Connor Bracken and the Mother Leeds Band are a young American band of whom great things are expected! September saw the release of their eagerly awaited second album Nightbird Motel, and all the signs are that this crew have a very promising future in front of them. Happily, Velvet Thunder were able to catch up with them recently for a chat about where they’ve come from, and where they might be heading:
I started by commenting how even doing interviews these days has got quite messy, but in a way they’re more important than ever. I checked to see if the band are all fit and well, and suggested that they must be massively relieved to see the new album released, and with such positive reviews. Conner responds “Hey VT! Happy to talk with you. Hope everyone in your camp is safe and sound as well. Releasing Nightbird Motel was such a weight taken off our chest. After hanging on to it for so long it felt great getting it out into the world.
I continue exploring their roots in Asbury Park, New Jersey (no-one else of any note has come from there of course!) – but seriously, coming from the same stomping ground as Bruce Springsteen and Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes, does Connor feel that’s like a responsibility on his shoulders as “emissaries”, or does it mean music is in his blood? “It’s a bit of both I guess. The thing about Asbury Park is that you really don’t need to think about what has come before to understand it. There’s something in the water here that makes you want to create music that is meant to be heard live in front of an audience. There’s something special about our little town!”
I go on to suggest their band name “The Mother Leeds” has nothing to do with a city in Yorkshire! What made them fancy the idea of being named after a spooky woman apparently living in New Jersey in the 1700s – what did she get up to that was so noteworthy? Connor replies “Sorry to be the bearer of bad news but no we did not get the name Leeds from your great city. We actually found it closer to our stomping grounds. In the state of New Jersey there is the legend of the Jersey Devil. Now the story changes depending on who’s telling it but all will tell you the beast that prowls the Pine Barrens of New Jersey was born from a colonial woman named Leeds. Seemed like a fun thing at the time and the name has stuck. However, since the name dates back to the 1700s perhaps there is a connection after all? Not sure if our history books got the full story”
Right from the start, the band has received rave reviews for the energetic live shows. I understand they recorded your first full-length album The Light Of The Day in a single day (9 April 2016), and ask was that a deliberate plan to replicate the “oomf” of live shows? – and how much arm-twisting did they have to do with the Production crew?! “Absolutely it was deliberate! Our live show is the best thing we have going for us and I wanted that to come through the record. I wanted the listener to feel they were there and want to come see us for the actual thing. Something special happens in between the instruments when they are recorded live. Our sum is greater than our parts in that way. Thankfully, there was no arm twisting required! I think the crew (Dan Malsch and eventually AJ Larsen) took it as a breath of fresh air. In order to pull this off we had to be insanely rehearsed, so we made sure we showed up knowing the material. Everyone involved loved live Rock and Roll and put in the effort to make it happen”.
Then last year you released a live album – that’s quite unusual after just the one “studio” album? Would we be right in thinking you had been working hard touring for the three years previously? “You would be incredibly right. After our first record we hit the road almost immediately and never quite stopped. The night was very special for the band, so we thought it only felt right to record it. It came out fantastic, so we said screw it, let’s put it out so people know what they’re missing!”
I mention how the UK’s Classic Rock Magazine picked up on you last year – good for them! and ask if Commor knows where CRM had heard of them: “No idea! Out of nowhere we received an email asking to include a song from our first record Preach and within a month we were in the magazine! Guess the internet ain’t so bad after all! We were featured on a CD that was included with the issue that was a compilation of up and coming Rock and Roll bands”
So – the new album, Nightbird Motel – I had to say I think it’s really impressive, I loved the sense of story-telling in it, very like early Bruce Springsteen stuff. It’s almost like a concept album but not in your face, and ask what gave Connor the idea of doing that? “Not sure it was ever a conscious idea. I had just been writing non-stop since the first record. We were experiencing so much so quick that I kept getting ideas. By the first session I had written over 50 songs and I had to whittle it down to 5. I think breaking down what was needed most on the record is what made them feel so connected. The songs really do belong together and they all fought for their spot on the tracklist”
I also say how much I like the way the MLB band-sound is simultaneously retro and modern, really meaty and satisfying – did they go out of your way to pick “the right” production crew to deliver this? – they deserve a share of the praise! “They certainly do. Dan Malsch and AJ Larsen at Soundmine Studios in Stroudsburg, PA have been my guys for the whole project. Soundmine was the first studio I ever wanted to record at and I think my instincts were right. They have the power to capture a live band and that is like capturing lightning in a bottle. I think the sound that is retro/modern comes from writing songs for the time we’re in (I don’t pretend I’m from the 70s) but recording it live”
I mention the track Read On sounds like it’s very close to Connor’s heart, and was he consciously looking for that sort of “gang chorus” and street-wise swagger that’s so like early Springsteen? He replies “It’s very close to my heart! It’s the first song where I felt we really nailed the Mother Leeds Band sound. The sound I was hearing in my head but not able to get out for others to hear. I wasn’t thinking Springsteen but I was thinking of all the shows we had played and how crowds would sing back. It’s always the best feeling when they know the words and sing it back to you. You’re connecting with people at another level”.
