Q&A Nathan Leigh
LOCK HAVEN -Nathan Leigh is a singer-songwriter as well as a musical composer. He plays in multiple bands, including Super Mirage and A Thousand Ships, and has written scores for shows at the Berkshire Theatre Festival, American Repertory Theatre, Connecticut Repertory Theatre and more.
Leigh’s latest folk album, “A Life in Transit,” was released in March of this year and is available at his website, www.nathanleigh.net. Leigh will perform Friday at Avenue 209 Coffee House, 209 Bellefonte Ave.
Recently, the Sun-Gazette had a chance to chat with the busy musician via email.
MATTHEW PARRISH: Can you describe your new album “A Life in Transit” for me?
NATHAN LEIGH: Musically, it’s a mix of a lot of sounds. It’s all rooted in folk music, but there’s some electronic bits, some louder rock bits and even a short classical piece. I recorded it with a group of 19 other musicians, and they all lent a little bit of their own style. Narratively, it’s sort of the story of a year in my life. Moving out of my old apartment to go on tour, getting incredibly homesick and then getting incredibly sick. Then finally overcoming it and heading back on the road. It’s about trying to find that balance between youthful ambition and the demands of adulthood. Failing sometimes and other times succeeding. I’m still working on that balance in my own life, but the album ends on a very optimistic note, I think.
MP: You said your lung collapsed multiple times during the recordings. What was wrong?
NL: Yeah, during the first rehearsal for my live band, The Travelling Salesmen, my lung just gave out suddenly. We’re still not totally sure why, other than it’s apparently a thing that tends to happen to tall thin men in their late 20s. I spent a week in the hospital, recovered a little bit, but it kept happening over the course of the next year. And then during an Occupy Wall Street protest, I got beaten by the NYPD and it got considerably worse.
So, I had to finally take some time off from touring and recording. I had surgery to remove part of my right lung. That was when my friends stepped in.
MP: How did they help?
NL: I had always recorded every instrument myself on my albums, but suddenly I wasn’t able to anymore, so I’d have my friends come over to hang out and keep me company, and I’d ask them to just lay down a track or two.
MP: Are you OK now?
NL: I’m mostly OK now. It’s still a struggle sometimes, but it looks like the really scary parts of it are behind me. And thankfully it hasn’t gotten in the way of performing for a while.
MP: You play in a lot of bands and write for a lot of projects. Is it ever too much?
NL: You just have to be willing to make a commitment to not really sleeping that much! A big thing that came out of dealing with my lung was the realization that life can be really short and there isn’t necessarily going to be a “later.” So, if I have an idea for a project, I try not to put it off. Consequently, I’m always in the middle of half a dozen projects.
MP: When did you decide to start writing musicals?
NL: Theatre has always been a big part of my life. As far as I can remember, I’ve wanted to be a composer of musicals.
MP: How would you say musical writing is different from other types of songwriting?
NL: It’s been interesting pursuing both “serious” composition and I guess you’d call it “pop” simultaneously. They’re very different worlds and they really don’t cross over much. I think of music in terms of storytelling most of the time. If my musicals are novels, then my solo material is more like short stories. But there are songs that I intend for my solo set that end up finding their way into my musicals. The song “Less Money, Also Mo’ Problems” from my new EP was like that. It ended up becoming the centerpiece of my latest musical, Icarus, which I wrote with book writer Jason Slavick.
MP: How has the reception to your musicals been?
NL: The reception has been really great. I guess I’m still a little surprised whenever I get a good review since I tend to think of myself as the underdog. But my most recent play, Icarus, just had a very successful run at the New York Musical Theatre Festival.
MP: How did you get the show at Avenue 209? Have you ever performed in Central Pa.?
NL: I’m originally from Boston. But I actually lived in Lock Haven one summer. A while back, I worked as the resident sound designer for the Millbrook Playhouse. Since everyone wears multiple hats there, I wrote music for the shows on the Cabaret Stage and actually played the upright bass in the production of “Forever Plaid.” This was in 2005. So I’ve lived all over the place, but Lock Haven is one of the places I’ve called home.
MP: What are you doing next?
NL: I’m always playing shows, and will be doing a few short tours this fall, but my big focus for the next few months is going to be recording my next full length album. It’s going to be a pretty ambitious project. It’s sort of a sci-fi folk opera love story. I’ve been collaborating on the story with my close friend and brilliant animator Alma Sheppard-Matsuo, and we’re hoping to turn it into an animated film as well, or at least a series of animated shorts. I have a few theatre projects in the works, I’m doing a score for a production of “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” at the Wellfleet Harbor Actors Theatre, but once that opens, my next album will be my main focus for a while.