By Ian Saint
Country-neo-soul artist Roberta Lea has had a banner year; but her remarkable ascent belies how its foundation was laid by grassroots cultivation, and elevated by leaps of faith.
An early member of the Black Opry — a collective of Black country, Americana, and folk artists founded by Holly G. in Virginia — Lea made her national TV debut in the summer of 2022, appearing on the “Kelly Clarkson Show” with Holly and fellow musician Jett Holden.
When I interviewed Roberta for Ohio PBS affiliate WOUB Public Media in the subsequent October, she was celebrating the surprising success of her Kickstarter fundraising campaign to record her debut LP. Setting an ambitious goal of $18,000 in four weeks, it appeared that she would fall short of meeting her goal before the deadline. A crucial intervention by Allison Russell led to surprise support from Brandi Carlile and her “Bramily” fanbase, which culminated in Lea managing to eclipse her goal by over 20%.
A key source of confidence for launching her Kickstarter album campaign had been the recent premiere of Roberta’s “Ghetto Country Streets” music video on CMT, which was sparked by another self-initiated gamble. Roberta had reached out directly to Leslie Fram, the Paramount executive in charge of CMT’s music strategy; a bold move that resulted in not only getting her music aired on country’s premier music video channel – but also led to Roberta being inducted to CMT’s Next Women of Country Class of 2023 in January. CMT’s venerated, decade-long Next Women of Country program counts Kelsea Ballerini, Carly Pearce, Kacey Musgraves, Ashley McBryde, and Lainey Wilson as alumni.
Emboldened by the honors and avalanche of backers — her Kickstarter campaign totaled over 300 contributions — Roberta Lea set to work on Too Much of a Woman; and just days shy of one year since surpassing her goal, her debut LP has been released. The explosive title track features all-female instrumental backing, including Texas’s Jackie Venson on lead guitar.
Roberta’s team offered Buddy Magazine a sneak peek at Too Much of a Woman, which yielded a fascinating smorgasbord of sonic styles peppering its country palette. Shortly after returning from Americanafest in Nashville — where Roberta got to meet her late-stage Kickstarter resuscitator, Brandi Carlile, in real life — we had an in-depth chat about Too Much of a Woman and the codas of milestones she’d highlighted to me last October.
Our conversation revealed that although Too Much of a Woman is a deeply personal reflection from Roberta, the album will resonate with folks from all walks of life — especially the millennial generation that Roberta and I both hail from. Its brisk, but hard-won, germination is also filled with takeaways for other independent artists. This revelatory interview can be streamed on-demand in the YouTube widget at the top of this article; and an abbreviated transcript is below.
IAN: Welcome, Roberta Lea! Thank you for speaking with Buddy Magazine in Texas. We are hitting the one-year anniversary of when I spoke with you for WOUB PBS in Ohio — you had a bunch of milestones at that time, and I think that was the first interview you had done since hitting your Kickstarter album goal.
Let’s start out with the new record, which is Too Much of a Woman, coming out September 29th. This is your first full-length release, and there are a lot of key players on that — including Jackie Venson from Texas, my buddy! Can you talk about who’s playing on the record?
ROBERTA: This record was very special in many ways, because of who’s playing on the record. I had the opportunity to include both national and local musicians; so it was a great way for me to get to establish myself — [incorporating] both my local scene [of southeastern Virginia], and the national scene. I thought that was very important. It was a little tempting — you know, some folks were like, “oh you should go to Nashville and record your album” or “you should go to New York and record your album” — but it was very important for me to tap into the talent that was here locally, in Virginia, to give us an opportunity to continue to shine like we always do.
On the [lead album single], “Too Much of a Woman,” we have — of course — Jackie Venson, based out of Austin, Texas [on electric guitar]. We have [drummer] Megan Jane and [lap steel guitarist] Ellen Angelico, who are based in Nashville; and [also New Zealand’s] Vanessa McGowan, who is the bassist for Brandy Clark.
Then for the rest of the record, I’m the executive producer. I wrote all the songs [besides the “Papa Was a Rolling Stone” cover] myself; and I have a range of musicians who teamed up with me, some of them being members of my band — shout-out to [drummer] Dion Langley, Bernard Eze on keys, Talton Manning on saxophone, Antione Wesson on guitar.