It occurred to me that the other band their style really reminded me of is Graham Parker and The Rumour (who were friends with Springsteen), and ask if Connor was familiar with their work – Connor has described the song Darkness as being an attempt at “stream of consciousness writing”, but the track is built around a great combination of jangly riff and percussive sticks in the same style as Graham Parker used to aim for. Connor replies “Yes, I actually have! Found one of their records in one of my favourite record shops, Jack’s in Red Bank. I put them right between my Elvis Costello and Rockpile. And yeah, I just had the first line and wrote the rest of the song in order as the lyrics came and that was really it. Afterwards I looked at it and it was loose but I kinda liked it that way. It worked. There’s never a sure thing that will work in a song but you just know that it does. I guess that would be my trademark. I look for things that make my brain light up. When that happens I know I have a Mother Leeds Band song”.
Photographs Of Johnny Cash again has a sort of “big band” sound, I asked whether it was simply in their blood? “It’s definitely in something! – maybe in my sweat! We like moving, shaking and making a lot of noise when we do what we do. Consider it another trademark”.
I then say that while it feels kind of obvious as to who some of their influences are, who else would Connor pick out? Interestingly, he comes back with “I love Dire Straits, Thin Lizzy, and Tom Waits. My stuff can usually be found somewhere between the three”.
The track Voice On The Radio echoes Connor’s occasional role of late night radio host. I asked him what makes him do those late-night talk radio shows, whether it was local to Asbury Park, and whether it was still giving him some great new character stories? Connor says “That’s actually a character I’ve found all over America. When touring you find yourself driving and searching for something on the radio dial. Often you can find someone like the DJ in Voice On The Radio. I’m sure we haven’t heard the last from him!”
Nightbird in particular sounds like the epic core track at the heart of this album, and I got the feeling this goes to the heart of what the band are all about. Connor agrees “I would think so. It was one of the last songs I wrote for Nightbird Motel and I knew I was onto something with the album but I needed to reach deeper to send it home. I needed to go somewhere the band hadn’t gone before. Almost somewhere we hadn’t dared go before. Writing Nightbird felt really freeing. After that the record only needed one more song to tie the whole thing together, so I wrote Dream of You and Me and that was all she wrote”
I mention I love the idea of the last track Reprise, which works as the “post-credits” tune to the album’s movie, and ask whether it was true Connor had written this before any of the other tracks. Connor agrees “Yes, that’s exactly what it is. A chance to let you know it’s over and it won’t be long till we meet again. Technically yes, it’s really the melody of Read on You but in its earliest form. It isn’t what the song turned out to be but I loved it just the same. It had to find its way in there somehow”
And finally the BIG question – I enquire about their forthcoming tour plans, and whether the band hope to be able to get to tour the UK. Connor’s reply is emphatic! “ASAP! Obviously with Covid, touring is a big question mark on a calendar I keep ripping months off but I still have hope. We WILL beat this and the second we do you know the band and I will be playing anywhere that will have us. We’re rehearsing non-stop. The second we can, we will be ready!”
I do like Connor’s enthusiasm for what he and the band do, it comes across in buckets – he’s a really nice guy and he’s clearly also got the band’s future planned and mapped out in front of them. The new album Nightbird Motel is like the soundtrack to a great night out, it’s got a real fun, raucous feel to it, almost punky, definitely power-pop, enjoy!
In the meantime the album is AVAILABLE TO BUY