Q&A: Leading the Heroes on Unicorn Rock and Why South Florida Music is a Zombie
On Leading the Heroes' Reverb Nation page, one band member, Dan Potvin, gets credit for both bass and "shouts." And the shouts do need to be acknowledged: This is rock somewhere between hardcore and pure emotion meant to be heard live. Plus, that way, the lyrics will be resounding -- the songs, most cowritten by various members of the band, are thinly veiled tales from their real lives. Vans Warped Tour veterans, Leading the Heroes has played shows with the likes of Alkaline Trio, Pennywise, and Against Me! and is set to play at Green Room on October 8. It's a testament to the collectivity of their work and writing ethics that each of the guys participated in this interview -- check it out after the jump.
New Times: I feel like your music is led by the lyrics. They're real stories, easy to hear, and easy to connect with. I think a lot of hardcore is like this. Tell me about the band's songwriting process: Who writes, and what is the inspiration/guiding force?
Dan Potvin: Most of our lyrics are derived from our experiences and relationships. Sometimes we just base it off of a few lines one of us wrote that just have weight to them, then scrape our souls and make it personal. As a group, we all contribute very equally, whether it be passing an idea to someone else to work off of, pulling and rearranging words to fit a melody, or one of us will just have something complete that we bring to the table. When we work together, the songs take on a life of their own, sometimes not what we intended, but it's actually better. An important thing has always been to do it with conviction and the listener can get something personal from it, even if we're coming from somewhere else.
Hopefully this isn't too vague. Can you say more about writing with conviction (and then the listener can get something personal out of it)? I definitely hear that in your songs.
Mike Caldarera: When we say "we write with conviction," it is basically another way to say that we're writing with honesty. Whether we're telling a story from a personal point of view or via an observation (the latter being true much of the time, considering we heavily collaborate on the lyrics), we attempt to capture a raw emotion or a significant event that occurred. Whether it be short-lived, long-lasting, for better or for worse, we want the listener to not just hear the song but feel the weight of what spawned it, along with the labor that went into creating it.
You're actually the first "hardcore" band we've interviewed for this column -- and I'm using that term loosely because I'm not sure how you'd like to label yourselves, if at all. A lot of local bands here fall under different categories. You're surely not the last of your kind around here, but do you feel at all separate from the local scene? Or do you still feel that you're part of a community here?
Tim Stone: The label "hardcore" is thrown around these days to describe a lot of bands that don't fall under a certain category. To us, that means bands like ours are growing and expanding their boundaries, and I think it's time someone came up with some new labels like unicorn rock (fast and majestic but with a point). Although some of our songs have a harder edge to them, we are by no means hardcore. And that is very prevalent on the new album, which will be released this fall. We've taken inspiration from so many styles of music such as indie, pop, electro, and possibly even a little bluegrass. I'm pretty sure I heard a mandolin on one of our new tracks.
As for a sense of community in the local scene, we feel that it's stronger than ever now. We've made some amazing friends and played shows with some incredibly talented bands throughout the years. For instance, on our new record, we have musicians from other bands featured on some of our songs. We have a duet with Lindsey Sayre of the Darling Sweets who is one of the most talented singers we've ever worked with. And we have a song cowritten and featuring Ben and Jonny of the Mission Veo. Some say the scene in South Florida is dead, but we say it's just come back to life as a zombie.
I think you guys are definitely unicorn rock. Since you're expanding your boundaries, collaborating, including new instruments, etc., has your songwriting or recording process changed?
Mike: Our songwriting has vastly expanded and become entirely collaborative. We all work together on every aspect of the song, in addition to the occasional outside help. Our producer, Matt LaPlant (Dashboard Confessional, Nonpoint, Skindred), has been pushing us more than ever. We've recorded our last two EPs with him, and while in the past, he has in fact encouraged us to push our songwriting, he has not pushed us nearly as hard as he is currently. We have multiple songs that have been musically and lyrically rewritten three or four times over. We'll write out multiple ideas for one section and get his option on what direction he hears it going -- he has really become another member of the band in a sense. He knows the direction we're looking to go, and he's helping us get there -- we're still the captains of the ship, but he is certainly navigating. He believes in us and knows what we're capable of, so even when we think a song has reached its pinnacle, he pushes us just a little more. Just like us, he only puts his name on the line with music that he can say he's proud of.
Not to mention we genuinely consider Matt a good friend, and his quotes are ridiculous and off-the-wall -- we actually created a Facebook page called "LaPlant Says..." paying homage to his absurd one-liners!
That sounds awesome. How did you meet him and start working with him on your earlier EPs? What else can you tell me about this album you're working on with him?
Dan: We met Matt back in 2006 when we were working on Tear Apart the Process, which was definitely a heavier release for us with a smattering of (what we hoped to be) darker indie pop. We were looking for a better-quality recording when Tim found out about Bieler Brothers Studios and that they were doing special pricing for independent local bands. When we met with Matt, he was really the first professional that actually gave us sound advice and genuinely wanted to help us make a better product. It was leaps and bounds better than our first EP, and we had great chemistry with him in the studio. It was a natural choice to use him for our Hollow Hearts and Broken Seams EP and to keep working with him now. We've been approached by other producers wanting to work with us, but Matt is such a part of what we do and knows how to work our best material out of us. Something that's very hard to find.
As we speak, we have 15 songs recorded, so we are in the process of discussing how we are going to release everything. It looks like we may do a nine- or ten-song full-length and release the other songs as an EP. Both would be available everywhere digitally and at shows physically. Maybe we'll put together some sort of special package for fans who are interested where they get everything and a few surprises thrown in. They are the ones that make it worth it, after all.
Tell me about what's coming up.
Tim: We will be playing some new songs from the upcoming record along with tracks from our last EP, so if anyone wants to hear some new material, get out to the shows! The album will be finished by late October, just in time for our East Coast tour starting November 4.
Anything else you want to add?
Some fun facts about Leading the Heroes: No member of LTH has a tattoo. We are a completely tattoo-free rock band. No reason other than none of us ever felt compelled to get one. Also, Mike does the artwork and design for all of our albums. And one of us has ultimately broken a piece of equipment at every show we have ever played (which is a lot). Probably because we don't stop moving our entire live performance.
SFAA Art Show. With Leading the Heroes. 9:30 p.m. Saturday, October 8, at Green Room, 109 SW Second Ave., Fort Lauderdale. No cover. Click here.
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