Visualizing the experimental sound of Leisure

Green Light go pop
By MICHAEL MAROTTA  |  November 16, 2011

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ANTSY LEISURE “This isn’t some kid in his bedroom making shitwave music, it’s a band pushing the envelope,” says Jed Rouhana (center, with Sam Hamad, left, and Chris Link). “Fuck the micro-trends — let’s do something bigger.”

A few days before Halloween, Cambridge pop trio Leisure released the YouTube video for "Green Light," their new 7-inch single off San Francisco indie label Crash Symbols. Multi-instrumentalist Sam Hamad created the clip as a found-footage piece, using black-and-white and sepia-toned visuals from the late film director Krzysztof Kieslowski's famed mid-'90s Three Colours trilogy (Blue, White, Red), where each story is loosely based on the three political mottos of the French Republic: liberty, equality, and fraternity. In a review of the DVD release, the New Yorker in 2006 wrote "at times, the movie is more like a sound-and-light show than a drama."

Leisure's music is both of those things — a dramatic sound that conveys themes of light and darkness through expansive, intelligent experiments with pop that are already making the band a bit squeamish over lazy U2 and Radiohead comparisons. Hamad insists there's not much of a connection between the daydreamer lullaby of "Green Light" and the Three Colours art-house examination of French virtues, but the link works on several levels. As Julie Delpy's newly-married character from the White film emerges, in slow-motion, from a French cathedral, she's quickly engulfed by photographers and journalists. Leisure vocalist Jed Rouhana's melancholy lyrical repeat of "Dying just to live" cascades over her blurred visage, and shortly after, classically trained guitarist Chris Link pierces the atmosphere with a sharp four-note riff. Any notion of this being a two-year-old local trio that practices in a second-floor office space just outside Porter Square vanishes as quickly as the clips of Kieslowski's images.

"People think of it as a relationship comedown," says Rouhana of the song, sipping red wine last week at Lesiure's Mass Ave practice space and studio. "I always thought of it as lethargy, of people living in a redundant, stagnant generation where no one knows what's going on. People are looking for something, looking to break out."

Leisure themselves seem poised to break out. In addition to December's "Green Light" release — a track that should be turning the UK music press off its shit any day now — the trio of Belmont natives and friends since high school will also release the more upbeat Plastic Soul 7-inch via New York label/blog Turntable Kitchen. Plans in 2012 revolve around touring and dropping a debut full-length.

Hamad says the song "Green Light," is "probably the most conventional thing on the album." Link scoffs at the basics of his guitar riff. Together they admit it took no more than five minutes to write. But there's more to the composition than the self-producing, self-recording trio allow. Hamad describes creating the unique percussion sound that highlights the track by "taking 20 drum sticks and literally dropping them on the drums and cymbal." The late Martin Hannett would be proud.

"With 'Green Light,' the idea is that if you get people's attention with something straightforward, you can fuck with their coordinates a bit, bring something fresh to mainstream culture," Rouhana says. "The stuff on the rest of the record is more difficult, more artsy. This isn't some kid in his bedroom making shitwave music, it's a band pushing the envelope. Fuck the micro-trends — let's do something bigger."

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