Leah Willhite’s debut CD, which releases in January 2018, is called “Wasting Time,” but Willhite herself is not squandering her hours, minutes or seconds.
Willhite, freshman in life sciences, maximized her time, money and network of friends in summer and fall 2017 to record 10 original pop songs. She studies and participates in a sorority during the week records at a studio in Lenexa, near her hometown of Overland Park, on the weekends.
“It was challenging to travel back and forth between school and other musicians’ schedules, but I can’t wait for everyone to hear what I’ve been working so hard on,” Willhite said.
The 18-year-old songstress began learning piano and making up tunes at a young age. One of her first songs, “School Stinks,” written in third or fourth grade, discussed running late to school with the lyrics, “It’s 8:15; still on my bike. Got a flat tire so it’s time to hike. Grabbed my books then made a dash; ran in the hall on my way to class.”
Willhite has changed plenty since writing that song at age 8 or 9. These days, her lyrics are more sophisticated; she can’t stand being late to anything and she’s much more interested in classes, especially since she knows her study time is dedicated to a career in nursing. She tries to arrive early for her studio sessions, where by-the-hour charges remind her that time is precious.
Willhite admits she didn’t realize how expensive it would be to record an album, but she is paying for it without a penny from her parents by putting out tip jars at coffee shops and frozen yogurt gigs, and she has raised $1,000 through a GoFundMe page.
Studio time directly equates to dollars and cents, but Willhite asserts that all time is valuable — whether it’s late nights playing the piano at a friend’s house to finish a song, or moments with her family between studio sessions on the weekends.
Family comes first for Willhite, who dedicated two of her songs to her late grandparents.
“I was really close to them, so when they passed away, it made me think about being sure to not waste time with people I love,” Willhite said. “I want to make the most of the time I have with them and be sure to tell them how much they mean to me.”
Another of her songs, “Don’t Hold Me Back,” is about seeing and recognizing the signs of an unhealthy relationship and having the maturity and courage to stand up for yourself. Most of her songs are about romantic relationships — from falling in love to experiencing the pain of breakups.
“I like how singing and songwriting is a way to get out my feelings about whatever I’m going through,” she said. “I haven’t had a lot of dating relationships, but the few that I’ve had have affected me a lot, and you can hear that in some of my songs.”
In addition to serving as her own therapy for handling the trials of life, Willhite said she hopes her songs can help others through their own struggles.
“When I write songs, the best compliments I ever get are when people say they relate to it and that it helped them get through something hard,” she said. “That’s really what my music is about—relating with other people.”
Whether she receives the opportunity to create and perform music full-time or ends up nursing in 12-hour shifts while singing on the side, Willhite said she wants to have a life full of love where she knows her work is benefiting others.
“I’m interested in nursing because I’ve always wanted to work in a profession that I know helps people,” she said. “That’s what I hope my music does too. I hope it helps people because they hear someone going through the same things, and hopefully they can relate and know they’re not alone.”
Getting by with a little help from her friends
Leah said it’s sometimes difficult to flesh out her original tune and lyric ideas into full-length songs, but she finds encouragement from her friends.
At one performance, about 30 members of her sorority came to cheer her on, and they often asked her how her recording process was going. Also, one of her friends urged her to stay at the piano until 1 a.m. to finish the first draft of “Don’t Hold Me Back.”
“He saw a lot of potential with it, and he knew if I didn’t finish it right then, I might not get back to it,” Leah said. “I was glad he pushed me to finish, because now it’s one of my favorite songs.”
How to listen to Leah
Willhite’s main musical influence is Adele. To hear Adele’s lyrical influences weaved into Leah’s talents, check out two of the singles from Leah’s first album, “Wasting Time,” on iTunes and Spotify. Willhite will hold CD release parties in Overland Park and Manhattan in January 2018. For party dates and locations, follow Leah on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter @leahwillhite.