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Progressive Rock Interviews

Ted Leonard

Interviewed by Sonya Kukcinovich Hill
Interview with Ted Leonard - December 2007
MSJ: This interview is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2008  Volume 1 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Tell us who Ted Leonard is, focusing on your musical background first.
Ted Leonard is uncomfortable speaking in the third person so ... I was raised in a musical family most of whom were singers but some instrumentalists as well.  I had always been in church choirs but joined a band when I was 16 which is when I first picked up a guitar.
MSJ: You reside in a rather eclectic musical universe.  Why don't you first tell us about your work with Enchant and your interest in progressive music in general?

I got turned on to Kansas at an early age and found that there could be more to music than the radio had been feeding me - more layers of texture, more complexity and more emotion.  I learned to sing by belting out Steve Walsh’s vocal lines so naturally I took on some of his characteristics.  Eventually, I responded to a "singer wanted" add that listed Kansas, Queensryche and Marillion as influences.  That resulted in an audition with Enchant.  Enchant, as many insiders know, started out very technical and progressive and has since found our niche to be writing emotive, melodic, song oriented music.  This was due in no small part to my influence ... sorry!

MSJ:

Before we turn to your solo work, enlighten us a bit about Thought Chamber a bit.

Thought Chamber is a sign of the times in that it came about completely over the internet.  Michael Harris and I had been in contact and exchanging files for about six years before it came to fruition.  I was compelled by the aggressiveness of the music and Michael’s virtuosic guitar playing and thought it would be interesting to have my very non-metal voice juxtaposed over these songs.  I think it came out great and is truly original in the genre.
MSJ: Way Home is a fascinating musical project obviously rooted in your deep faith.  What inspired you to undertake this substantial multi-instrumental project?
I've been wanting to make an album for God's glory since I can remember but have had neither the time nor the equipment to do so.  In some ways, I'm  glad I waited because at this point of my life, my perspective on all things divine has lead me to write more of a commentary on my own faith/deed conflict than a "preachy" album.  Kind of like how the Apostle Paul in his spiritual maturity still refers to himself as the "chief of sinners."  I'm no Paul but I always appreciated that kind of transparency and frankly, think that yields better results than religious piety.
MSJ:

You reside in two worlds ~ the secular musical one and the one inspired by the Holy Spirit.  How do you reconcile those two seemingly contradictory positions?

I don't think those two worlds are mutually exclusive.  I think it's interesting that no one asks a Christian business man how he reconciles conducting business in a secular world.  If we all hide behind the stained glass windows - how effective can we be?  Besides, if you read some of the lyrics I've written for Enchant, knowing now that I'm a Christian, you'll see the inferences all over.  I believe in the promise that "if you seek, you shall find."  I've always used subtlety to cause others to seek.  Blatancy shuts people off or desensitizes them.

MSJ: Way Home seems to exploit just as many musical moods as the deep lyrics illustrate for the mind engaged in deep Christian meditation.  It's a gift to be able to share such deep issues of growth and struggle for the Christian, not only in general but specifically musically - any thoughts about that?
I've been called to share my areas of struggle ... I'm not sure I'd call that a gift.  I think it's important to know that God is going to use you where you're at ... "God works best with broken tools."  Too many people are waiting to achieve some state of worthiness or righteousness before they will serve others or share their faith but it's in serving that our faith is built.  God takes our minuscule effort and multiplies it to prove himself to us.  If we don't make that initial effort we might miss out on seeing God's handiwork. They say faith can move mountains but I believe that God moves the mountains ... faith just picks up a shovel!
MSJ: You have this soul-filled, spot-on voice and beautifully expressive vocal as-well-as instrumental phrasing on the album.  You rock hard but musically and never overplay.  Yet, you understate yourself with humility, which lends great credibility to you individually.  But, when your music plays, the instant response is "Wow!  This guy is great!"  It's an easy sell.  What would you like to say to those who haven't heard your fantastic music yet?
I would say "check it out," but don't expect an overly polished Nashville production.  This album's production is a direct response to that sound that seems to have taken over Christian music.  Also erase any preconceived notion that this is another Enchant record because the vocals and words are actually audible on this one (that didn't sound bitter did it?).  In other words listen with an open mind and I think you'll dig it.
MSJ: Faith or Reason?  (Both)?
Both.  My faith is a result of reason.  I'm a left-brained (logical, mathematical) kind of person.  Faith means trust but is also taken to mean the belief in the unproven, untested or unseen.  Things like the amount of information stored on a single DNA strand (which some speculate to be the equivalent of about 3.5 Gigabytes), the fact that nature is not only functional and organized but unnecessarily beautiful, and the fact that we have the capacity to love each other beyond the amount necessary to merely propagate our species are all provable, tested and visible reasons for a logical mind to pursue the possibility of a creator.
MSJ: One big, and quite often valid, criticism of Christian music is that it's often homogenized and not particularly edgy or cutting edge.  There are exceptions (e.g. dcTalk, P.O.D., and certainly Neal Morse and yourself.)  But, Jesus is about as-edgy-as one can get.  Is this an intentional expression of  faith, or is it simply who you are musically?

I guess it's just me.  I wanted to make an album that I would like since I'll have copies of it long after everyone else has discarded it.  When it came time to mix it I intentionally tried to avoid that overly polished sound.  For instance, some of the harmonies are not perfectly lined up with the main vocal line which gives it more of a live sound.  With modern computer based mixing, we can easily get rid of any and every inconsistency but at some point it stops sounding human.

MSJ: Your guitar work is very tastefully phrased and is well placed. Indeed, so is your bass playing, sometimes reminding us of an early Chris Squire.  You also included Nick D'Virgilio on drums for several tracks. What was it like to pull all those parts together into an integrated whole, and how do you feel about the final product?

Almost everything was tracked before bringing it to Nick.  I fully expected to have to re-track the bass after the drums went down but Nick and Sean (Enchant's drummer) are such talented players that it all just fit.   In fact, it sounds like a band but it's really just me and Nick or me and Sean. 

 

I'm pretty happy with the result ... and one of these days I'll try listening to it again ... (laughter).  When you do all of the writing, tracking, and engineering, you end up hearing each song at least a thousand times before it's complete so hopefully some day I can listen to it like a listener would.

MSJ: It's obvious why Christians would be attracted to your music. Why should non-Christians listen?
Well, hopefully because it's good.  I don't tell people what to think, but to think (oooooh I just coined a phrase).
MSJ:

Ted, what is the last CD you purchased for yourself?

CD?  It's been a couple of years but the latest download (legal, of course) was the soundtrack to the movie Once.  The music in that movie was so passionate ... the soundtrack, however, not so much.
MSJ: What is the last concert you attended for your own personal enjoyment?
Lincoln Brewster.  He's a Christian artist and an amazing guitar player ... in fact, at one point someone shouted "play some Van Halen," he replied with "don't tempt me" and then proceeded to nail "Eruption."  It was hilarious.
MSJ: And, now, the "biggie:"  What has been your best "Spinal Tap" moment?

That movie loses its humor once you go on a tour and realize how true it is.  We played this one venue that was like a small movie theater where it was all amphitheater style seating but really small.  When we went in to watch the headliner, I couldn't stop laughing because it looked like a puppet show and the audience was just calmly sitting and watching ... then I realized we had just opened for the puppet show .......uh.... You had to be there.

 
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