Your Lore Chapter 4: John Leccese
Your Lore Chapter 4: John Leccese
As we gear up for the official release of #ConspireToSmile and gear up for a series of album release shows. I thought it would be cool to tell each of the individual "Folks" stories by way of celebrating these talented dudes and heightening the collective Lore. John Leccese is not just any ole Folk, to state the obvious he's the lead rock bass player and founding member of Assembly of Dust. He and I have known each other for more than 20 years. He’s my musical compadre, confidant and amongst my closest friends. John wears many hats in Assembly of Dust including musical director (he knows the songs better than I do), setlist writer (he knows the songs better than I do), master of the one-eyed stage shame hammer (he knows the songs better than I do) and in many cases writes the parts that make a song like “Man With A Plan” bounce (he knows the songs better than I do) . In addition to being my broseph and our musical hoist John has a host of wonderful approach to life. His personality is like his bass playing - buoyant. He notices and appreciates the details of the every day in a way few people do which is a gift and inspiration to be around. One of the earliest seeds of what would become Assembly of Dust occurred at a Percy Hill show in NH sometime in the summer 2001 amidst a conversation with John. Adam Terrell and I ran into each other in the audience and watched the show together. After their set John and I were talking and he offered to play stand up bass as an acoustic duo. Turns out he didn’t play much stand up bass and we didn’t play too many acoustic duo shows but we’ve made a shit ton of music together and had a hell of a good time doing it. Beyond our adventures John has a storied path that he thumps along with bass at the ready. With that I bring you my friend….
PLEASE WELCOME - JOHN AUGUST LECCESE - ON THE LEAD BASS GUITAR
Reid: When and what drove your musical awakening? When you were like Kablam “I want to do this”?
John: I was in high school, I had just started playing my sophomore year and was in a band that was doing gigs - school dances and the like - and I was watching a ‘rival’ band at one of these dances. This was my senior year and I had no clue what I wanted to do, and for some reason I decided right then and there that it was the path I was going to make a go at. I still remember that moment to this day for whatever reason and as near as I can tell Im still making a go at it…
Reid: Are you self taught or formally schooled or both?
John: A little of everything. My guitarist friend BJ and I would sit around on the weekends - and during the week, all the time really - and he would show me the shapes of guitar chords and point to the note on the bass. We’d stay up late playing Police tunes and Dead tunes and Stevie Ray Vaughn and all different kinds of stuff. Then on my own I would sit in my room with cassette tapes of Metallica, Iron Maiden, Rush, and later on Allman Brothers, REM, Dead Kennedys, Descendants, Minutemen, Dead - all bands with killer bass players - and push play, listen to a few bars, stop, figure it out, rewind, play, stop, and so on. Didn’t work as well with vinyl, or even with CDs really, but that’s where I really learned quite a bit. I did graduate from music school at UNH in 1996, which was extremely educational. I studied jazz and classical upright bass with John Hunter there, but I was busy in rock bands and that was my focus so I may not have put as much energy into that as I should have.
Reid: You’re musically gifted, in theory you could have played any instrument you wanted. Why Bass?
John: I might say the bass was thrust upon me. BJ was forming a band and he just said ‘you’re the bass player,’ and that was that. Never picked up a bass before then. There were piano lessons going on in my household that for some reason I rejected - biggest regret of my musical life - so I was exposed to music performance from a very early age. Playing bass is an unusual roll in a band. Your part of the rhythm section and part of the harmonic structure of a song. It’s a roll that sort of chose me but I like being that musical bridge. I
Reid: What’s your MO as a bass player? How do you approach being the musical “hinge” of the band?
John: I have a feeling that my overall style at the end of the day might betray my sentiments here, as I may be guilty of playing far too many notes at times. However, I try to keep it simple and guide the listener though the song rhythmically and harmonically in a way that they can latch on to, while being ‘in the pocket’ with the drummer (and the rest of the band), and hopefully bend their ear with some interesting notes and rhythms from time to time. My success rate varies but my intent does not. I suppose thats part of the fun of it - sometimes you succeed at what you set out to do, sometimes you fall flat on your face and most of the time you find something you weren’t expecting.
Reid: Your first taste of real success was when Groovechild blew up in New England in the mid 90. What was that experience like?
John: My memory might be rearranging the furniture a bit here, but the Groovechild experience was like a rocket ship that never quite reached the stratosphere, only to unfortunately sputter and ultimately break apart upon reentry. I was less than 2 months into my freshman year at UNH - 1991 - when Drew Wyman (bassist for Thanks to Gravity, played with Adam Terrell in numerous incarnations) pulled me aside and said, ‘hey man there’s this band who needs a bass player. I don’t have the time but you’d be perfect.’ He gave me a cassette and I was like ‘hey this is actually pretty good.’ Fast forward to probably 18 months later when the local rock station WHEB had picked up the song Riverside from our album Sick At Last and it just blew up. Shortly thereafter we were selling out the Portsmouth Music Hall with 15 major label reps there checking us out. Played CBGB, opened for Widespread Panic before they were Widespread Panic, and were doing some great gigs and making a name for ourselves. As with all bands, there were members with some personal issues, which in my belief contributed to a failed industry showcase in New York City- one in which we were being told that we were the next big thing- and that was really the beginning of the end since all of the labels were there and were not impressed. We sucked that night. But the experience as a whole was amazing and it instilled in me the thrill of the hunt and the wonder that music holds. I still enjoy chasing both.
