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Introducing: Eric Leboff

posted April 21, 2015, 8:00 am by Brian Rutherford | Filed Under Introducing | comment Leave a Comment

With some surprise, my recent talks with Virginia native Eric Leboff led me to discover something I either hadn’t considered or just simply didn’t know before: a musician can be born inside of anyone. Leboff’s musical side has always been there, to be sure. From his college days, he found a great deal of inspiration. 16772_10204771715545085_3152120635021540121_n

I think for a lot of people what they listen to in college really resonates and even if you later “outgrow” those bands they stick with you in some sense and are almost part of your DNA.

For me, in college I listened to a lot of REM (their 80s material) Rush (same thing) and classic rock songwriters like Jackson Browne (I really like his songwriting back then) Bruce Springsteen, and Fleetwood Mac. There were other bands that were becoming big during my college years like Weezer, Counting Crows, Toad the Wet Sprocket- the first two had some influence musically and the third more lyrically. I found the Cure interesting- songs like “Fascination Street” and “Pictures of You” used repetition in a way that I found interesting. I liked Bob Mould (and all of his bands)- I remember listening to Sugar’s Copper Blue, an absolute pop masterpiece, as well as Husker Du’s New Day Rising all the time, though I never incorporated that kind of energy or feedback in my songs. Same with the Replacements. In a different vein, I liked Liz Phair as a songwriter too and I rememer listening to The Trinity Sessions by the Cowboy Junkies heavily in my rotation. After college I discovered bands with more of a textured sound like Travis and Belle and Sebastian (I liked their harmonies and today I find bands like the Candle Thieves and the Lucksmiths to have the same aesethetic). I thought Guster’s use of bongos was really cool and it turned out they could write some really nice melodies too.

Clearly, Eric is a lover of music first and foremost. That passion is almost always the foundation on which a musician is born. Over the years, Leboff (Now 41, married and working in D.C.) turned that passion for music into an ability to create it. It began in humble fashion.

I have no formal keyboard training but this was the instrument I first wrote songs on. I think I had a very cheap casiotone keyboard, this wasn’t even a midi-compatible, but then this was the early 1990s. I also had a very cool Yamaha 4-track cassette recorder, which I would use to layer the keys, the vocals and a bad-sounding drum machine.

This soon evolved into a more familiar instrument and solidified path.

In terms of training, I picked up guitar later in life- I took lessons after graduating law school, this was in 1999. I borrowed my aunt’s guitar. I am actually a lefty and play Southpaw. She was not and I soon discovered that you can’t simply restring a righty guitar and call it a lefty. So I went out and got a used Washburn dreadnought, which suited me fine as a beginner. I play a Takamine now for my acoustic electric. I took lessons for about 2 years (1999-2001) and bought a bunch of tablature books.

All the while, Eric’s lyrics were at the core of his urge to express his musical nature.

I have always written my own lyrics 100%. Many of my songs that deal with relationship themes are very frequently a “composite” of several different girls. It’s not really about any person specifically, by the time I get to write the song, but it’s about expressing a feeling that’s a common thread to multiple experiences- maybe it’s rejection, or maybe it’s indecision, etc, and I think to different circumstances where that applies. Then I hone in on the ones with the best imagery. Sometimes there is some artistic license. On “Undertow,” the opening line is “On a rooftop in Los Angeles we shared our first kiss.” That’s not technically an accurate statement of fact- I was mashing memories of one girl whom I did visit in LA with another situation (the specific kiss I had in mind) that happened elsewhere. Also, the actual moment in LA was not on a rooftop but it’s pretty iconic to the hotel scene there so I liked the image it presented.

I don’t often write 3rd person songs but I do at times (“Hipster Waitress” on Space and Time half counts- I am the other subject of the song so it’s not a completely outside observer dynamic). The Hipster Waitress is a real girl who waited on my wife and I at a restaurant in DC on Halloween night about 4 years ago. When I played the song for my wife for the first time she laughed and she knew who it was inspired by.

My lyrics tend to be a mix of more personal-but-generally-relatable relationship songs and bigger picture issues- track 3 on S&T, “Off the Grid” is about the burden/downside of technology, for example. I once wrote a song about an elderly shut in and I mentioned the song about the city apartment earlier. I don’t always let people draw their own conclusions but sometimes there’s ambiguity in the message. I used to more frequently write somewhat abstract lyrics (in the ballpark of Gavin Rossdale or Michael Stipe) but sometimes this ends up feeling forced to me.