Then I had the opportunity to work with amazing, incredible co-producers, such as my friend Calvin Merazh — who I co-produced “Girl Trip” with — and Larry Berwald, who was an essential part to coaching me through recording my very first album.
IAN: Awesome! Can you talk about how you came across Jackie Venson, and how that [collaboration] came to be? With us being a Texas outlet, of course, we’re very proud of Jackie and we’re slightly biased towards her. <laugh>
ROBERTA: Well, I’m right there with you, Texas! I’m a huge fangirl of Jack Venson; she’s one of the few artists that I kind of gag over a little bit — her and Brandi Carlile kind of have that that thing over me.
So with Jackie Venson, I was following her; and we were friends on Twitter for a little while. I became friends with Vanessa McGowan through different circumstances — we’re mutual friends with our friend Cassie [Roma] — and when I put out to Vanessa the idea of doing an all-women [musicians] line-up [for the “Too Much of a Woman” title track], I also reached out to Jackie [via] social media. Jackie Venson heard the demo; I had 100% her blessing, and she was ready to rock! So it was pretty easy to get that going.
IAN: Yeah! You know, something that I thought was a real key passage of the interview we did with WOUB PBS last year was you talking about launching your music career in your mid-30s, being married, being a mother — and the effect that that’s had on your artistry.
I see a little bit of a similar parallel with Jackie Venson, because — contrary to what one might think, upon initially seeing her — she didn’t start playing guitar until she was 21, and she was late in her time at Berklee College of Music. Did you guys get to talk about that about sort of finding your groove later on [in life] than people might think?
ROBERTA: Maybe not specifically that [aspect]; but we’ve had lots of times where we’ve talked together [about] our journeys in general — our similarities of being women in the music industry, the complications of being an [independent] artist and trying to make it. She’s been very encouraging on my journey; very inspiring, and just very down to Earth. Our conversations have ranged to all sorts of things that we’ve experienced. You know, I’m just very grateful to have a reference like Jackie Venson to point to, and to have on my team — even if it’s for one song, it’s very encouraging to have such a powerhouse like that on this album.
IAN: It’s interesting to hear the range of styles throughout the record. I’m glad you brought up regionality, because I am somebody who’s split between Ohio and Texas — that’s a really huge swath of the country, going back and forth between Cleveland and Dallas, which are 1,200 miles apart. You know, I see how many regions have bustling scenes, that get a little bit ignored in mainstream media, because of all the consolidation of [media] outlets in general — and increasingly [consolidated] on the coasts. I love New York and LA; but there are a lot of nuances [in other regions] that are going to be missed, when it’s such a great big [country] and your opportunities to spend time in [all those regions] are limited.
So you hail from Hampton Roads, Virginia, which you’ve noted is home to artists such as Pharrell, Missy Elliot, and Timbaland. Can you talk about that? Obviously, we perceive you as a country artist — you know, with your affiliation with CMT Next Women of Country and so forth — but I do hear other styles in there, and I’m wondering how much of that is driven by your [geographic] origins?
ROBERTA: Absolutely. I’m definitely proudly from Virginia. I love Virginia’s history, its geography, its complexity when it comes to its place in US history — and that complexity, I feel, is what’s influenced the arts that have come from here. Because you look at artists and producers like Missy, Timbaland, and Pharrell; and you kind of start strolling back to not only them, but you had the Dave Matthews Band, you had Pat Benatar out of Richmond, you had Ella Fitzgerald and Patsy Cline…
You look at that range of artistry that’s come out of this area, and it’s easy to tell that we have a buffet of influences — because geographically, we’re really very Central in the States. Bristol is where we border Tennessee, right, so you have that influence of country music… but then Virginia is where you start to enter into the north. Obviously, the military is here. So we get people from all over the world coming to this area, and that diversity naturally influences the type of music that we produce out of here.
I’m a product of my generation — I’m a Millennial — and here in Virginia, I’ve gotten a slew of influences, and they express that range [in my] album. There are songs that are very traditionally country; and then there are songs that are country-pop, and there other songs that are country-jazz… there’s all sorts of things kind of happening, and I just like having fun with that.
