Artists | Issues | CD Reviews | Interviews | Concert Reviews | DVD/Video Reviews | Book Reviews | Who We Are | Staff | Home
 
Progressive Rock Interviews

Leonard and Leonard

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

You've been playing progressive music for a long time, and having heard your technical skills on both piano and various electronic keyboards, you evoke some complicated and insightful composition as well as very interesting arrangements. Tell us a bit more about your influences and how you've arrived at that point musically.
My parents gave me a trumpet as a birthday present just after entering kindergarten - with a father that had played tenor saxophone with various jazz musicians in the Philadelphia area throughout the late 40s and 50s (bebop and cool eras) we had been exposed to creative music early on.  Actually, music has proven to run strong throughout the family tree.  Throughout grade school, trumpet lessons were the focus - with a weekly routine that consisted of an individual lesson, group ensemble and what later on turned out to be the most important part of the curriculum - theory and composition.  As a teen playing trumpet, natural influences included Chicago, Blood, Sweat & Tears, Bill Chase, Maynard, Edgar Winter's band and several others - but the focus was always on improving playing skills - it was not until I had heard ELP, Yes, Genesis, Gentle Giant, King Crimson and other notorious 70s prog rock bands that an interest in keyboard playing and composition had emerged.  After grabbing a minimoog in 1975 and an old upright piano in 1976 I had taught myself keyboard by playing a lot of the prog rock tunes that were favorites - being in a rush to learn, I had primarily worked on the difficult pieces with the theory that once the difficult pieces could be played (within reason) the easier pieces would come along for the ride - would not recommend that approach to anyone, but for me, it worked after several frustrating months!  Soon thereafter, compositions started to flow along with a small collection of vintage keys such as the Hammond M3, RMI Electra-piano, Freeman String Symphonizer (couldn't afford the Mellotron but did land a used Orchestron which used 12" see-through "laser" discs) and ARP Pro Soloist - joined North Star in 1977 as the band had formed in 1976.
MSJ:

North Star was a creative prog endeavor which developed a significant following, especially in Europe. How many CDs did the band create?

Altogether about seven distinct formally released albums:

 

The first release was a three song EP entitled North Star (1982) followed up by self published cassette tapes Triskelion (1984) and Feel The Cold (1985) - Belle Antique Records (Japan) re-released Feel The Cold as an LP #55555-8703 (1987) and we had re-released Triskelion as an LP under the SMOE (Space Monster Optional Entertainment) label #SMOED-333 (1988).

 

Feel The Cold was re-released as a CD (1991) #SYNCD-2 by SynPhonic.  We had SMOE release Power (1992) #CD-0992-2 and Eclectricity (1992) as a three volume cassette of live versions of several tunes.  Triskelion was re-released on CD (1993) by Musea (France) #FGBG 4076.AR.  We had released Tempest on CD (2000) #CD-0500-4 for our NEARFest appearance and most recently Extremes CD (2004) #CD-1004-5 which was re-released under the Musea label (2005) #FGBG 4597.AR.

 

 

Note: The early re-releases may have a slightly different lineup of tunes.  Also, Musea records had invited North Star to participate in a multi band concept album entitled Seven Days of a Life CD (1993) #FGBG 4073.AR - North Star's contribution was the tune titled "Thursday: Day of Jupiter, God of Power.”

MSJ:

The band played NEARFest on a couple of occasions. You've continued to work occasionally with your brother, Glenn, who joined you on all the North Star performances. Glenn went on to a busy touring schedule as Project Object's drummer. Any thoughts of North Star reuniting for future projects?

Actually, North Star had appeared only once at NEARFest - we were the opening act in 2000.  Our most recent work was recording Extremes by "long distance” - since each of the band members live from between several hundred miles to a few thousand miles apart the only way to complete the recording was by mailing progressively updated versions of the recording with each member adding his multi-track part - eventually it was completed.  This approach makes it feasible to do another project although no immediate works are planned.
MSJ:

Tell us about your solo project, Automatrix.

Automatrix was an attempt to do "whacked out" compositions using a mixture of orchestral sounds and rock band instrumentation.  Since the mutlitrack tape deck had died after the North Star Power recording sessions a key "constraint" was to sequence all of the parts using only an Ensoniq VFXsd.  The parts were then performed and recorded, one track at a time, in real time (as with multi-track tape) except for the drums which were quantized since I am not a drummer - this "mistake" contributed to giving the recording its herky-jerky futuristic feel.  Since the instrument can only reproduce 21 voices at a time, this apparent technical "limitation" was actually a benefit since it forced you (as a composer) to economize on your arrangements and create clean orchestrations - a "make your statement and get out of Dodge" type of approach seemed to worked best.  The result was a collection of aggressive yet transparent pieces with a hard-to-define style (a clear departure from North Star) and a somewhat "machine-like" tempo - hence the title Automatrix.

