Tommy Smith, Matt Johnson, and Mike Lloyd from Leogun sat down with Carolina Mixer prior to their show at Charter Amphitheatre in Simpsonville, SC and talked to us about their influences, what the ride has been like so far, and their dedication to putting some badassery back into Rock. (You can check out video of the interview, as well as photos of the band by courtesy of Mother Shutter Photography at the end of the story.)
Tommy, guitarist and lead singer for Leogun, first picked up playing guitar when he 8 years old after listening to his mother's old blues albums. When Tommy and bass player Matt Johnson were about 13 years old, Matt's journey to being the bass player in the band began almost immediately. Matt says "I bought a guitar, came into school, said to Tommy 'I bought a guitar', and he said 'If you sell that guitar, and get a bass, you can be in the band.' So I sold that guitar, bought a bass, and joined the band". The seeds of Leogun were set at that point.
Fast forward to 2012, and London based band Leogun started their first North American Tour, playing clubs and small venues. What a difference a year makes, as the hard rocking trio are now opening for major acts like Queens of the Stoneage and KISS in support of their new release, ""By the Reins"". Being invited to open for Rock and Roll kings, KISS, is no small jump, as Leogun joins a who's who list of rock bands who have been chosen to be introduced to the KISS Army. Bands like Motley Crue, Cheap Trick, Alice in Chains, Bon Jovi, Scorpions, Smashing Pumkins, and Skid Row (plus MANY more).
Leogun has been described as "A three-piece band from London, surging with a mix of blues, soul and a whole lotta rock and roll". That is a very accurate description, as evidenced by both their studio recordings and their live performance. Guitarist and lead singer, Tommy Smith, has a style that has the flare and attiude of Robert Plant one minute, and the growling soul-felt sound of the blues legends that he grew up listening to the next. That versatility leads to every song on ""By the Reins"" being distinct, which makes it great to listen to in its entirety. Tommy says "We always try to approach a song in a different way, really, rather than just verse, chorus, verse, chorus. So I think in that way you keep an album fresh all the way through. Cause I can't stand albums that are the same all the way through. It seems like such a shame."
Bass player Matt Johnson and drummer Michael lloyd wind a tight and hard rocking rhythm to complement Tommy's guitars. There aren't very many three piece bands that can pull off sounding like their studio recordings when hitting the stage live, but with Leogun, what you see is what you get (and hear) - three talented musicians playing real rock and roll "old school" just like the the rock and blues artists that influenced them growing up.
That talent is what enticed Yamaha Entertainment to sign Leogun as their flagship act and put them in the studio to record "By the Reins". After going through several studio drummers that just didn't have the fit they were looking for in the studio, Tommy, and Matt were soon reunited with their friend drummer, Michael Lloyd. Tommy and Matt liked the fit of Mike in the band due to his hard hitting and solid style. Tommy says "When I saw Mike play, long before I asked him to join the band, there was this kind of real solid, kind of Zeppelin kind of groove to his playing, and he could hit as hard as Dave Grohl as well, so that's when I asked him to join, and we jammed and it worked pretty much immediately, and that's how we got together..."
When asked about his influences, Mike says "Mainly John Bonham. That's the main person who made me want to get into drumming. I'm very heavy metal orientated. So I like people like Matt Halpern, from Periphery, and people like that influenced me drumming wise. But I also like old music, like my dad used to listen to, like Genesis - Phil Collins, even before they went really pop..."
While there have been some comparisons of the band to Led Zeppelin, and all three members of Leogun were influenced at some point by Zeppelin, they are by far not a copy of the iconic band. When asked about the comparison, Tommy says "Well that's extremely flattering. They are, after all, I think the best band there ever was, so any comparison on that front is majorly flattering, you know. It's a big deal. I've always looked at people like Jimmy Page and Robert Plant as what everyone knows them as - these 'Golden Gods'. They're sort of untouchable. Almost mythical, you know? And yeah, they're a massive influence on the way I play and also the way I sort of think as well. It goes that far." Matt Johnson adds "There's never been a conscious decision to be like Zeppelin. That's just the style of music we like playing."
When the pieces of the puzzle came together for Leogun, they headed into the studio to record "By The Reins". They recorded the album at BlackBird Studio in Nashville. Since 2002, BlackBird Studio has become a destination for artists such as Beck, Kings of Leon, Sheryl Crow, the White Stripes, and Taylor Swift to record.
As a return to the sound of the powerhouse 70's rock albums, the band bypassed recording digitally, and instead opted to record analog to tape. Tommy states "It all went down to tape - 2 inches of tape. It's just a massive sound you get with those old analog Studer tape machines. We used an A800, and I could geek out about it. It just gets that massive warm sound, which helps us, cause there's only three of us".
The band's fast growing success has not gone to their heads, and they remain in awe of what has happened so far. Considering that a short time ago, they were playing the bar circuit, and now are opening for world-wide popular acts inlarge venues, their rise into the lime lighthas been relatively rapid. When asked if they thought that it would happen as fast as it has, Tommy says "I wanted it to, but I suppose no when you think about it like that. It's fun. We were playing a small bar not three months ago." Matt adds, "and we probably will again. This is not our stage." "No, that's KISS' stage", says Tommy. Mike laughs, and says "We're just along for the ride. It's KISS' world. We just live in it."
That awe and respect shows again when we asked what Leogun's big Rock and Roll moment has been so far. Tommy says "Well the other day, Mr. Paul Stanley just walked into our dressing room and sat down. We were just sitting, chilling, and Paul Stanley comes in. He sits down for a conversation and he must have been there for half an hour, and a more gentle, lovely man doesn't exist, I don't think. He's just so cool. That was pretty rock and roll."
One of the first singles off the album, "Let’s Be Friends", brings back the swagger and attitude that rockers used to carry, but that has been sorely missed in rock as of late. Tommy tells us "Well I suppose I was kind of a bit sick of it being left to the R&B guys and Justin Timberlake to be able to get away with that sort of stuff, whereas Rock and Roll invented that kind of behavior. Do you know what I mean? Like Elvis and people like that, and then Zeppelin obviously brought that to another level, and in the 80's it went wild. I don't think there's enough of that sort of testosterone and confidence in rock and roll music at the moment. So yeah, I'm kind of guilty of it."
Leogun has taken the essense of 70's Rock and Roll and turned it up to 11. Do yourself a favor and grab a copy of "By the Reins", and visit the band's website so that you can see when and where you can catch them live.
Video - Full Interview With Leogun
By Brian Kelly Multimedia for Carolina Mixer
Photos - Leogun
Click on any image to view larger version and to launch slideshow. Photos courtesy of Mother Shutter Photography
Leogun on the web:
Tommy Smith - Guitar & Vocals
Matt Johnson - Bass
Michael Lloyd - Drums