IAN: You brought up a great point about Virginia and the complicated history. You were a public school teacher. We are going through such a time, right now, when it comes to public education… and it seems Virginia has been an eye of the storm, as far as what can be taught in public education being such a flash point in elections — in the last gubernatorial election, that was a big hot-button issue.
As you were talking about that complicated history, I was thinking about how Monticello is in Virginia. Thomas Jefferson’s estate is what we perceive as a big origin of the [USA]; but, of course, Monticello was a big hub for enslavement of people — and we’re increasingly aware of how many descendants of Thomas Jefferson hadn’t been acknowledged in the past. Then likewise, Charlottesville [where a racist uprising took place] in recent history, is in Virginia.
[What you said] made me just jump down a rabbit hole of “wow, Virginia’s a little bit of a bellwether,” as far as what we’re grappling with in this country. [Juxtapose that] with you being a Black woman in country music; where, unfortunately, there has been a real problem with a lack of diversity in country radio. [How does] having that public school teacher background — when public education is such a flash point in [our society’s] discourse — factor into your artistry?
ROBERTA: They call country music “three chords and the truth,” right? When you have a certain demographic that dominates this “three chords and the truth” conversation — where they kind of tend to have the same experiences — [then] they have the same truths. So when you have diversity in this genre — when you have women, people of color, LGBTQ, and the list goes on — you’re going to start having more truths, that don’t necessarily reflect the truth that that genre was portraying for as long as we’ve known, right? Those truths start to look a little different.
So that’s why, here in Virginia — like you said — it’s a complexity. I remember a friend of mine described Virginia as a “purple state,” because you have red states and blue states, and Virginia again has historical complexity. We’ve had Democrat Governor, then Republican Governor, then [party flips again]; you have somewhere like Charlottesville, but then you go to Northern Virginia and it’s very liberal. So it is complex that way; and my responsibility… you know, I look at being a songwriter — I look at doing music — as a service, and so my responsibility as a songwriter in this service is to share the side of the truth that deserves to be highlighted as well. That’s my job.
IAN: Wow, it’s interesting how certain epiphanies kind of emerge in the course of conversation — because wow, the parallels [with] the discourse of what’s happening in the country music industry, and the discourse of [history education in] Virginia and the implications that’s having nationally is quite striking. So, um, I’m just going to have to stew on that some more.
I wanted to talk about a few key tracks on this record. First of all, I loved the spoken word that threads throughout [the album]. It reminded me a little bit of Janet Jackson and [her albums’] interludes. Are you are you a fan of Janet?
IAN: So you know what I’m talking about; you know Rhythm Nation, Velvet Rope, etc. had the the interludes. Now, she created separate tracks for those; and you didn’t do that… but can you talk about your decision to weave that in? There are concept albums with a real explicit storyline — I think of, you know, Pink Floyd’s The Wall — and then there are concept albums that have a bit looser of threading. Do you have a specific plot of beginning, middle, and end; or is it more of an overarching theme?
ROBERTA: This album is definitely a story. [The spoken word interjections on the album are an extension of] the teacher in me, that has to walk people through this lesson and give some hints of explanation. I didn’t want to do too much; I wasn’t sure how to go about not taking away from the album — because I wanted the songs to speak for themselves — and so those [spoken word] threads, as you call them, are just enough to kind of weave you through. What I’ve noticed from those who have heard the album, [they say that the spoken word segues] draws a connection [from listeners] to our character in the album.
There is a concept; there is a story that’s going on. We meet our protagonist at the beginning of the album, and you hear two songs — “Somewhere in the Tide” and “Girl Trip” — where she is on her little high horse, she’s bright and starry-eyed, and she has a whole world of her. She’s a legend in her mind; she can take on the world.
But then once we get to “Too Much of a Woman,” she gets introduced to the antagonist; and I feel like it’s intended to reflect how, for me as a young girl — I was raised by my mom, and I had two big sisters — there wasn’t anything I couldn’t do right. And at some point in my life, there was this moment where I met the antagonist of — whether it be misogyny or patriarchy, or one of those energies that you can’t quite put your finger on — but it happens, and next thing you know, you are second-guessing yourself.
