practicing the guitar in 2020—like the end of that year, like October or November. And then, I posted that song in December, and then “Ronnie’s Song” came out January first. We just did it really quick, because it felt like a lot of pressure to get it out.”

When I ask her if the pandemic had anything to do with this sense of urgency, this burst of creativity, she’s unsure. “I’m sure the pandemic did have something to do with it, but it was way more like other life circumstances that led to this happening.” After a falling out with some roommates, Leigh ended up moving in with “these two rapper DJ dudes.” “They were always recording music, and they were like when are you going to drop a song and I was like NEVER!” she tells me with a laugh, but when her roommates proposed a competition to go viral on TikTok, she announced “I’m going to win.”

It is this sense of play that most seems to drive Leigh’s music. When I ask her about how she got into the production side of things as a musician with little formal training she tells me, “Because it was the pandemic, no one really had school like that, and we would just hang out and make joke songs. And there were always people at the house making beats. And I think being around that environment demystifies it. It felt more approachable to me to be around music in a way that was way more casual than all the pretentious people I went to college with.”

Whether in her experimental hand-picking or the wit she brandishes in songs like “Sheep Song” and “Bigger Fish”, it is easy to hear this playfulness at work. As we speak, it recurs again and again. When we—inevitably—return to discussing the marketplace of TikTok, Leigh seems disappointed in the way musicians aim to manufacture success. “I scroll, and it’ll be songs that always start with the most outlandish thing you could possibly say for the clicks, and songs with very niche cultural references.”

“To clarify, I am in no way shitting on TikTok. I love TikTok. It is the most democratic tool that has completely changed the way the music industry works. It is the reason that me and so many other musicians have been able to be musicians… but I guess it’s just disappointing by proxy when I see people struggling with things because they’re overthinking it. We have this incredible tool, and now people have made it into a science. But it’s not a science, it’s an app.” “You could just be having fun,” she adds. Leigh’s live shows, too, reflect this sense of raucous joy. At both her stripped down 2023 solo shows, and her more recent full band tour, Leigh was able to create a laid-back atmosphere, the sort of feeling you might get at a house show or a jam session with some (very talented) close friends. 

“It’s been really weird,” she remarks of her live shows, “I find myself being paralyzed, or thinking this isn’t all for me. You go out and you see five hundred people there just for you, but I’m still like this is just a silly thing I’m doing. My brain is unable to comprehend what I’ve done. I understand what I want to do, but I get out there and I don’t understand that I am the person I’ve come to see when I’ve gone to shows before.”

“I was so scared to start playing shows. I was not ready but I think that if you wait to be prepared, you’ll never get anything done. And I think that (inexperience) is what creates the vibe you are talking about. Because I really do think that these five hundred people are my friends.”

Still, Leigh’s exuberant shows are not accidental, “I always pick out my openers because no one understands my vibe better than me. I know what I like, and I also see going on tour as an incredible opportunity. I have a captive audience. Let me show y’all fantastic music that I love.” 

On her most recent tour, Leigh featured both ragpunk, one-man-folk-band King Strang and the Official Bard of Baldwin County—who Leigh describes as: “truly one of my favorite artists. Their music, their presence on stage, their songwriting.” 

“I love having openers that I feel like make me look bad. King Strang and the Bard—watching them perform every night I’m like dang, I gotta do better. It’s way too easy to just bring your friend on tour. It’s way too easy to be like I’ll have this white guy. Cuz he’ll sell tickets and it’ll be fun, but it’s so much harder to go out of your way to find the people who you respect, and who you think would bring something different and important to the vibe.”

This sort of deep knowledge of, and reverence for musicianship of all kinds is just as present throughout our conversation as Leigh’s love of having a good old time. When I ask her about Louisiana—her home state—and its influence on her sound, she surprises me with her answer. “My music was really born out of the abilities I had, and the tools I had access to. I am not a trained musician and I don’t really know how to play guitar. I had a hand-me-down guitar, and I made folk music because I had a guitar and nothing else.” “I have always been really interested in old time picking styles, but that wasn’t because I’m from Louisiana. That was because I’m a nerd who only loved Leadbelly. And it came from my love of the White Stripes, not because of Louisiana. If there was one thing about the way I grew up that really influenced my music it was going to church three times a week, and singing in the choir all the time. Always doing the harmonies. So, I do a lot of vocal stuff in the background of my songs that comes from that. But, that is not necessarily a Louisiana thing. No one in my family is really musical, and I didn’t grow up with people singing Zydeco.”

In fact, Leigh is bothered by musicians who want to use the culture of the state to latch onto some passing folk or country zeitgeist. “I do kind of want to circle back to the Louisiana question because I do have a lot of passion about this topic, but not about me,” she remarks mid-conversation, “I have just seen so many people move to Louisiana and start writing songs about da bayou and da alligators. And all stuff that has a deep tradition, and history. And it’s always been extremely off putting to me to see people poach a culture that isn’t theirs. It’s one thing to get inspiration, but I don’t want to use my surroundings as clickbait.” While long-time Louisiana residents often have to endure hurricanes and their aftermath because they have nowhere else to go, “It’s always the people from out of town that choose to stay during the big hurricanes. They’re the people who can choose to go somewhere else. They’re the people who can hop on a plane.” 

It is witnessing this sort of exploitative behavior that led Leigh to leave her home state and move to Detroit, “I do not fuck around about Louisiana and so I had to leave, because I was just getting pissed off at seeing all these people move in and start singing about the Bayou, and acting like they’re influenced by Louisiana because it is a hard existence.”  Leigh’s sound, too, is departing from its origins. When I ask her what we can expect from her next, she tells me that her next album is “much different from music I’ve released before. It's much more rock. It’s a little heavier and fun. It’s kind of indie-pop rock. And, it’s because I’m finally at the point where I understand music enough that I can make this music.” 

Leigh says her new album is “A scrapbook of (her) falling in love. A play by play of my life over the last year. I’ve always been writing songs about my day-to-day…and I’m just at the point where my feelings are happy. These songs are very fun and celebratory. I’m really excited, because I got a new band that’s an all girl rock band.” “I’m so excited to start showing people these songs and having more fun, because I’ve been down and I think I need to be happy once more.”


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