Romantics with rhythm will love Leah Turner’s smoldering new ride-off-into-the-sunset song.
We’re pleased to be premiering “Vaquera and the Cowboy,” Leah Turner’s second release in 2021 and one of the songs on her new EP, Lost in Translation, which comes out this month. The song’s a rhythmic, melodic love story that takes as its inspiration her parents: her mom, a first-generation Mexican American and jewelry artist; her dad, a true cowboy and rodeo champion.
A CMT’s Next Women of Country alum and country music’s highest-charting Latina-American artist to date (her single “Take the Keys” went Top 40 on Billboard’s Country Airplay chart), she embraces her heritage in her music and has timed her new releases perfectly to drop during Hispanic Heritage Month (September 15-October 15).
She’s a California girl, raised on a ranch in Morongo Valley. She took music and songwriting in college and while at University of California at Santa Barbara had the chance to sing in front of Kenny Loggiins, who suggested she move to L.A. to pursue music. It proved a good move: Turner has worked has worked with Grammy Award winners Humberto Gatica and David Foster and has shared the stage with Brad Paisley, Kenny Chesney, Jake Owen, Rascal Flatts, Cole Swindell, and more.
Now in Nashville, where she’s lived since 2014, Turner has become an accomplished writer, with a co-write on the Cody Purvis single “Drinkin’ Terms,” Kristy Lamb’s “Bad Habit,” and actor Jeremy Renner’s “Never Sorry” and “My Type.”
We talked with Turner about “Vaquera and the Cowboy,” her Mexican heritage and its influence on her music, and her undeniable sense of style.
Cowboys & Indians: We’re in the middle of Hispanic Heritage Month. What have you been doing to celebrate that?
Leah Turner: It’s always a celebration in my household, so not much has changed, but this specific Hispanic Heritage Month I’m celebrating my new EP, Lost in Translation, coming out. Feels good to be a Latina woman in country music!!
C&I: You’re of Mexican and American descent. Your dad was a rodeo champion, and your mom is a jewelry artist and ballerina from Mexico. How has your Mexican heritage influenced your music?
Turner: I am — I’m half Mexicana, and I like to say I’m half cowgirl. My mom is first-generation Mexican American, I am second. My abuelos (grandparents) came over from Zacatecas, Mexico. My heritage has influenced my music simply because I got my voice from my mother’s side. My nana, my mom, and all my aunts can sing. They all have deep raspy voices — that’s where I get mine — and we all have Tabasco running through our veins! So, that’s the start of how my Mexican heritage has influenced my music.
C&I: As you embrace your Latin-American heritage in your life and music, especially on your upcoming EP, Lost in Translation, how do you see country music stepping up to do more?
Turner: I’ve wanted to bring my Mexican-American, Hispanic, Latino roots into country music for a long time. I was heard, but I wasn’t listened to. Now people are listening. Country music has always had such a beautiful love affair with our culture. They have been flirting, they have been dancing, they have been dating for a while. So it’s extremely exciting for me to marry them, not only being Mexican American, but also being a solo female in country music. I see the blinders coming off in country music. I see people ready to listen and learn about other cultures. I see all shapes, sizes, and colors singing their truth in country music. We are all made different, we all look different, and we should all sound different. If we were all the same, how boring would that be? I hope the stepping-up continues and the embracing of diversity continues.
C&I: Lost in Translation is a pretty meaningful title when you consider the kinds of miscommunications that can happen when people speak different languages and come from different cultures. How can music help bridge that understanding gap?
Turner: Music is the universal language, because it’s based off of feeling. Music makes you feel emotion; music brings people together from all walks of life. Have you ever stood and just let the music and the melody wash over you? It’s an incredible feeling. That’s the same thing that happens when you let hearts speak, chemistry talk, and vibes be felt. My parents got married in a time when you didn’t marry outside of your race, but they let their hearts speak — their chemistry did the talking, and 43 years later, not much has changed. If we allow ourselves to open up and see beyond what is right in front of us, open up and allow ourselves to feel, I believe nothing will get “lost in translation.” I hope bringing two worlds together will open hearts.
C&I: What do you want people to understand about Mexicans and Mexico?
