Atwood Magazine is excited to announce a partnership with LiveSyphon to showcase live music from across the country! The latest in our LiveSyphon series features singer/songwriter Brennan Leeds.
our “when i’m with you..”‘s leave a
tattoo of your hand on my thigh
eight arms and a stetson stitched on my eye
One of the most curious things about love is how it grows in different ways. Love blossoms from the shared experience between two: It’s the little things – the inside jokes, the tender moments, the accidents and goofs, the nights spent in, the nights spent out – that sum up to create that special, complex emotion that connects two people like no other thing can do. Love comes from any number of things, but it’s amazing how at the end of the day, no two loves are unique: They’re all rooted in different things, lending themselves to unique stories and experiences.
“Thigh Tattoo,” which Atwood Magazine is proudly presenting today in partnership with LiveSyphon, is Brennan Leeds’ personal love song. It’s his ode to his love, with memoir-ish anecdotes sprinkled into a thicket of poetic exposition. This live performance, captured at The Middle East in Boston, captures the true intimacy of Leeds’ song: The artist sways in time with the beat, as if hypnotized by his own echoing guitar strums.
playing by the sundry fire kite man
bite down let it be a ride
the earth spins,
oh please darling i don’t need anything you can’t already give
Hailing originally from Northampton, Massachusetts and carrying a degree from Berklee College of Music, Brennan Leeds is currently one of four members in Conway, Arkansas-based “acid rock” (his words) band Couch Jackets. The band released “Thigh Tattoo” as a single in March 2015, and the full recording sounds like a lucid daydream: Atop the guitar and vocals performance lies a swirling haze of well-laid instruments to evoke a sense of drunken love: Intoxication through emotion.
Brennan Leeds is a modern-day poet: His performance in Boston depicts an explorative artist comfortable in his skin, forever growing and learning while handily capable of bending whatever rules or limits exist in order to satisfy his musical hunger. “Thigh Tattoo” is an unadulterated ode, a recapitulation of love in as honest, sincere and personal a way as one can show it.
Along with “Thigh Tattoo” on Couch Jackets’ Bandcamp site, there comes a foreword of sorts:
“How could you have a tattoo, the same thing on your body for the rest of your life?” – pure love is finding a way, even when things wear, to reinvent an untampered appreciation for the beauty within the things that have built us, that in relation to our current self make us who we are. True, honest love is eternal, it has no bounds, it says “You are what you are now, and I find that beautiful, because it’s honest.” 🙂
It’s hard not to sink one’s full self – mind, body and spirit – into this analysis. In anticipation of our LiveSyphon release, Atwood Magazine spoke with Brennan Leeds about his music, his influences, his goals and obstacles, Couch Jackets, and everything in between. Couch Jackets’ new EP Sincerely, Swimtrunks is out October 15th. Watch “Thigh Tattoo” and get to know Brennan Leeds and Couch Jackets!
Meet Brennan LeedsAtwood Magazine: What inspired you to get into music?
Brennan Leeds: As a child music seemed to be an imaginative wild west, a mental space completely open to any kind of thought. I could escape there to explore any idea. From a more logical perspective, family influence played a giant role. My dad was involved in church worship teams from the time I was born until we stopped going as a family, he’s currently in a classic rock cover group that’s evolved out of that. (They’re called “On The Verge”, they kick so much ass!) They’ve always had a place to practice in our home, a music room of sorts. I spent most of my in time in there as a kid.
Describe the development of “Thigh Tattoo.”
Brennan: My girlfriend Katie and I were texting each other a mile a minute when we first started dating, we still text a lot but it’s changed to something much more comfortable. Those first few months held such exciting nerves, you wanna make sure you’re saying the right things and expressing yourself accurately. One of the things I sent her when I was waxing poetic about how I felt for her was along the lines of, “I wish I could tattoo your hand onto my thigh so that every step I take can be infused with your love.” Hahah total cheese, but she really dug it and saved the message, had this reservoir of screenshots from her favorite bits of our conversations. Somehow we saw the text again later and talked about it, after that I became fascinated with it and the metaphor it implied, that tattoos and scars are honest representations of personal history and have so much emotional weight. This was around the fall of 2013, and we didn’t finish and release the song until spring 2015, the time in there was a piece by piece process of writing it while I was recording it and ruminating on the concept.
I wish I could tattoo your hand onto my thigh so that every step I take can be infused with your love.
I get the sense that this song developed and grew through multiple performances, and that there may have been several iterations in-between the starting product and the current format.
Brennan: Absolutely! It’s a song that Couch Jackets has reworked time and time again with different configurations of musicians, keeps it fresh and fun. We’re releasing a completely new version on our newest EP Sincerely, Swimtrunks.
Does your live performance of “Thigh Tattoo” play to the recorded version, or is the recording a live moment captured in time?
Brennan: The latter most definitely. Because the writing and recording were done in tidbits, the original recorded version feels like a snapshot of how the thoughts and emotions we were facing in that time span tint our memory of it.
Alternatively, are the live and recorded versions of this song two separate beings?
Brennan: Ahh, hahah I guess my last answer still works, but yes, we attack it with that in mind. DAWs (digital audio workstations) give us the ability to make music with less limitations, but that’s also what makes a live performance setting so interesting, seeing what we can do when our resources are more limited.
I’m inspired by the paragraph about pure love preceding the song lyrics on your bandcamp page. Can you talk more about that?
Brennan: There’s this great quote by Osho that says it best, “If you love a flower, don’t pick it up, because if you pick it up it dies and it ceases to be what you love. So if you love a flower, let it be. Love is not about possession. Love is about appreciation.”
