Singer/songwriter Leah Summer releases her empowering anti-violence single “Don’t Stop”. She’s had quite the impressive industry background being a classically trained singer and getting a sync placement on Sony Picture’s “Easy A” along with other film and television series’. More recently being selected by David Bowie’s producer Mario McNulty to write songs for another artist’s upcoming album. Her self-written single “Don’t Stop” brings Leah Summer’s messages to light, and captures awareness of domestic abuse in all its forms. All while delivering her lyrics with her profound vocal abilities, keeping our ears peeled. Not to mention a powerful music video capturing empowerment at its finest.
Her single “Don’t Stop” begins with heartfelt acoustic guitar picking and Leah Summer’s soothing and delicate vocals. She sings messages full of painful emotion, bringing light to dark topics through genuine lyrics like “I’ll give you all you’ll need, ingesting all your damage, if it was meant to be it will be”. Around the halfway mark, “Don’t Stop” incorporates an uplifting drum kick and bass guitar shifting into a heavy downbeat with thunderous electric guitar power chords. All while Leah Summer’s vocals grow incredibly powerful and striking, it’s clear that her single “Don’t Stop” captures the dynamic range of her limitless talent and her ability to shine much-needed light on important topics.
Listen to "Don't Stop" here.
Hey Leah Summer, welcome to BuzzMusic! We’re very moved by your empowering message on your latest single “Don’t Stop”. Could you share what helped writing from such a vulnerable place?
Hey, BuzzMusic!! Thank you so much for taking the time to listen to “Don’t Stop”, and I feel elated and grateful that this song and its message resonate with you! “Don’t Stop” articulates both my fury and faith at a time in life when I was blindly running in and out of abusive relationships that manifested in both physical and verbal abuse, particularly with men. For a while, I was a prisoner of silence, because my voice got lost in the ruckus and control of the insanity I was trapped in as a result of my fractured decision making. I was repeating the abuse cycles I endured in childhood thinking somehow that if I could keep repeating the same patterns, eventually, I could fix my childhood. I know. That sounds plain nuts, but that was my cognitive impairment: I really thought I could fix broken people, but we can never be sick enough to make a sick person well. Finally, when I was sick and tired of being sick and tired, I sought therapy and wrote on flashcards every day “I am a worthwhile human being deserving and worthy of love, peace, and respect.” I started to find my own voice and built mental and spiritual strength. I learned and continue to learn that vulnerability is the key to serenity and authenticity. Even when I am not in the mood to be vulnerable, I lean in and just tell it like it is, because I believe it will help others find their own voice and speak their own truths. We are all battling demons, one way or another. When I finally reached a point of radical acceptance, it occurred to me that I don’t have to approve or like what happened to accept it- I just have to accept it. Once I embrace acceptance, it immediately kickstarts the courage in me to feel my feelings all the way through- I had to learn to not make my story better or worse. In “Don’t Stop”, I tell my story as it was; it was bloody vicious, and, now, I am victorious. The bone and marrow in “Don’t Stop” are in the lyrics I wrote that read, “We say
forever; we can build our lives if we build ourselves back up.” In other words, two fractions do not make a whole. I am responsible to create my own wholeness and keeping my side of the street clean. I need to build myself up and know my value before I can expect another person to see my value. As humans, it seems, we are faced with the options to get bitter or better. I hope we all choose better.
Your song “Don’t Stop” is incredibly dynamic and brings different aspects of instrumentation throughout the track. Could you share what Leah Summer’s original intentions were for how you wanted the song's instrumentation to sound and enhance your message?
Yes! I love the fact that “Don’t Stop” starts out like an acoustic coffeehouse song and then mutates into a hard-hitting rock ballad. “Don’t Stop” started out on an out of tune acoustic guitar. From there, I knew it needed to sound anthemic. There was life and power in it that needed further instrumentation. My writing partner and I were heavily influenced musically by Brand New, Taking Back Sunday, Deftones, Glassjaw, Terror, and Madball, thus making double bass an absolute must in this song! It was clear that the song needed to come out of its shell like a butterfly out of the cocoon. Thus, we started lightly with Cello accents that were added in post-production for color and dynamics by our producer. Chuck Wright of Quiet riot rooted the song beautifully with intricate bass lines, and Coby Linder of Say Anything was a genius on drums and brought the latter part of “Don’t Stop” to life with a hard-hitting double bass that gave the song more power and bite. The guitar work was airy with a punk sensibility in the beginning and evolves into its dropped D distortion from metal guitarist, Dorian Levi. The dynamics in “Don’t Stop” really tie in with the emotions in the storyline. Since its message is about strength, hope, and resilience, it was important that this song had guts musically. It needed to hit hard and be in your face. I want people to walk away from “Don’t Stop” feeling truth and something real. The music reflects and supports the theme that there is light within the darkness.
