Exclusive: Real Talk with Plant-Based Hip-Hop Diva Leslie Hall
It wasn’t until last month that by happenstance I discovered Iowa-based satirical rap artist—and avid vegan—Leslie Hall. Sitting in on a Saturday night, scrolling my Facebook feed, I see someone’s shared a Grist article titled, “Leslie Hall is our favorite vegan superstar.” Like a moth to a flame, the word vegan means only one thing: must. click. I do, and it’s glorious. The video for Hall’s latest single, “No Pants Policy,” is featured, and I am instantly enthralled.
With her clever lyrics, catchy arrangements and her pro-animal attitude, what’s not to love? To say nothing of her unwavering confidence to let loose and get goofy. To be herself, or at least a version of herself. (If this is the first you’re hearing of Hall, definitely give her a Google.) A bit of trivia: she also adores decorating and displaying gem sweaters, though of late has transitioned her crafting talents to spandex, available for your perusing and purchasing pleasure.
While she’s been making music for most of her life and releasing records since 2005, the 33-year-old dance diva somehow managed to elude me. So, I felt it only appropriate that I play catch up and secure an interview with Hall for one of my favorite vegan-leaning outlets. And no time could be better than now, as she embarks with her band on a comprehensive US tour, including a show in my neck of the woods, taking the stage tomorrow night at Brooklyn’s Knitting Factory.
She and I hopped on a call last week, the night before Hall hit the road, and for 45 minutes straight she had me laughing. So much fun to talk to, we touched on her self-released remix album, Songs in the Key of Gold—a compilation of her greatest hits, plus four new numbers, which dropped in December—her professional trajectory as an entertainer and lots of other fun stuff, like veganism and Rihanna.
Read on for more from Hall herself and, if you’re in the area, boogie down with us this weekend in NYC. (Oh, and if instead of singing “No Pants Policy” she suddenly starts singing “Snow Pants Policy,” you can thank me—and the weather—for that.)
Ecorazzi: So, I only recently stumbled upon the magic that is you. If being a vocal—literally—vegan wasn’t wonderful enough, your tunes are awesome, too. On Facebook last month I posted an homage, writing something to the effect of, I’m pretty sure this woman is my spirit animal.
Leslie Hall: Oh my gosh, let’s bond over me being vegan!
Ecorazzi: When did you become vegan?
Leslie Hall: 2010. Every time I go to Portland, I do a show with Blowpony, which embodies vegan culture and gay culture. I’m all for it. Animal organizations give out fliers. I wish there were more groups like that. There’s something cool about supportin’ the cause.
Ecorazzi: Agreed! So, what compelled you to become vegan, besides hangin’ with people in Portland?
Leslie Hall: I’d been a vegetarian for so long. Then I just woke up and was like, I’m not doing all I can. I’m still consuming and encouraging factory farming. That’s why I became vegan. It’s just the best—health-wise, environmentally. I challenge people all the time to do a month. When we go on tour, all the girls go vegan. I made some vegetarians out of that, which is great. I think veganism is catching on. It’s so exciting. The health benefits are a big seller.
Ecorazzi: For sure. So, you live in Iowa.
Leslie Hall: Yes.
Ecorazzi: And that’s deliberate?
Leslie Hall: [Laughs] Well, yeah, I suppose. Obviously the LA thing would work for me. But, golly jeepers, it’s so comfortable here.
Ecorazzi: Right on. Do you do anything besides work on your music and your sweaters?
Leslie Hall: Umm, no. I pretty much craft and work on costumes and music.
Ecorazzi: So, your mom doesn’t really make the costumes, as your song “Gold Pants” and your website imply.
Leslie Hall: She makes all of my costumes. And I make the Ly’s costumes, because she’s tired. But, as long as she’s still moving…Keep stitchin’, mother.
Ecorazzi: [Laughs] I’m intrigued. So, is it pretty easy to find vegan food in Iowa?
Leslie Hall: Des Moines just got a vegan restaurant! New World Café. It’s huge. But, we mostly just do the co-op. Or go to a restaurant and ask for everything without cheese and sour cream. But, you know, slowly but surely, the word is getting out.
Ecorazzi: Speaking of out, in the song, “How We Go Out,” you mention Dairy Queen.