And so we see her wrestle with that villain, so to speak, between “Papa Was a Rolling Stone” — when it comes to daddy issues — or “Make Up Your Mind,” a song [about] some silly boyfriend who can’t stay faithful or doesn’t know what to do. We get this vision of the antagonist, and what it means to wrestle with that as a young woman: when you’re confident in yourself, but suddenly now you’re second-guessing because of how you’re getting treated or things that happened.
We get to “Midnight Matinee,” [which] is all about her trusting her intuition, and making decisions in her life for herself — instead of for other people. Then we start to see the fruits of her internal work when we get to “Stronger This Time,” and she’s practicing healthy coping mechanisms. We see her enjoy “Dinner, Sunset, Nina Simone” with her family and someone who does love her.
And at the end, we see her kind of coming to herself — where it’s like “yes, I admit that I’m confident in my strength; but I’m also confident in my weakness. I’m confident in asking you for help. I’m confident in receiving that help from you, and that doesn’t make me less than just because of that.” So, yeah, there’s definitely a story to the entire album; instead of a collective of songs that just so happen to fit together.
IAN: I love that! You know, you’d mentioned being a Millennial, which is the same generation for me… and I’m thinking about all the paradigm shifts that have transpired, from growing up in the ‘90s – which I think were a very optimistic time — and [then] 9/11 happening, and then these wars being launched…
I’ve spoken about this with Shirley Manson of Garbage, [she told me that] they were really forward in in the artistry of the ‘90s; and then 9/11 happened, and the [sociopolitical] climate of the country changed so drastically — that would have been sort of at the beginning of our adolescence. Then you had the emergence of social media, and the ways that would mess with our heads. The effect that [social media] has on self-esteem, those conversations are happening now; but I feel like we were sort of the guinea pigs in that. Then coming of age when President Obama [as first Black president] was elected, and then of course that was followed by Trump; and then the emergence of the Black Lives Matter movement…
I guess where I’m going with that is, it’s interesting to see your protagonist’s journey — and sort of the broader implications for a whole generation… as far as tapping into that youthful optimism, and perception of what we thought possible — and seeing a lot of accomplishments transpire in that time, but also crushing disappointments, and having to sort of reckon with a different reality than what we had [anticipated].
Do you think that there is, sort of, a broader Millennial [application]? Maybe not just Millennial — I can only speak from my own lens of that generation. I don’t want to overlook the specific nuances for women [on Too Much of a Woman] in particular; but what you described, I saw so much [in my own journey]. I might be the same generation; but [despite] me being a man, me being a different race, [me] coming from a different part of the country… so much of what you were speaking to was like, “Wow, this makes me want to look back on my own life journey, in the society I was reared in, and where I’m at today.”
ROBERTA: Yeah! Yeah, absolutely. I think that’s what’s so powerful about telling our stories: we don’t know how someone else who has a completely different walk of life from us actually relate to it. I said that the other day, “we all have so much more in common than we give ourselves credit for.”
But yeah, our generation — Millennials — we are the generation that has been pushing through those walls and ceilings, to break what’s felt like a curse over our nation… you know, being overworked and underpaid, and “going, going, going” — and we’re like “No, stop! We *do* need therapy, yeah, we’re going to therapy!” We are the therapy generation. We are like, “we are finding peace, we are healing, we’re going to therapy, we’re going to do the work.”
In this record, Too Much of a Woman, obviously I’m speaking from the perspective of my experience as a woman; but, in general, this [album] reflects a lot of people’s sentiment. And it really warms my heart, how many men love the album! How many men love the singles, “Too Much of a Woman” and especially “Girl Trip.” It tickles my soul so much, how many times I performed “Girl Trip,” and afterwards the dudes walk out and they’re singing “GIRRRRL TRIIIIIP” — they are just all over it! And that’s the point!
You know, I’ve listened to lots of songs that were from somebody else’s completely different perspective of something that I’ve never lived… and I’m like, “a good song is a good song! And if it’s good, I’m going to sing it!” A prime example is Dolly Parton’s “Dumb Blonde” — she sings that song, and she jokes [about the irony that] she’s not even blonde. But I hear a song like that, and I can find in my personal life where somebody wanted to discredit me, or treat me less than [themselves] because of a certain feature that I had, or because I was a woman, etc.
