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"I just want to be able to do this full-time," says the soft-spoken singer/songwriter Isaac Lekach, a skinny guy of Russian/Cuban heritage better known as Poulain. The 22-year-old from North Miami Beach hopes he's found the ticket to independent living in a new recording contract with Fiddler, a music label based in Hollywood, California, that has a distribution deal with the mammoth media company Universal Music Group, and in his catchy, sensitive indie-boy songs.
"He's a trouper," says Amy Fleisher, who co-owns Fiddler with Jay Parkin, during a phone interview. Ironically she's talking on her cell phone during a car ride with Lekach; he has just volunteered to help drive an as-yet-unnamed band that she recently signed from Las Vegas to Hollywood. "He's ready to do anything," she says. "If I tell him: 'Isaac, you have four shows in New Jersey, you need to be there Tuesday,' he'll drive. He gets the big picture, so it was definitely an easy decision to decide to work with him." Lekach is currently staying at a house Parkin and Fleisher own in Hollywood so that he can work on promoting his new EP, For Passengers; he plans to live there until the start of his national tour in September.
Lekach and Fleisher have been friends since they met while studying film at the University of Miami. She helped him out when he put up his own money to release his debut EP, With Fingers Crossed, on his own Soft Serve Records a little over a year ago. Echoing contemporary Belle and Sebastian while recalling vintage Herman's Hermits, With Fingers Crossedbreathes with wistful acoustic guitar melodies and pining choruses yearning for love.
Fleisher was eager to offer a helping hand in setting Lekach up with Fiddler's then-distributor, Lumberjack. Lekach also hired a publicist and went on a national tour opening for South Florida indie-pop band Rocking Horse Winner, all while selling out of the EP's initial pressing of a thousand units. "I got what I hoped for -- just great press and some airplay," Lekach says modestly.
One person gripped by With Fingers Crossedwas Andy LeMaster, key singer/songwriter of the altrock outfit Now It's Overhead and a producer on R.E.M.'s Revealas well as several albums by Omaha band Bright Eyes. Lekach met LeMaster last year when Poulain made his debut performance opening for Now It's Overhead and the Bright Eyes side project Desaparecidos at Revolver in Miami's Design District. "After the show," Lekach notes, "I e-mailed him, and I sent him a bunch of songs." He recalls LeMaster's enthusiastic response: "He said, 'Yeah! Come on up!'"
Lekach spent two weeks at LeMaster's studio in Athens, Georgia, sleeping in the studio's attic. "We worked twelve to fourteen hours pretty much every day," Lekach says. "We'd work from three in the afternoon until the sun came up the next day. Those were Andy's hours." Lekach emerged from the sessions with nine songs that revealed a marked growth from the wispy tunes of With Fingers Crossed. The songs had a deeper sense of orchestration with humming keyboards, vocal harmonies, and syncopated guitar parts. The Sixties pop influence was still present, but this time Lekach referenced the decade's psychedelic era, creating results similar to the recordings of Spacemen 3 and early Spiritualized. "It was a huge change," he affirms.
Lekach planned to shop the music around to various record labels. Fleisher expressed a casual interest in hearing what her friend was up to, so he mailed her a copy. But he didn't plan on signing with her label. A seasoned industry executive, Fleisher has been introducing the world to now-famous emo bands like New Found Glory and Dashboard Confessional through her Fiddler Records since she was sixteen years old. "Amy and I have been friends for a while," he explains. "I never really wanted to ask anything more from her, because of that. I didn't want her to feel I was using her."
Fleisher wouldn't have signed him anyway, if it weren't for her partner. Parkin notes of the night he heard a demo of Poulain's: "I just said to Amy, 'We have to sign this kid.' And she said, 'School ... friends?' and whatnot. Her reservations were there, but we shared A&R duties, and I knew this kid had something, probably something he doesn't even realize he has."
With Parkin's enthusiastic response to Poulain's music, the duo decided to approach Lekach. But Lekach still wasn't sure. "I went back and forth, seriously debating with myself if I wanted to get in business with my friend," he admits. "I wrote down every question I could probably think of, just to debate with myself. I just decided to go with them because they cared more, their offer was better, I liked what they were doing, and I liked what they've done in the past."
In late April Lekach signed the contract with Fiddler and they began planning a new EP based on the songs recorded with LeMaster. Scheduled for release on July 29, For Passengersis a perfect overview of the Athens sessions. It kicks off with the potent "Completely Uninterrupted," which drives along on a stalking rhythm section holding Lekach's breathy voice over lustrous acoustic guitar melodies and LeMaster's sighing vocal harmonies. Two relaxed, dreamy pop songs, "All You Are" and "Wide Awake," follow. The oddly creepy "For You To Decide," which hides odd guitar samples that swirl dizzyingly between left and right speakers while Lekach's voice seemingly drifts out of an AM radio, closes out the EP.
Poulain's newfound maturity does not surprise Fleisher, who hopes that he will continue to experiment. "He can wake up tomorrow and head off to the Sigur Ros or Radiohead direction, or he can totally head off into Pop Land. Whatever Isaac wants to do, we totally back it," she says. "We totally trust his creative intuitions. As far as sales or whatever, we figure he'll do just fine."