Editor’s Note: This interview first appeared in Path Finders, an email newsletter from the Daily Yonder. Each week, Path Finders features a Q&A with a rural thinker, creator, or doer. Like what you see here? You can join the mailing list at the bottom of this article and receive more conversations like this in your inbox each week.

Odie Leigh is a musician from Louisiana whose work – originally popularized on TikTok – has been described as “bedroom folk.” From that categorization, to her mullet, to her rise to fame, the songwriter is quintessential Gen Z. Her classic country and blues inspired songs about overthinking growing up and whirlwind romance are a pleasure. Her new single, “A Month or Two,” was released today, August 5.

Enjoy our conversation about saving crawfish from the boil, the pressures of going viral, and the joys of DIY music-production, below. 

Odie Leigh is a singer-songwriter living and making music in her home state, Louisiana. (Photo provided.)

Olivia Weeks, The Daily Yonder: In past interviews I’ve seen you talking about growing up in a really culturally rich place but feeling a little bit removed from it. Can you talk about your upbringing and your hometown, and how you balance your love for the culture of the deep south with your position a little outside its traditions?

Odie Leigh: I grew up in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and the thing about Baton Rouge is that while it is surrounded by so much history and culture, there is nothing inherently cultural about that city. You won’t find any crawfishermen or anyone speaking Cajun French, no one is going to work on their pirogue, but only an hour or two in any direction you will find that. My great grandfather, Papo, was a first generation Italian American but, because he lived in Baton Rouge his whole life, loved to crawfish. Until his nineties he spent much of his free time on his boat, fishing and exploring the bayous. In the same way, my father was raised in Baton Rouge but spent many weekends at our family’s camp in Pierre Part, as did I. Growing up, I heard stories of nights spent stranded in the swamp on my Papo’s broken down boat, and spent afternoons on the water with my Pawpaw exploring boat graveyards. My childhood weekends were spent fishing off our back porch, saving crawfish from boils, and playing with bullfrogs before they were skinned and fried. I feel so connected to these things I love, but none of it is really my own. This culture is something I take a brief visit to, say hello, hug goodbye, learn about, eat, and then leave. It is not something I could ever claim.

Leigh and her Pawpaw fish on his porch. (Photo provided.)

However, in the deep south everything is temporary like that. There is an unspoken risk associated with rooting here. At any point, everything we own could be destroyed by flood or hurricane. It’s not something I ever questioned until I started to notice the way locals’ reactions to tragedy differed from transplants. Growing up here you learn that houses flood, trees fall, and neighborhoods get completely destroyed in a single afternoon. You are taught at a young age that we are sinking, and that every hour a football field of our wetlands is lost. And you’re also taught to help your neighbors, to show up the morning after a storm with work gloves and chainsaws, to open your home to those who lost theirs in a flood.

Although Cajun culture is not mine, the culture of community, empathy, and “southern hospitality” is something that we all share. I balance my love for these traditions, and my position adjacent to them, by simply loving them, talking about them, respecting them, and being honest about my brief connections to them. I welcome them, share them, and do my part to not overstep while still reflecting on and appreciating the way these experiences and traditions shaped me and the city I call home.

DY: What was your relationship with TikTok like before your songs got popular on there?

OL: I was actually pretty anti-TikTok before I downloaded it. I, like many people, caved and got it during the lockdown, but didn’t do much posting before I shared my first song in an attempt to win a competition with my roommates on who could go viral first. My relationship with the app has been mostly professional in that regard, and while I do like to scroll, I mostly use it just to share my music. People like to hate on it, but it really is an amazing platform if you give it a chance. Tiktok has completely democratized the music industry in a way that has allowed everyone an equal opportunity to be heard. It’s so amazing that I could post a silly little song over a year ago and now I’m touring and meeting all these people I’ve been interacting with through this app!

DY: Do you think blowing up online right off the bat has boxed you in at all? Is it difficult to really spend time developing your sound when you already know what your audience wants to hear from you?