Leslie Hall: I wasn’t vegan! I transitioned between albums. That’s the problem. It’s tough to sing those lines. I should put a disclaimer on that track. This is pre-vegan.
Ecorazzi: [Laughs] Your fans will understand. On the eve of your stop in New York, any favorite eateries?
Leslie Hall: There’s a place in Brooklyn where they serve chili cheese fries and milkshakes. And, it’s all vegan. It was the most insane. You know how when you eat vegan, sometimes there’s something that’s just insane? It was like, Holy crap, this is insane. It was terrible for you, but it was delicious.
Ecorazzi: Everything you just said smacks of Foodswings and they closed, sadly.
Leslie Hall: Oh no!
Ecorazzi: A bummer for sure. But, on the bright side, I’m looking at your gem sweater site right now and it. is. epic.
Leslie Hall: [Laughs] I made that in 2000. Back in the day, people would make websites of things they loved. You learned HTML and made a fan page for something. That’s what it was. I was like, I’m just going to display my collection of sweaters.
Ecorazzi: [Laughs] So, how did you fall into singing and songwriting?
Leslie Hall: Writing goofy songs in elementary school through high school and into college. I’ve always loved funny comedy songs. And the band came from wanting to sell a product to go with these gem sweaters, [since the site attracted a ton of traffic, but the sweaters weren’t/aren’t available for sale]. It was easy money, essentially. Also, if you’re going to pay me for singing, that’s hilarious.
Ecorazzi: So, how did this remix album come about?
Leslie Hall: I put my vocal tracks online for people to remix, and this kid did a mash-up of me and Rihanna and Britney Spears! I was like, Oh. My. Gosh. Can you please do this to all my songs? It’s so silly because I just sent him the files and this is what they sound like. I’m like, Are you a genius? I don’t know how he does it, but it’s amazing. Titus Jones is his deejay name and he lives in Nashville. I invited him to tour with us, but he couldn’t make it.
Ecorazzi: Seriously? This is how Songs in the Key of Gold was born? My lord.
Leslie Hall: Yes! He’s so good. I think he’s going to be, like, the next Kelly Clarkson. I truly believe it.
Ecorazzi: [Laughs] So, who would you most like to collaborate with if you could?
Leslie Hall: Amy Sedaris. I would love to make a video with her. Musically, I’d have to say Rihanna. That girl can sing.
Ecorazzi: What would you be doing if you weren’t making music?
Leslie Hall: I don’t know. Planning events for senior citizens? Something fun. Maybe teaching elementary school art? Something bizarre where I could wear kooky outfits and get away with it.
Ecorazzi: I like your criteria. What’s the greatest criticism you’ve ever received?
Leslie Hall: I get called fat all the time. But that’s not a big deal because it’s like, My god. I am. I am overweight. That is a reasonable statement. Statin’ the facts!
Ecorazzi: Still, people are mean. Did you lose weight after becoming vegan?
Leslie Hall: Absolutely, I did. But, I’ve eaten [vegan] pizza for the past two weeks straight. I’m going to work on being a healthier vegan when I get home [from tour]. I do think that when you eat well as a vegan, the plants and all that, that is sexy perfection. I really do want to achieve that, before I get too old.
Ecorazzi: Love it. Right there with you. You’re so confident, too. Any advice for those a little lacking in that department?
Leslie Hall: You’ve just got to act confident and slowly it starts to come true. Once you walk around in confident skin, even though you’re pretending, it begins to feel right. And, when you find people that like to be weird like you, you form a girl gang. And then you’re unstoppable. Just go with it. Everybody’s kooky, so just live it up.
Ecorazzi: Amen to that. Can you please describe for the uninitiated, like myself, what one might expect from a Leslie Hall live experience?
Leslie Hall: Songs, dance moves, props, costume changes. The goal is to dance mesmerizingly and keep the heart rate up, but not have a heart attack.
Ecorazzi: Any dress code I should know about for Saturday’s show?
Leslie Hall: Just comfortable dance clothes. You know, in case there’s a dance circle and you get pulled in. You gotta be ready.
Ecorazzi: I have some spandex.
Leslie Hall: Girl, yes. ’Tis the time.