ANDREW LEAHEY & THE HOMESTEAD
- July 2013 -
HAVE A BEER WITH ANDREW LEAHEY & THE HOMESTEAD
Andrew Leahey & The Homestead writes music for city highways and country lanes, for pop fans and roots rockers, for the heart as well as the heartland. The band is composed of a group of childhood friends and Virginia-based musicians who are—in the most basic sense of the word—a homestead. Spanning from Nashville to Richmond, the group consists of vocalist Andrew Leahey (always), guitarist Phil Heesen (usually), bassist Travis Tucker, keyboardist Joseph Aaron and drummer Andrew Squire (often).
The band’s recent self-produced EP, Summer Sleeves, was mixed by engineer/producer David Barbe (Drive-By Truckers, Deerhunter, Jason Isbell, R.E.M.), and was recorded in several days at a friend’s home studio, with the Homestead nailing most of their parts in two or three takes. The EP is the sound of the modern-day South, with organ, harmonized guitar riffs, pedal steel and three-part harmonies. American Songwriter called it “a sonic tribute to the sounds of the south and Nashville.”
We threw a few back with the band at Lincoln Station before their July 12th gig at Tonic Room, where we chatted about their favorite tour moments, songwriting advice and why they love visiting Chicago. Keep an eye out on Daytrotter for their upcoming session, as well the Americana Music Awards, where they’ll be performing as part of a showcase alongside artists like Justin Townes Earle and Houndmouth.
The Show: Tonic Room, July 12, 2013
Drinks of Choice: Whiskey Ginger (Andrew Leahey), Bushmills Irish Whiskey (Andrew Squire) Bourbon: neat (Joseph Aaron), Boulevardier (Travis Tucker) Negroni (Phil Heesen). Pickleback: whiskey chased by pickle juice (the whole band)
Kristen from A Beer with the Band: So let's start with the clichés. How did the Homestead form?
Andrew Leahey: Phil and I grew up in the same neighborhood playing music together. I went to school in Virginia, lived New York after school, but eventually I lived in Ann Arbor, Michigan, started writing a bunch of songs, wanted to record them and didn't have anybody up there to record them with. That’s when I flew back to Richmond, where Phil was still living, and put together a temporary group. We recorded this album in three days, and that turned into our debut album [the self-titled album, Andrew Leahey & the Homestead]. As we’ve started touring, we've just built off of that band we had in the studio that one time. The band has changed and gone through a lot of variations, but the only constants have been Phil and I.
Kristen: And when did the rest of this particular group get involved?
Travis Tucker: I filled in on bass for one show after helping produce their first record. One of my other friends played bass with Andrew on the last tour but he moved to Atlanta, so I was like, "Hey man, I want to tour." I jumped in and that was that.
Kristen: How long have you two been together playing consistently?
Phil Heeson: Since like 8th grade.
Andrew: Phil and I have been playing together since like '96...But starting the Homestead stuff, the seed was planted Labor Day Weekend of 2010. My wife met Joseph at a party and heard he played piano. I needed a keyboardist because the one that had been playing with me left. My wife came into the kitchen one day and said, "You need to come meet this guy." He lived in Nashville, while these other guys live in Richmond...
Kristen: I didn't realize that you were spread out. I thought you were all Nashville-based.
Andrew: The way the Homestead works has been a very complicated process, and we're trying not to make it that way, but the reality of it is...we’re putting together a touring version of the group. We’re usually going with whoever is in the town of the show we’re playing in, but I’d say we're getting closer to a consistent lineup.
Kristen: Is that where the band name stems from?
Andrew: It's kind of a stretch of the definition, but it fits given the fact that there isn't a central home or a central group with this band...I view a homestead as a home that's not one building but multiple buildings spread out. And the band kind of gets at that same thing.
Kristen: Your sound is part rock part Americana part alt-country. Where do you draw your inspiration from?
Andrew: With this band, Tom Petty, Ryan Adams, Bruce Springsteen, Steve Earle, Old 97's. I think Tom Petty is the big one.
Phil: The songwriting inspiration comes from Tom Petty and Ryan Adams. The Venn Diagram Review does a Venn diagram with two bands and one in the middle with a little blurb. For us, they did Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers and Ryan Adams with Andrew Leahey & the Homestead in the middle. It was completely correct. It's like if Tom Petty and Ryan Adams had a baby. That baby would be hot.
