“The anger and depression got to me, and I couldn’t hold it in anymore. So, I got into a room with my demons and we just hit record,” shares indie singer-songwriter Leslie Mendelson. The resulting album, playfully titled, ‘If You Can’t Say Anything Nice…,’ is viscerally themed, imaginatively arranged, cinematically dynamic and textured, oozing raw elegance.
“I deal with depression and anxiety, and I’ve never really sang about it before. It also felt like what was going on with society was also affecting me, in terms of gun violence, the opioid crisis, and the all hatred in the news and media. It felt like it was time to speak out,” Leslie explains.
Leslie has released two prior albums, including her Grammy Award-nominated debut, ‘Swan Feathers,’ one EP, and three singles. Her first album exhibited a production sheen she opted to strip away on her sophomore album, ‘Love & Murder.’ Her latest, ‘If You Can’t Say Anything Nice…,’ is a gutsy album that splits the difference between her previous albums in terms of production, but also features some garage-rock bluster. “The best time to make a rock n’ roll record is when you’re broke and pissed off,” she says, with a good-natured laugh. For the album, Leslie worked with longtime co-writer and guitarist Steve McEwan who co-produced the album alongside bassist and engineer Lorenzo Wolff.
Previously to releasing ‘If You Can’t Say Anything Nice…,’ Leslie and Steve collaborated with Jackson Browne on a stirring composition that was featured in the acclaimed documentary film, ‘5B,’ about the San Francisco General Hospital AIDS ward during the early ’80s directed by Paul Haggis and Dan Krauss. Leslie and Jackson also performed together at the Beacon Theater in NYC in June 2019, while she joined him throughout his West Coast tour to perform the song in August 2019. In addition, Leslie had the distinct honor of opening for The Who twice at Madison Square Garden in May and September 2019.
The pairing of sparseness and potency that informs ‘If You Can’t Say Anything Nice…’ was inspired by John Lennon’s ‘Plastic Ono Band’ album. Besides being emotive and topical of the day, Leslie favored its no-frills piano, bass, drums, and guitar approach. ‘If You Can’t Say Anything Nice…’ opens with the urgent love song, “Lay It On Me.” The track unfolds theatrically with dramatic dynamic shifts, and the lyrics are emotive and direct with such lines as: “I just want to ease your pain/Beat the hammer through these walls/Anything that I can say/To make your fears feel so small/So lay it all on me.”
The dangers of self-medication in the age of readily available options pervade the intimately reflective ballad, “Medication.” On the title track, Leslie channels her inner Nick Cave, swaggering and snarling through filthy-but-catchy blues-rock. The self-explanatory “Would You Give Up Your Gun” is a stirring, elegantly emotive political track. Leslie clarifies: “That song is not meant to be preachy. We have loose gun laws and there have been so many massacres in the last 10 years. I am posing the question to those who feel safe by hanging onto their right to bear arms—would you give up your gun to save lives?”
Leslie opens “I Need Something To Care About” with the lines: “I can’t feel a thing for anything/Thinking that my minds desensitized.” The song is a plea to pull oneself from a numbing depression. Here, the contrast of airy piano melodic figures, treated vocals, and delicate ambient textures create a swirl of emotions within the music. “We all want a purpose, and when we feel we have nothing to say, it’s scary, and you fight that by searching,” Leslie reveals.
Leslie has boldly bared many private fears on If You Can’t Say Anything Nice…, and expressing her inner landscape has been scary but also healing. “When you share something this vulnerable you do get some comfort because it resonates with people,” she acknowledges. “You realize you’re not alone.”