South Carolina rockers Leslie look beyond the South
You’ve heard it before: A bunch of longhaired boys from the low country of South Carolina take off into the swamps to write some rock & roll songs. But this is 2011, and the members of Leslie aren’t from Beaufort or McClellanville, but from that shining, historic jewel of genteel propriety: Charleston, a city that’s home to far more shenanigan-seeking frat-boys and trust-funders than it is to shit-kicking good ol’ boys. It’s the sort of place where Jack Johnson and pink oxford shirts reign supreme, and it’s one of the last places in the South where classic-rock cowbells and non-ironic lyrics about “laying my burden down” would seem to be welcomed with anything beyond polite dismissal.
“I think we sometimes definitely find it hard to fit into the local scene,” says Leslie guitarist-vocalist Sadler Vaden. “I know that we are respected in the Charleston scene for what we do. We try to help everyone out as much as possible. It’s not a huge ‘rock’ town, in that there aren’t a ton of rock & roll bands around, but that doesn’t take away from how much talent is there. But we try to not just base everything we do on our popularity in Charleston. It’s where we live and we’ll always love it, but we have our sights set on the rest of the country and, hopefully, internationally.”
The fact that Leslie has its sights set beyond the Holy City is a testament to the trio’s effectiveness on stage; this isn’t a band content to merely work the boards in local taverns for friendly applause and free beer. To the contrary, Leslie is a band that works hard to push their take on accessible classic rock & roll in front of new audiences as often as possible. Here in Orlando, for example, the band has quickly evolved from an unknown opener playing to bartenders, soundboard operators and the occasional music critic to a headliner capable of getting stoic hipsters and inveterate rock fans shaking their asses side by side.
That level of effort and growth is apparent on the trio’s latest album, Lord, Have Mercy. Taking the somewhat unusual step of heading out to a “solar-powered swamp house in the Echaw Swamp” just outside of the Francis Marion National Forest, Leslie went for a semi-literal twist on the concept of woodshedding.
“That was more of us getting together and hanging out,” Vaden says. “No pressure … write some words down, play some guitar. It helped us really focus and kind of get away from the life of being home. It was very peaceful.”
Despite that environment, the musical mindset that Leslie emerged with from the swamp was anything but quiet. After committing the songs to two-inch tape at Ardent Studios in Memphis, the band emerged with an album that channels the strength of its live set, but with a more polished and expansive approach. And even though the band has just wrapped their debut album, their eyes are already on their next recordings. And, of course, getting out on the road.
“We’ve already started writing for our next record and we’re very excited,” Vaden says. “Lord, Have Mercy has a certain sound and direction, and I feel that it was something that we needed to get off our chest. The newer stuff is a little more grungy.
“We just love everything about rock music and we want to be able to entertain our audience to the fullest [on] every album and every night.”
First appeared June 30, 2011 in Orlando Weekly.