Andrew Leahey to Co-Headline St. Louis Americana Fest with A New LP and A New Outlook
Acclaimed Nashville-based band Andrew Leahey & the Homestead will co-headline this years’ St. Louis Americana Fest on Saturday, July 6. Featured in Rolling Stone, Billboard and American Songwriter, Leahey is currently on the road with his sophomore album, “Airwaves”—a body of work written in the wake of a life-threatening brain tumor operation.
The cancerous tumor attached to the end of his auditory nerve was discovered earlier this decade. The inevitable subsequent operation presented Leahey with a 50 percent chance of hearing loss, or worse, the prospect of a premature death. Remarkably, Leahey survived the surgery with his hearing unscathed and has since remained cancer-free.
After a successful operation and a brief three-month recovery period, Leahey was back on the road with his 2016 debut LP, “Skyline in Central Time.”
“It was against everyone’s recommendations, but I needed to prove I could still do it,” Leahey says. “Even though I have never taken music for granted, prior to the operation I kept promising myself, ‘If I get better, I’m not going to waste any time.’ So that’s what I’ve done.”
“Skyline in Central Time” was produced by Ken Coomer—former drummer of St. Louis favorite Wilco. “When I met Ken, he was getting over a health scare himself, so we bonded over that. He had a brand-new studio and it was great to work with him.” Leahey played 180 shows that year, including a memorable one in St. Louis. “My first post-brain-operation gig was at a place called The Livery. I remember stepping onto the stage there; it was momentous for me because it was the first time I had been on stage. Even if it’s not a packed or perfect gig, it’s amazing just to be doing it.”
During that 180-show run, Leahey ended each show with rock anthem “Make It Last,” a track created from inside an MRI machine. “I remember being in there: This percussive sound kept echoing around my body. To me, it sounded like a four-on-the-floor kick drum, and I started humming a melody to it,” he explains. “Make It Last” was later recorded for “Airwaves.”
Leahey approached “Airwaves” with a carpe diem attitude and a renewed appreciation to hear and make music. Wavering from his Americana debut, the album is inspired by the timeless American rock ‘n’ roll styles of the late 1980s—sounds he heard through the FM radio in his mother’s station wagon as a kid. “My earliest memories are listening to radio hits by Bruce Springsteen and Tom Petty. I like how that music matched idealistic reasons for being in the car: going from one place to a better place.”
“Airwaves” was recorded with multi-platinum producer Paul Ebersold (Sister Hazel, Drew Holcomb, 3 Doors Down), who enlisted Steelism’s Jon Estes and Jon Radford on bass and drums. Leahey brought in his childhood best friend Phil Heesen III to add harmony vocals and guitar, and friend Sadler Vaden, who took a break from touring with Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit long enough to lay down guitar leads on “Start the Dance,” “We Came Here to Run” and “Workin’ Ain’t Workin’.”
“I had a clear idea of what I wanted, which was a rock ‘n’ roll album that wasn’t stuck in any decade,” says Leahey. Recorded live, for the most part, “Airwaves” delivers big drum hits, catchy guitar licks and uplifting melodies that tip their hat to the timeless rock ‘n’ roll greats.
Although Leahey has altered his Americana sound, he says, “I find that Americana is where a lot of rock ‘n’ roll lives; if Tom Petty’s ‘Wildflowers’ had come out in 2017, it would have been considered an Americana album, 100 percent. I think that’s what guitar-based music gets classified as now.”
Leahey has performed multiple times at Nashville’s original and hugely popular AMERICANAFEST, but as far as playing a similar, yet smaller event here in St. Louis, he says, “I’m pumped.”
“I have a lot of Nashville pride, but I don’t think any one town should have a monopoly over a certain sound. What [St. Louis] is doing kind of consolidates an audience and gives them a place to go,” he says. “And I’m glad that we can play a new album for people here.”
The St. Louis Americana Fest, founded by local musician and promoter Adam Donald, is in its third year. Past acts include Beth Bombara, Ryan Koenig, Erica Blinn, Elliott Pearson, The Dock Ellis Band and River Kittens.
The boutique festival books up-and-coming artists from Chicago to Austin, while highlighting local St. Louis talent, as well. Each year, the event tries to illustrate and celebrate the rich history of American roots music, and introduces new artists, such as Leahey, to the bands and fans that make the scene so wonderful.
Featured image courtesy of Alysse Gafkjen.