Local Singer-Songwriter Serenades the Country by Car
By Jessica Laskey
When I first get singer-songwriter Leigh Guest on the phone, she reports that she arrived in Sandpoint, Idaho, 30 minutes ago and is now seated in a park to conduct this phone interview.
This sums up a lot about Guest in a matter of moments. As a traveling musician, Guest has lived out of her car for the past eight years, playing gigs at every small town she can find along the way. She also loves the outdoors and open road, which is probably why this lifestyle suits her so well.
“The country gets smaller the more you travel,” says the 32-year-old. She was born in Berkeley, raised in Sacramento and now calls Wolf Creek, Mont.—population 400—home when she’s not on the road.
“I love California, but I grew up in a very liberal bubble. It was nice to get out
and see the way other people live. You grow up thinking the rest of the country is ignorant and racist, but actually seeing it, you realize that there are good people everywhere.”
Guest first burst out of that bubble in her early 20s when a chance meeting with a friend of a friend from Montana (while skydiving, no less) led her to pack up or sell all of her belongings and take a road trip across the country to live with her new best friend.
“There’s something about the mountains in Montana,” Guest says. “There are very few people there—and very good people. They assume you’re a good person first. I’ve discovered I have an internal compass that points to Montana, which is so serendipitous and accidental.”
After a cowboy broke her heart (yes, really) at age 25, Guest bought a one-way ticket to Hawaii and found herself entranced by the ukulele. She’s always been gifted musically—her mother reports that she could sing before she could talk—starting on piano as a little kid and taking drum lessons in high school. But what frustrated Guest was that she always just wanted to play, not practice.
“I hated playing scales, I just wanted to sing and write songs—I hear the melodies in my head,” says Guest, who has five albums to her name (all available on Soundcloud), as well as a YouTube show in which she interviews people she meets on the road. “Playing is really just an outlet for songwriting, I’ve always loved to write. I’m not trying to shred it up on guitar like a member of AC/DC.”
Playing the ukulele in Hawaii led to taking up the guitar, which is now the basis for most of Guest’s songs. Her music chronicles life experiences in a sweet, swingy style inspired by old country music greats like Merle Haggard and Patsy Cline. “Old-time storytellers, where you can get lost in the story,” Guest says.
Some of Guest’s recent songs have touched on tragedy (“Ghost Ship” was inspired by the Oakland warehouse/artist collective fire that killed 36 people in 2016), heartbreak (she wrote the album “Highways and Heartaches” after the breakup of her longest relationship and the death of her best friend) and activism (the title song on her album “Misbehave” is a response to comments Trump made during campaign debates).
“My big message lately is girl power,” says Guest, who recently returned to Sacramento for the first time in two years for an appearance at Device Brewing Company at the Ice Blocks, which her father helped design. “I’m all about being an independent woman and doing what you want with your life. When I play songs, I remind myself to be the woman I want to be—to ask for what I’m worth, put my foot down and stand my ground.”
After touring the Western, Northern and Southern United States, as well as Alaska, Hawaii and Australia, and even playing the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, Guest is no stranger to being a strong, independent woman living out her dream from her trusty Subaru. And she wouldn’t have it any other way.
“This lifestyle isn’t easy,” Guest admits. “Sometimes you’re out of gas, out of money. But if you’re doing what you’re supposed to doing, the world conspires to help you.”
Give Guest a listen at soundcloud.com/leigh-guest or visit leighguest.com.
Jessica Laskey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org