Andrew: I'd steal that baby and make it write songs.
Kristen: I might steal that baby, too. Who are you guys listening to now?
Travis: I really like a band called Lucius right now. I think they're great. I'm also a big fan of bands with female singers.
Andrew Squire: There's a trio out of Boston that just finished a record with Jeff Tweedy called White Denim. They're an acoustic-jazz-indie-progressive rock band.
Kristen: I always love asking that question because I get a lot of great music suggestions. That's one I haven't heard of. I'll check them out.
Phil: Andrew is playing a show tomorrow night before our set in Nashville with this chick named Courtney Jaye.
Kristen: I love her. She was on this record Nashville Indie Spotlight that I picked up a few months ago. Really liked her song on there.
Phil: She's got a lot of cool stuff going on.
Andrew: I'm actually her acoustic guitarist…She has a killer voice and she has a very '70s, sepia-toned vibe.
Phil: There's something about her voice that I really like. It's very elastic. Her voice is like a rubber band.
Kristen: How does that work playing with Courtney? Do you tour with her?
Andrew: Not yet, but I hope we do. It's really cool to play a gig and not be the front person. You don’t have to worry about anything apart from when you get there and what’s on the set list. We're still kind of early on in our duo thing together.
Kristen: You’re based in Nashville. What's your favorite thing about home?
Andrew: I like that it's a big city but it feels very small. It's easy to get to know the people in the scene; it's very Southern in the right ways but also forward thinking and open-minded. It's great to be in a place where music is the number two industry in the town; the first is healthcare. No town has music like that, where music is everywhere. You tell a person that you're a musician and they don't laugh or think that you're a waste of space because their mom is a musician or their boyfriend is a musician.
Kristen: Do you feel like it's competitive?
Andrew: Yeah...but not in a negative way.
Joseph Aaron: In a different kind of way. In Nashville, it is competitive, but people are interested in making one product of music and making it a lot better by their individual gifts and talents. And that's a difference here in what we do. We're all contributing to a whole instead of just, "Oh, I'm hired to play the keys. I'm gonna one part and I'm out. I don't care what happens to the rest of the music."
Andrew: One thing I'll add is…I got to town two years ago and I didn't know anybody. I didn't know who to play with and there were a couple of songwriters—Allen Thompson and Don Gallardo—who were very welcoming and gave me contacts of people that they played with or that they used to play with. I feel like in a lot of towns, people would keep that Rolodex to themselves. People wouldn't want to give up their spare bassist because what if they need to go to that guy if the normal guy can't make the show? And it wasn't like that at all. People don't hide their cards, they show them.
Kristen: What's your creative process like when you go to write a song or record?
Andrew: How we've done it is...once I have a song, I record a solo acoustic version in Garage Band and I email it over to Phil because he lives ten hours away. He’ll go in and add stuff, then send it back. That basically becomes our demo version. Then, once we get whatever version of the band we have together, we use the demo version as a rough blueprint and figure out the rest.
Kristen: It's kind of a cool and different way to approach a song.
Phil: It's really fun from my end because I get an acoustic guitar track and a lead vocal track and it's a new toy. I just mess around with it for a while and send it back like, "Maybe he'll like this." Luckily, that process works...fleshing the original ideas into something the whole band likes.
Andrew: We have a 95% success rate on that. There was one recent tune that we didn't agree on. It's going to get there...just not yet.
Phil: I think it's an awesome process. You have no idea what's in Andrew's head or what he wanted the song to be; you can make it anything you want. You can have full reign to do your part. I don't write the songs though, obviously. Andrew does.
Kristen: I'm always interested to know from a writer's perspective where you draw that inspiration. You're a music journalist as well as a songwriter and you’ve written for publications like SPIN and CMJ. Does it ever get difficult to balance or separate the two?
Andrew: It actually helps. I used to work at a company called allmusic.com and my job was to review album after album. I probably did about 300 album reviews in a year. I think having all that music going through your head and being a music fan helps with your songwriting. It helps to know what you like, why you like it, what makes it good and what could be better. if you have a broad enough collection of things like that, you can kind of pick and choose and get a whole bunch of stuff that you put into your own songs. As a music journalist, that's your job: to dissect what makes something effective.
