When we arrive at the Oslo in Hackney, the venue is engulfed with the quiet buzz of the early evening. The dim-lighting closes off the last hour of daylight and traps you in an eternal night-time. Within the next couple of hours, this cozy space will be filled with the ringings of laughter and impatient grins. British musician Leo Stannard
is set to play at 7.30pm, but for now time is an endless bucket of possibility. Photographer Sophie Mayanne
captures the young talent, as he explores the dark shadows and quiet corners before his gig.
Sitting down with Leo seems like the most natural thing in the world; he is unpretentious and unassuming. It’s easy to disconnect this humble Leicester boy from his other role as a rising musician. Later on, seeing Leo play live confirms his personal metamorphosis when on stage; his energy is hypnotising, the room falls silent as a sea of minds are lead towards his vision.
The tapping of guitar strings echo through the room like raindrops on the soul. There is a certain precision in their sound; like an extension of the human body, as they rise and disappear in an instant. Swaying gently under the glare of pink light, Leo sings of lost love and faded memories; his lips poised half-open, occasionally flashing a coy smile.
As the melody of his new single 'In My Blood'
begins to ring from the piano, the audience are unified in their admiration of the pure, unfiltered talent on display. Leo's gaze seems focused on something far in the distance, as if transfixed by his nostalgic longing. In all of his vulnerability, Leo's voice unravels the universal truth of love. It's that irresistible combination of loneliness and bliss.
How are you Leo, and how has your tour been so far?
Yeah, very good thanks! This is the tenth day of ten, so it has been quite tiring. This is the last day of the tour, but it has been really great!
What’s the meaning behind your new single ‘In my Blood’?
The meaning is kind of like building relationships with people, human relations are not necessarily bound by blood or by family, but feel that way. I suppose that’s the underlying message.
Is that from any personal experiences you’ve had?
Yeah, from people who I feel like I’m family to who aren’t actually my family I suppose. People who you just feel really, really close to - when you have that kind of special bond.
Has music always been something that has really interested you?
Yeah, I started playing the guitar when I was nine years old and writing songs when I was ten, so things have been happening from a very young age and it has been a kind of gradual evolution from there really. I never thought I’d actually be able to make a career of it, but it’s just kind of something that has evolved gradually. It’s all working out so far.
Great. You’re 21 now aren’t you? I guess most of your friends must have been going down the university route.
Yeah, just turned. And yes, everyone’s in university. I definitely have no regrets. It’s interesting, I personally couldn’t do the whole uni thing and I wouldn’t go to university to study music. I don’t think that would be for me, but it’s great seeing all my friends doing what they’re doing and what they love to do as well, but just taking a different route and doing it a different way.
Apart from your music, what do you do in your spare time?
Music does consume a hell of a lot of my life, it’s gotta be said, so listening, playing and composing things like piano pieces and things like that, which aren’t even relevant to me as an artist - but I love watching films and I’m a football fan. I’m from Leicester, so it’s got ties a bit to the football world.
Do you think growing up in Leicester, rather than a big city like London, has had any influence on your music?
I suppose so yeah, there’s a very tight-knit local scene which I grew up playing in and watching too. I used to go to gigs every night of the week, so yeah, there’s been some amazing people come out of there and people I’ve grown up with, like the band Colouring. They are called Colouring now, but they were called Penworthy. Those guys are great, they’ve just signed a record deal in the States, and we grew up playing in these little bars. Playing things like the Green Tambourines and Martin James Brown. Yeah, it’s a great scene.
Do you have a particular formula for when you’re writing a song?
Not really, it can happen in all different ways sometimes; you get inspired walking down the street and a melody pops into your head, and you have to kind of try and get it down on your phone. It can happen at any time. Sometimes you can sit down to write with that purpose, and other times you don’t, but something comes along. It can pop up at any time.
What can we expect from your album that's coming out next year?
Yeah, it’s out early next year. You can expect quite a wide range of what I’ve been doing. Basically, the traditional type of song-writing mixed with the more experimental production. There are also some tracks where I’ve just had licence to do what I want - there have been string players and brass players, and it’s been great. I’ve had these ideas in my head for so long, but I obviously haven’t had the resources to go and record them. And then some slightly older songs, but mainly new songs that no-one has heard yet, which I’m excited to reveal!
What’s the main thing you want to take away from the album?
I want it to be a proper musical experience, you obviously have the big songs, but then you have other songs that really take you on a journey. The album as a whole should really take you on a journey, so you feel at the end of it; ‘that has moved me in some kind of way’. I don’t know which kind of way it will be, but people will react to it differently, I think.
In your own words, how would you describe the journey the album takes you on?
When I play these songs live I feel like I’ve been taken to another place and each song has a different point, it takes you to a different kind of zone. I feel like it takes me on a journey. It would be nice if the listener would also be taken on some kind of journey.
Who is Leo?
Oh god, this is very difficult, haha. Someone once described me as being wise, which I thought was quite funny. I don’t know if there’s any truth in that, I’m not sure really.
Do you prefer performing or recording?
It’s really nice to have a good mix of both. When you’re in the studio for days on end you’re desperate to get out and play live, and then when you’re playing live for weeks on end, you just wanna get back in the studio and get cracking on new stuff. I absolutely love playing live, I think it’s an amazing thing, but the studio again is a proper place of comfort and creativity for me.
Where would you say your biggest musical inspiration has come from?
As a classic singer-songwriter I would say Neil Young, his song-writing style has definitely influenced me. He is pretty much a legend. He’s a great story-teller, and melodically it’s really good as well, but also his lyrics are amazing for telling a story. You feel like you’re totally invested in the characters in those three minutes. Again, it’s a proper emotional journey when you listen to a Neil Young album, it’s amazing.
Do you have an ultimate life goal that you want to achieve?
I suppose, one of my music goals has always been to headline Glastonbury at one point. I think that would be a great thing, so yeah, I think I would put that at the top of the list.
What about in a personal sense?
At the moment my life is consumed by what I do. As my job is music, I’m just kind of advancing my career and all that, so that’s where I’m at with that. You have to really commit and dedicate yourself, especially in a creative sense, because when you do all the gigging and all that stuff - that’s actually time consuming. When you’re not doing that stuff, your mind is still there, because you’re constantly thinking about new songs you’re going to write, how many gaps in the album you’ve got to fill and what could make the live show better. It’s a constant evolution.
I can imagine it’s very intense. Have there been times when you’ve found it difficult to cope with it all?
Things have definitely been difficult, but I’ve never wanted to give up. It takes time to do things and you’ve got to realise that, you can’t be too impatient. I remember when I was 16 and me and my manager first started working together; we were trying to get a record deal together early on and it wasn’t happening at that stage. Looking back, that’s absolutely fine and that was the best way for me to develop. We went off and did self-funded European tours and stuff like that and did self-releases, that was the way that I grew as an artist and as a person. It made me able to do what I do now, and work properly within a record label.
If you had to live by a set of inspirational words, what would they be?
Do what you want and try not to be too influenced by others.
Great. It’s been lovely speaking to you, Leo.
Photography by Sophie Mayanne.
Words and Interview by Matthew Regan.