The three-piece London band Leogun are the latest members of the 21st century British Invasion and they are determined to bring hard-edge rock ‘n roll back to the forefront of the music world. From their engaging onstage presence to the imagery behind their half-man half-lion moniker, Leogun (comprised of Tommy Smith on guitar and vocals, Matt Johnson on bass and Mike Lloyd on drums) pride themselves on being one of the blues-influenced bands of today’s underground rock scene that is determined to break through. While Smith, Johnson and Lloyd have been playing music for years, it was just last year that Leogun signed with Yamaha Entertainment Group and released their debut self-titled EP. The group recently released their highly anticipated first album By The Reins; from here, whatever comes next is up to Leogun. Four days prior to the release, we called Smith as he and the band drove through Tennessee on their way to play the Chattanooga Riverbend Festival and asked him about the record, laying down tracks in the historic Blackbird Studios, and the impending rock revival.
What music were you listening to during the creation of By The Reins?
We were listening to a lot of Queens of the Stone Age; they’re one of my all-time favorite bands. A lot of the Black Keys…we were listening to a lot of Jack White at the time, as well. We listened to as much rocking stuff as was available to us on the radio at the time.
Is there any special meaning behind the album title?
“By The Reins” is the title track, and it kind of means taking the horse by the reins, you know? The song is about how a person can have a certain amount of control over you emotionally, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It uses the metaphor of taking the horse by the reins in the context of a relationship.
I’ve read that you started playing music at a very young age. Have you always known you wanted to establish a career in music?
Yeah, from an early age I knew I wanted to do that.
What was it like to maintain that dream? Has it been difficult for you to continue the pursuit?
It’s definitely been difficult, absolutely. Living a life without a penny is not an easy thing to do, you know? But I can honestly say I’ve never come close to doing anything else.
Can you tell me a bit about how Leogun came into being?
We’re three friends that are lucky enough to play to a reasonable degree, and it just worked out that we played together. Matt and I met very young in school, and we met Mike in college.
Are there any songs in particular that you enjoy playing onstage?
I always like to play “By The Reins.” I think “Everyday” is a big moment in our set as well – it’s our chance to be extremely loud and to go crazy. People start to wonder if there are actually more musicians hiding offstage that we don’t tell anyone about.
Do you have any favorite onstage memories you’d like to share?
It’s kind of difficult to remember. I suppose that being onstage and realizing that we’re playing in front of a huge amount of people is amazing, like when we opened for Lynyrd Skynyrd. The realization that there were 5,000 people watching gives you that extra bit of courage to go that extra bit further. Other than that, I have some point where I get off stage and don’t remember the last 40 minutes of my life. It’s like going into something and then coming out again, and being like, “Whoa, what happened?”
Do you ever experience stage fright?
Oh yeah. A lot. I think people might be quite surprised to know that, but I think it keeps you sharp. It’s something one should respect. I’d like to think I’d never become nonchalant about that. Thinking about all those people and remembering your part, and then thinking, “Is it all going to come together?” But it does. You’ve got to trust it and use that energy to your advantage. Which is why we jump around so much.
I understand that By The Reins was recorded in part at Nashville’s Blackbird Studios. What did it mean to you to record at such a well-known studio for your first full-length record?
I’m quite a studio buff. I like working production-wise – I find it very interesting. Being somewhere like Blackbird, with the history of the place…Jack White had been in that very room to record his stuff. The amount of equipment and the amount of gear, like the collection of microphones they’ve got is just unbelievable. It was a massive privilege.
Have the songs featured on the album been in your repertoire for a long time, or did you write them for the album?
Half and half, really. I think there have been a couple of songs, maybe half, that we’ve played for a really long time, and then we put some together for the album. We’re constantly writing as we go as well: we’re putting things together for our second record already.
What would you say is the most unique thing about By The Reins?
I think there’s not quite such a dynamic rock album out at the moment. I don’t think there are any as dynamic or honest as this one.
Other than the artists you mentioned earlier, are there any other musicians who influence your creative processes?
Personally, I’m a massive Elvis Presley fan – I have a tattoo of him on my arm. He really influenced the whole performance side of it. You can’t get much cooler than him, you know? But throughout our music we have a lot of influences.
How do you interpret the modern blues and rock scenes of today?
A lot of it hasn’t made its way to radio yet. Which I think is good, because it’s a really underground scene, with lots of kids and lots of guys and girls coming together and playing really rocking and bluesy things. People are just starting to acknowledge that now. Some of the bands we’ve been playing with on the road in the U.S. are just starting to pick up deals, starting to get some recognition in the press, and they’re all kind of rocking bluesy bands. I think it’s kind of like the beginning again, like it was in the mid-‘60s. Obviously we’ve got much more modern elements now, but I don’t think it’s quite made its way to mainstream. It’s kind of this underbelly scene at the moment.
Do you think we’re in for a rock revival in the coming years?
I think we’re definitely in for it, yeah. Absolutely.
What’s next for Leogun after the album release?
Next we go home to London and open for Bon Jovi and Elton John [at Hyde Park], and then we come back to the States to open for Kiss. We also have a few secrets in the pipeline for opening for some really amazing acts.
What do you hope for the band to accomplish this year after the release of the album?
I think we’re just looking to put good, honest rock ‘n roll back on the map, back on the radio. I’m getting the general consensus at the moment that there are so many other distractions and plastic things out there in the world that, as soon as something like this comes along that’s warm and passionate and soulful, it sets itself apart from everything else that’s boring and normal. Rock ‘n roll isn’t about control: it’s about something completely different, and I don’t think there’s a great deal of it out there at the moment, so people are responding to it. I think, for me, I want to play as many shows as I possibly can and make sure we give the people what they want. Or what they need.
If you could name a single mission statement for Leogun, what would it be?
I want this band to be the best live act. If anyone ever said, “Leogun are arguably one of the best rock bands you’ll ever see live,” I would be happy with that.
Interview by Meghan Roos
*Photos: Rob Shanahan