That glorious mop of long, curly hair is one of the first things that marks Leogun frontman Tommy Smith as a full-on rock star. It's big, unashamed, and brings to mind 1980s icons like Axl Rose and Bret Michaels — guys who knew that even though awesome hair might not make you or break you, it sure as hell helps you rock out.
And that is precisely what this English heavy blues and rock 'n' roll trio is here to do. Over the past few months, the band's been crisscrossing the U.S. like a British Invasion on steroids, lighting up stages with their loud, riffy, bad-boys-having-fun songs and their hold-nothing-back performance style. Audiences so far love them, and Smith is pretty sure he knows why. "Nowadays many people seem to be introverted and restrained about playing rock 'n' roll, and we try not to be," Smith says. "I think it comes down to the fact that America is ready for a balls-out rock band again."
The Brit has hit the nail on the head. The U.S. (and maybe England too) has more than enough sensitive men strumming guitars and belting heartfelt lyrics — guys like John Mayer, Rob Thomas, and, god help us, Justin Bieber — but when it comes to serious rock bands of the moment, there are precious few following in the footsteps of, say, Aerosmith. The bravado, the brashness, and the unadulterated emotion that made rock 'n' roll great seem to have been dialed down almost out of existence. Leogun is taking all that back.
Smith grew up in the English county of Kent, southeast of London. Childhood wasn't the easiest time for the young musician, whose passion for the blues and penchant for band T-shirts sometimes made him an easy target. "Going to school at age 13 with big long curly hair didn't really bode well," he says. "You'd find yourself pretty well on your own sometimes. You had to go out and find people with the same interests."
When he was 13, Smith found a friend in Matt Johnson, who was also a music fan. They bonded over Pearl Jam and Led Zeppelin, and started jamming together after just a couple of weeks. Once they graduated high school they started performing as a duo, and when they found drummer Mike Lloyd, Leogun's signature sound really came together. The trio is now based in London, though in the true spirit of rock 'n' roll, they're hardly ever home anymore. They even recorded their first album away from home, in a studio in Nashville. "That was a dream," he says. "Talent is held in the highest regard there. There's a real attention to it, which isn't always the case."
One of the most formative experiences the band has had during their months-long stint in the States was touring the Northeast early this year with Vintage Trouble, a soul and rock band out of Hollywood. "That really taught us about touring," Smith says. "We'd play a show, then have a 13-hour drive, then play another show. It was completely rock 'n' roll. I just gave up on sleep." From there, they went on to an exhausting round of gigs at Austin's SXSW, where they partied as hard as they played. "At SXSW there's always something going on. It's raging, absolutely raging, and you drink as much as you possibly can."
From Texas they come straight to Charleston, after which they'll spend a while touring the Southeast. They've covered the rest of the country too, with stops in Seattle and Minneapolis, among many others. Seeing the U.S. the way they have — from the road in a minivan — helped strengthen their connection with the American blues and Motown, both of which have influenced their sound.
Though Leogun is thrilled about their soon-to-be released album, By the Reins, live performance is their musical drug of choice these days. Smith takes his job as frontman seriously, and throws himself wholeheartedly into giving the audience what they want. "[Being rock 'n' roll] is being big and loud, and unafraid to be big and loud," he says. "I'm definitely learning more and more how to connect with the audience. I've only ever really been turned on by frontmen like Elvis, like Robert Plant, guys who performed with their heart on their sleeve."
That, perhaps, is what American audiences have been craving: a band that's not afraid to show its heart, and not a weepy, aching one, but one that beats hard and strong and loves a good adrenaline rush. That's what you get at a Leogun show — songs with heavy drumlines, powerful guitar strokes, and the occasional roaring vocal.
But even if no one were listening, Leogun would keep rocking like there's no tomorrow. "I'm being passionate and doing something I love," Smith says. "It's an attitude — not fuck you if you don't like it, we're not assholes. But we're not going to change because someone doesn't like it."