Words By Miki Hellerbach
The Producer’s Voice is a new series for GUAP where we highlight the stories of instrumental crafters. We hope to bring their stories to the forefront instead of kept behind the artist they are producing for.
Leah Culver is the multi-talented producer, DJ, songwriter and vocalist whose musical career kicked off in a way she would have never imagined.
When I sat on a zoom call with Atlanta bred producer Leah Culver, a hummingbird flew through her room and stopped us both mid sentence. It was beautifully quirky and in the moment. The rest of our musical discussion felt much the same as I got to know the producer, songwriter, and vocalist.
Culver grew up in a musical household and says she’s wanted to “do music” for as long as she can remember. Her two older brothers played instruments and were in bands so initially, she wanted to be like them. She started writing songs as early as first grade, but also picked up the guitar out of pure passion and youthful intrigue. In addition, Culver also picked up the drums with assistance from her childhood friend Christie and one of her brothers who both had [drum] sets and played. She says these two instruments gave her, “legs to walk with.”
Eventually, she would also pick up keys which would lead her into putting together full soundscapes, but she garnered her entry into professionally performing music through DJing. Her first set she sort of fell into her lap at an event called Wobble Wednesday’s in Atlanta. She was working for them behind the scenes and they were having trouble finding a female DJ. She says she lied and told them she was one and basically pulled a “fake it til you make it.” The gig was successful and she kept doing it until she transitioned to fully producing in an attempt to make a move out of her home city and broaden her reach.
Culver started with the artist name MK Ultra to some solid success doing primarily dubstep. But as she expanded and became more rounded she eventually decided to just go by her real name. She elevated her instrumentation and songwriting and fully came into her own. Beyond having a staggering 115,000 monthly listeners on Spotify, Culver has had some really cool and distinct career moments. One is writing and crafting a full album with consistent collaborator Virtual Riot for a Disney franchise with a huge fandom in a language that’s not a real language. This, unfortunately, came after a dark personal loss but it is the accomplishment she says she’s the proudest of because it was “the most difficult.”
Culver, after years of rocking crowds with the help of a DJ booth, now has a full band set up with her live shows as she has transitioned to fusing her energy with live instrumentation. Adding to her own sounds she’s crafted, she surrounds herself with a guitarist, violinist, and drummer. The communal energy of writing with other instrumentalists to combine with her own production and songwriting she thinks will propel her into her next sonic era. Though she fell into needing to DJ to initially launch her career, she’s now in a position to fulfil her dream of, as she says, becoming a “frontman who can do all those other things.”
I asked Leah Culver to give the backstory of three of her top instrumentals. Take a read.
“Fire Ants” by Leah Culver
“I was in a different mind-state at that time. Every time I play it, it goes off and I get pretty happy. I made that when I went to Icon Collective in Burbank. That one, the lead was made with Simplant (software) I don’t have it anymore and I’m pretty sad about it. I’m not gonna say it was a crack but it might’ve been. Then I used mostly Serum and Omnisphere. I like to play with samples and switch ’em up. Throw some stuff on and make it all riddim-y. Something I’ve noticed is with other people’s stuff, especially, I put so much time and energy into it. But with “Fire Ants” I just kind of let it happen quickly. That Simplant is so whistle-y. For some of the transitions, I used a Serum string. Then for drums, I used some slapper Virtual Riot sample pack snares and kicks. It was right when his biggest pack came out and I was just stoked. I’ve done a lot with him, we are working on a sample pack for Splice.”
“Could Of Been Different” by Kodak Black
“Am I credited on a Kodak Black thing? I should probably listen to it and see what that’s about. You never know if something got sold to him. Could you imagine if this was how I found out? I wonder if it’s a vocal sample or something. [Listens] It really does sound like something I could have made.”[I then informed Culver one of the other producers credited is Yultron]
“So this really does sound like something I would be credited on because me and Yult worked on a sample pack. That’s crazy. It doesn’t sound like they modified a vocal chop to make it a bell or anything but that would make sense if it’s Yult. I guess I should ask my manager [both laugh]. I threw a bunch of stuff over to Yult because he’s working with this company, Shockwave. It was mostly vocal stuff. Now because I know he’s on it I fully believe there is a connection, but before I was like that must’ve been some sort of accident.”
“Get Going” by Leah Culver
“This is one of my favorite ones because it was the first time I tried to make something more live. Like using live drums, not like recording live drums which is more difficult, but using more live elements. I like “Get Going” a lot also because I’ve gotten the most positive feedback from people emotionally. That’s the one where people say “I listen to this and it helps me.”
Production wise it isn’t anything insane but it’s the most powerful one. Everything is very bright, the reverb is very bright. In the beginning, when I wasn’t trying to make trap stuff and moving into more live elements it was all about feel. I was super influenced by Adventure Club at the time. This was before I found people who were doing more future bass.
Making music is wild, like sometimes when you’re in a flow state you’re like where is this coming from. It comes from the ether sometimes. It feels like…it feels like you’re a muse sometimes and it just comes into the physical world frequency-wise. It’s wild. “Get Going” was one of those ones.”