Let’s discuss your background. You’ve been trained by an opera singer, and later you’ve become a vocal coach. In addition, you also play the piano. Where’s your musicality originating from? Family heritage?
Wow you’ve done your research there! I was born singing… Cliché! But It feels so good and so satisfying that I know it’s well ingrained into my DNA. 100% inherited from my dad’s side of the family, a long line of musicians and performers. He was a true folk soul who built harps and went busking for a living. He played an array of instruments with Celtic flare and was a fiery social and political poet! I was out performing with him from around the age of 5, God knows if I was any good, but I sure looked cute and he probably raked it in because of that! I was trained at a later date by an Opera singer who whipped me into shape and made me truly understand the capabilities of a voice.
According to your Facebook page you have been influenced by many musicians, like Nina Simone or Ed Solo, Zero 7, Bob Marley and James Brown. You are an omnivore, aren’t you?
Yes. I can’t help it! Soak it all in, mash it around and pull inspiration from everywhere. My music taste is without limits and each genre has a time and a place. I’ve got a lot of time for many different vibes and love the challenge of writing in variety. There are definite influences that consistently appear in my vocals that connect my varied releases in bass music; The melodic Celtic twang that I weave side by side with my love of a Bluesy, Soulful delivery. This hopefully distinctive style is very adaptable and works great with so many genres, DnB, House, Hip Hop, Chill out – No need to be defined by one just yet - create, explore and enjoy working out my own niche!
You are living in Bristol, a true musical hub of England. What is the secret of Bristol? What makes the city the capital of British music culture?
I’m actually living in Canada at the moment, but Bristol is my home and I look forward to returning! I’ve travelled all over the world the last 4 years thinking I’d discover many places similar or maybe even better... but, I can say with confidence… ‘’There’s just something about Bristol!’’ People are a little nuts, gritty, creative, ballsy and so up for a good time that music pumps through its veins with vigour. There is great diversity and such a stylish high standard that you’re always inspired. You’re always around people who are creating stunning music and doing awesome things - think big and do!
You have made quite a few drum and bass collabs. How did you start singing to dnb tunes? Who discovered your voice?
I think my first DnB track was an impro I recorded at Alex’s (Phaction) flat. I was messing around and he was still early days! I’d just released my own Downtempo EP ‘Deeper Rise’, had just started a band and was also making vocal sample packs for Samplephonics. So, already throwing myself out there into a lot of musical streams. From the back of that first release with Phaction I wrote a few toplines set up by Spearhead records, including tracks with The Vanguard Project and Villem and Mcleod. BCee at Spearhead gets the award for making opportunities available at the start. I think working on ‘Let it Breathe’ made me appreciate where my collaboration with the genre could go. I started to find more production styles within DnB that really inspired me and satisfied my create appetite.
As for your dnb collabs: please, describe the process of making a drum and bass tune.
The DnB tracks that you’re familiar with at the moment are 'toplines'. This is where a producer sends over a production (in various stages of completeness) and I set about creating the vocal to work with it. There are loads of ways to write a song and once I started to get a real taste for topline writing, I began to experiment! I’ve now refined my technique into something that works beautifully for me. It’s works great to create unexpected melodies and allows freedom to discover happy accidents.
I remove the distraction of lyrics and improvise melodies over the track on repeat. When I find something I like, I expand on that and play with different deliveries, just letting my voice move around with no pressure. No need to refine anything and just let it do what feels natural! After however many takes, I go over it and pull specific melodic phrases into a ‘final’ structure. Then come the lyrics - Sit down with a dictionary, thesaurus, a concept, and a list of words you like and just begin. Once the vocal is recorded, I send the stems to the producer to maybe tweak and edit down as they like. The track can go back and forth a few times as we both work out that middle ground collaboration. I tend to leave the production up them, but I’ve always got a million ideas to share - which I’m sure they just love…;)
Name a few favourite dnb producers, please.
I really love the music coming from Villem and Mcleod and I look forward to working with these guys into the future. I think Calibre is great at creating beautiful emphatic instrumentation, He's got some incredible tunes. Dexcell, Tokyo Prose, I’ve been enjoying a lot. Dawn Wall, Zero T- There are loads more and I'm discovering more daily! I often chose the melodic instrumentals from these producers because I enjoy writing over them, then I can work these into a live set too. I also love the stuff I grew up on - Solid classics - Shy FX, Chase and Status, EZ rollers, Roni Size, a bit of Aphrodite here and there! 16 year old Leo was raving out to all this from the start!
I listened to a lot of ‘classic’ house tunes when I was a teenager, and Defected is still one of my top labels. It was very nice to see your name on the label at the end of February. How did you get the chance to be released there?
