BAND OF ONE Walt McClements says pairing down his sound can be inspiring.
Songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Walt McClements has been playing music as long as he can remember. He's known for his work in folk and blues acts like Dark Dark Dark and Hurray for the Riff Raff, and for the last few years he's honed his songwriting under his solo moniker Lonesome Leash.
This week Lonesome Leash performs at the new Aubergine.
Growing up in North Carolina in a musical family—his dad was a piano player—McClements learned to play a progression of instruments from banjo to saxophone. After high school, he traveled around the country before settling in New Orleans 10 years ago. Recently, he picked up again, moving to Los Angeles.
"It's an extremely livable city," says McClements over the phone from L.A. " There's a lot of good people here. It's not all glitz and glamor."
Moving on to the subject of his music, McClements shares how he went from ensemble player to songwriter. "About four or five years ago, I started to get a little too busy with bands and touring schedules, trying to balance a lot of projects," says McClements. "And I was working with bands that had seven or eight pieces. That takes a lot of time, and there came a point where I had the desire to work and perform without having to make a production out of it."
McClements started writing earnestly with his large brass band, Why Are We Building Such a Big Ship?, though the rhetorical nature of the band's name began to spark questions in his own mind.
"I asked myself, 'Do I care about writing good songs, or do I just phone it in with layered orchestrations?'" says McClements. "Part of my desire for this project is to get down to a smaller palette and see how that inspires me. Limitations can be powerful to work with."
With that focus in mind, Lonesome Leash was born. "At first it was just a drum machine and accordion," says McClements, "but the drum machine got fired." Live drums offer a more organic set-up, and McClements' sonorous squeezebox and expressive vocals create a lush soundscape within the modest instrumentation.
Last month, Lonesome Leash released a new single, "The Night Was Old," a rousing song McClements also calls "more direct and earnest than I'm used to." The song is a perfect stepping off point for new listeners, heralding the cathartic sound Lonesome Leash is working toward on his full-length release, slated for early 2015.