Ted Leo Talks Rock Music and Personal Politics
By playing a completely straightforward amalgamation of various strains of rock, pop, and punk, Ted Leo and The Pharmacists have carved out a niche entirely unto themselves.
Their anthems inspire an appropriate amount of big-grin pogoing, their lyrics are audible for maximum singing along, and their frontman is a real pleasant, good-vibes dude.
While championing social justice causes through benefits and humanistic portrayals of struggle in his lyrics, Leo maintains a cheery disposition, churning out albums loaded with camaraderie-inspiring anthems and frequently donating his band's time to a multitude of charities.
In the buildup to his show at Churchill's Pub this Sunday, Crossfade spoke with Ted via telephone. Check out the conversation after the jump.
Crossfade: You know Ted Leo when you hear him. Do you think you've changed directions over the past ten years? Or have you been consistently exploring one particular sound?
Across each album, the stylistic differences are broader than they sometimes get credit for being. Over the course of my entire career, I've really gotten on any wild direction. But I sometimes perceive things I know that I'm pulling from are hard for the listener to discern in the finished product. I love a good song. Ultimately, I just want to play rock music.
You say you would describe your music as punk. Do you mean that with regards to sensibility or lyrical content?
Punk was musically much broader a number of years ago than it is now. That kind of makes me sound like a crotchety old man. But the London Calling acoustic-driven reggae songs -- nobody would not call that a punk record today. There was a lot more tolerance of experimentation and genre-jumping and melding of influences and stuff.
Tell us about the various benefits and causes you've supported.
We've done benefits for Relatives For Justice, a Northern Irish organization that now has an operation here. They offer multi-prong resources to people affected by violence. The Rapid Response EP, continues to benefit the Democracy Now! legal defense fund for people arrested during the 2008 Republican National Convention [in St. Paul, Minnesota]. Every Halloween, I play in a Misfits cover band for different charities.
Your music is thematically political. But it doesn't really seem to get into heady and/or theoretical territory, like Propagandhi or Crass. What is political about your music?
I very rarely write a political screed. I come from the human side. Politics and policy are irrelevant as academic exercises, they're only important in how they affect human beings. I identify with the [political] folk music idea that while you can always write a list of demands, sometimes the best way to understand is to speak from a truly personal perspective.
Ted Leo and the Pharmacists, presented by Sweat Records, with Pujol and Deaf Poets. Sunday, October 30. Churchill's Pub, 5501 NE Second Ave., Miami. The show starts at 9 p.m. and tickets cost $12 in advance or $14 at the door. Call 305-757-1807 or visit churchillspub.com.
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