Aptos singer-songwriter Lea McIntosh has always lived with the pain of childhood trauma. Growing up, she experienced emotional and physical abuse, and her mother was murdered when she was 11 years old.
It’s only in the past four years that she’s begun working through these experiences, using her music as an outlet. The result is her debut album, Blood Cash, which comes out on Aug. 20.
“I spent most of my life an absolute workaholic,” McIntosh says. “By the time I was in my mid-30s, I had this profound a-ha moment. I had been keeping myself so busy, so I wouldn’t give myself the time to think about [my past trauma] and process it at a high level.”
She slowed down her work schedule to fulfill her dream of having a child, but raising him triggered memories of the abuse and trauma she had experienced as a kid. But she was ready to face her feelings, and music provided her with an outlet. McIntosh began honing her skills as a singer-songwriter.
When she was 14, she sat in her father’s truck listening to Kathy Mattea sing her hit song “Where’ve You Been?” and was brought to tears. At that moment, McIntosh knew that music would be her greatest means of expression.
“I knew I wanted to do that someday,” McIntosh says. “It was so powerful.”
When she was 20, she started classical voice training.
“I was training as a dramatic soprano in hopes to be ready to perform on the grand operatic stages by my mid-30s to 40s,” McIntosh says.
Eventually, she started to dabble in bluegrass for fun. In 2016, she went to Aptos Guitar Company and picked up a ukulele. Frank Male, AGC owner at the time, talked her into joining a small Friday night jam at the store. There, McIntosh met some local musicians and became familiar with styles she hadn’t paid much attention to before, including classic rock, blues and jazz.
Myron Dove, one of the musicians she got to know, encouraged her not to sing “clean,” but rather have some grit in her voice. He encouraged her to listen to Chaka Khan and Big Mama Thornton, among other artists. It wasn’t just their voices that moved her. McIntosh fell in love with the blues.
“He made me listen to all the nuances of their voices and the way they were emoting,” she says.
Over the past few years, she worked with Dove and Travis Cruse, who helped bring her songs to life. These songs were born out of the blues.
Blood Cash is all about her childhood, except for “Fantasy Woman,” which was the first complete song she wrote, back in 2018. Most of the other tunes detail her early life traumas.
During the pandemic, she felt like she was afforded more time to explore the lyrics and work with different layers to bring the songs to life.
It was important to her that the trauma described in these songs was not overwhelming to listeners. She wanted them to be songs of healing—and not just for herself.
“I realized that I could write that song from the perspective of a grown woman, not from a child’s eyes,” McIntosh says. “That has been a gift. Having gone through so much through these years, if I could tell anyone that being able to change the perspective, look at the perspective of the players. There are so many reasons why things happen. It’s common to think it was your fault, especially when you’re younger. You were just a pawn in their whole game.”
For more information, check out leamcintosh.com.