- By Alan Richard
LEON CREEK'S SONGS OF HOPE
Updated: Sep 25, 2021
SoulCountry is proud to officially premiere Leon Creek’s music video for the California group's “Hope Never Leaves My Side,” during AmericanaFest week in Nashville. The dreamy, roots-soul track is from the group's debut album Far From Broken released Sept. 24.
Leon Creek is the Southern California-based trio of singer-songwriter Chris Pierce, guitar-banjoist Matthew Stevens and producer-musician Erik Janson. On the track in the video, they deliver a melancholy melody with lyrics about undying joy.
Australian director and animator Kane Lehanneur made the video at the band's request, with dark colors of despair giving way to silver lining, images that pair well with a song for our times.
Pierce’s soulful whisper of a vocal—he’s usually more of a belter—drifts atop the bright melody, driven by the unlikely combination of Stevens’ banjo, electronic drums from a Roland 808, and some steel guitar.
“To me the song feels like it’s at the intersection of soul and roots music, with Americana, but also pulls in” other influences, Janson said in an interview at AmericanaFest. “It was the last soing we did for the album… It’s almost like a sermon.”
"Visually and aesthetically, we’ve been doing kind of this 70s variety show, Hee Haw aesthetic," Janson added about the video.
The band derives its name from a stream that was once a stagecoach stop near San Antonio, Texas, during western American migrations, reflecting the group members' own family histories.
Pierce’s grandfather, a former World War II Flying Tiger, gave him his first harmonica and told him just to play a little each day. Growing up, Pierce loved listening to Little Walter records.
About 10 years ago, Pierce began to concentrate more on the harp in the blues band Reverend Tall Tree.
It was Pierce’s harmonica that attracted the interest of Janson and Stevens. They “both really embraced the blend of harmonica as with some of the American roots music” that interested all of them, Pierce said.
Pierce, a veteran singer known for the duo War & Pierce, performed a solo set on Sept. 23 at AmericanaFest, likely including songs from his own raw, acoustic folk record American Silence. His Leon Creek bandmates planned to join him on stage for a few numbers.
Among Pierce's many other accomplishments is a soul album recorded in Muscle Shoals, with many of that scene's original players who backed Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, the Staple Singers and others. Pierce also co-wrote the song “We Can Always Come Back to This,” played prominently on NBC’s series This Is Us.
Janson has written and performed with the bands Wildling, Left Field Messiah and The Dustbowl Revival.
Stevens is an accomplished musician who has lived in Europe and South America and always has been interested in world music and Latin styles.
Leon Creek’s maximalist swirl of rootsy and electronic sounds still sound organic. For Pierce, it’s “Americana and really trying to push the boundary of what Americana is and what it means.”
“Some of those grooves, they go deep. Some of the grooves are definitely tribal grooves—I mean, aren’t they all really?” he said. “I think it came together in the tradition and standing on the shoulders of greats, but in my opinion, it’s a new sound to me.”
“That might inspire others to push more boundaries.”
Another of the band’s new songs, “Call It a Day," is making waves at roots radio stations. Also from the new record, "Day" feels at first like a Piedmont blues backed by ragtime piano. Then Pierce’s wonderful harmonica and vocals jump into the celebration.
“It all started with the riff of the guitar. That’s really heavily influenced by Skip James," Stevens said. "Once Chris heard that… he immediately came up with (more) ideas in the studio. He really spearheaded a lot of the vocal parts of that song. Erik produced it into something we never imagined it would be.
“There's also a lot of elements in there that are kind of bluegrass elements,” Stevens added.
Pierce came to the Leon Creek project while working on his solo album.
“I was writing all this protest music,” he said, but wanted to make more hopeful statements at the same time. In fact, he wrote the lyrics to “Call It a Day” around the time George Floyd was murdered.
“At the end of the day, let’s all raise a glass together,” Pierce said.
Watch this space and SoulCountry social media channels for a more in-depth story on Leon Creek based on our interview at AmericanaFest.
(Top photo: Pierce, Stevens and Janson of Leon Creek.)