We talk songwriting in Italy, eclectic references and a sell-out European tour with 19-year old singer-songwriter Leo Stannard
At such a young age, it’s a wonder that 19-year-old singer-songwriter Leo Stannard is emotively experienced enough to deliver a catalogue of enigmatic song narratives which ponder relationships and personal issues – yet there’s a raw relatable realism to his lyrics accompanied by his harmonic-folky soundscape which transports you somewhere earthy, wild and idyllic – just you alone with your thoughts… and Leo’s invitingly raspy and soulful vocals, of course.
Following a sell-out European tour back in April, his second EP ‘Notions’ is due for release in October and after just completing his A’levels back home in a quiet Leicestershire village, he plans on “seeing as many places and meeting as many people as possible.” No pressure then.
You’re quite young, but your sound is so mature – have you been making music for a long time?
Well I’ve been playing guitar since I was nine years old and started writing songs when I was ten. Terrible songs, but I suppose you’d expect that from a ten-year-old. Ever since then I’ve been crafting my sound and I think now I’m getting to the point where things are sounding how I want them to.
What made you take that first step into the wider world?
Doing my first Mahogany Session acted as a great platform (Leo and The Intermission project performed a cover of Alt-J’s ‘Tessellate’ for the London-based YouTube blog The Mahogany Sessions). Suddenly after that, I seemed to actually have quite a few fans around the world and there was lots of online activity. This made me realise that I might actually be able to do this for a living. I always wanted to do music professionally but never really thought it would be possible from my tiny village in Leicestershire. After seeing the reaction to my music from all over the world I thought “fuck it, this is what I want to do!”.
Do you write all your own songs?
I do. I spend hours alone in my bedroom doing it. I think it’s very good to write completely honestly and that comes across when it’s just one guy or girl writing from personal experiences.
Where are you and what mood are you in when you’re feeling most inspired to write / record?
There’s a little shed/house in a place called Maratea in Southern Italy which I go to every year with my family and that’s where I write a lot of my material. I’m not entirely sure why I feel so inspired but it’s got something to do with the simplicity of the surroundings. It’s beautiful there.
I guess that kind of environment is a great place to nurture your emotions and express them in lyrics – but is it ever a struggle to write at times?
A lot of the time some of the best lyrics just come to you really quickly. But then building the song around that particular part can take a lot of time. Sometimes you listen back to something and it aggravates you every time you hear it but changing it can take a while in order for it to fit perfectly. Like most songwriters I’d imagine, I’m a bit of a perfectionist when it comes to my songs.
So talking of other songwriters, who do you listen to for inspiration?
I find you can take influences from pretty much anywhere (if it’s good music). So I love Tame Impala, Esperanza Spalding, Elliott Smith, Bonobo, Snarky Puppy. But in terms of actual songwriters, my two heroes are Damien Rice and Neil Young. Those two have inspired me for years and I think will continue to inspire me for years to come.
And if you could collaborate with another musician, who would it be?
I haven’t really thought about collaborations that much at this early stage. But I think I’d have to say Bonobo, I think he’s an incredibly intelligent producer and musician and I think we could come up with something pretty cool together.
Your last release ‘Why Don’t We’ makes me want to be driving along a Californian desert highway singing along out loud – what’s your sing-along choice and where would you be listening to it?
Neil Young’s ‘Southern Man’, and I’d be listening to it sat on a rock over-looking the Mediterranean sea in the place I mentioned before, Maratea.
There’s a more polished sound to your latest tracks, a nu-folk meets a stripped back soul vibe – what does your music say about you?
I’m trying to create music that isn’t bound by a phase or a genre and can be enjoyed by everyone of all ages. Some music you hear in the charts is very tailored, but I’m just writing from the heart and always challenging myself musically. I just can’t wait to get started on my album, I’ve got so many ideas for that.
And you’ve already played a sold-out European tour – what was it like seeing how people connect and react to your music?
That was probably the highlight of my career so far. I honestly couldn’t believe that people from all these different countries would actually pay to come and see me. I didn’t even think anybody would have heard of me! So those gigs were really incredible.
So your fanbase is obviously growing – any strange requests or gifts from fans so far?
I don’t think I’ve ever received anything too strange. But there have been some pretty strange requests from people online. There was a girl who asked me if she could use one of my tracks “I Could Say” on a ‘rat trick’ compilation on YouTube. Just to clarify, yes, she was asking for my song to be the soundtrack to a load of her rats doing various tricks! It wasn’t exactly what I had envisaged when I was recording that song in the studio.
And the million dollar question (for all those fans) – are you dating anyone right now?
I’ve had the same girlfriend for a couple of years now. She was just a friend at first who helped me massively when I started my solo career. I remember her arranging all of my CD’s when we were in the basement of some dodgy venue in Leicester at my first ever gig! She helps me a lot and I’m very grateful for that.
And you’ve recently finished your A’levels – how did you do?
Not too bad actually. I was recording my debut EP during my GCSE’s, and then recorded ‘Notions’ (the forthcoming EP) during my study leave for A’Levels, as well as doing a European tour. Up until now the music has always had to take a bit of a back seat.
But now you’ve finished your studies, you’re embracing music fully right?
FUCK YEAH! I couldn’t be happier to be doing music full time now. I can’t wait to be touring around, seeing as many places and as meeting as many people as possible. Obviously school has been getting in the way a lot so to be relieved of that extra stress is amazing, and so good for my creative side.
And what’s coming up next for us to look forward to?
Well the EP (‘Notions’) is out in October which I’m very excited about. I really hope people will like it, I think it’s definitely on a new level to the previous one. I’m also playing at Reeperhbahn festival in Germany in September – and I’ve got another small European tour planned for October but the only dates fully confirmed at the moment are the three in Switzerland. Hopefully more dates to follow! Other than that just lots and lots of writing in preparation for the album which I’m incredibly excited about starting. Oh and I think I’m going to prepare another cover track too, it’s been a while.
For more information about Leo, visit his official Facebook page: leostannardmusic.
Words: Kate Lawson.