“Community is work.”
That’s what singer-songwriter and musician LeAnna Eden says as we sit in Common Market, one of her two employers, in Charlotte’s Oakhurst neighborhood. Those two key words, community and work, tell you most of what you need to know about her character.
When Eden, who moved to Charlotte four years ago, isn’t behind the counter at Common Market Oakwold, she works the door at Petra’s, where she will play on July 21 with her band LeAnna Eden and the Garden Of. She not only fronts the band, serving as the vocalist, guitarist and songwriter, but also functions as its manager.
She prides herself on knowing what the band — which also consists of Christian Fuentes on guitar, Ricardo Portillo on bass and Walter Boston III on drums — will be up to three months down the line at any given time.
Currently, most of that time is being spent working on a new album, which will be her first, with producer and musician Joel Welden Willis. She is playing with a crew of studio musicians; the project having come together before the current band fell into place.
Plus, she is organizing the second annual installment of her festival, the Black Alternative Music Festival, also known as Bla/alt, set to take place on Oct. 20 in Charlotte.
“I’ve been working nonstop,” Eden admits, staring off, absentmindedly fiddling with the paper coffee cup in front of her. “Either doing something with my band, or organizing with other people, or working two different jobs, for like four years straight, without a break. So, I’m just getting really tired. I’m tired right now.”
“I probably sleep for like 15 minutes. Because I have really bad anxiety, so I’ll just sit up and be like, ‘I have to do 25 things right now.’ Then I’ll do them, and then it’s time to go to work,” she continues.
“I know it’s not healthy. I’m going to take a break soon…After October.”
She says that, in truth, she has always been this way.
“If things were more relaxed, I would probably find something to be obsessed with. Probably the chip rack here.”
She began playing music at a young age, starting with oboe and piano. She has since left both instruments behind, after teaching herself to play guitar by ear.
Her first performances were solo efforts, starting in Milwaukee, Wisc. when she was 21. She drew immediate, obvious comparisons to Tracy Chapman, both being queer women of color using just their voices and an acoustic guitar to come across with songs both political and personal.
But there are plenty of other influences in the mix as well, including the likes of Regina Spektor, Lauryn Hill and Corrine Bailey Rae, whom she has cited as favorites, as well as her own inimitable voice, both literally and figuratively.
When joined by her full band, the whole mood changes, she relates, filling out her sound and giving her a jolt that she was starting to feel dissipate with all those solo shows.
Playing alone was getting boring, she says.
But finding the right community, it does take work. In fact, it took her four years to find a band that would coalesce behind her and have the work ethic she was looking for to pull off her vision for the project.
The most obvious example of a bad fit came in the form of a drummer who said he supported her, and loved playing with her, but that he wanted her to know it was wrong to be gay. It wasn’t long before he was kicked out of the garden.
Yet in most cases, it was much less dramatic, and less biblical. Mostly, it was about Eden’s expectations.
“I had this crazy realization the other day about why I’ve probably had so many different band members,” she confides.
“Because the amount of love that I feel for people, and the amount of hope that I have for people, and (for) their dreams and their visions, is a lot more than what normal people have,” she says.
“So, I have a really high standard for myself, and I need to learn to stop thinking everyone else can live up to me. Because I am barely reaching and touching what I want, and the closer I get, the higher it goes. Because I’m never satisfied.
“So that impossible standard, I can’t give to other people. I just have to love them for who they are, at that moment.”
She also knows part of the rotating lineup comes down to an attempt at building a chosen family, after an upbringing that offered little in the way of stability.
Placed in foster care at four, she was raised with two brothers and a sister, whom she thought were blood related until they were all adopted together when she was seven, and she was not.
“I couldn’t be adopted, because I came from somewhere else,” she says.
She was later adopted by another family, whom she left at 15. There were issues at home, which she mostly leaves vague, although she does allude to there being some drug use.
Eden then spent time living with a teacher and attended an all queer high school called The Alliance School, in Milwaukee. It was there that she found community, although of course it was inherently short-lived.
In addition to building a chosen family, she also hasn’t given up on reaching back into the past for possible connection.
Her new album is called “Ease Your Soul, Chapman” — Chapman being her birth mother’s surname.
“This album is basically a letter of everything that I’ve been feeling and going through,” Eden explains.
She allows that she hopes her mother, with whom she has not been able to establish contact, will hear it.
“One, maybe she’ll recognize, and two, she’ll understand.”
Whether her mother hears the album or not, it seems destined to find its audience.