Leagues: Our music is a formula that's been living in us

Leagues: Our music is a formula that's been living in us
Photo by Heidi Ross

Thad Cockrell, Tyler Burkum and Jeremy Lutito were never really indie-pop guys. Cockrell got his wings as a country star, singing sad twangy songs; Burkum has two Grammys under his belt as part of the rock-gospel outfit Audio Adrenaline; and Lutito was a regular bassist for the Christian rock band Jars of Clay. It's a bit unexpected, then, that the three of them should come together as Leagues, with a sunny pop sound that sounds as fresh as summer.

The Nashville-based Leagues has just released their debut record You Belong Here, giving listeners ten tracks that are sing-along ready. Cockrell's tenor vocals are anything but country here, and the lyrics stick fast to the "romantic love" theme introduced in the album's infectious opening track "Spotlight." It's the album that should usher in a season change (and a mood change) with its lighthearted hope and dance tunes.

Ahead of the band's gig this Friday night at the Cedar Cultural Center, Gimme Noise caught up with guitarist Burkum -- who some might know as the brother to Page Burkum, co-founder of local group the Cactus Blossoms -- to chat about the new record and what it's like starting over all over again.

Gimme Noise: You Belong Here was your debut record. How long have you guys been making music together?

Tyler Burkum: The band's been around for about three years, but all of us were pretty busy trying to pull it together and make more music with each other. Until the first EP came out, it was more kind of here and there, because we were all in different cities. When the EP came out, we started to get a response, and we were working harder and harder to work towards a full length. We did a 42-city tour in the fall [of 2011], and then we started digging in and writing the full length, and shortly after the tour in 2011 and the beginning of the year in 2012, we were in cabins and different places trying to write the album.

Let's talk about the album for a moment. It came out in January. How long was it in the making?

It took about thirteen days, start to finish, and we kind of blazed through it. It was partly because we had to finish the record and decide what to do with it. We were looking for the right opportunity to release it. It's kind of weird, recording the album and not being able to release it until nearly a year later.

Tell me about the songwriting process. How do you guys work together? How do the songs come out?

Man, it could be.... We all try to write together, but sometimes it happens that Thad has the lyrics or the chorus for a melody, and sometimes Jeremy has the melody or just the guitar riff, and [the songs] kind of all start in different ways and they all have the sounds of the band, you know. So much of what this band sounds like is that it doesn't sound like any one of us, it sounds like all of us, and everyone is a part of the conversation. I mean, 99.8 percent of the lyrics are Thad, and that's something that he's obviously really great at. Me and Jeremy are probably not going to write lyrics because he's just so good, but we can find our strengths in other places.

I heard about who was in Leagues before I heard the music of Leagues, and I was definitely surprised. Obviously this music is different from what any of you have done before. Did you have a conversation about leaning towards a different type of sound for Leagues?

No, it was just really natural. I think we were all looking for something that we weren't getting from our other stuff. I think even though it doesn't necessarily sound like anything anyone of us has done, it's probably a formula that's been living in us.

It sounds like you guys have all had your separate lives before Leagues. What does being in Leagues mean for you now?

Well, I think this band is a fresh start for each one of us... We wanted to make music that was leaning towards joy and hope for other people and for ourselves, and it wasn't about us enjoying it or the audience, it was about everyone enjoying it and being in this moment together with the audience and knowing that when music is finished, we're all together, listening. We just really -- it's a hokey, cheesy thing but we really just want to make music that makes people smile and laugh. For us, being in Leagues is a hopeful, joyful thing. We're trying to make an impact in each other's lives, too. We don't want to make overly serious or melancholy music. I think the music is really joyful.

What's different about this group? Is it more limiting for you to be in a group and responsible for other people instead of yourself? Are you still getting used to the group thing?

Oh, I mean... It's really fun. We're just getting to something good, you know? Musically, friendship-wise... Being in a band is really hard, especially when you're performing. It's easy for things to get dysfunctional, but if we can't take care of each other, then why are we doing it? We're already sick of each other, but we're getting less sick of each other.

Leagues will be performing with Greycoats on Friday, April 19 at the Cedar Cultural Center. Doors at 7 p.m. All ages. Tickets $12-$15. Info here.

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