“Is it okay if I wear my sunglasses inside? I don’t usually do that, but today I will.” Andrew Leahey slipped on his ray-ban aviators and faced the radiant light flowing through the main garage door windows in The Family Wash “fishbowl” room. The seasoned musician took a sip of his hot tea and expressed his sincere gratitude to be the one on the other side of the interview. As the interview commenced, Leahey answered each question with the deepest level of authenticity and honest humor. He never failed to leave us mesmerized by the tales of touring and a significant story of his journey. Whether he is covering the biggest country artists through his music journalism occupation or awing a crowd with his band, Leahey brings a unique zeal and internal perseverance that can be remiss in our generation. Now it is our turn to depict Andrew Leahey as a multi-talented artist with a vast array of musicians supporting him both on and off the stage.
Ladies and gentlemen, without further ado I present Andrew Leahey & The Homestead.
R: When were you first introduced to musical artistry?
My mom was a classical voice teacher and put my brother and I in lessons when we were young. She coerced us into doing chorus when we were in middle school, and I just grew up being the “art” kid. I started playing guitar when I was six. My brother, who is five years older than me, took guitar lessons. We would walk together from school to the music shop every week so that he could have his lesson. I grew bored and impatient waiting on him to finish his lesson, so I decided to take lessons of my own.
R: Give me a little insight into your background as an artist?
This is the first town where I have been playing music exclusively, but I used to work as a music journalist in Virginia where I grew up. I also worked as a music journalist in New York City right after college and continued journalism in Ann Arbor, Michigan for a couple of years. The whole time I was a journalist I also tried to play my own music. I always felt bad about saying whether or not somebody else’s art was good, yet not working as hard as they were to get my own art out there. It took coming here to Nashville to kick my ass into shape. I moved here with an album that I had recently done, and I thought it was good. I knew a couple of people in Nashville, so I was naive in thinking if I had an album and a couple of connections that my career would happen. It was a nice wakeup call to be in a place as competitive as Nashville.
R: How did the Homestead come about and what is their significance for your future music?
I knew that I wanted to pitch the band as an actual band. I feel like my style of music lends itself to having a band more so than a singer/songwriter style. The Homestead is not a set lineup. There are about 15 people who rotate within the band, and I juggle the scheduling of it all. I called it The Homestead because to me that words means the home is not just one building but a group of buildings, and in the same way the plurality of the revolving band members creates a certain singularity when we play. That plurality and revolution makes you a better player, because you cannot rely on the way the bassist harmonizes or other pieces of the band play. You really just have to know what you want out of each song.
R: Tell us a little bit about your upcoming LP on Thirty Tigers and your experience recording it?
So much has happened between the 2013 EP and my upcoming LP. I put out that album in 2011 and started touring. I then put out an EP in 2013 and toured for that. At that time we had a manager, but it was very much a DIY operation. I produced all of my own music, booked most of my shows, served as the publicist, and got the band to a good place. We played around 100 gigs between summer of 2012 and 2013. We came back from a tour in July of 2013 and I started having hearing problems. I did not know what they were, and I went to a number of specialists trying to get the problems diagnosed. As it turns out, I had a brain tumor called an Acoustic Neuroma, which grows on your hearing nerve.
The tumor causes you go deaf and can eventually kill you, so I had to get it out. I had brain surgery in November of 2013 and was out of commission for about a year. Because of the surgery, the band and I had to take a break from the way that we had been doing things. My plan was to always tour a lot, play the right show to the right person and that is where the “big break” will happen. I had to change my method due to the surgery recovery, and rebuild my career in a different way. During that year I met Ken Coomer of Wilco and Uncle Tupelo, who produces now. Ken had a heart attack while playing onstage at Exit/In right around the time I got diagnosed with the tumor, so he was in an equivalent place and also looking to do something cool and go big during this recovery time. For a few years I had never spent a ton of money on my tours and I saved any gig money I received. When I got sick, I was given a strong likelihood that I wouldn’t be able to keep doing music. All that time I had been saving for a rainy day, and I might just be out of luck. So Ken and I created the album together, and I took it around town trying to sell myself as the guy with a hole in his head and a good album. Luckily Thirty Tigers was interested in it, and we partnered with them last year. The album is titled Skyline in Central Time and officially comes out on August 5, 2016.
R: What does the rest of the year look like for the band?
We are still pulling together the transition between me doing everything myself, and the band having an actual team. At this time I have a publicist, and we just signed with a manager. I am still a music journalist, so I will keep doing that as well. The plan is to do a proper EP release with tours and more people involved. I will be able to play venues that can advance you more in your career, instead of playing gigs somewhere like a BBQ restaurant because it pays well.
