To say that Sunday, February 15, 2009, was a busy day for me is an understatement. I had decided to devote the entire day to Parlour to Parlour shoots, after discovering that I couldn’t spread them across two days. Basically, nobody was willing to give up any of their precious Valentine’s Day hours for an interview. In hindsight, I should have known better than to propose V-day for anything other than a date. But all was well that ended well: I did have a date of my own on the 14th, and I made the rounds on the 15th to visit three different artists I had discovered through my time at Performer Magazine. Daniel James from Leopold and his Fiction was the first I met that day.
Standing next to the Happy Hollows‘ Sarah Negahdari at the Knockout in San Francisco’s Mission District, on the night I first saw Leopold and his Fiction perform live (the Hollows had just finished their opening set), I remarked to her that the band’s fierce grooves reminded me a lot of the blues rock & boogie of early the ’70s band Cactus. Her reaction to that statement was pretty much the same as that of Daniel James, Leopold’s chief songwriter, singer and guitarist, when I dropped in on his San Francisco apartment about six months later — “I’ve never heard them before.”
I get that a lot.
If you follow Popdose’s Lo-Fi Mojo column, then you won’t be a stranger to at least five Cactus tunes. But for the rest of you, the comparison you’ll relate to the most is with the other band that struck me as sharing a musical bloodline with Leopold — the White Stripes.
Daniel’s blues-rock leanings and his vocal inflections can be reminiscent of Jack White at times, but as Daniel explains in this week’s episode, there’s a very good reason for that. And while he’s as intent as any artist with a mind of his own to develop his own sound and style, he doesn’t deny his Detroit roots or the fact that he borrows both intentionally and unintentionally from his idols.
Another big impression that Leopold’s live show made upon me was simply how enthusiastic the crowd was. There was spirited dancing going on at the front of the stage pretty much the whole time, and it was the same story the next time I saw Leopold. You can’t really tell from the band’s studio recordings that their live show would elicit such reactions, but when the right people show up, you’ll see it happen. Part of this is due to how much life is injected into Daniel’s songs simply by the band’s natural chemistry (the current incarnation of the band consists of James, bassist Micayla Grace, and drummer Jon Sortland), stretching out on stage and adding a dose of adrenaline to the music. Part of it too has to do with the fact that the band has some hardcore followers with infectious personalities.
But Daniel himself is not a super charismatic rock star type. He has the look (like a real rock n’ roll Jesus), but up close, he’s soft spoken and humble, a man in service to the music with focus and taste on his side.
On the day this episode was taped, it was rainy and miserable outside, hardly the kind of day one would choose to be out and about. And yet, as I arrived at Daniel’s home, he was just a couple minutes behind me, braving the nasty weather to arrive back in time for our appointment. And once I saw the Johnny Cash poster on his wall, I knew we’d have even more to talk about than I already expected. The shades of Bob Dylan so apparent in the title track of the new Leopold disc, Ain’t No Surprise, were already top of mind, and Daniel had plenty to say about that. He only needed about as much time to settle in as I needed to set up my equipment. Then we were off.
Daniel James (of Leopold and his Fiction) — “Ain’t No Surprise”