Turner: We are fighters, hard workers. We love hard, live hard, and celebrate hard!! Just come by a fiesta — you won’t leave until 3 a.m., and you’ll be pickled in tequila, belly full, and your hips will be moving to salsa for the next week.
C&I: A lot of people don’t realize that American cowboy culture grew out of vaquero culture, which originated on the Iberian Peninsula (Spain, Portugal) and developed in Mexico. What’s the meaning in that for you?
Turner: It means so much. First, it means I am a bonafide vaquera, bonafide cowgirl, because I get it from both sides. It brings me back to the fact that the American cowboy’s traditions come from the vaquero, the original cowboy. To be able to educate [people] about where these traditions originated is an honor and exciting! These cultures have been dancing for a very long time. For the vaquero and vaquera to be recognized, and for me to have a small hand in that recognition, is an honor and means the world.
C&I: What aspects of Mexican music and Mexican culture do you especially appreciate?
Turner: Oh, the mariachis: their deep, strong voices; their outfits, los pantalones (the pants); flamenco guitar on a nylon string and the sensuality that comes from every strum — it’s intoxicating. I love how much we treasure faith and family and how hard we work.
C&I: What kind of time have you spent in Mexico and where?
Turner: My aunt and uncle have dual citizenship in the United States and Mexico (Rosarito). We as a family go down there, all my cousins, aunts and uncles. I actually filmed my “Once Upon a Time in Mexico” video down there. My Uncle Arnold and Aunt Lucina set everything up - the beach, the horses, the restaurant... They made it all happen. It was a family affair. My prima (cousin) even did my hair!
C&I: When you were growing up, did you go to charro events?
Turner: I didn’t, but I spent my weekends chasing rodeos with my parents (Dad’s an American cowboy)! I am still in awe of the show that is put on, how the vaqueros and vaqueras handle their reata (rope)!!! And don’t get me started on their outfits and their horsemanship!
For the vaquero and vaquera to be recognized, and for me to have a small hand in that recognition, is an honor and means the world.
C&I: What keeps you coming back to Mexican themes in your personal brand of country music?
Turner: It’s who I am. It’s an honor to be able to represent my culture in a genre that has loved it for so long. It is an honor to be a woman in country music and to be a part of the diversity in country music. It’s not necessarily a theme as it is a way of life. It’s my heritage, my roots. Alongside being an American cowgirl, I am a Mexican American vaquera at core!
C&I: What music did you listen to growing up?
Turner: There wasn’t a genre or a style that I didn’t listen to. Like my background, everything was eclectic. Some of my influences are Linda Ronstadt, Michael Jackson, Trisha Yearwood, Julio Iglesias, Freddy Fender, Garth Brooks, George Strait, Tanya Tucker, Whitney Houston, Selena, The Judds, Cypress Hill, Tupac. I had a Jeep in high school with a license plate that said “Daddy’s Cowgirl,” and Tupac would be bumping through speakers. I mean it when I say all kinds of musical influence!
C&I: Tell us more about the song we’re premiering, “The Vaquera and the Cowboy.”
Turner: I think everyone is looking for that special kind of love, that love that stands the test of time. Someone who loves you at your worst, someone who refuses to give up. I know I’ve looked for it. Love is a choice every day. I’ve had a front-row view of a love that stands the test of time — the good, the bad, the pretty, and the ugly. I’ve been that person who has felt that I’m never going to find that person who takes my hand and never lets it go, because, let’s face it, dating these days is like the damn Wild West. But, I’m always reminded of my front seat to the “Vaquera and the Cowboy.”
C&I: It’s sort of every girl’s fantasy — a storybook love, riding away with her cowboy who holds her like she’s gold, moving on the floor together — pretty hot stuff. Your parents inspired the song?
Turner: Aye, I know, right! I wrote it from a place of just that: what I want to be held like, what I want to look like dancing with the love of my life on the dance floor. I fortunately had a wonderful example of this kind of love — my parents! We just shot the “Vaquera and the Cowboy” video and had my parents in it. I got a young couple that resembled them, interchanged between them and my parents. We just sat back and watched love unfold. I want people to know that real love does exist, and if you don’t believe it, or if you ever get weary, watch the “Vaquera and the Cowboy” moving like outlaws on the floor.
C&I: How did it come together, from words to music to recording?
