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INTERVIEW: Chris Leamy

Hi Chris, welcome to VENTS! How have you been?

I am doing great! We had a fun show at Rockwood last week; it was blast to bring some of these new tunes out live. I am looking forward to rolling out the rest of this EP!

How was the recording and writing process?

The recording process was quite the whirlwind. I have worked with ThoraldKoren (The Kin, BRAVES) for years. For this EP, he brought in his brother Isaac (The Kin, BRAVES). The three of us brainstormed on topline ideas and concepts, bouncing emails back and forth since they live in LA and I am in NYC. In October, I flew out there to record the EP with Johnny What (also in BRAVES) producing. We had a few strong ideas beforehand but nothing concrete.

I have always approached songwriting in somewhat of a formula. Start with a melody, build chords, and then come up with the words once I have the vibe down. As a producer Johnny comes from a very different perspective and therefore brought so many ideas that I would never have thought of. We recorded 5 songs in 5 days and then had one day of post-production. Each day was a new song that took shape in the studio. The whole process was incredibly inspiring and creatively fulfilling. I am honored to have worked with such talented individuals.

Can you talk to us more about your latest single “Crime”?

Thorald, Isaac and I came up with the chorus melody and the line “nothing pays like crime” before I went out to LA. The morning before our studio session, the three of us were sitting outside on Johnny’s patio with an acoustic trying to think of the perfect lyrics for the rest of the chorus. It is funny how that works, when you are trying to think of the perfect words, they seldom come. We went back and forth for hours and came up empty. The hardest part of being a songwriter is knowing when to walk away from a good idea, in the hope that it leads to a great one. After a long break we decided to give it another go, and if we couldn’t think of anything we would scrap it and move on to something else. Almost instantly the song seemed to write itself. When we finally got the chorus down and ran through it, Isaac was so excited he jumped up in the air and hit Johnny’s outdoor lights, bringing all of them smashing down, and spraying glass everywhere. We all considered it a great omen…well except Johnny who lost his outdoor lighting.

After recording everything, Johnny said he was going to stay around and rework the mix for a little while, it was around 1030pm so we all went home. That night I got emails from Johnny, “Yeah, I think this came out cool” at 1am, “I decided to give it another pass” at 2am, “Yeah this is pretty cool” 3am, and “Okay yeah this song is rad.” at 4am. We all met up again for more recording early the next morning and Johnny was wide awake and ready to dig into the next track. It is impossible not to feed off of energy like that.

Did any event in particular inspired you to write this song?

As an artist, I think it is important to be uncomfortable with a new project. There should be some risk, if you do not continue to push yourself into the unknown, you will never grow. When I was brainstorming ideas for this record, I found myself writing “the same song”. Not in chords, or melody, but in overall direction and voice. I felt stagnant. I told the guys that I wanted to be pushed as hard as humanly possible in every facet of this EP. “Crime” is the epitome of that for me. It is cold, dark, and selfish, very different from the previous record. So I wouldn’t say a particular event inspired it, as much as the curiosity and fear to write from a different perspective.

The single comes off your new EP American Man – what’s the story behind the title?

The EP is named after the title track “American Man,” which to me was the most important story to tell. Last year, I was coming home on the subway late one night carrying my guitar and a homeless woman holding a cup said “this would be much easier if I had one of those” and pointed to the case. She said that people who play instruments often get more charity than those who do not. That conversation sparked an idea. That weekend, I went and played with several homeless people just to experiment. We always made a few dollars minimum, some went better than others. However, the best moments were by far were in the stories that these individuals told me. It is amazing what people will tell a complete stranger. I was also surprised at how much it impacted my life. I remember one older man I played with asked how my day was going, we had been sitting together for a few minutes so I felt pretty comfortable and said something like, “tough day at work, and then I got in an argument over the phone with my sister.” And he replied to me “oh but you have a job? Man that is AWESOME! And about your sister, I haven’t talked to mine in years; I don’t even have a phone or number to call.” I have been doing it ever since.

I started sharing some of the stories on instragram and I was blown away by the feedback. People were incredibly kind, but so many also showed a sense of regret. The dreams they had in the arts, which they never chased because they grew comfortable in their daily routine and job. Routine often blankets us in security. I have worked in corporate America since I graduated from University of Chicago, so I understand it. The pull of financial success, showing compassion to others, and chasing our own dreams, in life we seem to be told that we must pick one, why can’t we do all three? “American Man” was written with these sentiments.

What was it like to work with Andre Fennell and how did that relationship develop?

I was working on a project last year with John White (producer, Oh Honey, Hilary Duff, Nas), and showed him an idea for a tune. I thought the hook was good, but frankly the vibe just didn’t click quite yet. He sent the tune to GC to get his opinion on it. GC, instead of just sending some notes, added a rasta vibe and a very slick rap/sing verse. The whole thing just popped. I will never forget walking down the street listening to GC’s additions for the first time. I was absolutely floored.Since then I have worked with GC on several songs and ideas. We chat often about projects and the music business in general.

Very rarely in music do you meet people like John White and GC. The two of them are so talented, successful, but also incredibly kind. John is always juggling multiple projects and GC is constantly on tour and writing with Shaggy. Somehow they are always willing to lend a hand (or ear), and I am so grateful to have them as friends and collaborators.

How much did he get to influence the album?

GC is a huge influence in how I approach songwriting. There is a new song on the American Man EP called “Hard Headed Woman” which has a very rasta vibe, and it is absolutely his influence. When I say rasta, I mean as rasta as a white kid from Chicago can get….

Where did you find the inspiration for the songs and lyrics?

The thoughts and opinions of myself and those around me.

Would you call this a departure from your previous EP or a follow up?

Interesting question. I would definitely call it a follow up. With this EP, I tried to take the emotional honesty I have learned from the folk/ singer songwriter world and experiment with electronic sounds and beats.

Why change from folk to a more R&B sound?

I think it was more artistic curiosity than anything. The world of hip hop and R&B opened up an entirely new and exciting pallet to experiment with as a songwriter.

Any plans to hit the road?

Not yet, but I will let you know!

What else is happening next in Chris Leamy’s world?

I look forward to rolling out the rest of this EP, and will be releasing a new single in late April or May.


About RJ Frometa

Head Honcho, Editor in Chief and writer here on VENTS. I don't like walking on the beach, but I love playing the guitar and geeking out about music. I am also a movie maniac and 6 hours sleeper.

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