(Photo Credit - Big Hassle Media)
We had an opportunity to speak with Andy Stepanian of Leon III who's new album 'Antlers in Velvet' dropped today! Check out our conversation!
1. Your sound is firmly rooted in psychedelic and roots/Americana in a seamless way that I simply haven't heard before. What influences that sound and how do you as a group arrive where you do musically?
"I write all the songs and in a lot of ways the whole Leon III starts with me. I write chord progressions and create demos here by myself. Sometimes they change dramatically. I listen to a lot of music and I feel like there's a lot of emulation going on out there now. I try not to listen to anything current. That said, I think it's fair I'm a Dead fan. They are a big thing and a cultural phenomenon, what is left out sometimes is that they had really good songs. I've always been drawn to the mid-tempo Jerry songs like "Wharf Rat", "Morning Dew"...Sometimes I think today that if the Dead came out today, they'd be put in an Americana band box."
"I've never been a Pink Floyd devotee but what I do like is that they create a lot of space. Leon III also creates a lot of space. Mason my partner, brings out a lot of rock influence and creates some things that are different than what I thought he was going to play. The thing about Leon III is that the personnel is interchangeable, we usually tour as a five or six piece. We chose some guys that we knew and some that we were just getting to know to play on the album with us and they definitely had an impact on how the record came out as well. Sometimes when we were out there, we'd show them the demo and sometimes we wouldn't and would just go at it, chipping away at it until we finally just hit record."
2. Antlers in Velvet moves so effortlessly from one track to the next, much more as a collective than you see with the cut and paste "music as singles" that comes to mind today. It's something you'd put the needle down on and let it play straight through. How do you achieve something larger like this?
"First of all, it's by design. It's intentional. We set out to create an album experience, not just songs on an album. I realize it's not exactly how things work today. There's a guy named Mark Nevers that produced the album, we worked with Mark on our last album so we sent the demos. He really heard a cohesion in the demos. He thought they could make something like a dream. Each song has a head and a tail to it. We actually had to cut the album down to get it into vinyl format. It was by design, I really feel as a creator I love those moments where you create a theme."
3. You bring in a multitude of instrumentation throughout Antlers in Velvet, much more than bands typically do and it lands perfectly. How do you find a good balance with what you need for a song to be right and what you feel may be overkill?
"A lot of that is Mark Nevers our producer. Mark got his start in recording in Nashville at a place called The Castle. He was cutting country records for people like Randy Travis. Mark's real passion was strange indie music. He was there at the beginning of this band called Lamb Chop, at one point there were 30 members in the band. They were like this orchestral country band. A lot of the guys that played on this record and our last record have a connection to Lamb Chop. Mark excels at creating a layered instrumentation to a song without making it a muddy mess, without doing too much too it."
"There were some big rock moves in the chords, Mark was always about taking those out and making things more subtle and more composed. Sometimes we put a lot of shit in the bowl and end up taking out 3/4 of it in the final product. One thing I've learned working with a producer that has national history, is Mark has a rolodex with different musicians that he has access to. We set out to make something that at times was orchestral and at times was sparse."
4. We're a bunch of gear fans here at Alt Revue, do you have any favorite gear that you used to make Antlers in Velvet?
"Some of the synths were just really cool, there's a lot of Juno-60 which is a classic synth. There's an old pump organ on "Faint Repeater", which took on a Nick Cave/Scott Walker kind of feel. I'm really into guitars and amps. It's funny Mark Nevers is really kind of takes a simple approach to this. The bulk of the album was done in California, we showed up with nothing but our guitars for the most part. We just used what was in the studio. There were times I would just be using a $250 Guitar Center amp, because that's what sounded right."
5. What were your most memorable experience writing and recording Antlers in Velvet?
"I really think it's doing the sessions in California was the most memorable part. Everyone that came out there has a musical career of their own that is vibrant and in ways is bigger than Leon III. Getting all these guys out there not because they're getting paid, but rather because they want to was great. The studio front yard overlooks the Pacific. It wasn't all just work, we had a really good time too. I really think on the listen backs on the second day in the evening, I had the sense we were getting something really special down. We had the time to experiment, time to make mistakes, and just be loose. It was just being in a place with really good people with people putting their time in it."
6. What's next for Leon III?
"I wish I knew exactly what was next. The COVID situations has caught a lot of unknowns. The album drops on Friday, and ideally we would have been going out to play. The desire is to play even if it's as a duo. So we may just be playing it somewhat by ear. I do have another full album plus written. I think if there's not any touring soon, then I may spend time trying to get these songs down. I love to tour, but my absolute favorite thing is to make albums."