Kristen: Where can people find the new EP?
Phil: It's on iTunes. It's in a few local stores in Nashville. We're independent and we don't have any national distribution yet, so it's all mostly digital.
Kristen: Is your goal to get signed and go that route?
Andrew: We were talking about that in the van...My hope is to keep working with people that are going to help me do it, and that could be a label. Maybe in five years we’ll have a very good idea of what we need to do to make this happen and how to do it. The way we’re doing things currently, I think a label would be really instrumental. Booking is really tough on your own and especially in cities where you don't know anybody or you've never been there.
Kristen: And it takes a lot of time to build up those connections.
Andrew: Yeah, but it's fun to watch it happen. Even just two tours in. It’s fun to watch the growth.
Kristen: What's your favorite tour memory?
Andrew: We all have the same one.
Travis: Jemel McMillen.
Kristen: Who is Jemel McMillen?
Travis: Joseph met a man at a bar called Night of Joy in Brooklyn…We were all hanging out upstairs on the deck, and I went down to get another drink at the bar and Joseph is talking to this guy. Immediately I'm like, "This is not good. This guy is absolutely hammered." I walked up to the bar and cut off Joseph and this guy, who I later found out was Jemel, looked at me like, "I will take you if you get in the way of this conversation." Then, Joseph invited Jemel up to hang out with us...
Joseph: He was a great guy. It's important to add that earlier that day we were in Connecticut playing a vineyard and they gave us a lot of free wine like well over a case of white wine.
Phil: We were just drinking ice-cold white wine. We were sweating, pounding wine.
Andrew: And none of us had really eaten.
Phil: So, Jemel was like a drunk random dude that ended up hanging out with us for a couple of hours, not by our choice, he just wouldn't leave. He had a couple of conversation topics. One was that he was really into Bon Jovi. He kept saying that Bon Jovi has more Grammys than anybody...ever. Which is not true. I looked it up.
Andrew: And the other topics were Tupac Shakur and Michael Jackson.
Joseph: He fed me Four Loko out of a Styrofoam cup, which he brought into the bar with him. It reminded me of the drink that Lil Wayne drinks: sizzurp. I remember drinking it and saying, "Sizzurp" and giving it back to somebody. The night ended very badly and almost derailed the tour.
Travis: I think we're now on tour to spread the name Jemel McMillen.
Phil: Basically, the last few seconds of him around us was Joseph, Squire and myself trying to go back to where we were staying that night and him still following us down the street. He started talking about stabbing people and crossed the line. It was like 2:30 in the morning and this guy was still following us around...
Travis: You said he started to cross the line...he had crossed the line like miles ago. Like, so long ago was the line crossed.
Kristen: If you could say one thing to Jemel right now, what would you say?
Phil: Brenda had a baby. He kept saying that to us. Quoting Tupac.
Kristen: How about your favorite city or venue that you've played with the Homestead?
Andrew:Preservation Pub in Knoxville was really fun. It was the first night of our tour and we were scheduled to play for 75 minutes; we ended up playing for a lot more. We played it last tour as well. It's just a cool place. There are three floors. Bowery Electric in New York was also a lot of fun. It's cool in New York to watch the crowds grow because it's very measured. In New York, you feel like a badass.
Andrew S: Nothing compares to being in a van with a bunch of people and seeing that skyline pop up, knowing that you're going there to play a show...it's so rewarding. It's awesome.
Kristen: Since we're a Chicago-based site we have to ask this question. What's your favorite thing about our city?
Joseph: Lake Street Drive.
Andrew: Chicago is one of the only big cities that is kind of drivable as well. You don't feel as claustrophobic as you do in New York. In New York, you're literally in a concrete jungle and you feel like if there's any kind of disaster you're not going to be able to get out. Chicago is just kind of badass. You get toughened up in the winter and then get great summers.
Andrew S: I lived in Seattle for a while and we have very long winters up there as well. Chicago has always reminded me of the perfect balance between New York City and Seattle. There's something very balanced about Chicago that I love. Aesthetically, obviously, the architecture is amazing. The culinary scene here is outstanding. Public transportation is almost second-to-none. It's a perfect American city.
Andrew: Touring is a great way to travel. You generally go to cool areas.
