Interview: Leroy Justice, Sharp Dressed Men

RD: What’s the toughest song to perform in the Steve Miller catalog?

JG: I think Serenade gave me the most trouble. It’s this wave of energy you have to stay on top of the entire song. Our drummer Josh really put it into perspective for us though when he said to think about it like a RHCP song—that driving clean guitar, a rolling drumbeat, just a train that’s flying down the tracks.

RD: How did the Leroy Justice vests come to be the trademark uniform for the band?

JG: I have to give some of the inspiration to our poker buddy Fingaz, who really turned us on to the joys of the vest. But the story goes like this: there’s a huge Salvation Army near my (and Josh’s) hometown that is a gold mine for sweet vintage suits. I found one a year or two ago, and I thought it was time LJ started making every gig special, so I wore it to one and asked the guys if they wanted to as well. Everyone dug it, so we haven’t stopped. Found a few more at Sally’s  (about $15 each) and the tradition continues. There’s just something about a guy in a three piece suit that demands your full attention, and we just hope that leads to more people giving us a listen.

RD: I’ve noticed you guys have been performing a lot with guitar wiz Scott Metzger with some regularity lately. How does he impact the live show; are you moving more towards improvisation or does he stick within the confines of your song structures for the most part?

JG: I think from the beginning of Leroy Justice, we have always had a tendency toward improvisation. It’s how we write some of our music, and it’s definitely how we like to play live if we have the time during our sets. Some of our longer sets (at places like The River Street Jazz Café in Plains, PA and at festivals) usually have longer instrumental jams and interludes.

Scott fits into that form really well. I’ve been a fan of Scott’s for years. We used to play shows with his old band RANA back in the day. We actually played a New Year’s Eve gig with them at CBGB. I think once you see Scott play in a format where he has room to roam and take the band with him on his solo, you become a big fan. He’s not only a talented guitarist, he knows how to lead you down a road sonically and make it interesting and emotional and even spiritual. Maybe that’s the guitarist in me talking, but I also think his playing is pretty accessible to anyone who loves music.

As far as fitting into our song structure, he does very well. But there’s also that moment you listen to a live recording where you go, yep, that’s Scott playing with us there. He just adds something a little different and tasty and makes it all sound a little more rad.

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RD: How did you guys get involved in the inaugural Let It Roll festival up in Ghent this fall? Are you close with Pawnshop Roses or the guys from Earvolution?

JG: We’ve been close with Pawnshop since some friends recommended we play some shows with them. Once we got to hang out with them, we knew pretty quickly we were brothers. We love a lot of the same kinds of music and I think we all like beer equally. Dave Schultz from Earvolution was a big part in connecting us for Let It Roll, and we owe him a lot for his kind words about our records and live shows. That guy never stops smiling.

RD: Congratulations on the great reception for Loho, which turned out incredible. How did the collaboration with John Siket as your producer on the album come about?

JG: Thanks dude. When we recorded Revolution’s Son (our first LP), the owner of the studio brought in John to engineer on a song of ours (I think the first one we did together was Southern Saying Goes). We got along like family and asked him to mix the rest of the record. I had been overdubbing vocals and guitars etc at my home studio, and needed help getting it finished. What he did with those tracks really amazed us, and we stayed good friends.

After Rev’s Son was released, we had a rehearsal room across from the studio, and when John would come in to do other work, he would always hear us playing, usually improvisational jams around new chord progressions etc. When we asked him to record and mix Loho, he said he wanted to put us all in one room and give us the time and space to play like we did in that rehearsal room across the hall, because he thought that was the good stuff. Not a surprise I guess, him coming from the world of Phish…

Anyway, we got SOME time at Loho Studios in NYC (three days), so we set up, and played about six or eight hours each day, making sure to play through versions of all the songs we wanted on the album a few times each.

RD: Was it his idea to include the instrumental alternatives of full vocal tracks on Loho? I thought that was a great idea and those tracks are all standouts in my humble opinion.

JG: Actually, when I brought the arranged album to him (which clocks in around 59:00), he said, you know, the best albums are 45 minutes long. And I said, hey man, you’re the one who wanted us to record like that! And now we fell in love with some of the instrumental jams, so they’re staying. He laughed, then mixed, then got pissed because he had to mix so damn much, then finished it, finally. There are still some tracks I wanted on there that I kept off because he was so insistent on a shorter record. I guess it was a good partnership.

RD: How has the album been selling for you guys so far?

JG: We’re huge in Italy. Ha. It’s tough to sell a lot of records. That’s the one definite thing I’ve learned since I started playing music 10 years ago. I like the record, and I’d listen to it. That’s all I can say. We actually have been selling some records via CD Baby and iTunes to people in Europe, especially Italy. I guess we need to book a tour over there, eh?

Actually, we recently got a nice sales lift from the Hittin’ The Note magazine, official merchandiser of The Allman Brothers Band. We got our albums into their hands at this year’s Mountain Jam, and they took an immediate liking. Since then, they have gotten the word out in a number of ways. They handed out free LJ CDs to fans at the recent Allmans / Widespread Panic tour, and they also began selling our albums through their merchandise business, which has 80,000+ customers. Not many bands outside the ABB-family get this chance. We are thrilled. And the November issue of the magazine will feature a review of Loho by Ian Rice, who recently did a great feature for HTN on Marc Ford. People wanting to check it out should pick up a copy at Borders or Barnes & Noble around Thanksgiving.

RD: In terms of touring, do you have any plans to hit the road in the near future or is the plan to fully conquer the Northeast before branching out too far?

JG: We continue to play NYC regularly and, to a slightly lesser extent, other areas of the Northeast. But we are currently looking for an opening spot with a band who wants to give us a shot on a bigger level. We’re happy playing our own shows, but we want to play in front of more people, people who appreciate our brand of music. Then Italy.

RD: Rank the following in order of importance: Money, Fame, Women, Personal Chef, Sweet Tour Bus, Sanity, Sobriety, and Family Stability.

JG: 1. Women, 2. Sweet Tour Bus, 3. Sanity, 4. Women, 5. Family, 6. Women, 7. Sobriety, 8. Bourbon, 9. Women, 10. Money

I replaced “personal chef” with “bourbon.” Josh and I are the band chefs. We both worked in restaurant kitchens as line chefs.

RD: Last but not least, as a band, what’s your favorite movie?

JG: It’s a close race. It’s rare to have all five guys sitting in a room watching one movie, but we (collectively) love Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and Better Off Dead—(douchebag to John Cusack in his burger outfit): “Lookin’ good, lookin’ reaaaal good…”

Thanks a lot to Jason and Michael. Check out this world-premiere exclusive hit single rendition of the Joker from the Halloween show with special guest Scott Metzger.

Leroy Justice – The Joker 10/31/09

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