Getting To Know... Leo Napier

Having already turned out a wealth of shimmering delights these last few years, US artist Leo Napier is back once again to deliver his 'Philly Gritz' EP.

Written and recorded in the wake of being declared daed after a near fatal heart infection, this new five-track collection makes for a wonderfully rich and passionate listen. Channelling more of that smooth soul-inspired direction he is known for, 'The Philly Gritz' EP sees him continue that broad and immersive sound he is revered for.

So with the new EP available to stream now, we sat down with him to find out more about his origins and what has been inspiring him most lately.


What was the first instrument you fell in love with?

The first instrument I found an affinity for was the piano, but the first instrument with which I became completely infatuated and devoted was the voice. I loved the fact that it’s an instrument that we can’t see. It’s hidden within us, behind layers of skin, blood and tissue, so it can’t be taught to us by conventional means. It can only be explained using metaphors, and analogies and coaxed out of us using emotional and sometimes uncomfortably personal references…probably why so many voice coaches tend to be a bit eccentric. There is undeniably muscle memory that comes with training your voice professionally and consistently, but having a unique cadence in lyrical delivery and a dynamic, pitch-perfect timbre is part of every fledgling singer’s personal crusade. My voice came to me quite quickly, but the conviction in my tone and timbre when delivering certain emotional lyrics arrived through life experience, combined with fastidious self-discipline and years of painstaking self-analysis. All that said, my singing voice is still a wonderful mystery to me.

What kind of music did you love when you were younger?

I listened to whatever my parents were playing at the time. I remember hearing a lot of Annie Lennox, The Beatles' entire discography (Revolver being my #1 favourite), Al Green, Thelonius Monk, Joe Cocker, Sting, Jimmy Cliff and of course, my number one musical influence was never off the stereo for long - Ray Charles.

What was the first album you remember owning?

I think I bought Oasis’ ‘What’s The Story? (Morning Glory)’. Then I bought Beck’s ‘Loser’ single. Then there was Jamiroquai’s, ‘Traveling Without Moving’, Cake’s, ‘Fashion Nugget’ and when I was back in the USA at 12 years old, came ‘The Marshal Mathers LP’ and Sublime’s, ‘Santeria’.

What is the one song you wished you could have written yourself?

Without a doubt, I wish I had written McCartney’s ‘Yesterday’. I would have sung it 8 ways from Sunday and released every version. There's never enough Yesterdays for me.

Do you have any habits or rituals you go through when trying to write new music?

My song ‘Go Getter’, came to me as I was heading up to the second-floor bathroom and I was halfway up Adam Stehr’s stairs, when suddenly the first seven notes of the 1st verse hit me out of the blue. We were in the final days of recording the Philly Gritz EP and still hoping for one more song to round it off, ideally a soul ballad. I charged back down the stairs and by the time I was sitting in front of the piano, I had already mapped out the first verse in my mind. It doesn’t normally work like this for me, but occasionally, if your antenna is turned on and taking frequency submissions, you’ll get zapped. If that happens, you had better be prepared!

Who are your favourite artists you have found yourself listening to at the moment?

I was recently listening to Frank Fairfield’s work. He’s hard to track down but totally worth it as he is a bonafide throwback to the days of Appalachian banjo porch plucking as I’ve never seen it done. I don’t think there's anyone left alive who's seen someone perform this style of music in their original element. That young man really does make a strong case for the reincarnation of the soul, or for the secret development of a time machine. Just wait til you see him plucking. You couldn't imagine him pulling out an iPhone after he plays a set, but I assume he owns one. Or maybe it looks like a phone but is actually a time travel remote. Frank Fairfield comes off like a time-travelling troubadour apparition.

If you could open a show for anyone in the world, who would it be?

I would open for Norah Jones. I just really dig her energy and vibe. We have undeniably similar musical instincts and I totally dig everything she puts out, originals and covers, from her tasty gospel-infused piano playing, which seems to lovingly cradle that immaculately tuned, velvet vocal tone. All this in combination with the blissed-out euphoric energy she emanates seems wonderfully contagious. I think she's given me diabetes. I've never even seen her live before. I got that just from watching her performances on YouTube.

What do you find is the most rewarding part about being a musician?

The most rewarding part is being in the inky depths of the creative process and totally transfixed on whatever it is you’re working on. You feel like this work is the greatest thing you’ve ever made and that someday soon, everyone else will hear it and immediately understand themselves that little bit better because of it. It’s like these people are in the room with you, encouraging you to pour more fuel on the creative fire, and at this point, you wouldn’t put the flames out, even after seeing your drapes catch fire and you can hear Aunt Alida trying to corral her cats out of the burning 2nd story window, and you hear a wailing cacophony of ambulances and firetrucks approaching, their sirens scoring the last chorus of your song perfectly.

And what is the most frustrating part?

The worst part is, the next day, you’ve already started writing the next song and yesterday’s masterpiece has faded into the back of your mind like an old dream, maybe to be conjured up again under the right circumstances, whatever they might be. Oh well, the point is to be right there, hopelessly lost in the act of creation, for as long as you can stay healthy and can afford the rent. Too bad about Alida’s cats. Mr.Mittens was lost due to smoke inhalation and the blobby orange one with feline muscular dystrophy never stood a chance. Looking back, It was an act of mercy, really.

And what is the best piece of advice you have received as a musician?

Make it a hobby, not a career. Ironically, you will probably end up touring with Norah Jones.


Leo Napier's 'The Philly Gritz' EP is available to stream now. Listen to it in the player below.