Discovery: Leonard Friend
ABOVE: ALEX FEDER. PHOTO COURTESY OF NATHAN JONES
From XYZ to ABC: Leonard Friend’s Alex Feder is going solo. The release of his Lynyrd Frynd EP features his personal brand of electro-pop, influenced by everything from LCD Soundsystem to Justin Timberlake and Michael Jackson. After leaving his post as frontman of The XYZ Affair, Feder moved to LA with his girlfriend and embarked upon a new journey of his own.
Feder’s new serenades are more seductive than The XYZ Affair’s indie-rock tracks, and more playful, too—his track “Adults,” which we’re psyched to debut below, wears its synth on its sleeve and sounds more like, say, Lionel Richie than it does like any of Leonard Friend’s contemporaries. We chatted with Alex Feder about being musically homeless, getting serious, and not being just another dude with a guitar.
NAME: Alex Feder (musical pseudonym: Leonard Friend)
HOMETOWN: Los Angeles, CA
A CHANGE OF SCENERY: I guess I moved in April, but I spent all of last year traveling around and playing guitar. So, I’ve only really been settled in since New Year’s. I haven’t really established anything yet in LA, but I do get to do a lot of relaxing. So, that’s nice.
LEAVING BEHIND XYZ: I was in a band called The XYZ Affair in Brooklyn. We were working on our second full-length. I think that was 2009… all of that year was just kind of taxing. We did a lot of touring. We did recordings that we weren’t super thrilled with. We lost our drummer. We had started working on this record, and the process just kind of imploded. Slowly but surely, I felt like it was just me working on it. I just got kind of burned out; I decided to just stop it. I wasn’t sure at first if I was going to go straight into a new project or if I actually wanted to find something else altogether to do with my life. I took a little time off, and I gave it some thought and decided to proceed as a solo artist.
THE IMPORTANCE OF LEONARD FRIEND: I’m not totally sure how or why I decided to use the Leonard Friend pseudonym. It’s my grandfather’s name, and he had passed away a couple of years earlier. It literally just hit me when I was in the shower, and it felt really right. I was like, “All right, that’s it.” I didn’t even second-guess it, because I know sometimes band names or project names can be tough. This was just like, yeah, there’s no question. I even had people like, “Why don’t you just call it Alex Feder, if it’s your solo project?” Leonard Friend certainly sounds like an old white dude’s name. I had people kind of express that maybe they thought it was an interesting choice to go with. It seemed right, and that was that. I started working on songs and started recording all that year. That’s kind of how it came to be.
A MUSICAL IDEA WITHOUT A HOME: When the band broke up… my girlfriend is originally from LA. I no longer had anything tying me to New York. I had been in New York for ten years. I knew she wanted to move back at some point. I’m from the East Coast originally, so I had never lived in California. We decided to move back. So, I said, “Give me a year to do my thing, wrap everything up, and figure out this Leonard Friend thing, and then we’ll move.” It was definitely really an unsettled year. I wasn’t literally homeless, but it felt like I was between homes. That feeling definitely strongly contributed to the nature of the songs, particularly to the lyrics. Musically, the main drive was that I wanted music that made me want to dance. I always have put a big focus on entertaining, which is certainly something I think is missing from most indie-rock shows. It’s just something that is important to me.
MAKING “SERIOUS MUSIC” AND NOT BEING JUST ANOTHER DUDE WITH A GUITAR: Coming from an indie-rock thing and living in Brooklyn, I think there are folks who kind of assume the age-old Nirvana thing that if you’re a dude with a guitar, it has to be super-serious, and you have to be taken super-seriously. I don’t really think there’s anything all that wrong with making it a little bit bigger of a show. That was a big drive for me. I wanted music that made me want to dance. I listened to a ton of Top 40, R&B, hip-hop and old soul stuff. That is precisely where the song “Serious Music” came from. That was actually why I released it as the first single. I thought it was kind of an interesting mission statement. Along with the poppier sound and dancier music, I don’t think that I’ve lost any sincerity to the songs. I certainly don’t mean it any less. I’m pretty serious about it, even though there’s plenty of humor and big, dancey beats.
INFLUENCES: I have a million. I’ve always listened to a lot of stuff. When I was writing this record, I was listening to a bunch of different things. I was listening to a lot of LCD Soundsystem and Bruce Springsteen, which I think influence the lyrics a lot. I obviously really love Justin Timberlake, Michael Jackson, Prince, and The Time. I went through this huge and unexpected Phil Collins stage at a friend’s suggestion. He was going through a tough time, and he was like, “I’ve really been listening to a lot of Phil Collins. You’ve really got to check it out.” I was like, “I don’t know, man. I’m just going to be reminded of my dentist’s office.” Lo and behold, when I was going through a little bit of a tough and confused time myself between these two projects, I listened to a lot of Phil Collins and Phil Collins-era Genesis. It had a huge effect on me, which is really weird and unexpected. He gets a bad rap, a little bit. I think he’s unbelievable and a great singer/songwriter.
SUPERFAN OF “SINGLE LADIES”: I tend to actually form obsessions with single songs a lot of the time. I spent a lot of time listening to “Single Ladies” over and over, which seems really goofy, but that song is unbelievable. There’s nothing going on, except for a kind of lopsided drumbeat that sounds like it comes from the Frogger game. Then just the vocal melodies, and it’s like one hook after another. The chord change in the chorus is really weird. I guess I get really fascinated by things that are real pop achievements. Another one that I listen to all the time is “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling.” It’s hard to explain what in particular grabs me about songs at certain points. I just go through these huge shifts where I’ll spend periods obsessing over a specific record. “Untitled” by D’Angelo is another song that I listen to just non-stop. I guess it fascinates me. I’ll fixate on a particular song or sound and go with it. That being said, I really do listen to a crazy variety of music.
ON BEING ABLE TO STAND ON HIS OWN TWO FEET: I kind of feel a little bit like before I would collaborate with anyone else, I want to be more self-sufficient. When I first started making the record, I was really looking for a producer. I wanted to write my songs on guitar like I did with The XYZ Affair, and then have someone make a beat more or less. I tried my luck with that, and it just didn’t really work. I’ve spent the past couple of years figuring out how to do my own arranging in a totally different genre with a totally different musical palette, without the assistance of three other bandmates.
YOU CAN DOWLOAD LEONARD FRIEND’S DEBUT EP ON HIS WEBSITE.