Leo James Conroy is only 24 years old, but he’s already had more life experience than most musicians twice his age. It also may be why the young Brit’s music is so much more advanced than most artists his age. The classically trained multi-instrumentalist dealt with everything from personal and familial trauma to having to perform on the street just to feed himself before finally catching a break and moving to SoCal just a few years ago.
“My life has been really crazy, and it’s hard for me to just pin it down to one thing because there have been so many different things,” Conroy says. “Through all of it, music has always been my outlet. I’ve had other hobbies that have come and gone, but music has always been a passion that’s stayed deep within me. Whenever I write my lyrics, my goal is to make them personal to me, but also have them be relatable to as many people as possible.”
These days, Conroy is able to put his history behind him and focus solely on his musical career. With a steadily building catalog of timeless tunes — including 2015’s acclaimed self-titled EP — it’s not hard to see why the talented musician wins over new fans young and old every time he performs in front of a crowd. Tomorrow night, Conroy will be bringing his powerful show to the Wayfarer in Costa Mesa, where fans will get a taste of his established work as well as what his constantly-writing mind has been coming up with in the studio as of late — even if his original musical passions are much older than anyone who will be in attendance.
“My earliest love for music was all romantic and from the 1700s through to the early 1900s,” Conroy says. “When it came to singing, I’ve always loved blues, dixieland, and swing. I used to have a gramophone I’d use to play all the old swing records, and I think that was my favorite era. When I’m writing my own songs, that’s still just been instilled in me from being a kid.”
Of course, Conroy’s bluesy and soulful music is a bit more updated than anything you would’ve heard on an old swing record. Whether it’s recording music on his own or performing it live with his trusted rhythm section and the assistance of tools like digital loops and his signature trumpet, Conroy’s tracks are all so layered with various sounds under his booming vocals that it sounds like he still has his eight-piece band from the other side of the Atlantic. Either way, the vocalist and guitarist (among other things) enjoys keeping things fresh and challenging — particularly when it adds to the visual entertainment of his concerts too.
“When I write my own songs in the comfort of my own home, I can pick up an instrument, put it down, and then pick up another one,” Conroy says. “When I’m on the stage, I’m with my good friends — my drummer and my bassist. It adds a whole new dimension. We’ll set off the drums, and then we’ll set off the bass, and then there’s a loop station. Then I pick up my guitar with my trumpet hooked over my wrist and have to maneuver around with that, so it’s a bit of a visual spectacle as well.”
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But while some songwriters are fortunate enough to be able to simply sit down and write a new song, Conroy’s creative process isn’t quite as on-demand. Some days, the Manchester native will have nearly an entire song constructed in his head before he even picks up an instrument, but others are a struggle. No matter what, Conroy almost always feels the need to go back and listen to some of the great tunes of artists past and present before he’s ready to come up with something of his own.
“I wish there was a set songwriting process, because then I could control it,” Conroy says. “Honestly, some days I’ll just be feeling really inspired, so I’ll listen to a whole bunch of music from different eras and different sounds. It just kickstarts something into me, and it just sort of happens.”
Vestal Village presents Leo James Conroy at the Wayfarer on Thursday, June 29 along with Caught a Ghost, Warbly Jets and others. 7 p.m. ($1 beers from 7-9p.m) Tickets start at $10 and are available through the venue.