OL: I’m not sure if it’s boxed me in, but the pressures associated with it have definitely made it more difficult to produce music I am actually confident in and proud of. When you have dozens of comments and messages every day asking when a song is coming out, the pressure to get it out becomes very real, and you become more susceptible to just giving up and releasing something you’re not 100% happy with. For example, “Ronnie’s Song” was the second song I ever shared, and I released it 2 weeks after it went viral. That means my roommate at the time and I recorded, produced, mixed, and mastered that song the same week it was posted to TikTok. There was very little time to think about how I wanted it to sound, and on top of that, I had only been writing songs for about 2 or 3 months so I had no idea who I was as a musician. Even now, a year or so later, my music is still evolving. I recorded an EP this January that will be coming out in the near future, and the music I’ve been writing since has changed drastically.

DY: I know you recently played your first in person shows after developing an audience online – how’d that transition feel? What’s it been like getting popular online while living in real life in New Orleans, a place that’s so full of live music?

OL: This tour felt much more like a sink-or-swim experience than a transition. Most musicians I know start playing in real life, and then attempt to transition their in-person community to followers and streams online. This method creates a more gradual introduction to playing big shows, where as they grow as artists, so does their fan base. However, as you mentioned, I garnered an online audience before ever performing, which meant that unlike most musicians I know, I went from having never played live to playing in front of 150 people almost immediately. One of the things that made me so nervous was that I knew that there were going to be people at these shows who truly knew and cared about my music, so I really couldn’t mess up.

Leigh’s trajectory has been opposite that of most musicians: going viral first, and playing for large audiences second, rather than the other way around. (Photo provided.)

It’s funny because back home, people don’t really see me as a musician. Obviously it’s starting to shift, but I have lived in New Orleans much longer than I have been making music so most people just know me for me! I’ve been recognized in public a couple times, which is always cool, but the majority of people I interact with just know me as someone who works in the film industry, and view my music as a cute little hobby. New Orleans has a big gig economy and many musicians here are always playing live, opening for each other, and collaborating. But due to my old job that isolated me and my choice to focus on growing my online fan base before venturing into the real world, I haven’t really made any IRL connections. It’s something that I would love to happen, but I just don’t have the street cred or community that these other extremely talented, hardworking local musicians have. I don’t play in any bands, I don’t busk, I didn’t go to college for this, I just started writing songs one day and accidentally ended up a musician.

DY: You’ve described yourself as a really do-it-yourself kind of person. How are you bringing that quality into the next phase of your music career?

OL: As a woman in music and a singer-songwriter, I’ve found that some people assume that I don’t know how to produce or mix. However, I have a background in film editing, which involves a lot of audio mixing, and production and mixing is actually one of the things I enjoy doing the most! There are times where I know exactly what I want and how to do it and if I am not in person in front of the computer myself, something as simple as automating the volume adjustments can become a two week, frustrating, hair pulling ordeal. After dealing with that ongoing frustration with the production of my upcoming EP, I’ve realized that I prefer to be in the room and to be really involved in the whole process. In the future I hope to work with people who understand and respect my own abilities as a producer while also elevating quality and encouraging collaboration.

DY: What are you listening to lately?

OL: If you get into my car, we will be listening to Lightnin’ Luke. I’ve put every musician I know onto this guy’s music, and every single time they love it! When I release a new song I share a Spotify playlist to go along with it and try to include musicians in the New Orleans folk/western circuit on it. I’ve been putting locals and friends of friends on these playlists since I started doing it and a couple months ago I got a message from Luke asking to be put on one of them. After listening to a couple of his songs I fell absolutely in love with his artistry. He makes beautiful stripped live recordings of these incredible, funny, beautiful songs that are the most entrancing blend of classic country and dark folk. They have these incredibly catchy hooks and melodies, his song “The Only Cowboy Bar In Portland” is definitely going to be one of my most listened to tracks this year.

This interview first appeared in Path Finders, a weekly email newsletter from the Daily Yonder. Each Monday, Path Finders features a Q&A with a rural thinker, creator, or doer. Join the mailing list today, to have these illuminating conversations delivered straight to your inbox.

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