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In 2008, at the height of her Gossip Girl fame, Leighton Meester signed a major-label recording contract with Universal Republic Records, and began work on club-friendly pop tracks, collaborating with the likes of Lil Wayne, Robin Thicke and Clinton Sparks. “At every turn I wasn’t one-hundred percent convinced that I was happy doing that,” she now says looking back. Those recording sessions? They resulted in a handful of singles, no album and and, eventually, an amicable split with her label. “That music is fun for certain times," Meester says, "but It didn’t feel right to me." Despite the lack of return, the experience, for Meester, makes the fact that she's now about to release the album she always envisioned that much sweeter. “It feels so personal and so real for me,” the 28-year-old says proudly of Heartstrings, her debut album, that with its blend of folk, Americana and singer-songwriter vibes closely resembles her singing work on the 2010 film Country Strong.
Recording for the album, which you can exclusively stream in full below and is set to be released next week via Vagrant, got underway early last year when Meester linked up with its producer, Jeff Trot. All of the tracks were recorded with a live band, and the whole vibe of the album, Meester says, felt positive from the outset.
“It really represents me,” she explains of Heartstrings. "It’s sensitive, it’s sort of guarded but also open and vulnerable and triumphant.” Working on the album amid several high-profile acting gigs—most notably a Broadway stage adaptation of Of Mice and Men opposite James Franco this year—proved challenging albeit rewarding for Meester: “You have a life outside of work—barely, but it’s there for me—so there’s plenty of material and inspiration [for my music]. Family, friends, loved ones, relationships, and everything that is happening in real life is a good source of inspiration for anybody who is writing music.”
Having just left rehearsal when she rang up ELLE, Meester is primarily occupied at the moment with getting her live chops down before her album-release gig next Tuesday at LA’s famed Troubadour, a venue where she previously performed in 2011. To that end, there's been no time, she says, to predict how people might react to the idea of someone best known for her acting making a serious go at the world of music. Frankly, she just wants to invite everyone along for the ride.
“Anybody who has any clue who I am or my name or what I’ve done I’m so happy to bring them over to this and get them to listen to this record,” she says, her voice rising with excitement. “And for people who don’t have any clue about me, that’s great too. Welcome!”