Phil: Last time we came to Chicago, I didn't know exactly how the people would be as a big city in the Midwest. Every single person I talked to in Chicago was like way over-my-expectations nice. Unbelievably helpful and nice. This is the town of joy. I didn't run into anyone that was rude or in a bad mood.
Kristen: Chicago: The Town of Joy. There are some assholes here, but for the most part, if you stop and ask for directions, they'll give them to you. What is the best advice you've ever received?
Travis: I've always been told that in anything, persistence is what matters and that holds true. It's a pretty cliché thing, but if you're persistent and you keep believing in what you're doing, it's going to work out. When people stray away from the roots of what they're doing, that's when they never end up getting somewhere because they don't have a solid core.
Joseph: Do what you love. There are things in life where you lose yourself in them. Your passions are very important. I feel like for a long time we've been taught to do what makes us money, to do what makes sense instead of doing what we love. It's the most important thing for me.
Andrew: I'll put a musical spin on this. I did a songwriting workshop called Songwriters Salon in Nashville where you go into a person's house, you play a song and everybody critiques it. My song got eaten to shit, which made me pissed off because it was a new song, but one of the better pieces of advice that I got had to do with my lyrics. A guy said, "Give me something to scrape my knee on." Everybody was asking, "What does this line mean?" And it wouldn't be a clear-cut line; it would be some sort of metaphor that to me was very clear, but to them it wasn't. They were basically saying you can do that [create metaphors], but you need to give me something hard and tangible once in a while to ground me in the song.
Andrew S: I know Travis mentioned persistence is key. That's always something that's been hammered home to me. Right before I moved to Nashville—I’ve been in Nashville for about five years—and a friend of mine who has a certain level of success in his career said, "If you're playing music for a living, it's either fuck or fight." It's either you do it or you don't. That certainly ties to the persistence theme.
Andrew: That is rock 'n' roll.
Travis: That's something to scrape your knee on.
Phil: I remember when I was in high school I read an interview with one of my favorite guitar players, Joe Satriani, and he said when he was growing up it was really important for him to play a lead guitar like he could sing. So, he would put on a Led Zeppelin album and play like Robert Plant was singing. When you develop your ears that way and you can find your way around...if you do that long enough, your solos are going to sound like someone is singing. That was influential for me as a lead guitar player and I’ve taken it and made it a big part of how I do things.
Andrew: You do play guitar like that.
Phil: That was a game-changer for me. Play your instrument like someone would sing.
Andrew: I feel like that's true for stringed instruments. Maybe not for the drums. I don't know if you can play drums like someone can sing.
Andrew S: Bernard Purdie—a world-renowned percussion drummer—had a great quote. Someone asked him, "How do you pay the bills?" And he said, "I stick to the two and four and I don't deviate." It sounds crazy, but it's kind of true with regard to drumming. It's always in the back of my mind. Keep it simple.
Kristen: What's the most un-rock-'n'-roll thing you've done in the past year?
Andrew: The day before we left for tour Phil sat on my bed and did work on his laptop while rocking out to Michael Bolton. He kept going back and playing parts again and being like, "No, listen! Listen what he's doing!"
Phil: We were both geeking out. He was packing like, "I'm going to bring this shirt!" and I'm like sitting there working on the computer. He's like, "Play track 2 on the third Michael Bolton album!"
Andrew: Not the third!
Phil: Whatever it was I played the song "Time, Love and Tenderness" probably four or five times.
Andrew: Michael Bolton happened. And yesterday, Phil was wearing a Michael Bolton cut-off t-shirt.
Kristen: What's next for you guys?
Andrew: I'm working on new stuff. We've got three or four songs that I think are some of our best songs that are not recorded at all. I think it's just a matter of collecting ten or twelve kickass songs rather than eight kickass songs and four okay songs. We’d love to do an album with somebody that has a ton of name recognition, someone who is really, really good in the studio. We have a couple of different people who are interested in working with us. There are a couple of producers who would record with us. We also have an AMA Showcase—The Americana Music Awards—a big festival in Nashville coming up. We're doing that in September. It's like us and Justin Townes Earle and Houndmouth and other bands that are either big or getting big. As a band, there's not really any big plan other than to throw all the darts at the board and see which ones stick. And then pick them up and throw them all again.