Nashville musician Andrew Leahey is back on track following brain surgery in 2013, when a tumor was discovered on a hearing nerve. Recovery kept him off the road for a while, but now he’s picking up where he left off with a new album, Skyline in Central Time, scheduled for release via Thirty Tigers on Friday (Aug. 5).
Over the past few years, Leahey has balanced several careers—one as an independent rock ‘n’ roller, another as a side musician, and yet another as a freelance journalist who frequently covers country music. Leahey will showcase his new music (credited to Andrew Leahey & The Homestead and produced by Ken Coomer) on Thursday at 10 p.m. at the Basement in Nashville.
Leahey and MusicRow caught up over coffee in Germantown to talk about assembling the right team, chasing melodies, and keeping a positive attitude.
MusicRow: What was the vibe in the studio when you were making the record?
Leahey: The room itself was a brand new studio. Ken Coomer had built his own place in East Nashville called Cartoon Moon and we were his first clients. So I think it was a good combination of getting to know each other and getting to know his new space.
Plus it was the first time we had done anything that serious since the operation that I had. And he had an operation very similar to what I went through. He had a heart attack at Exit/In in late 2013, right when I was having my operation. He had stents put in and he’s good now, but he and I were both in an equivalent place, trying to do something cool and not waiting ‘til tomorrow but trying to get it done it now. We had 10 days to get 11 songs but I think that wound up helping us too. No time wasted.
How much rehearsal time did you do with the band?
It was my band at the time and we had a lot of rehearsal time. Ken Coomer played drums also. He came over to my house and worked with us on arrangements. We got it to the place where we were could walk in and knock it out in a couple takes. I wish we did that more. That’s the thing about touring so much. You discover what works with your songs and get them to the maximum level.
Most of those songs I had been touring on for a long time. We were planning on making the album in 2013, then I got sick, so we had to put the brakes on for a while. So, that was a long time coming. And then it took a year and a half to get the album placed, with Thirty Tigers on board.
You had a lot of business decisions that needed to be made.
Yeah, it took a long time to get the right team and take all the meetings, and to find a label that wasn’t afraid of the fact that I had a hole in my head, or that wasn’t cagey about loaning money to us.
I was trying to heal plus trying to work a lot to get my crazy insurance bills paid, and then trying to figure out how to take this album that I thought sounded great and to do something other than put it up on iTunes myself and say, “Hey, it’s out,” and then two weeks later it’s nowhere.
When you moved here, what did Nashville represent for you?
I probably mistakenly viewed it as a country-only town. I grew up in Virginia and then moved up to New York and interned at Spin magazine, which was my dream. That was awesome. Then Spin ended up getting sold and the editors I worked under either left or got kicked out.
So after a year and a half of bouncing around trying to get a music journalism job, I got an offer to go to work at AllMusic in Ann Arbor, Michigan. I moved there with my wife and spent a couple of years there before I moved here. Working at AllMusic was very cool. A lot of product came in and I was listening to a ton of albums and writing 300 pieces a year at least. I think that kickstarted my own songwriting engines again. I had allowed those to die down a good bit.
So I started writing songs and wanted to be somewhere that was more of a music town. I had already been to New York and that was too expensive, and I didn’t want to go to L.A. And I missed being in the South in a way that I didn’t I could. Nashville looked like a place that was more comfortable than what I knew, but also new to me.
One thing that struck me on this album is your strong sense of melody. Does that come naturally to you?
That’s what generally comes first. If I can chase down a melody without even playing it on an instrument for as long as I can, that makes me the happiest. Then you get a song that is driven by that. Once you get a guitar in your hands, you wind up unconsciously doing what you’re used to doing. Sometimes a good melody will dictate that you do just two chords for the whole song, but if you’re writing the chorus first, you would never allow yourself to be that simple. I try to let the melody guide it as much as I can.
There’s also an optimism I noticed in these songs and a lot of joy.
Yeah, it’s a story that has a good ending. I wouldn’t want to go back and relive that story, but it’s mine and I’m going to make the most of it and turn it into a source of light.
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