Interview: Damien Leith discusses his app Storytime, bullying and making his film debut

He’s an award-winning singer, songwriter and accomplished author and now, Damien Leith can add app designer to his ever-expanding list of impressive achievements. Released late February this year, Damien Leith Storytime! is designed for children aged four-and-up and features a wide range of stories all told in his voice, with appearances by his three children.

Damien, congratulations on the success of your new app (with a limited hard-copy release available on your website, by popular demand). The inspiration behind the app started with your own children, who you would read to every night; later recording stories on the phone to send to your wife, to play back to your kids when you couldn’t be home.

What was the inspiration for bringing out the stories in an app format?

The reason why I was wanting an app was to move with the times. I look at my own kids and they’re doing an awful lot on devices, so it is where everything is going now and it allows you to be a lot more flexible. If I don’t like a story [or] it’s getting bad responses, I take it down. Unlike the traditional model of releasing an album, where you work for a year and release 12 songs – and people are either going to like it or they don’t [laughs] – the great thing with an app is that the app can constantly change. Since I bought out the app it has had improvements already.

I don’t know much about how apps are designed and/or made, but I imagine the process is quite technical. How involved were you with the tech side of its creation?

I’m pretty tech savvy with other things but certainly not coding or anything like that. I was [however] completely involved on a daily basis with developers – constantly talking about the layout, how it should look and how it should respond.

This is the first version of it. We have a lot of plans for where it’s going to go, but initially I wanted the app to be really simple. The whole idea that: they listen to it and not have to get glued to looking at different images. A lot of thought went into making it as simple as possible, which sounds silly but it’s true. [Laughs]

I didn’t want subscribe here, social log-ins or any distractions for kids. I know with my kids and with all their friends, everything is digital now. The whole battle now is to get them off devices! Purely, they need to be able to use your imagination rather than being fed the information the whole time, that’s what I’ve always loved about telling the kids stories, because it is the one time of the day when I know they’re actually sitting, listening and thinking for themselves. That’s really important.

I read you clocked over 100 stories recorded on your phone. What was it like listening back and trying to decide which stories you were going to include first?

It’s great. It’s funny. It’s really nostalgic. I’ve listened to stories where I can hear my son, Jagger [10, at] only four years of age. I can hear his young voice asking questions, so it’s actually beautiful listening back to them. I would love for people to hear some of the originals because they’re really nice and all very innocent, you hear it.

I have so many to choose from! There really is tonnes of them! And some of them I’ve already fully recorded as well. I haven’t put them on the app; I want to stagger it. I’m sitting with about eight ready to go. They don’t all need to be there right away. [Laughs]

The stories are so varied. There is a lot of the real world in these stories – they’re always inspired by something; they never really come out of nowhere. Sometimes these things come from when I was a kid, [something] I used to love or I was always inspired by. Other times, these stories are based on something that happened that day with my own kids, or a message I wanted them to understand.

How much did the stories change from the initial recording to how they are now?

Some of them changed an awful lot, because as I listened back to the original recording, I can hear my kids asking questions and I’m answering the questions. So based on some they asked, I structured the new version to already answer those questions.

There’s a few varying areas in the stories where my own kids have helped to improve them or change them by the questions they’re asked. You get a good bit about me in these stories as well. [Laughs]

There are a lot of big sounds, action sequences and the stories are quite vocally animated. What’s the recording process like?

I never sit down when I’m doing these. I move around. I do a lot of actions as well. The kids have seen me tell stories and then I say, “And then he crashed to the ground!” I jump onto the ground. I try to tell the whole tale, so they’re lots of fun to do. I’ve had to write them because the re-recording process takes ages. Finding sound effects and creating the piece of music at the start of each one, all of that takes a long time.

As well as the app, you’re currently wrapping up your an Evening with Damien Leith tour, working on new recorded music and recently returned from a trip home to Ireland …  

I’ve been distracted with a lot of other things. I’m fairly much back on track, so I should [have music out] this year. The little run of shows, I’m doing quite a lot of my new songs in that so people can hear them. In each show I play a different selection of songs, and they’ve been responding very well so that’s good [laughs]. I don’t want to overdo it with touring this year.

Ireland was fantastic. [It was] great to catch up with everybody. It had been a while. I’m heading back again in August. This is a big Ireland year for me and the whole family. I did some open mic-ing while over there as well [and] I signed a new publishing deal last September based in the UK, so I’m doing different writing sessions. The song-writing style in the UK and Ireland is different. You get to work with different points of views, so that’s cool.

You’re also making your film debut playing Darren in Locked In Productions’ The Target, released September 14. What can you tell me about the movie and your character?

I play a corporate bully. It’s a small role, but it’s a pivotal role. I’m more of the sarcastic bully, the one who has the little quips and snide remarks. I have it in for one person in this movie – I’m friends with everybody, but then horrible to someone else. I don’t think I’ve ever done that before in any form of life. It’s definitely different for me to act that role and to give in to that character, so I think people will get a nice surprise. I love quirky roles.

The whole idea of a movie is to bring more awareness to bullying as a whole because it’s in every sector of life and people are affected in a different ways. Giovanna [Mercuri], the director and writer, has done an incredible job. She’s created some amazing themes. People will be familiar with some of these things because they’ll have experienced them themselves or may have seen someone go through it. I got picked on a bit as a kid, that’s why I jumped at it when it came up.

I composed a lot of the music in it as well. Giovanna and myself are composing the whole movie together. That’s something I’ve always wanted to do it. That’s also half the reason why I do so much of the music in Storytime because little instrumental and pieces of music are fun for me.

Damien Leith Storytime is available on iTunes and Google Play now.