With all of these things combined, Eric Leboff took to the studio for his first professional recording. With session musicians and close friends contributing, “Space And Time” came to fruition. The process of writing songs has also been a process of evolution.

My songwriting process has changed a lot over the years. When I was in high school and college I almost always started with lyrics. Looking back, there was a forced element to this, as I was trying too hard to make something fit or to choose certain words just because they rhymed. So I would have my lyrics and I would play around on the keyboard to find a chord progression that worked with them. I was somewhat limited by my lack of training on keys- I tended to repeat progressions and couldn’t embellish too much.

Despite the mechanical nature of the process, I did write some interesting stuff here and there- I have probably about 10-12 songs written in the early to mid nineties that I like enough even today to consider recording formally at some point.

Once I learned to play guitar I found that the patterns for my progressions really opened up- then I could also have songs based on a guitar lick, or a simple progression that was made unique rhythmically. I remember using a “third hand capo” which let me create strange chords via alternate tunings. This was fun and sometimes inspired a new-sounding idea.

Throughout the early 2000s I’d say it was pretty even split between starting a song with a musical idea or starting with words. Today it is usually the musical idea first. As for lyrical content, I sometimes just get inspired- my office downtown faces these overpriced apartments and I wrote a song about being a tenant in one of them, which will likely be on my next album. I also like metaphors and the challenge of expressing a basic sentiment but with the delivery somehow unique or unusual. I like to evoke imagery too. Listen to Sleight of Hand, Undertow or Lead Me On, as examples. I want the listener to have a visual in their heads- the words should paint a picture where possible. I also like trying to weave meaning throughout a collection of songs- an album is really a vehicle for storytelling. Every song may not inter-relate in terms of the very specific content of the lyrics, but I strive to give the collection of songs an emotional direction, an arc, however you think of it. I often like to have a sillier song, content wise, follow as a break- on Space and Time Hipster Waitress and Blame the Malt have a tinge of humor to them. I also like to end on a positive and lighter note- the final song Snowflakes is basically a sparse lullaby, no drums, just me and the guitar.

The other thing about my musical process is how unevenly paced it can be. In the span of 3 months I might come up with 10-12 songs and then possibly nothing for another year and half. Some of this is due to the fact that once I have a collection I like that seem to flow together I focus more on recording them (at home first) and this takes away from writing new material. Its definitely weird though how you can be so prolific and then feel like you’re out of ideas.

In the end, “Space And Time” is an album that needed time and growth to come to life. For Eric, this is fine; he has no illusions of taking his music further than a hobby, and his goals with music are as clear-cut as can be.

I never foresee having a full time career making music and I’m okay with that. I would be interested in playing out here and there but really for me writing and recording is where I have my fun. I enjoy having my music available and like the fact that random people in Sweden, Australia and Mexico are streaming me on Spotify! For years my songs sat in a drawer- I recorded home tapes on my 4 track and listened to them in my car stereo. Since no one else really knew about the songs I felt a part of me was also undiscovered. I like the idea that some people might get enjoyment listening to my work and want my catalogue to remain available so that more and more people can find it. I guess my goal is to continue to have an impact on someone even when I put the hobby aside, if I ever do.

Eric Leboff. A man who enjoys running, traveling, working a full-time job in our nation’s capital. A person very much like you or me. A lover of music who took it to the next level and became a maker of music as well. As for the results? They speak for themselves. Learn more about Space And Time , purchase the record and check out some of his tunes below. 10509514_1391389007769185_7393662625597656651_n

Oh, and if you like what you hear, there’s more coming. When I asked Eric about his future recording plans…

It’s funny you ask me about immediate plans for recording- I was in the studio last night actually! I have been working on a 10 song project (that may morph into 12)- parts are being done at the studio I used last time (CUE Recording in Falls Church, VA) and some with younger up-and-coming sound engineer at his home studio. I also have a date to record somewhere in Nashville this June (just one or two songs while I am in town for business- for those songs I will be enlisting some studio musicians local to Nashville to ensure everything gets done in one or two days max). I also have an interest in doing a song or two at a particular studio in Brooklyn and another in Greenville, SC (a place I have been meaning to visit anyway). The songs are in the same vein as the last album for the most part, but a few are more rythymic (“riffy”) and some of the drum parts are more indie than straightway rock. Nothing shockingly different but it will stand on its own with its own personality and feel that will be distinct from my last release. What’s interest is that many of the song ideas for the second album pre-date those I wrote for Space and Time- but many were just sketches that I more recently fleshed out, or that took on new meaning in the context of the surrounding material.

Stay tuned!


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