After years of recording covers with siblings and friends at home, Charleston native Nathan Leach and his sister Eva found themselves in unfamiliar territory this year when a writer from the San Francisco Globe shared one of the siblings' YouTube videos. That night, one of their friends jumped on his Facebook page and wrote, "Help Nathan get 1 million views by the end of the night!" The internet responded in a huge way.
Celebrities like Glenn Beck, Matt Rolloff, and the band Walk Off the Earth fanned the flames by promoting the video on their own media outlets. In just a few weeks, Nathan and Eva's cover of "Hero" by Family of the Year had gone from a few thousand views to over 11 million. News and television outlets fought for the rights to be the first to host the Leach siblings on the air. In just a few short days, Nathan was contacted by Jimmy Kimmel, America's Got Talent, and more for quotes and appearance requests.
As a man in his early 20s with the whole world open to him, Nathan made a decision no one expected — he stayed in school. "I've seen way too many viral media sensations who try to get too much exposure right off the bat, even though they don't have much experience under their belt, and then they just fade away," Nathan says. "I'd much rather take the long route and work hard to garner a loyal fan base locally than to take the fast way and not be ready for that kind of exposure. I'm so very grateful for all of our subscribers and the great support that we have online, but I also want to work on becoming a better local act as well."
A closer look at Nathan and Eva's upbringing suggests that they were born into musical potential. Both of their parents and nearly a dozen other family members have made appearances on Nathan's YouTube channel; his mother's beautiful violin accompanies their cover of "Rocketman" and his father's bass supports Eva's cover of "Sunrise." And in one video, Nathan plays a dulcimer handcrafted by his grandfather.
Though he began playing violin from an early age, it wasn't until Nathan was in middle school that he picked up a guitar for the first time. As his skills improved, he started a YouTube channel for his music, boldly posting over 60 videos since that day three years ago. In the past year, Nathan has branched out from covers to writing original acoustic songs.
Whether performing solo or with his siblings, Nathan has forged his work into a consistent style. He shies away from electronic sound and effects, sticking to the physical instruments themselves. The musician's organic approach produces work that is largely folk, combined with flavors of bluegrass and the base workings of Ed Sheeran or Sam Smith-style pop — a harmony-rich sound ultimately comparable to Mumford & Sons or the Lumineers.
Aside from Nathan's musical talent, one might wonder why people got so worked up about his music. Perhaps the answer lies in his avoidance of spectacle. His videos don't rely on any of the elements that most of today's popular videos do. Instead, they're recorded in homes and backyards with a simple, straight angle that doesn't shift. The performers dress casually. Overall, Nathan gives the impression that anyone with a bit of talent and enough practice could create fantastic work. He invites viewers to root for him, because he doesn't look like he already has it made.
We asked him what's in store now that he had gained serious media attention.
"My plans at the time being are to keep up a good YouTube presence through new covers and work on more original material, as well as have a better connections with fans online," Nathan says. "I'm especially working on performing more to become comfortable with playing in front of people. Looking back on this past year, I've realized that there are so many musicians out there with exceedingly more talent than I'll ever have who have yet to be noticed.
"Viral videos are just weird," he adds. "It's definitely opened up some doors for me that I didn't think would ever be opened to me and my sister."