When you close your eyes images of Tom Petty playing on the radio as Jack Kerouac and his beatniks blaze down Highway 61 spring to mind. To hear that the band soundtracking your Americana dream are from London might make one question what Americana means.
Perhaps, instead of being rooted in a time or place, Americana is a state of mind. It exists away from civilisation, rejects materialism and concerns itself with being present and one with nature. That state of mind finds itself deeply rooted in Leif Erikson and their frontman Sam Johnston. “I love writing about ecology and the beauty of nature. My writing suggests living in a slightly different way. My inspiration is rooted in the seventies. The Eagles, Heartland, California. That’s my favourite music.”
As with the beat generation Leif Erikson channel the primal. They are like a British Wilco, a band that personify fantastic musicianship and long drives where civilisation is a distant memory.
Take for example their first track released at the tail end of 2015, ‘Looking for Signs’. Originally it was a sweeping epic that chugged along at a breathless pace. The song has evolved in the year it has taken the band to develop. The beat has slowed to be replaced with space and atmosphere perfect for the aforementioned drives.
Leif Erikson are now a band confident enough to keep things simple. “I like to make music that is like a beautiful view.” confesses Johnston, “It evokes a feeling and you feel like you are getting something hearty from it. It’s kind of a magical experience…I love making a beautiful phrase and creating something that rolls nicely as opposed to being too cool or smooth. Casting an image with a line. As with the seventies and guys like Neil Young and The Band it’s about storytelling and sharing and communication.”
Having met at school aged 13, two of the band members Sam and Giles bonded over their mutual love for New York band Interpol’s debut album 'Turn on the Bright Lights'. The album features a track from which the band take their name. They then formed the band Flashguns with schoolmate Olly and flirted with success releasing one LP ‘Passions Of A Different Kind’ alongside the tide of jangly indie pop that came through at the end of the last decade. “Now we know what we are doing.” declares Johnston, “After doing it for nearly ten years, seven with Flashguns. We are always learning though. You stop when yoFu’re dead.”
The music that Johnston creates with Leif Erikson more accurately portrays him as a person. His anachronistic attitude is at odds with his surroundings in the suffocating city, “I’ve lived in London pretty much my whole life but also spent a lot of time with my family in Exmoor which is the polar opposite.” says Johnston. “That’s my spiritual home. I’d ultimately quite like to live there. Living in London for so long definitely grates. It doesn’t suit me. I don’t like all the noise. I like a simpler life, somewhere a bit more quiet. A lot of people don’t think it’s something you can have but you can take a step back and chill out a bit more.”
A mini-LP is slated for release in March with five new songs for fans to get their teeth stuck into. Once again it's an approach that harks back to bygone eras - now, being so prolific is met with surprise as opposed to how artists approached album releases in the sixties and seventies; think of the first five albums The Eagles released from 1972 to 1976. Johnston agrees, “That’s what I would want from an artist. Not playing the game and tantalising people. Actually I think it’s probably better if they can just hear the damn music. I mean I love making records. Now we’re 27 it makes you want to make something happen. 2017 is crunch time.”
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Words: Richard Jones
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