Lee-la Baum is the lead vocalist of Montreal-based rock band The Damn Truth, but her latest gig was off-stage and behind-the-scenes, performing a song for the ad campaign behind Yves Saint Laurent’s Mon Paris perfume. We chatted with her in the days leading up to the band’s first-ever Osheaga performance (which took place this past weekend!) about the band’s origins, getting involved with YSL and her love of live shows.
Let’s start with the band. How did The Damn Truth first come together?
Tom [Shemer], the guitarist, and I actually met butt naked at a hippie festival. I was playing guitar, jamming with some people around a bonfire. I remember exactly what song [it was] because it’s karmatic to our existence. We were all singing a Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young song, “Almost Cut My Hair,” and suddenly this gorgeous dude comes up and takes out his guitar, and sits right next to me and starts jamming. (We both had dreads down to our asses at the time.) And we jammed for about eight hours, we didn’t stop, and that continues still today. [Laughs]
Can you describe the style and the vibe of the band?
It comes back to our influences. Tom and I are both very similar in our influences: we both grew up on old school rock and roll, both had our parents’ vinyl collections, starting with The Beatles and [Bob] Dylan and then Led Zeppelin, and then some fantastic powerhouses, some Jefferson Airplane and Janis Joplin. And then Dave [Traina], our drummer, came from a more grungy, ’90s rock background, so he’s a heavy-hitter, and I think he gave us quite a cool edge.
You’re often compared to Janis Joplin in reviews, whom I know you’ve mentioned was an influence. What’s that like?
She’s a goddess in my book, in every way. I love what she stood for: her voice, her passion, her performance. It’s just incredible. Watching interviews with her, she’s just the epitome of cool. I love that woman. So it’s really humbling, and also incredible, to imagine that people are feeling that kind of vibe from me.
What’s it like being a rock band in a pop-dominated world?
I don’t think we think about it too much. We do what we do, we do what we love. I don’t think I could write a pop song if I tried, you know? Rock and roll is darker, it has something to say, for me anyway. That’s what rock and roll was in its heyday, and it’s what it is for me: you have a message, you wanna bring forth your hopes, your dreams, in kind of a more global way. Without sounding condescending, I want music to make a change, I want it to reach hearts and souls and shake people up. That’s the essence of music for me. I’m not all about just easy listening and stuff like that. So I don’t really care what’s dominant or not, what’s popular or not [laughs]. I do what I do; that’s always been my go-to.
You did a cover of the U2 song, “Love is Blindness,” for Yves Saint-Laurent’s new perfume ad. How did that come about?
We were playing a gig, and a couple dudes were standing in the front row, and I could tell they were really digging it. They came up to me after the set and [one] said, “Really cool stuff, I love your voice. I’d love to stay and chat but I really have to go.” And then he left, and I really didn’t make much of it. But then the next day I get an email, and he’s like, it was me, I had to run, but I’m an advertising agent and I love your voice, and I have this advertising contract from YSL that I think you’d be perfect for!
I’ve never done anything like it before. I actually didn’t even know the U2 song before listening to it for the commercial, but I felt a connection right away. I was very inspired by the Jack White version of the song; I’m a big Jack White fan. I didn’t expect it—you know, you’re a recording artist, you perform, and [you’re not sure that you] would like to do something in a more corporate vein. Having no attachment to the actual songwriting, it was so much easier to just really lose myself in the song. I had lots of fun, and the impact has been really crazy ever since.
You guys are also playing Osheaga this year. Is it the first time?
First year. It’s pretty heavenly: it’s the summer in Montreal, it’s an outdoor music fest and it’s doing what we love most in our hometown. We’re super excited about that. It’s gonna be lots of fun, we’re planning lots of little surprises.
And you guys are also going to be touring in the fall—can you share any details yet?
It’s a Canadian tour, coast to coast, east to west. Right after Osheaga we plan on announcing all the dates, but basically we’re starting in Halifax and heading all the way to Vancouver, and hitting every little town in between.