Talk Thursday To Me – Leon III

Today we take time to chat with Andy Stepanian of Leon III about staying busy during the pandemic, the evolution of their sound and Antlers in Velvet.

Postcard Editor: Hello – are you receiving this digital message?

Andy Stepanian: Morning.   Yes.   Got it.

PE: Alright, let’s get rolling. First and foremost let me just say what a great record Antlers in Velvet is. From the first single it really grabbed us and we’ve been digging the hell out of the whole thing.

AS: Thank you.   We are very glad to finally get it out.  It seems like we recorded it 20 years ago.  

PE: Pandemic time is definitely a new experience for sure, but when did you record it? Were you able to get it done before Covid-19 hit or did you have to finish it up under new circumstances?

AS: We did most of it way back in March 2019 out in California and then did some overdubs in Nashville.   But the whole thing was finished, mixed and essentially ready by January 2020.
PE: Just in time for everything to shut down, perfect! How have you been keeping busy in this last year with everything going on?
AS: Just trying to stay patient.   I have essentially another full record plus written that we are currently fine tuning.   I tried to use the time to reconnect a little to listening and things that are best done when the background noise is low.   We are also fortunate to have some other creative outlets in our life that sustained us and kept our hands from becoming idle.

PE: With listening are you talking about your own work, taking more time with the new material and thinking of possibilities, or listening to other music?

AS: Im really talking about other artists music.   Ive taken a fairly deep dive in jazz over the last few years and that seemed to get multiplied by COVID down time.   I have also been really into T-Rex of late.  And a bunch of other things that are all over the map.  Broadcast, rock steady reggae like Ethiopians and Derrick Herriott, Randy Travis, Zappa….

PE: Has your interest in jazz and Zappa influenced Leon III? There’s definitely a bit of an exploratory, free form vibe to some of the songs.

AS: Absolutely.   But it’s more of a poor mans interpretation.  I don’t have the talent to do much more than TRY to compose that sort of music.  But there is no doubt it has caused me to try and think differently and use fancier chords sometimes.   Maybe a little too fancy at times.  Mason (Mason Brent – the other half of Leon IIIed) and I just spent a few days chopping up some of my new songs and I feel like we spent 3/4 of the time removing complexity and 9th chords.  

PE: Well if nothing else, you’re keeping those hands nimble with those weird chords. Whereas the first Leon III album was a very noticeable change from your old group Wrinkle Neck Mules, there was still a foot firmly planted in roots and Americana. Antlers seems to be a step or two farther away from that and into an expansive cinematic sound. Was this something that was conceptualized before writing or just how things came together?

AS: I really think it is a reflection of where I am as a listener and what is moving me right now.   There was a time in my life where I was very inspired by things like bluegrass and country music and my writing was very reflective of that.   But in the last 10 years or so I felt like I exhausted that idiom and started to explore a different color palette via Leon III.  So, I think Antlers in Velvet reflects a continuing evolution and, yes, it is one or two steps deeper into creating a lush, psychedelic sound.   The players on the album also brought a very non-country mentality to the table and that is very apparent in the interpretations of the songs.
PE: How did you work with the players on the album? Was there improvisation in the studio via jamming out to the songs while the tape rolled, or was it more structured than that?

AS: The bulk of the album was made over 5 days in a studio in Stinson Beach, California.   It’s a live in studio, so you sleep there, eat, drink and hang 24 hours instead of coming and going for the sessions.   That sort of arrangement lends itself to a pretty communal feel and everyone gets invested in each other musically and as people.   So, although Mark Nevers was, technically, the producer, everyone is throwing ideas out and helping with the arrangements and slicing and dicing.   It’s a group effort.   

As far as how the recordings went down, it varied from song to song.  Some songs require a structure and form and need to be recorded as such.  But others, like “Fly Migrator,” for example are loose and let everyone explore just to see what happens.   I think the take of that song that ended up on the album was a very early take that occurred while everyone was just trying to learn the song.  We had no idea we were going to get something usable.  But I think we did because everyone was loose and didn’t care if they made a mistake.  Thats the beauty.  

PE: Right on, the naturalness of it certainly comes through on the album. So with the new stuff you’ve been writing, is it farther into the great beyond? Are you approaching full Syd Barett?

AS: Ha.  There is a duality in it.  I have some songs that embrace the epic, slow burning nature of a lot of the songs on Antlers but also a bunch of songs that are simpler.   I have been challenging myself to keep it simpler.  I forced myself to write a song that was under 4 minutes and another one that only has one chord.   🙂

PE: So…it’s a pop album is what you’re saying? I know this is a ridiculous question to ask with everything the way it still is, but what’s the future plans? Are you tentatively looking at future  tour dates or just waiting until things are a little more certain?

AS: I have no idea.   The album is out on 3/5 and we really want to find a way to celebrate it and also try and get people to find it. Ideally we would be able to tour but obviously that is far fetched at the moment.   So we are thinking about a big production full band live stream just to do SOMETHING.   And then who knows.  Mason and I are thinking of doing a small duo tour in peoples yards or something.   And honestly, if things don’t start to break open by early summer I think we will just use the time to go record.   Thats our favorite thing to do anyway.  

PE: Hell yeah. Glad to see you’re going to do something to mark the release of the album, because not to repeat myself and/or fanboy too much, it really is great. Also excited to possibly see you in my backyard at some point. A sentence that without context sounds really creepy I now realize. I appreciate you taking the time to do this. Anything else before we go?

AS: Only to say thank you and let you know how much we appreciate folks like you who are taking the time to listen and really understand what we are doing.  There is a lot of noise out there and we are grateful and humbled when people invest their time in our noise.    Thank you.  

Antlers in Velvet comes out March 5th on Monosonic records. It is available on for pre-order on vinyl now via the band’s website.

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