East Tennessee’s Alex Leach is a trailblazer of modern bluegrass, bearing a torch for the traditional pioneers that laid the foundation before him.
By the time he was 15, Leach garnered two “DJ of the Year” awards from the Society for the Preservation of Bluegrass Music of America, and had been featured on BBC and CMT. As he was building a reputation as a respected voice of bluegrass radio, he was also cutting his chops as a guitar and banjo player in his own rite. At 19, he was recruited by Ralph Stanley II to tour as a band member adding lead vocals, harmonies, and banjo to Stanley’s bonafide bluegrass sound.
In 2019, Leach and his wife Miranda founded The Alex Leach Band, and began making bluegrass bangers with influences ranging from The Stanley Brothers to The Beach Boys. The band currently consists of Alex (guitar, vocals), Miranda (vocals), Kasey Moore (fiddle, guitar, vocals), Zach Russell (guitar, mandolin, vocals), Baker Northern (banjo, mandolin), and JT Coleman (bass).
On August 19th, the band released their new record, All The Way, which features a couple rock-solid covers including Paul Simon’s “Slip Slidin’ Away” and Joe South’s “Walk A Mile in My Shoes.” It also boasts ten stellar originals penned by both him on his own, along with some in collaboration with his wife. The resulting sound is progressive bluegrass that is as nostalgic as it is forward-thinking.
We had the pleasure of chatting with Leach about the new record, his infuences, tour, and much more.
So your new album, All The Way, is officially out. What led ‘All The Way‘ to be the winning title, and are there any overarching themes or motifs throughout the album?
I started writing the music to this album along with my wife Miranda about a year ago, and as I was coming up with some new music, a certain melody kept coming back to me. I sat down and started writing some lyrics and “Together (We’re Going All The Way)” came out in about ten minutes. It was one of the easiest songs I’ve ever written, as I thought about us as a band sticking together and waiting out the pandemic, and now being able to get back out there and show them what we’ve got. I knew as soon as it was done that this song would be the title of the new album, and the rest of the music would reflect our originality as our band matures.
And I see you have some classic covers on there like Paul Simon’s “Slip Slidin’ Away” and Joe South’s “Walk A Mile In My Shoes.” What made you choose these songs to re-imagine?
Ten out of the twelve are original, but I wanted to include a couple fun cover songs. Last summer I was on a Simon and Garfunkel kick, and after watching their Central Park performance from the early 80s, “Slip Slidin’ Away” kept reaching out to me. Miranda and I started working out the ‘criss-crossing’ vocal parts and we fell in love with it. We tried to make it our own and I love the way it turned out.
“Walk a Mile in My Shoes” was one that I discovered on a reel to reel tape of Cliff Waldron recorded live in Bean Blossom, Indiana in the early ‘70s. It was fast and high-energy and I absolutely loved it. Cliff must have worked that song up only a month or two after the Joe South original recording came out. We decided to add it to the mix as a high energy Bluegrass song.
Was there a track that was the hardest to write or record for one reason or another?
These songs actually flowed pretty freely. After writing them, we started rehearsing and the band did an amazing job learning them and with Jon Weisberger in the producer’s chair, it was such an easy and fun experience to put these songs down.
How might this album compare and contrast from your previous album, I’m The Happiest When I’m Moving?
I feel like this album has quite a bit more maturity than the last album. When we recorded I’m The Happiest When I’m Moving, it was March of 2020, and our band had only been together for a few months. I love the way it turned out, but two days after our sessions, the pandemic hit and took all of our shows from us, and the album was held off for a full year before being released. The new album had much more planning, and the recording process took place over the course of a few months. I believe it shows our originality much more and showcases our vision as a band.
How did working with Jim Lauderdale and Jon Weisberger help elevate your sound, and how did they help you execute your vision?
Working with Jim and Jon is such a wonderful experience. They both let us choose our songs to record and were so easy to work with. Like myself, they like to get the best product possible and strive to make the band comfortable in every way while in the studio. I greatly appreciate their willingness to work with us.
I see you worked with your wife on the writing/recording of this album. What can you tell us about how that, and what advantages might there be for songwriting together?
Miranda and I pretty much do everything together. I feel mighty lucky to have her by my side, and songwriting with her is no exception. She keeps voice notes on her phone and when we decide to write, she pulls out so many cool melodies, words, and ideas. Writing “Wanderlust” with her was so fun.
It was last spring, and we had just finished a home cooked meal here at the house, and we decided to have a gin and tonic and sit together on the front porch. She had been listening to Taylor Swift’s Folklore album all day so we were vibing with that style when we started writing. It was a beautiful evening as we began bouncing ideas off of one another. She would write a line and I would add the next line. We did this until it was done and I was so happy at how it turned out.
In the world of modern bluegrass music, is it hard to find untrodden ground in a genre steeped in tradition?
When it comes to Bluegrass, I’m a huge fan of the first generation. The Stanleys, Monroe, Jim & Jesse, an Flatt & Scruggs are what I view as Bluegrass. All of those guys had their own sound and were at the top of their game. I don’t exactly view myself strictly as a Bluegrass artist, because I like to bring in many other genres as an influence, but when we play a Bill Monroe song, I like for it to sound pretty close to the way Bill did it. I am a huge Brian Wilson (of Beach Boys fame) fan, and I like ‘50s and ‘60s R&B music, so when I write songs, I tend to find myself bringing a lot of these elements in. I believe that gives our music a bit more originality in the roots music world than a modern Bluegrass band.
I see earlier in your career you were recruited by and toured with Ralph Stanley II. What was that experience like, and what did you learn and take with you?
Working for Ralph II was a blast. I played banjo for him for almost seven years and we had a wonderful time on the road. I always called him the ‘fearless leader.’ He’s still like my brother to this day, and thanks to him, I got to play the Grand Ole Opry with his dad back in 2014. One of the things I’ve taken with me from my time in his band is how to get out on the lake and catch the hell out of some walleye!
Do you have a tour lined up post-album release, and if so, are there any shows you’ve got circled on the calendar and are most excited about?
We have quite a few shows coming up this fall and they are all listed on our website. One that I’m very excited about is Bourbon & Beyond in Louisville, Kentucky in a few weeks. They have a stellar lineup including Pearl Jam, Alanis Morissette, Chris Stapleton and others. We are mighty honored to be included in the lineup!
What advice might you have for the younger generation of bluegrass players who want to trailblaze their own path as you have?
I think it all starts with the foundation. I think it’s important to begin with the first generation of the music and learn the tradition. After that, you can start bringing some other influences in and create your own sound. The most important thing is to be yourself. Influences will show up in your music no matter what, but it’s important to do your own thing.
Note* Evan Pratt contributed to this article.