While Leslie Hall is not a Chicago native, she is very familiar with the city. Born and raised in Ames, Ia., Hall became one of the original YouTube stars (or so-called "ce-web-rities") after the hip hop-electro artist began to release a series of videos depicting her wild dance moves, tight gold pants and gem sweater collection in 2006.
In the years that followed, Hall and her band, known as Leslie & The LY's, have played in Chicago many times and made their local debut in the fall of 2006.
With her much-acclaimed live show returning to town for a Subterranean performance on Thursday, a matter of days after she shared the Iowa State Fair spotlight with the likes of Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry, Hall spoke with the Huffington Post about her music, her dance moves and, of course, her Chicago.
You just played the Iowa State Fair in Ames. This was your second time playing the fair, correct? How did it compare to your debut?
Yes, this is year number two and it's the 100th anniversary of the fair. I feel very privileged to be a part of it and it's a great honor. Reba [McEntire] is also playing this year so I feel like I'm amongst my compadres. Last year, we played at 9 in the morning and this time we're playing at 3 in the afternoon. My mom created a new costume which is like a space harvest. If space was to harvest corn and soy, this is the outfit it would wear. It's futuristic and agricultural.
The show was completely packed with people and they were going nutty balls. People didn't get up and dance per se, which was cool because it was really hot. I definitely got a lot of old people who were kind of surprised with the "Oh, this is different" expression. I felt like it was back in the olden days where everyone gathered around the color television. Like, 'This is going to be the future.'
I heard Sarah Palin, as well as a number of GOP presidential candidates like Michele Bachmann and Ron Paul were in town for the state fair too. Did you run into any of them? Did any check out your show?
I believe that the gang saw Sarah, who was right near our stage while we were performing. They said she was really skinny, which was their only comment.
Was she enjoying the show, from their point of view? Maybe getting some dance moves in?
No, I'd love to start that rumor, but it would be a fabrication. We were not able to get a gem sweater on her.
How do you prepare differently for a 3 p.m. gig outdoors at the state fair versus a 2 a.m. start time at a gay bar or dance club like Berlin in Chicago?
Well, I know at the 3 p.m. show, people won't be taking off their bras and chucking them at me. That, beautifully, can happen at a 2 a.m. Chicago show. There's not the shrieking sound of excitement that's usually at the 2 a.m. show, but the 3 p.m. show has its advantages. I don't miss my primetime TV shows -- the best part of living.
You're going to be playing Subterranean this week in Chicago, which you've played before. I feel like that spiral staircase on their stage fits your act well.
I do believe that is the only spiral staircase entrance venue I've ever played in. It's a real treat. It reminds me of "Death Becomes Her," when Meryl Streep comes down the staircase. I love it!
You've played Chicago several times at this point. What keeps bringing you back? How many times have we hosted you at this point?
You know, it's probably been six times is my guess, which is actually way more than a lot of cities. I love that they want me back and I feel like it's new people every time. The city has a good vibe. I think you guys are really well-dressed, attractive people who have all congregated into a really dirty city.
What are some of your favorite places to check out while you're in Chicago for a gig?
We're slowly discovering the food there and we recently just discovered the Chicago Diner, which has been really mind-blowing. It's a veggie, vegan place and that's been amazing. Though, obviously, when we play a show you want to go to bed after, we always try to spend the night. But we can never find parking and we get so mad we just leave the city. It's like everybody in Chicago has a car and it's so competitive! You need more parking garages.
I understand that you were operating your own wedding business, offering packages with personalized songs, illegal fireworks and a discounted hotel room, geared toward gay and lesbian couples getting hitched in Iowa. How is that venture going?
Yes, we have done two lesbian couples. I designed it for the fellas and it turns out they want a more serious wedding, while the ladies are just like, "Let's giggle through it!" But I'm still in the business and still hoping I can offer high-quality, glamorous weddings at discount prices.
Here in Illinois, we just passed civil unions into law. Would you consider crossing the border for a civil union ceremony here?
Yes, please put that in print. Definitely. Even though Iowa is way cooler when it comes to accepting the love.
And I understand you have the Yo Gabba Gabba! tour coming up. How did you line up that gig?
Oh my gosh, I'm so excited. Last year they toured and brought me on as a special musical guest. It turns out toddlers love gold-suited women who jiggle. I'm telling you, the kids love the glasses and the hair. I'm a toddler dream. The director was like, "Oh my gosh, we are sitting on a lady goldmine here," and he kept asking us back. This year, they asked us to be regular cast members and I'm like, "Yes, sir." It's literally thousands of parents holding their babies, and they're all screaming with joy and fear. There are little diapers everywhere and it's chaos like a Beatles concert. The parents cannot control the kids, and they're running around the aisle. It's the most hilarious experience ever.
I was in one song last year but I'm doing more songs this year and I really feel like a member of the team, which is exciting. But it does mean I'm going to be living in an RV for three months, which is kind of crazy. I haven't done that before, but I think I'll really love it. I love coming out on tour and coming home to my TiVo full of "Hoarders" and "Intervention."
It's an interesting crossover appeal you've carved out -- screaming toddlers and intoxicated gay bar enthusiasts. Are they really that different of audiences?
No, it's so true. I think for the adults I do get a little raunchier like, "God, let's make out," and with the toddlers, it's more like, "I want to feed you Gerber Graduates." I just want to teach them life skills. But it is kind of similar. Both groups respond to some original dance moves and when I get up there into those high harmony ranges, they both love it.
My favorite song to introduce your music to friends with is "Midwest Diva." The only problem is there's no music video! Is there one on the way?
We did shoot one probably two or three years ago with the same person we worked on "Willow Don't Cry." She never edited it or put it up. So it's out there and it does live somewhere. Do not fear.
Could you remind our readers: what is the essence of the Midwest diva?
I was playing a show one year and this woman pulled six tubes of chapstick out of her pocket. That is so a Midwest lady: just prepared with chapstick. No gloss or color or pigment. She just wants to keep those lips moist. That's just how it is as a practical Midwesterner.
What else is coming up for you, beyond these next engagements?
I'm really looking forward to releasing this new album and we're working on cover art this week. I feel ready and the momentum for this project is still rolling. People are still e-mailing me who want to see the show but haven't yet. I'm like, "Where have you been?" since I've been doing this for five years, but I really do want to dance for them live.
The title of the album is "Destination Friendship," and I've gone back to my roots. It's a little more dancey and there are two remixes on there, which I've never done. I'm telling you there's a "Blame The Booty" remix on there that's going to put me on the radio. It's insane; I'm sitting on what could be my moment of glory. This guy made me sound like Kylie Minogue. You're talking to a future Kylie and that lady is popular. The last album was so country that I didn't want people to worry. I still know how to make you dance.
Leslie & The LY's play Subterranean, 2011 W. North Avenue, Thursday, August 18. Doors open at 8:30 p.m. for the 9 p.m. show. Click here for tickets and more information.