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The Cropper!

A blog featuring #indie music, news, interviews, & the best darn songs west of Stockholm

Leon III cover

Leon III

Nearly every album on your record shelf or taking up hard drive space on your laptop was the product of multiple voices and minds, all coming together for the purpose of making a singular piece of art. That anyone manages to be successful at such an endeavor, with so many cooks in the proverbial kitchen is one of the great mysteries and joys of music making.

That was definitely the case with the debut album by Leon III (pronounced ‘Leon The Third’), the new project from Richmond, Virginia’s former Wrinkle Neck Mules members Andy Stepanian and Mason Brent. To kick off this fresh endeavor, the pair decamped to Nashville for the legendary Beech House Studios (this album would be the final sessions for the 30-year-old studio, which is being moved to South Carolina) and put their songs and their trust in the hands of a small army of session musicians. And their collective efforts helped shepherd into reality a measured masterpiece of sweetly psychedelic ramblers, spacious folk-pop, and lived in roots-rock.

Leading the charge was Mark Nevers. A veteran of the country-leaning indie scene thanks to his peerless work with Bonnie “Prince” Billy, Lambchop, and Silver Jews, he was the band’s first choice for a collaborator on this new endeavor.

“When I set out to do this project,” Stepanian remembers, “I wanted to do it in a big way. And I wanted to use a producer out of the gate and I wanted to break out from Wrinkle Neck Mules and try something new. There was a short list of people I wanted to work with and Mark was right at the top. It turned out to be the right call.”

The proof of that is cooked right into the music. Nevers brought in some top notch session players, including drummer Brian Kotzur (Bobby Bare, Silver Jews), pianist Tony Crow (B.J. Thomas, Andrew Bird), singer Jordan Caress (Laura Cantrell, Justin Townes Earle), guitarist Chris Scruggs (grandson of bluegrass legend Earl Scruggs), and pedal steel wizard Pete Finney (Justin Townes Earle, Kelly Willis), to help add texture and definition to these already sharply rendered songs. Mostly, Nevers contributed an environment that helped fuel the album’s laid back vibe.

“He creates a chill atmosphere to the recording process and that helps the songs go down a certain way,” says Stepanian. “When you ask him to turn his producer hat on, which we did from the beginning, he brings a lot of elements to the table. Some of it I was reluctant to accept at first but hearing it now, I think, ‘That was perfect.’ Mark has a way of giving you faith in your own songs.”

And what songs they are. Just check out “From These Heights,” a tune that falls in and out of focus like trying to read your phone after a few too many cocktails, woozy with the sound of pedal steel and the thrum of a mandolin. Right next door, “Paper Eye” meanders into psychedelic territory with the pulse of a synthesizer rubbing suggestively up against the sweep of a string section and some dub-like production touches. In addition, Leon III gives their own lysergic spin on “Jesus,” one of the signature tracks on The Velvet Underground’s 1969 self-titled third album, and find fresh insight in the song’s spiritual pleadings.

Taken as a whole, Leon III’s debut is a multi-dimensional ride through ten thematically interconnected and musically rich tunes. The songs are filled with dark corners and shadows but still produce sing along, anthemic moments. If Stepanian and Brent wanted to break from their alt-country past, they have clearly done so without wholly abandoning the idiom. In the process, they have paved the way for a diverse and varied future for Leon III.

Radio Contact Nelson, Lauren & team
Live dates:
5/8 – Vienna VA *
5/9 – Charlottesville VA *
5/10 – Richmond VA
5/11 – Carrboro NC *
5/12 – Asheville NC*
5/17 – Atlanta GA
5/18 – Charlotte NC
5/19 – Boone NC

  • supporting Mother Hips
Joachim Cooder-Fuchsia Machu Picchu_team-Clermont_Nelson_Wells_cover

Joachim Cooder

Joachim Cooder grew up surrounded by music. His father, the legendary guitarist Ry Cooder, would take him on the road at an early age, first as a viewer, and then in his early teens, as a player.

Joachim’s first instrument was the drums, playing with Ry both live and in the studio. These touring and recording projects allowed him to share stages and recordings with Johnny Cash, Ali Farka” Touré, V. M. Bhatt, Steve Earle, John Lee Hooker, Dr. John, Nick Lowe, and most notably the Buena Vista Social Club. Over the years Joachim has maintained this close relationship with his father, solidifying his reputation as a lyrical drummer, and branching out on projects of his own.

Joachim produced Carly Ritter’s self-titled debut album (Tex Ritter’s granddaughter), and composed the score for films such as the cult surf classic Shelter and Charged: The Eduardo Garcia Story, which recently premiered at The Santa Barbara Film Festival (Winner, Audience Choice Award). His collaborations have taken him into the world of dance where he teamed up with choreographer Daniel Ezralow (Across The Universe, Spider-Man: Turn The Dark Off) to compose and perform live in an Ezralow Dance career retrospective.

But it wasn’t until his wife and long-time collaborator Juliette Commagere became pregnant that he began writing and singing his own songs. “We were in Nashville to produce a friend’s record in January – it was snowing – every morning I would wake up and play my electric mbira I brought through a little amp and start singing,” Joachim says. It became the beginning of his solo project and eventual EP titled Fuchsia Machu Picchu. The songs are about longing, love, plants, and the inner life of inanimate objects.

The sound is very much inspired by the world music he grew up with. “I’m always hearing some sort of defunct cosmic ice cream truck in my head – that’s the sound I’m after with my mbiras and tank drums and other tuned percussion. Hopefully, people will get that.”

Radio Contact Lauren, Nelson Wells & team radio

TOUR DATES with Ry Cooder
2018 Day Main Support City | State Venue

8 | 14 Tuesday Ry Cooder Joachim Cooder Denver, CO Paramount Theater
8 | 18 Saturday Ry Cooder Joachim Cooder Mesa, AZ Mesa Arts Center

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About The Cropper!

A blog featuring #indie music, news, interviews, & the best darn songs west of Stockholm

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The Cropper! accepts music submissions of all kinds. Though we cannot guarantee write-ups, we eagerly anticipate hearing, writing about and discovering new, unsigned, and exciting artists. Submit your music now. Thanks!

Here's to 20 Years of Team Clermont artists & bands. Thank you all!

We surely couldn’t have made it 20 years without all of you, our artists.
See our full roster, the whole list of the 2,238 artists, singers, bands and true creatives we’ve had the privilege of working with so far during our company’s (first) 20-year history. – with love from co-founders Nelson Wells and Bill Benson

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