Now 39 years old, Leo recalls the mentality that he had in his late 20s, right around the time he started playing music under his own name.
“If it ends tomorrow, I still have songs I can play and [I’ll just do] whatever else I have to do with my life to keep living,” says the Rhode Island resident during a recent phone interview. “I never really changed that outlook.”
While fans of Leo’s palatable punk energy might say he and his band are stars in their own right, it’s Leo’s ability to connect with the angst-ridden Everyman that keeps them coming back. In some ways TLP’s latest album, The Brutalist Bricks (released Mar. 9 on their new label, Matador Records), is still beholden to that mentality. But this time, their jet-propelled rock riffs and catchy choruses amount to more than pissed off political jabs at the “establishment.” Instead, the album carries the barrage of Leo’s personal journeys, with many of the songs created after Touch and Go could no longer support them as a touring act.
“We had an extra year to kinda just play,” says Leo, who wrote most of the songs sporadically as the band continued to play shows on their own. “It kinda gave [every song] that wound up on the album a little more room to breathe and be its own thing. It really wasn’t until we started recording that it started feeling like a cohesive album to me.”
Though much of the album is welded together by the heat of blistering romps like “Mourning in America” and “Gimme the Wire,” Leo and band members Chris Wilson (drums), James Canty (guitar) and Marty Key (bass) take some courageous and notable sonic detours, some more successful than others. The low, Leonard Cohen-esque vocals on the vaguely funky “One Polaroid a Day” are a welcome rarity, whereas other risks like the sleepy freak folk of “Tuberculoids Arrive In Hop” just fall flat.
A definite standout is the dynamic track “Bottled in Cork”—presenting Leo’s travel experiences as pop poetry while the Pharmacists charge along with a mixture of thwacking drum rhythms and guitar that never quite settles in one particular genre.
“That’s one song where the idea [was to have] this big acoustic-driven thing jump off of a crazier beginning [part]. And I didn’t think it was gonna work, but it actually turned out,” says Leo.
While The Brutalist Bricks has received mixed reviews for its eclectic energies, Leo is proud of his band’s collaborative effort towards open-minded songwriting.
“If there’s one thing that I’ve ever actively tried to do, it’s not shut anything out that has influenced me in one way or another,” says Leo. It’s a mantra that has carried over into the band’s current partnership with Matador as the band continues to get their name and their album out to the masses, furthering their success at the label for the long haul.
Recently, Leo worked with a staff person at the label to get the band on a live performance for AOL and www.spinner.com called “The Interface” on Mar. 5.
It’s amazing how much actual work Leo gets done with no “rock star” mentality to get in the way.
“I ended up taking the reins and emailing a bunch of people and stuff and he said ‘Wow, man, you did that better than I would have done it.’ And my only response to him was ‘I love my job.’”
Ted Leo and the Pharmacists w/Sally Crewe & the Sudden Moves at The Glass House, 200 W. 2nd St., Pomona, (909) 865-3802; www.theglasshouse.us. Fri, March 26. Doors 7PM. $14.