Enjoy this great conversation with Leslie Hunt and make sure to get on my VIP list at the bottom of the page!
Our conversation was pretty far reaching. Leslie shared her approach to writing, and staying healthy, as well as struggles she has had with codependency, a very sickly childhood and the young death of her only sibling.
Enjoy this far reaching interview with Leslie Hunt!
Leslie is an extraordinary singer and performer who has reached the semi-finals of American Idol — beating out over 100,000 contestants and repeatedly performing for millions on live TV. She has her own record label, several solo albums with star artists, and for the past decade she has been the singer of a progressive rock band called District 97. I met Leslie when my band, Infinite Spectrum, performed with District 97 at Progtoberfest in Chicago a few years back.
Leslie believes diet should take precedence over medication in treating any ailments. A lot can be solved nutritionally that people medicate for. Leslie is extremely disciplined about food.
Leslie has had lupus, a systematic auto-immune disease since six years old. Due to this, she eats exclusively gluten free and has recently dropped dairy as well. She avoids nightshade vegetables too. These dietary practices limit the chronic pain for her. She was vegan for four years prior to going gluten free due to lack of options for filling foods, especially on tour. Her condition vastly improved after letting go of gluten.
Leslie enjoys cooking eastern inspired cuisines, mainly since rice is the primary complex carb, and it is often dairy and gluten free.
While on tour, Leslie likes eating a light oily salad before performing. The lipids (fats) lubricate her vocal cords. If she is too hungry, she gets overly acidic and may get hoarse. She also feels like she doesn’t produce adequate saliva when hungry either. Eating too much can also mess her up. Post-show adrenaline can prevent her from eating afterword, but if she doesn’t eat, she could struggle to sleep.
She value’s sleep and avoids over-socializing in loud environments. She mentions that doing a gig while “under the weather” can result in being flat, (as a singer) doing damage, and ruining your chances of having a good gig the next day.
Leslie does sporadic pushups throughout the day and planks daily. She was obsessed with fitness when she was younger, and claims that has built her a foundation that is still with her today.
A sickly childhood lead Leslie to immerse herself deeply into poetry, music and films. She couldn’t spend too much time in the sun and that lead her to spend even more time developing her artistic abilities. Her parents are musicians, so she was immersed from an early age.
On mental health, Leslie admits to being a bit of a love addict and suffering with codependency and rushing into things. She has had therapy on and off and mentioned that dealing with a great variety of emotions gave her plenty to draw from when writing. Leslie thinks there should be no shame in seeking help.
Leslie tries not to tour for too long so that she is not away from her children for too long. At home, she has her kids every other day so that she can work and practice exclusively when they are with their fathers and she can spend real quality time with them when they are home.
On most Saturdays, Leslie plays with an event band as a regular gig. She continues to perform with them while on tour, sometimes traversing great distances back home make the gig and returning the tour with District 97.
On writing and composing, Leslie shared that she often gets ideas while some ambient noise is present, such as a bathroom fan. She even has sound machines in her home so her kids can sleep and she can practice without them waking. Sometimes she just improvises and gets lots of material that way. She likes to use elaborate metaphors for writing so people can interpret it for themselves.
On writers block, Leslie says for her, it comes from “fear of being horrible”. She says its a viscous cycle that gets worse the longer it has been. Staying consistent helps her keep feelings of inadequacy away. She believes the block can occur when judging things too early in the writing process.
In 2008 Leslie was engaged and her sister had died from a drug overdose the day before she was supposed to get married. She said she was getting married just to set an example for her sister on how to stick to things… When she died, Leslie believes a part of her sister went into her and told her “Do what you want! Why are you doing this?” She left her fiancé, and took a leap of faith by signing a lease for an apartment with no income. The same day, Leslie got a call offering her a full time position as a singer in the event band she still plays with today.
Joining District 97 was a decision based on channeling her late sister’s “rockstar energy”. Leslie feels like, in a way, her late sister has an outlet to express herself in the band. They have been together for over a decade and she loves being a part of the band and commiserating with them on tour.
Reflecting on her late sister’s struggle with drugs, Leslie told us. “When something feels good, the brain changes and the stop impulse goes away. Executive function is no longer a thing. So, I know that if I do this, I can potentially go to jail, I could lose all my friends and family, I could potentially die but that part of the brain is like, ‘you never know!’” She spoke of the toll it took on her family and the relationships in it.
Besides District 97 and her regular event gig, Leslie has three solo albums out that still send her quarterly publishing checks. She also teaches music to children and adults a couple of days a week. She said that teaching has given her purpose and isn’t just for her ego.
District 97 has a subscription service called Inside The Vault Club, where they offer bonus, unreleased footage dating back to their early years. They have even made DVDs that are for subscribers only. This helps support the band and cover for shows that don’t do as well when they go on tour.
Going forward, Leslie wants to make more music as a solo artist. As her kids get older, she wants to intensify her efforts and put more time into writing.
Leslie’s message to all musicians is, “The ego is the cancer of the art, the cancer of the connection, and of all of your relationships—including every little moment with a fan. You are a vessel, be grateful for that. Don’t let the ego stop when things aren’t going like you feel you deserve, and don’t let the ego stop you before you get to create something awesome.”