There's a good bit of geography separating the two musicians who make up Leon III -- Andy Stepanian lives in Houston, TX while Mason Brent calls Richmond, VA home. But despite this distance, they still manage to dole out a sort of psych-influenced Americana noise without too much trouble. The two men have known each other for years, performing together in Virginia band Wrinkle Neck Mule. Initially brought to life as away for Stepanian to explore pieces that wouldn't fit in his then-current band, Leon III found him and Brent wandering through moodier and rockier musical landscapes.
The duo is looking to release their self-titled debut record on May 11 via Cornelius Chapel Records. The album features contributions from drummer Brian Kotzur (Bobby Bare, Silver Jews), pianist Tony Crow (B.J. Thomas, Andrew Bird), singer Jordan Caress (Laura Cantrell, Justin Townes Earle), guitarist Chris Scruggs (grandson of bluegrass icon Earl Scruggs) and pedal steel wizard Pete Finney (Justin Townes Earle, Kelly Willis). It was produced by Mark Nevers (Bonnie "Prince" Billy, Lambchop, Silver Jews, Yo La Tengo).
On their new single, "Between the Saddle & the Ground," the band wear their country and folk influences like a badge of honor. This loosely woven Americana is forthright and honest, a sound that hides nothing and reveals miles of emotion and experience. The guitar shimmer and shake in the evening light while the drums shuffle and slide through the slowly fading illumination. The electric guitar is a bit more forceful here than on your normal folk-centered rock song. Imagine Drive-by Truckers mixed with a bit of Silver Jews and Will Oldham and you've got an approximation of the sounds that you're going to encounter throughout this song. They embrace this bucolic atmosphere and build a world where the years seem to pass by in minutes.
"'[Between the Saddle & the Ground]' ties directly to a quote from some British history scholar from the 1500’s named William Camden: 'Betwixt the stirrup and the ground, Mercy I ask'd; mercy I found,'" reveals Stepanian. "I came across this line while reading annotated lyrics to the Grateful Dead song “China Doll”. It was cited as influencing the line “yesterday I begged you before I hit the ground” from that song. I was instantly intrigued with the concept implied in both lines -- that it’s never too late for redemption and salvation and that it might even be found in the split second between the saddle and the ground presumably after being shot off of your horse. I built the song around that idea. Not the horses, but the redemption and salvation part. I even dropped a line from China Doll “tell me what you done it for?” into the chorus as an homage or small thank you to lyricist Robert Hunter who wrote a large portion of the Dead’s lyrics. There is a lot of Grateful Dead behind the curtain of the entire record."