MSJ:

Although you created that a number of years ago, the music still sounds very unique and extremely technical, but with some really cool vintage analog equipment. How did you compose for that project and what inspired you, especially with some some pretty freaky time changes and, for lack of a better description, kind of a futuristic mechanical feeling to it. It's still very musical, but what inspired you for that unique approach?

Several individual ideas had been bouncing around that never quite fit the North Star approach nor had been fully developed into tunes.  For some reason, these ideas were very quirky - but still melodic and needed to be pursued at some point.  The sequenceer capabilities of the machine suggested new ways of not only piecing together individual ideas for further development but also a great way to quickly experiment with different sounds playing the same composed part - thus the strange time signatures and key changes.  In the end, the composer always makes the final call.  However, it is interesting to be able to use the technology in different ways to suggest possible compositional paths to follow - but it still takes a lot of work -no shortcuts!

MSJ:

You have a really cool home studio with the original MiniMoog, the Oppenheimer unit and lots of other cool stuff in just pristine condition. I could see Rick Wakeman or Keith Emerson being very comfortable in that setting. Can you tell us a bit about your equipment setup?

In addition to the Ensoniq VFXsd, primarily using a Korg N5ex synth, Korg CX-3 organ, Oberheim OB-Xa synth and a recently restored Hohner Clavinet D6 - still have the "vintage" ARP Pro Soloist, Minimoog, Freeman String Symophonizer and Yamaha DX100 but don't ercord with these instruments as much.  For multitrack recording have just upgraded from the trusty 8 track Fostex DMT8vl to a 32 track Korg D3200 - since the D3200 has built in FX, tend not to use the Yamaha SPX90II FX unit as much.  Also use a Rickenbacker 4001 bass when simple but convincing bass parts are needed and Roland KC500 amplification.  Wish the Hammond M3, Polymoog, ARP Pro DGX, RMI, Roland Juno-106 and Orchestron were still around!
MSJ:

You also have a nice baby grand loaded up with some pretty complete Bach scores on the stand. That brings up the Prog Bach project you've done with Glenn. Before I heard it, I was wondering if this was going to be some new kind of Wendy (Walter) Carlos "switched on Bach" project, but the arrangements are purely prog to my ears, with the authenticity that the classically trained ear can recognize. This is cool stuff! How did you guys conceive this, and what are your expectations for this music to be heard?

Prog Bach was completely Glenn's concept who had always heard drum parts and rock band interpretations of these pieces.  After recording the drum tracks during the Tempest sessions the keyboards were finally added several years later!  The idea was to perform pieces that had not yet been interpreted by any other rock band or synthesist - at least to the best of our knowledge.  The recording was primarily created as an experiment to hear these great pieces interpreted and recorded using modern technology with a prog rock feel and hopefully it would appeal to a large cross-section of music fans.

MSJ:

Considering Bach may have been the most prolific composer who ever lived, and knowing that his work both followed the rules of baroque music while transcending it and opening up the classical era, how did you select the pieces to arrange?

Most of the pieces were selected by Glenn with the drum tracks already prepared before I was even aware of the targeted tunes.  The pieces selected were those that naturally suggested a rock band interpretation that had not been done before in that style. The only piece I had selected toward the end of the recording was the “Brandenburg #4 Andante.”  One of the many unique things about Bach is that these pieces can be played on any instrument and still sound great.  Although optimal instrumentation will always present a piece in its best light, Bach's compositions do not seem to over-rely on specific instrumentation.

MSJ:

As a follow-up, Glenn's percussive interpretations certainly wouldn't have been considered in that era, but they lend themselves to the musicality of your own playing. Have you considered that this creates a new and different transcendental quality to some very old and, by most accounts, perfectly composed music?

Yes - one of the main goals of the recording was to present these specific interpretations and arrangements - the hopeful intent was to uniquely interpret this "perfectly composed music" - and this approach could be viable for any style of music. 
MSJ:

What was the last gig you attended for your own enjoyment?

Recent shows include Liquid Fringe, a Philadelphia area band that does a great mixture of cover tunes and strong original compositions in a straight ahead rock/slightly blues style - and of course, Project Object just prior to Glenn's relocation to the coast.
MSJ:

Following the same line of thought, what was the last CD or download you purchased for your own listening pleasure?

Bach "The Art of Fugue" by the Emerson String Quartet.
MSJ:

What's the most significant Spinal Tap moment you've experienced?

In the 80s, while playing the closing tune of our last show as a performing band routinely playing the local Philadelphia area circuit, the drums fell apart and the PA blew out at practically the same moment -  we took this as a universal sign to focus on recording the material and releasing albums.  As Viv would say - "...have a good time, all the time..."
 
More Interviews
Metal/Prog Metal
Non-Prog
Progressive Rock
 
Google

   Creative Commons License
   This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License.

    © 2019 Music Street Journal                                                                           Site design and programming by Studio Fyra, Inc./Beetcafe.com