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Leah Marlene Makes Her Opening Statement

Leah Marlene performing at Canada Day Festival in Richmond, BC
Shea Grehan
Leah Marlene performing at Canada Day Festival in Richmond, British Columbia.

Leah Marlene said her debut EP “Arrows” is intended as her opening statement to the world as to who she is. At least right now.

What do I want to say All my days have gone away What do I want to say What will my impact be When I’m too old to dream What will my impact be - title track to "Arrows"

Leah Marlene "Arrows" album cover
Credit Leah Marlene
Leah Marlene "Arrows" album cover

“I wrote that my junior year when I was questioning, 'What am I going to do when I graduate?’ Like where am I going and what do I want to do with my life. So there was a lot of confusion that song was being written out of,” said Marlene, who is currently a senior at Normal Community West High School.

Is it even fair to ask a 17- or 18-year-old to know where they’ll be headed in the next few years, or decades? Even adults twice her age often don’t know where they’ll be in five years.

“And that’s part of the song,” said Marlene. “You don’t have to know. You just have to put one step in front of the other and just go for it.”

Cause life is like an arrow A shot in the dark Don’t know where it’ll land But it all starts with your heart

Marlene bubbles with optimism. She fearlessly moves toward the unknown as articulated in “Arrow.” She’s also enthusiastically lobbies for change in the world at large in a story she tells on “How Do You Feel?”

Saw a man on the side of the road Begging for change I tried to give him a dollar And he looked at me strangely and said I don’t need money I’m just taking a step Don’t you stay quiet take life in your hands Now’s the time to ask yourself How do you feel? - "How Do You Feel" from "Arrows"

“It’s just a metaphor.” said Marlene. “It’s a painting a picture of someone begging for change as in ‘money.’ But they are actually begging for change in the world. So it’s taking the double meaning of what begging for change means, and just twisting it.”

Marlene quickly names singer, songwriter, actress and record producer Tori Kelly as her “No. 1 vocal inspiration.” Like Marlene, Kelly worked at a young age to forge a music career, appearing in numerous talent competitions including "Star Search" and "America’s Most Talented Kids." By 12 she signed with Geffen Records.

“Vocally, she’s insanely talented,” said Marlene. “But also as a human being, she’s just so kind and such a joyful person. It’s so inspiring. As an artist and human, I want to follow in her footsteps of how she’s been able to maintain her career, but still be such an awesome person.”

Nashville has been a destination for Marlene during school breaks the past few years. There she has been making connections that will likely be fruitful in the coming years as she takes a stab at the ultra-competitive and notoriously shark-infested waters of professional music.

“I’ve been working with the most amazing people down there and have been learning so much about the industry,” said Marlene. “It’s all about connections, and that’s probably been the biggest thing I’ve taken from my time down there. It’s great I’ve been able to make those connections now, because relationships only grow from there.”

“Arrows” is a splendid pop-rock album, and an impressive debut for the soon to be high school grad. Marlene shows off her strong voice and impressive range without being showy and the music is catchy but not sugary. Marlene’s lyrics reflect her youthful optimism that often challenge the listener to be better than their demons.

When you gonna When you gonna learn to love When you gonna When you gonna learn to live together Why we gotta Why we gotta just give up Close your eyes And we can make it better - "Is Anybody Listening" from "Arrows"

Marlene said it’s easy to get caught up in trying to change the world through big things. She implores her listeners to accept that tiny steps can make a world of difference in enacting change.

“For older people looking at younger people, I think a powerful lesson to be reminded of is that you don’t have to ‘go crazy’ to change the world. You just have to take it one step at a time and do one kind thing for another person,” said Marlene.

Leah Marlene releases “Arrows” and performs songs from the album Dec. 2 at Nightshop in downtown Bloomington. Showtime is 6 p.m.

The complete GLT interview with Leah Marlene.

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Jon Norton is the audio director at WGLT and WCBU. He also is host of All Things Considered every weekday.