If you love a flower, don’t pick it up, because if you pick it up it dies and it ceases to be what you love.
What is “Thigh Tattoo”s relationship with love?
Brennan: Katie and I have been dating for three years, and during that time I’ve gotten three tattoos! The song always feels emotional to play in some way because it so perfectly describes how love has seemed to affect early adulthood. Constantly considering the things that have built you and how they affect everything you are in a moment. It’s hard not to love the fact that those things have kept you alive.
Your lyrics tell great narratives - where do you get your inspiration for songs?
Brennan: Thank you! 🙂 Friends, emotional connections, to whatever always inspires empathetic contemplation that feels really easy to draw from. Also, Bob Dylan.
Your words are expansively colorful. Do you consciously incorporate vocabulary into songwriting?
Brennan: I sometimes feel more conscious of that than others, it depends on who I’m writing for.
Was this song a conscious thought stream?
Brennan: I’d write some chords and a melody and record it and try to let a lyrical line develop naturally, things seemed to happen in that organic way until it felt done.
As far as your songwriting is concerned, how do you approach the boundaries of rhyme and syllable?
Brennan: I never see them as boundaries! Only tools of the trade, so to speak. I love it when phrases in songs sound conversational or just as natural to speak as they are to sing. I’ve always loved that in poetry too. Spending time trying to understand how those simple linguistic tools create tension and release within the observer is important.
What musical instrument would you love to experiment with, if given the opportunity?
Brennan: A sitar, or a hang drum! I’d love become some kind of apprentice to a master of either.
If you weren't a musician, what would you be?
Brennan: Maybe a psychologist!
“Thigh Tattoo” boasts an easy-flowing rhythm driven by the guitar. How do you make the most of the live performance in an instrumentally sparse setting?
Brennan: Sparseness can be so groovy. Space creates groove, it’s about finding out when to leave space and when to do the opposite.
How can we distinguish your music from that of your band, Couch Jackets?
Brennan: My solo stuff explores empathy, trying to get as close to a specific moment and the coinciding feelings as possible. Couch Jackets likes to tackle concepts as a group, musically and mentally. We all tend to stick to one instrument to express said concepts, so we work on refining our own musical voices through those instruments to present a unique team of individuals each giving their own take on the idea.
Who is Couch Jackets, and how would you describe their sound?
Brennan: Couch Jackets is my longtime buddy Ben Eslick on Bass, his longtime buddy Zach Gray on Keyboards, Hunter Law on drums, whom Ben initially met in college at UCA, and me. Save Ben we all split a place in Conway now. And yes, we’re all buddies now too! hahah. I’d say Acid Rock feels an alright genre descriptor, a lot of our theoretical sentiment parallels that of Acid Jazz artists, we’re just a bit more rugged I guess?
Do you think differently when writing for a band than when writing for individual performance?
Brennan: Completely, everyone’s opinion matters and is worth giving time to. Heheh it can take a lot longer but in the end it makes everything that much better.
You released your debut EP Doldrum Dreams in April. What have you learned from the recording and release experience?
Brennan: At the time we were being told to release music by anyone who heard us play, so we knew we needed to put something out, but didn’t quite have the budget to get quality equipment sufficient enough to make Hunter’s drums sound good. So we decided to write and record an EP with what we had about what we were facing. Pretty soon into the process we realized that the record dealt primarily with being overtaken by apathy, so much so that we understood we had to work on fostering the opposite. Immediately after we began planning Sincerely, Swimtrunks as to have a platform to pursue more meaningful thoughts as a band.
What obstacles have Couch Jackets faced in 2016?
Brennan: Money and time have been our worst foes, we all have day jobs to help pay rent and those are strenuous in certain ways, hopefully soon we’ll be able to quit and do this full time! That’s the dream.
On Facebook the band describe their music as “psych punkfunk poprocks with a shot of goat cheese” – which to me says you’d rather have listeners decide what you are, than restrict yourselves. Is that accurate?
Brennan: The web has reinvented how we all discover music, being caught in the middle of countless wonderful pieces means that it’s hard to pin down where influence is drawn from, so we have a tough time even finding bands that we sound like to say we’re in the same genre as. The listener always knows best for themselves.
You have a new album coming out. Can you tell us more about that?
Brennan: Sincerely, Swimtrunks drops on Saturday, October 15th. It’s a parallel EP to Doldrum Dreams, five songs. Where Doldrum Dreams dealt with apathy, this deals with personal worth. For months we’ve been working on a stop-motion video for the song in the middle, Rocket Quaffle, that’ll be released two weeks before the album arrives. We’re trying to release it in a very similar way so people can see how we’re progressing.
Listen: Doldrum Dreams – Couch Jackets
What are you doing differently in preparation for this record, that you did not do for Doldrum Dreams?
Brennan: A majority of Doldrum Dreams was tracked live, we’re taking our time with this one and spending whole days on particular parts. We’ve also spent time at Blue Chair Recording Studio in Austin, AR to track vocals and drums on a great setup. With the launch of the EP we’re also revitalizing our merchandise, setting up a new online store and working with visual artists and photographers, it’s funny how expressive even that process can become.
What else is coming up for Brennan Leeds and Couch Jackets in 2016?
Brennan: Couch Jackets has shows all around Arkansas for the rest of the year, and when the EP is out we’ll have a release show to celebrate. After that we’re starting work on our first LP, tentatively titled Dope, Baby. We wanna continue to build a base here while we continue to get better as a band, the goal is to eventually migrate to another hub and start building another base. Who knows what’ll happen though? We’re just takin’ it one fun step at a time.