So we get to listen to music, we get to experience art, and that’s what’s powerful about art: is that we get to experience it, it goes through our brain, and we get to calculate in a way that makes sense to us personally. Even if it was from the perspective of somebody else, we get to interpret it in a way that helps us. That’s what’s so powerful about creating art, is that it’s going to speak to people — no matter what — when it’s good.
IAN: Something I love about this record is the breadth of life goals that are reflected in it. I think you and I are both people who would like to see change and transformation in this society… but at the same time, I’m thinking of us on the “Girl Trip.”
Something that some of us can grapple with is feeling we’re not doing enough, and not being effective enough. There’s a song like “Girl Trip,” which is about letting loose; and and one could argue “okay, that’s time that could be spent trying to affect more change” — but I feel like, in order to charge your batteries, you need escapes!
ROBERTA: Yeah! The only way you can pour out is if you pour in. You can’t give from an empty cup, you know! That’s what the entire record is, this “two sides of the same coin” type of thing: where you have a song like “Girl Trip,” which is about going out with your friends — wilding out and misbehaving — and that is juxtaposed on the same record as “Dinner, Sunset, Nina Simone,” where it is about staying at home, fixing dinner for you and your family, and enjoying a glass of wine on the couch. Both of those things can be true!
You also have “Too Much of a Woman,” where she is “girl power!” and “boss babe!” — she gets to the boardrooms, and she’s making those changes, and she’s making impact in the world — and that is on the same record as “So Much More,” where she tells her loved ones and the people in her community that she needs them, and she can’t do the things she needs to do without their love and support.
So all of those things are true. All of those things can live simultaneously with each other. [Millennials are] a generation who believes that, and walks that out.
IAN: Yes! As you were saying that, I was thinking about that sociology side again. In the 2000s — you know, I can only reflect on my own the myopia of my own experience — I feel like the paradigm of the time was “hyper-independence.” Now, I think there’s some reckoning with that; you know, “okay, maybe that’s a sign of trauma — maybe some of that hyper-independence is driven by disappointment, and abandonment.”
ROBERTA: Yeah, absolutely.
IAN: My favorite of the spoken word passages was when you did acknowledge, “I *am* too much of a woman,” and you have accepted that. I thought “gosh, this is so striking because the title track for Too Much of a Woman at the beginning of the record is where you’re getting very defensive of that notion.”
Did you write the song “Too Much of a Woman” before your decision to have that reckoning spoken on the album?
ROBERTA: Yes. I [first] wrote “Too Much of a Woman” in the beginning of 2022. So in January, February 2022 I decided to release it as an acoustic single first — because I was still just picking up momentum, and still building. I got great responses from that; and when I was encouraged to do an album, I decided to build around that theme, and create the concept based off of “Too Much of a Woman.”
So it was a nice arc in this story; the creation of the album is based off a song that’s a little defensive, but then the conclusion to the record is “I’m coming to be okay with that.”
IAN: And at what point did you come to that conclusion?
ROBERTA: Let’s see, um, when did I write [album closer] “So Much More”? That’s a great question; but “So Much More” was definitely [written at] the tail end of the process, perhaps earlier this year — just coming out of being okay, and being secure in that space.
IAN: And that’s why I wanted to ask: because looking at your [personal] trajectory while making the record, I was wondering how much that trajectory paralleled — or even factored into — the storyline, and what wound up taking hold.
ROBERTA: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. Just experiencing life influences the trajectory of a record — which I think speaks to the integrity of the art. Art reflects life; life reflects art.
IAN: Absolutely. Well, it’s been wonderful, Roberta, to talk about this groundbreaking new album with you. Congratulations on seeing it come to the light of day, and the impact it’s making across the country — I know Texas is not exactly next door to where you are.
I just want to wrap it up with [revisiting] milestones that you had attained when we spoke just under a year ago, and where they’re at today — because I think [with] you as an independent artist, they’re really remarkable. The first being the Kickstarter campaign… you had exceeded your goal [of $18,000 and raised over $22,000] when we had last spoken; now the album is recorded. Can you reflect on that Kickstarter experience, now that it’s in the rearview mirror? Was [the money raised] enough for your album? Were there things that you hadn’t foreseen? What takeaways do you have for those who might want to pursue a similar path?
