Grand Rapids musician Steve Leaf, who recently assumed sound engineering duties at Listening Room, today reveals the recordings that influenced him most.
EDITOR’S NOTE: All musicians can trace their inspiration to key recordings that captivated them and influenced their own music. Writer Ross Boissoneau today showcases the albums that changed the world for Grand Rapids’ Steve Leaf. Scroll down for a Spotify playlist of Leaf’s picks, plus a couple of tracks from his most recent solo project.
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Singer-songwriter and guitarist Steve Leaf originally hails from Howell. After graduating from Michigan State University, he moved to Chicago, entering the music scene there. But while the culture was lively, it was more difficult to get noticed, and he relocated to Grand Rapids in 2017. In addition to his work with the instrumental rock band Public Access, Leaf’s solo projects straddle the turf between alternative and Americana, ambient and pop, with sobering looks at relationships. In contrast, his persona onstage is playful and enjoyable, bantering with the audience. He recently assumed sound engineering duties at Listening Room in downtown Grand Rapids, along with hosting the venue’s new “Open Stage” nights.
1. Radiohead, “OK Computer” (1997) – The first album that got me thinking about music in a different way. I saw it at a store at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1997. I listened to (the song) “Karma Police” hundreds of times, then migrated out from there. The production diverged from what I listened to. Radiohead was breaking down barriers. The robot voice – I was just learning drums and played with that album. There are some hooks, but some of it is pretty far out in left field. I was always asking my parents to put it on in the car. The answer was usually “No.” “You call that music?” was a usual response.
2. Josh Ritter, “The Animal Years” (2006) – That was in about 2000. I grew up listening to Jackson Brown and the Beatles, what my mom and dad would put on. Josh’s narratives connected with me. The lyrics transported me. I could hear the story, it was so vibrant. He mentions cedar trees, being on a boat – every time I hear it I have to say I’m taken to that place. The production, the acoustic guitar is so quiet, but every once in a while it pokes out. I get chills every time. The song “Idaho” I cover sometimes, in a different way than he did it.
Listen: “Girl in the War”
3. Ratatat, “Classics” (2006) – It’s completely instrumental. There are tons of guitars stacked on top, tons of synths, drum machines. It’s a hybrid of rock and roll and electronic music. There are guitar lines where vocals would be. I was enthralled. I had a mix tape, with Of Montreal, Arcade Fire, Arctic Monkeys (and Ratatat). This was the song I’d always zero in on. I went to Barnes and Noble and bought it. I think my roommate couldn’t stand it by the end of the year. It wasn’t a big band. The guitar and synthesizer, you could do it at home. The song “Gettysburg,” whenever I go for a run I listen to that.
Currently Loving: Andy Shauf, “The Neon Skyline” (2020) – Where Josh tells an epic, Andy Shauf delves into the mundane with really simple songs. The album is a narrative about going to the bar and seeing a woman he used to date. I heard about it in March (2020). A friend told me to go check it out. I’d been into Andy Shauf before that, but that album solidified it. Every note is deliberate, the arrangements are very thought out. I just saw him at Calvin with a six-person band. There was no improvisation. It was very well orchestrated.
Listen: “Neon Skyline”
MUSIC THAT CHANGED THE WORLD: Steve Leaf’s Playlist on Spotify
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