You also have a powerful music video for the single “Don’t Stop”, which features brilliant imagery and scenes. How did Leah Summer plot the concept for the music video, and were there any challenging aspects in the process?
Thank you for your kind words. I had the privilege of working with an incredible film director, editor and music video director named Don Cotton. He and I talked for hours regarding a music video treatment for “Don’t Stop”. I shared with Don that I wanted the video to show that the aftermath of domestic violence does not always have to end in flames. I wanted to show empowerment, especially for other women out there going through a similar situation. I thought I needed to be seen trying to be someone I am not- in tight, tight dresses and then in just a plain white tank and jeans. Don felt the opening montage would add value to the message and we incorporated researched statistics surrounding domestic abuse. Don’s direction for the scream that happens right before we cut to the song. He said “Okay, Leah. Now just release.” I screamed from the pits of my soul. I screamed for every woman and human who were and are being mistreated, bullied and kicked around. Talk about being vulnerable- I was sweating furiously afterward! It felt entirely cathartic. It was Don’s idea to feature a male actor, and Devin was an amazing fit. Shooting the montage with Devin got rather emotional and was challenging to film, though. Devin is one of the sweetest and kindest men I have met, and he could not wrap his head around the fact that a man would hit a woman. It made me pause and reflect that, wow, I actually allowed that in my life, and, then I thought of the spirit of “Don’t Stop” and smiled at how far I have come along and grown humanly. Devin not only was the male actor, but he also scouted and found our amazing location. We were playing like kids at recess all day; we got to play (safely) with chainsaws, an axe and, at one point, I was swinging from two ropes and then climbing a random spiral staircase we found in this bizarrely magical warehouse. We shot the entire video in one day, and, while we were fighting for light due to weather, every shot came out exactly the way we wanted. We all agreed there was some Divine intervention that helped our cause. Everyone on set was fully committed to the project and you could feel the passion. I think my most favorite scene is when I am dancing right before the drums and bass hit hard. Don was actually dancing with me as we were shooting that scene, and we really had a blast. To be honest (and vulnerable), I cried the night before we shot the video because I was just feeling so much gratitude. I can actually share my experience, strength and hope with others and survived some really crazy days. The music video for “Don’t Stop” truly embodies my heart, soul, guts, and healing, This is a testament to Don’s incredible film skills, compassion, and the crew’s ceaseless focus and love for the art on set.
It’s refreshing to see a young and successful artist like yourself use your platform to speak messages that need a little more attention. Why do you think it’s important for artists to write from a sincere place, and channel negative emotions through music?
I so appreciate you seeing the truth in my writing. Man, I think all we have is our truth. If I am not writing from a place of sincerity, then I am not doing my job as an artist. Even when I write pop songs for sync work, I am always approaching the work from a space of authenticity. When I accept life on life’s terms- when I stop trying to engineer outcomes and really let go and accept what all has happened in my life, I have no other choice but to speak my truth, especially into my music. When I sing, I feel that is when I am communicating at my very best. It is a spiritual and cosmic experience for me. I learn from every song I write. “Don’t Stop” saved my life. When I was battling mental health issues, this song I would just play over and over, and it helped me heal. People have reached out to me with messages about their own experiences in abusive situations and how the song has helped them grow. It is amazing. As artists, when we choose courage and when we choose to go boldly into our truths, we are encouraging others to do the same. It is a gift- it is the gift of artists and songwriters that we can channel years of pain and suffer into a 3-minute song that can express, relive and then release that chapter of life, and that song can then help others heal and move on in their lives. The truth is everything, and it is the only thing that can set us free. I think of my song “Don’t Stop” as a melodic and beautiful reminder to keep showing up to life- to keep going, and to never stop; don’t stop, don’t stop yet.