Reid: I’ve known you in the context of Groovechild, Kristin Mueller Trio (aka Macho Halo), Percy Hill and of course Assembly of Dust - can you offer a one line description for each and favorite album for each?
Someone called Groovechild “Biker Jazz.” That label sorta stuck.
Kristin Mueller Trio was funky and fun! Kristin’s tunes were quirky and heartfelt.
Percy Hill gets compared to Steely Dan quite a bit, and we’re not complaining.
From the ‘Heartfelt’ File, my steady eddy AOD.
Reid: How many albums have you performed on in total. Give or take?
John: Probably upwards of 20 studio albums as a band-mate or session musician and many more if you count live releases.
Reid: In all the years you’ve recorded and performed you’ve had countless highlights. Are there one or two moments that stand out as epic?
John: The one I always come back to is the Jammy Awards where AOD performed with Dickey Betts and Edie Brickell. While the live performance was special in itself, the backstage warm up sessions were pretty memorable. One moment I’ll never forget is when Edie implored Adam and I to ‘just jam’ in the dressing room, where he and I improvised a motif while Edie proceeded to improvise a beautiful and profound lyric and melody over what we had come up with. It was surreal. She has a larger than life quality about her an aura and is an amazing talent.
Reid: You and Adam Terrell have been close friends and musical collaborators forever. How did you two meet? How would you describe your musical dynamic and, given he is such a talented musician, what do you think makes his playing so special ?
John: Adam is without a doubt the most under-appreciated guitarist in our ‘scene,’ and anywhere else really. He can hold his own and then some with the best of the best. We met in the Groovechild era - he went to high school with them - and he even played in Groovechild for a stint and later with Percy Hill for our ‘Big Band’ shows and afterward. He’s a great listener - Big Ears, as they say - can shred when he needs to, and lay back in the mix as the mood dictates. We have done so much together over the years from rock and roll highs (and lows) to enjoying every gas station hot dog this side of the Mississippi to traveling from one end of Europe and back.
Reid: When you sing - you pluck harmony out of thin air. You hear it almost freakishly and immediately. And usually the high harmony, which is ironic given you play bass. Have you always been able to do that or did you develop that skill? Why do you think you tend to sing the high parts.
John: Lots of bass players sing the high parts! Michael Anthony from Van Halen immediately comes to mind - Geddy Lee, Sting, Jack Bruce among others. I think I may owe my ability to my mom, not because she is a musician, but because I’d be in the back seat of the station wagon in the late 70s, going to the bank or somewhere, and she was blasting all the great soft-rock of the era with all of those great, rich harmonies. I started to figure it out in my high school rock band - I think Ripple was the first one we worked out. I think the high parts are the easiest for me to hear, but definitely not always the easiest to sing.
Reid: When you were in Percy Hill a music reviewer referred to you as the Larry Bird of Bass. Besides being hysterical after playing with you for all these years, I think it’s a very intimate, nuanced and accurate assessment? What do you think the writer was referring too?
John: Jeff Waful in Relix. I’ve never seen LB do a spin-around-ball-through-the-legs-jump-from-the-foul-line-massive-air dunk. He was always in a support role - a great teammate - and making his team better. He could easily win the game sinking 3s when called upon and all in a very understated manner- incredibly efficient, productive and assertive yet graceful. Bassists hopefully occupy that same space within their idiom. I could only aspire to a minuscule amount of his greatness but if you had to model a style after someone you could do a lot worse. And thanks Jeff :).
Reid: I have laughed harder and more often with you and the rest of AOD than anyone I know (often at my own expense) is there one tale that calls to you - and is appropriate to share?
John: We were traveling through upstate New York in the van and someone suggested we pull over to get comedian Dave Attell’s new album at the time (his first one I believe.) Well, I for one am not that fond of stopping while one the road unless absolutely necessary, so I pooh-poohed the idea, saying ‘Ah, it’s not gonna be as good as you want it to be.’ We spent the rest of that tour howling and crying with laughter at how effing funny it was (I was overruled on the ‘no stop’ vote.)
Reid: Do you remember when you and I first met. I have to confess I don’t. I just feel like I’ve always known you.
John: I concur on all points. Actually it may have been when The Kristin Mueller Trio opened for Strangefolk at Club Toast in Burlington, VT - 1996?
Reid: Do you believe it’s biophysically possible to get a good pizza outside of the greater NYC area?
John: One of my Top 5 is Pizza Regina in the North End of Boston, but in general, no.
PLAY THE BAND
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