ROBERTA: That Kickstarter was crucial to me, because it really helps me to relax a little bit when it comes to releasing this album… because it’s like, I know at the end of the day I have 316 [donor] people who are ready for this record — instead of releasing it to the endless abyss of streaming, and crossing your fingers, and hoping that it gets to to the right ears. You know, [reassurance in knowing] that there are people to back it up and support it.
After we reached our goal, folks were really excited; and they were like, “well, you need visuals, you need a music video, so let’s get more money so you can do that” — and we were able to create “Too Much of a Woman”’s music video. [The extra funds also covered] challenges that came up; there were a couple of songs where I’d completed the demo and got the band in there, and then I had to take a step back and I’m like “man, no, no, you got to scratch it and start over from the beginning.” So there were some small step-backs here and there; but overall, it was a process that I definitely learned from, and that $22,000 was still completely mind-blowing — that we raised that much money, and that we were able to get it done.
IAN: I was very struck by “Make Up Your Mind” because it reminded me a little bit of heavy metal, ‘80s specifically. Is [‘80s metal] a strong influence on you?
ROBERTA: Yeah. I think “Make Up Your Mind” is Tracy Chapman’s “Give Me One Reason” meets Michael Jackson. That is actually the oldest song on the record; I’ve been working on that song for five years, I think.
IAN: Oh, wow! You mentioned Michael Jackson; I can hear sort of a “Dirty Diana” type approach to that song, and similarly with Janet — we had mentioned her earlier — I’m like, “okay, this is sort of evocative of when you reach ‘Black Cat’ on the Rhythm Nation album.” The track before that is “Escapade,” which is very sunny with the finger snaps and all all that; then all of a sudden she lets loose with “Black Cat” — and nobody had heard her like that before. So I didn’t know that you’re a heavy metal fan!
ROBERTA: Yeah, you know, that’s rock and roll. The guitar is shredding! I was having a lot of fun, shredding at the end of that record; and there’s this fun escalation, musically, in that song. There are a handful of songs that speak to the range of influences; where it’s like, you probably can’t even really pinpoint exactly what kind of genre it is — I feel like “Make Up Your Mind” is one of them. Is it pop? You got the acoustic going on at the beginning; so you got some Americana in there, but then it goes straight to rock and roll.
IAN: I had to play [“Make Up Your Mind”] again, because I’m like, “did it bleed into a new track?”
ROBERTA: <laugh> Yeah! I would say “Dinner, Sunset, Nina Simone” is another track that has a fun weave of influence, where the fiddle is doing its own thing — it’s nothing like you’ve heard on a country record before. Then you have songs that are very traditional, and they perfectly ride the lane — “Small Town Boy” just fits right in that country song lane. Then you have songs that are stripped back — “Somewhere in the Tide,” “Midnight Matinee,” “So Much More,” they’re so stripped back as far as production is concerned; they kind of just elevate on their own.
IAN: [Another progression from last year’s interview is] Brandi Carlile. You had spoken to me last year about how [Brandi’s unexpected Kickstar contribution and promotion made a huge difference]. Just the other day, I saw you in Nashville for Americanafest — which Buddy Magazine is covering as well — and you got to meet her in real life! What was that like?
ROBERTA: That was a dream come true! I knew it would happen eventually; but, I mean, Brandi Carlile is just… she is definitely a top tier artist in this generation right now, and definitely an inspiration as far as how she’s gone about going at it for over 20 years before really hitting mainstream — and she’s created a strong fanbase that supports her, and now she’s on tour with Pink! So being able to meet her, admiring her as a songwriter and artist — what she’s doing to help other artists, both young and old — like, who wouldn’t want to be like her? I’m not exactly sure who would say “no” to that. So it was a full-circle moment, especially, to meet her almost exactly a year later from the Kickstarter. I couldn’t ask for a better full circle.
IAN: Well, another full circle — that was on an even quicker timeline — was with CMT. When I had spoken to you, it was just weeks after they premiered your “Ghetto Country Streets” music video. Then in January, something I was proud to be part of — and we covered for WOUB NPR — was your induction to the CMT next women of country program, where the MC was none other than Rissi Palmer, who was a [key pillar of] foundation for you in this music journey. Can you talk about CMT Next Women of Country, and what that’s done for your career — and perhaps broader artistry?