Turner: Right now, I’m asking myself if I should I tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Yes, yes, I should. One of my best friends and co- writers, Lamont Coleman, and I drank — I think all the tequila, wine, and whatever he had in his cabinets — while we were trying to write to this track he had made for me. Then all of a sudden something that we drank kicked in and he sang (I use that loosely) “vaquera and the cowboy” into the mic. … And we were writing off into the sunset! But for us it was the sunrise! We stayed up until 5:30 a.m. getting all the lyrics written, the scratch vocal down, all the claps and ideas we could possibly squeeze out, while we squeezed out the last drop of whatever we were drinking. What a great night!
Some of my influences are Linda Ronstadt, Michael Jackson, Trisha Yearwood, Julio Iglesias, Freddy Fender, Garth Brooks, George Strait, Tanya Tucker, Whitney Houston, Selena, The Judds, Cypress Hill, Tupac.
C&I: Who’s on the recording with you? Who produced? Where did you record?
Turner: Lamont Coleman and I wrote this song, but songs don’t stop there. Started in Nashville, then flew to L.A. and recorded the vocals. Had a bad-to-the-bone guitar player play beautiful flamenco guitar, sent the files to another bad-to-the-bone chica steel player in San Diego. Then off to mixing by Ben Jackson, and the last and final step, mastering by Frank Gagliardi back in Nashville. Whew! This song traveled the country. Lamont also produced the track.
C&I: Your favorite part of the lyrics?
Turner: “He holds her like she’s gold, it never gets old, he sees her Wild West soul.” Then the bridge, which I wrote on the fly behind the mic: “It ain’t always the cowboy that saddles up and rides away. Sunrise will come and he will stay. Watch the vaquera and the cowboy.
C&I: Favorite part in the music?
Turner: Gosh, that’s a hard one, but I’d have to say the shaker you can’t hear. I played that! No, I really love all the parts and how they all complement one another. It’s the perfect blend of Wild West and vaquera.
C&I: Pretty sure I hear castanets in there … Who is playing those?
C&I: I can really see and feel people dancing to this song. Do you set out to create music that can be moved to, or does that just happen organically?
Turner: We weren’t necessarily trying to make a “dance” song, but any good song gets you out of your seat and inspires you to grab your significant other and two-step your way through love. I always set out to keep people at the edge of their seat, and I’m Latina — we love to dance!!! There’s such a sensuality in Latino music you can’t sit still!
C&I: Do you ride?
Turner: I was basically born on a horse. When I was a little girl, I would sit in front of my dad in the saddle, fall asleep in a matter of minutes (he’d put his big ol’ hands under my chin to keep my head up), and when my parents tried to take me off, I would wake up and the waterworks would start. I would bawl!!! The saddle is like my second home.
C&I: You grew up on a horse. How about growing up speaking Spanish. You often sing at least part in Spanish. Did you grow up bilingual?
Turner: I did! We speak what we call Spanglish — little English here and a little Español there.
C&I: What is the difference for you between singing in English and singing in Spanish?
Turner: It is a complete difference for me. A word in Spanish can have more syllables than in English, so when I am trying to fit in the meter of the melody, it can be challenging! But when I sing in Spanish, a different tone and feel comes out of me. I love it!!
C&I: What are you working on and what’s next for you?
Turner: To continue to be a part of diversity in country music, show the world that country music is for everyone! Release a few more songs off of this EP, then a full album. Right now I am just enjoying watching and hearing country music embrace a culture they have loved for so long, by someone whose culture it actually is. It’s a wonderful time to be a woman — a Latina woman — in country music.
C&I: Anything else before we go turn up the music?
Turner: I want people to walk away from me bringing these two worlds together with open hearts and minds. I want women to be comfortable in their skin no matter their size, shape, or color. I want women to be comfortable in their sensuality and men to know that we want to love on them, too, and nothing is wrong with being the ones lighting the candles sometimes and being the burning on their lips. I want not only Latinas, but all little girls, to know they have a place in country music, and there is not one thing that we can’t accomplish if we set our minds to it. We are a force.
C&I: Oh, wait, one last thing! Does this vaquera have a special cowboy?
Turner: A cowgirl never kisses and tells — she just rides away and he better keep up.