This track was totally out of the blue really! Dennis Cruz popped over an email asking if I was interested in writing for a couple House beats he’s just started. I’ve no idea how I was on his radar… (I was performing live house sets in the Alps throughout the winter season so perhaps he saw me there). It took me a few days to check him out properly as I was writing Elevate (The Vanguard Project) and just about to fly to Canada. ‘To Burn’ wasn't signed before the vocal, so I had no idea it would get picked up by Defected Rec. Got to admit it was rather good news! I also think creating sample packs has opened up many opportunities. Producers and managers get an idea of your style and then contact directly for exclusive vocals. From this I’ve worked on some really interesting, varied projects with producers who have 1000 followers to 250,000. If I like it, I’ll give it a go!
In January you made a teaser video on your Facebook page. You said you were working on your first drum and bass EP. Can we know more about this project?
I’ve been collaborating with some of the best DnB producers over the last couple years. Many of these tracks are still waiting to grace the stage! I’m blessed to bring these producers together into my Debut collaboration EP, Ft productions from: Villem and Mcleod, Phaction, Dexcell & a couple under the radar producers who are just awesome, Reflektor and Mistrust. Check them out! Each track has its own unique style simmering in Liquid vibes and I can’t wait to share them with you! The EP is in the final stages of creation and I’ll be hitting up the labels in just a matter of days!
You have a band called ‘Leo and the Heist’. Introduce yourselves, please.
Leo & The Heist - This WAS my Bristol based band which explored music through live house and electronica. Though this particular project is now on hold (seeing as I’ve been traveling for the last 4 years) I do intend to start a new live project the moment I step foot on Bristol soil. Perhaps a live DnB, Hip Hop project with the occasional Jazz tune thrown in! I think a bit of variety on a night out is the way to go!
You have a few cover songs on your Youtube channel. Nina Simone, Lana Del Rey, Etta James... Don’t you think about releasing a cover album?
I have actually, I think it would be great! If you know of any smooth rolling jazz musicians who are up for it, send them my way! I’ll find the time.
If you had the chance to collaborate with literally anyone (living or dead), who would that be?
My list continues to grow and it’s too difficult to have one answer! I’d love to do a vocal for local UK legends Submotion Orchestra, Maribou State, all the DnB artists mentioned above, A Bonobo track and I’ll die happy! SBTRKT would also be cool, ‘Wildfire’ is pure satisfaction and I could totally vibe with that!
You have worked with many producers inside and outside drum and bass. Which session was the best? Do you have some memorable moments?
I’ve worked with a lot of producers and I fall in love with every collaboration! At the time of its creation, I am fully absorbed. There are some though that have been particularly satisfying to write and are starting to nail the sound I’ve been searching for. As I continue to work with producers who bring out the best in me - these moments are becoming more frequent. My best session’s are currently new and unreleased! ;)
A very memorable session for me was on the road out in Central America, trying to get the vocal down for an EP with Mount Pleasant. I found a recording studio in the run down back streets of a small town in Guatemala. The height of prestige amongst the locals! I eagerly arrived by Tuk Tuk to find a beautifully shabby, makeshift studio with open bar window, chickens running around and a ‘soundproof’ room full of egg boxes. Loved it. Haha!
Our world is suffering from a serious epidemic these days. What kind of effect does it have on your days as a musician?
I bought a bus, turning it into a mini home/ rec studio and I’m running to the hills to make even more music than ever before!
Excuse me, a bus?
What to say really! I bought an old American school bus with my BF and we're currently attempting to renovate it into a tiny home / Recording studio. Run to the hills and make music off-grid... It's a totally crazy project for 2 people who have no experience whatsoever in building, and I'm learning a LOT. I spend half my week writing tracks and the other half covered in mud, wood chippings, and dust designing electric systems and building bathroom walls. Busy Bee! It will be sick when it's done and you'll see lots of live studio sessions coming from across Canada into the UK as we leg it about! But... my house contract ends in 3 weeks..... The roof isn't even up so i'll be sleeping in the back of a car until it's done. Swings and roundabouts ;)
As for the epidemic…
There’s something about the pandemic that everyone has found very poignant. A moment to reflect, to step back and be given the time to evaluate what's important to us. To breathe. (albeit under very strange and sad circumstances) Its meant that more and more people have sent me tracks - far too many to work on… There are no clubs open to perform in, but more people than ever are discovering new music and artists and hopefully I’ll be one of them.
Tell us a bit about your future plans, please.
The general gist: I’ve got a cracking debut DnB EP to release this year with a few absolute bangers lined up to follow! You’ll see Ft Leo Wood on more of your favourite DnB artists and a few more House tracks are also on the Horizon. Maybe 1 or 2 of those dream collabs will fall neatly into place. I’m currently combining DnB and Hip Hop into a live set which you’ll hear pretty soon! So I reckon it would be fun to follow this EP with another Hip Hop inspired track and stay true to my omnivorous personality ;)