This Is… Johnny Leitera (Tuff Sunshine)

tuff_sunshine_small-5192Now, I take great pride in reviewing and listening to a cross-section of music and I love to get involved with things that other may perhaps stray from. This is most certainly the case with the latest exclusive, wilfully donated by Johnny Leitera of US band Tuff Sunshine. Johnny was kind enough to record an acoustic version of one of the band’s tracks during a thunderstorm in Brooklyn. I thought I should find out a bit more about him to enlighten you all;

Tell us about who you are and where you’re from?

I’m originally from outside of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania from a small working-class town called New Castle (two words over here). I grew up listening to a lot of 70’s country music as well as the usual classic rock that permeates the American radio landscape, and started to get into punk and old soul as I got older. Where I’m from informs a lot of what I do; I think Tuff Sunshine is unpretentious and pretty direct and that certainly comes from growing up where and how I did.

What’s your earliest memory of music?

Probably listening to John Denver with my parents at home; my family wasn’t particularly into music but I was exposed to it through friends and when I got The Beatles Second Album in elementary school, that’s when I started to think about doing it myself. The Eagles Greatest Hits was how I learned to sing harmony. These records were already “classic” rock at the time and I quickly got into alternative things like The Smiths and The Cure, The Replacements–and then began to search out records that were harder to find. It really took over and I was always spending any extra money on vinyl by the time I was in junior-high, you know, looking for weirder and “cooler” stuff.

When did you first get into playing? Who was your musical idol growing up?

I started playing around age 10 or so, but not really seriously until college. As I said, I was really into really different things at the same time; Beatles/Stones
and Waylon Jennings/George Jones…a lot of Stax records. Those would be my idols. Johnny Marr. Jonathan Richman later on…

How would you best describe your sound?

I think it’s changing as we move towards finishing the first full-length. The first Eps are really raw and loose, and although we still have that aesthetic I see more
arranging and other influences coming into play. I like to think of it as “post-hip” — no concern for what’s the flavour-of-the-day and just the music we wanna make. It’s raw and loose but sensitive and smart, too (if I do say so myself).

What’s the driving force behind Tuff Sunshine?

I guess my belief that I still got something to say, and that the unsolicited praise and encouragement we receive backs that up. We’re all “lifers” in this band.

What do you think is the biggest difference between independent artists in the UK and USA?

I think that in the UK it’s a little easier to get your name out quicker, maybe, because touring the country is a lot easier (size alone). We are really happy to be getting exposure over there because we hope to do that sooner than later. It’s hard to answer with anything more than impressions, really, but the folks I know who are at the same level as we are there seem to agree that the US is so big, and there’s just more volume of bands etc and it makes it psysically harder to get across the country and back.

Tell us a little about the video you’ve recorded for us.

I wanted to do something special for this interview that I hadn’t done, just a simple acoustic version of an upcoming song from the new record in a very stripped down way. I’m playing some solo shows at the moment and I always like when I find those obscure versions of tunes online that somebody posted from backstage or somewhere so I wanted to do a one-off for this particular interview.

What has been the highlight of your musical career so far?

Probably opening for Jonathan Richman. Playing a show with the Aussie band You Am I (and Tim Rogers solo). We got to play several shows with Os Mutantes last summer and that was great, watching these incredible musicians do it every night who have been doing it for so long. Very inspiring.

If you could share the stage with any musician (living or dead) who would it be?

This is always a tough one…living– Chrissie Hynde… Paul Westerburg…Jeff Tweedy…Billy Bragg…Annie Clark. Dead? Otis Redding maybe, but that would be career suicide to get on stage with that man!

Where do you hope you are headed?

I hope we can keep on keeping on with this and make enough money to tour and put back into it without going into debt. Being an indie musician at some point has to be a business (if you are doing it professionally) and as much as I hate to say it, it takes resources to keep it afloat.

My goals are humble…I hope that the work is out there and known. I’d like to be able to do what I do without creative or financial restrictions, tour when we want and have people be aware of us.

What can we expect to hear from you in the coming months?

The new record will be called Fire In The Hero Building and will be done in mid-late August. We’re looking for label/distribution support and will be trying to play as much as possible to promote it. Some new videos, and I plan to start writing the next one soon…

Who is your least favourite cartoon character?

Hands down, Scrappy Doo. Didn’t even have to think about it.

Find out more about Tuff Sunshine on Facebook and Twitter and, if you’re on the other side of the pond, you can catch them tomorrow night at Glasslands, Brooklyn.

Ciaran Steward


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