Andrew Leahey spent most of 2012 on the road, driving the 600 miles between his adopted hometown of Nashville and his native Richmond, Virginia. The trips were long, taking him over the Smoky Mountains, across the Appalachians and through a handful of cities. He passed the time by listening to several albums on repeat -- Whiskeytown's Strangers Almanac, Bob Dylan's Highway 61 Revisited, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers' Live Anthology, Drive-By Truckers' Brighter Than Creation's Dark -- and filing away ideas for his own songs. Those ideas, inspired by the rock & roll coming from Leahey's stereo and the landscape unfolding outside his car window, became the songs on Andrew Leahey & the Homestead's new EP, Summer Sleeves.
"I remember reading an article about Tom Petty in an old issue of Rolling Stone," he says. "Tom was talking about writing Full Moon Fever while living in Los Angeles. He was driving all the time, stuck in L.A. traffic after going to hang out at Jeff Lynne's place or something, and he wound up naturally writing the sort of music that's great to listen to in a car. You listen to those songs and wind up thinking about the ocean, about highways, about gasoline and sand and strip malls and tan lines... I wanted to do something similar, with a different kind of landscape."
Summer Sleeves is the sound of the South: its cities, its open spaces, and everywhere in between. Leahey recorded the songs with the Homestead, a group of childhood friends and Virginia-based musicians who added organ, harmonized guitar riffs, pedal steel, and three-part harmonies to the mix. Co-produced by Leahey, guitarist Phil Heesen III and local musician JL Hodges, the EP was recorded in several days at a friend's home studio, with the Homestead nailing most of their parts in two or three takes.
"My friend James Mason was nice enough to let use his living room," Leahey explained. "He has great equipment in there, but the house is sorta run-down. The pipes are rusty, so you need to get all your drinking water from the upstairs shower, and there's no drywall or insulation. While recording these songs, we talked a lot about "vibe": about the mood, the swagger, the cool attitude of a song. If you start worrying about making things sound perfect, you ruin the vibe, which will ruin the song. Sometimes, you need to remember that rough edges are good -- they give you something to hold onto. So, recording in that house, where I could've punched a hole in the floor by simply dropping my guitar amp, was the perfect place to get a good vibe."
After recording sessions wrapped up during the final weeks of the summer, Leahey hit the road again, this time driving down to Athens, GA. There, he met up with David Barbe, producer of landmark albums by the Drive-By Truckers and Son Volt. Barbe agreed to mix the songs, but he shook his head when Leahey described Summer Sleeves as an alt-country release. "It's rock & roll," Barbe corrected. And he was correct.