R: What’s your favorite venue or state to play/that you have played?
I love playing New York City because I used to live in New York, and living in New York is expensive and ridiculously tough. It is an awesome feeling to be able to go into the city, play a show, see all of your friends while eating at some Peruvian/milkshake/burrito place that you’ve never heard of before and then leave the city. There is also a place in Thomas, West Virginia called The Purple Fiddle. Thomas is a big ski town, so people come from all over to ski for the weekend. Because The Purple Fiddle is the only venue in that area, everyone who is there to ski comes to see music. It’s a great place to reach a diverse fan base. The venue has a hostel upstairs, so they put the artists up for the night. You get to meet the characters you would expect to meet in that type of place, and when we played the venue the only other resident in the hostel was a Harley Davidson riding guy named Rhino. Now we have a guy named Rhino as a fan. The coolest part is meeting those people and then coming back through town and seeing them again.
I also got to open for Emmylou Harris in a parking lot for an animal charity event, which was awesome. The last show I will mention is this country music festival in Cullman, Alabama called Rock the South. We played a big stage with a catwalk, and we had to run to Guitar Center beforehand to buy 30-foot cables for our guitars, just so we could use up all that real estate.
R: What would you do professionally had you not gone into music?
I would have continued to pursue music journalism. I view that job less as an “impress me or you will get a bad rating on the rating scale” and more as me being a cheerleader for bands who need it. I just want to tell the bands’ stories. The Internet and other media outlets have enough people telling you why something sucks. That’s why it is important to have someone telling you why something is good and furthermore provide some insight as to why it is good.
R: What’s the craziest/most potentially illegal thing you’ve done on tour?
Since I do not really drink anymore, I can bring this story up without it sounding like I am bragging. I got thrown out of a bar one time for drinking too much of this randomly mixed drink a homeless guy gave me. We had just played a winery in Connecticut and had gotten drunk on wine. We decided to drive back to New York to crash with some friends there. We met up with the friends at a bar, during which time my keyboardist ran into this drunk, homeless guy. The guy had a cup that held a combination of Four Loko and Sizzurp, so I split it with him. The guy was stuck on a couple of topics: he was convinced that Bon Jovi had more Grammies than anyone else, which is not true. He was also quoting “Brenda’s got a baby,” which is a Tupac song. I didn’t know what he meant, but I just kept asking him to pass me more of that drink.
R: Which movie resonates with you the most?
I love Back to the Future, and I love Almost Famous. Growing up watching Almost Famous, I always thought, “I want to go do that.” I either wanted to write about music or play music; choose a role in that movie and I wanted to try it. I did not want to be the groupie, but I would try any other role. I also love the Tom Petty documentary, Runnin’ Down A Dream. I will watch all 3.5 hours of it.
R: What is your go-to movie soundtrack?
My parents loved soundtracks, and we would listen to them on road trips as I was growing up. There are a few that by virtue of my parents playing them constantly are near and dear to my heart. I loved listening the soundtracks from American Graffiti and Good Morning Vietnam. I also loved the Stand By Me soundtrack, which has a lot of good oldies. The Big Chill soundtrack is great, and I would group those soundtracks with The Empire Records soundtrack and the Dirty Dancing soundtrack.
R: Where is your favorite local spot to hang out when you are not touring?
I really miss Silly Goose. They closed recently, but great musicians worked there, and the owner brought my family and I some food while I was recovering from my surgery. He is top notch. In my free time I really love going over to my buddy’s houses and playing music with them. I like The Post too. You can go to The Post and hang out all day without feeling like they are trying to kick you out. Have you ever had Steadfast Coffee’s carbonated coffee? It’s so good. Super good. Now they have Wi-Fi, so I can work there. I will say one more thing… have you guys been to the $2 Tuesdays at The 5 Spot? It is every Tuesday; admission and Yazoo beers are both $2. Anyone can show up and play, and to me it is the ground zero of the East Nashville music scene.
R: What album could you play on repeat without getting tired of it?
I would listen to the Live Anthology by Tom Petty. I know that’s kind of cheating because it is a box set, but it’s thirty years of his live performances and is consistently badass. If I were to have to choose one, I would ask if I could not choose just one. I love live albums by good bands, because they are proof that it was real and the band was killing it without any backing tracks.
R: What’s your go-to word in the English dictionary, profane or otherwise?
I like the word “vibe-y.” It can be used to describe a keeper guitar track, a place like The Family Wash, a stage or a person’s look that they are rocking. To me, it means something is off kilter in the best way.