ROBERTA: Absolutely. I mean, the franchise of CMT’s Next Women of Country is another cornerstone, and foundational for me as an artist. I mean, it is very relieving to be a part of communities that support artists like me — where we just need a little boost, we just need a little bit of support. And it kind of goes to show — between [Rissi Palmer’s] “Color Me Country,” Black Opry, CMT, and also this year becoming a member of the Recording Academy — there seems to be a nice progress of leveling up, so to speak, in my journey as an independent artist. It’s just one small step at a time; and they get bigger and even more impactful.
I’m just absolutely grateful for [CMT executive] Leslie Fram. She is very inviting, and very approachable… it just kind of reflects what happens when women get in the game, and we create a community in which there’s enough room for everyone to eat, and we all support one another. That’s just your prime example.
IAN: Yeah, and I always think [about] what the music business could be like if Leslie Fram was your typical music executive — so I’m with you there.
Then the last thing — and this is something that I think sort of parallels themes of the record — that we had spoken about was with Black Opry. You’re now going into Year 3 with them. And the story of Black Opry and Holly, the founder, her journey… <pause> you know, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the barriers of the times, as far as the widening income inequality, consolidation of companies, rising cost of living — existing — let alone putting on shows, and things of that sort. But her very grassroots rise — and you were an early part of that — I think is a very needed and timely source of inspiration for folks trying to make their way in this precarious era.
We were talking about our generation’s adolescence being [conditioned] by hyper-independence; and I think we’re going through a process now of realizing that we do need to depend on others. So I think that is a great way to conclude our in-depth conversation about this phenomenal record — is Year 3 of the Black Opry, and what you’ve learned in that journey.
ROBERTA: The Black Opry is another space, another community, that has been foundational to me — and that has given me space to grow, and become who I am as an artist. Approaching Year 3 with them? They have provided a space and opportunities to be on some stages I could have never imagined, and that a lot of people dream of! For example, we did Newport Folk Festival this summer, and that is huge! I mean, absolutely incredible to have had that opportunity.
So the Black Opry continues; Holly continues to do the footwork to be able to provide a platform for artists who deserve a chance. So I’m looking forward to continuing to build on that, continuing to expand on that; and hopefully being a resource for somebody else when I get to a point where I could reach back and help someone else.
IAN: Wonderful! Congratulations on everything that you have accomplished in the last year, and the growth you’ve had as a person. It’s very interesting to mirror how the progression of that record has been woven with your progression as a person and an artist — and I think a lot of people, from all walks of life, will find a lot to enjoy and grow from in listening to this record.
And you will be forever enshrined as my very first interview for Buddy Magazine in Texas! Thank you for your time; and thank you for you kicking off my new journey in that regard, as well. Hopefully we’ll see you in the Lone Star State at some point.
ROBERTA: I can’t wait! 2022 was my first time visiting Texas; there was Houston and San Antonio, and then Austin for CMT Music Awards. So I love Texas; it’s very big, and I have a lot of fans there. They’re like “when are you coming?” and then I’ll tell them “hey, I’m coming to Houston!” And they’re like “oh, it’s five hours away.” <laugh> So I have to get directionally more acquainted with Texas, and hopefully I’ll be able to do a few more shows there.
IAN: Have you done Dallas / Fort Worth, yet?
ROBERTA: Not yet!
IAN: Well, we’re going to use this interview to build up further interest in that — because you definitely have to come! And you are correct: for Dallas to Los Angeles, El Paso is about the halfway point; so, yeah, there’s a lot of terrain to cover. Thanks, again, Roberta; we wish you all the luck in this record launch, and hopefully we’ll see you in Dallas / Fort Worth sometime soon.
ROBERTA: Absolutely! Thank you, again, Ian.
Roberta Lea’s debut LP, Too Much of a Woman, was independently released on Friday, September 29. It is available for streaming on all major platforms. Physical albums can be purchased on Roberta’s official website — which also includes upcoming tour dates — at iamrobertalea.com.