Country music will always be king in Nashville, TN. But if the past decade foreshadows any of Music City’s future, it might have a slew of new genre contenders ready to take its throne.
On a Tuesday night, one can hop from The 5 Spot, to The Basement, to The Station Inn, and downtown to The Ryman . . . finally revolving the doors on the many-a Honky Tonk up and down Broadway and 2nd Avenue. On such an evening, I promise you will encounter a dozen or so musicians, the kind of which make you scratch your head and wonder – why haven’t they made it? Then there’s the moment, where I catch my self standing flat-footed, having not taken a sip of my canned PBR for more than three minutes, as I listen to a song that simply reminds me again that real, good songs are not something you will find on the radio.
But Thad Cockrell, lead singer and founder of LEAGUES, is ready to change what you hear on the dials. The son of a preacher, Thad first started writing songs while studying the same trade, deciding that music would eventually be his calling. It was a good decision, as Cockrell has enjoyed more than a decade long tenure as both an artist and writer. He’s an artist’s artist – one that commands much respect in the tight-knit Nashville music scene.
But something else was brewing inside Cockrell – a need to express himself outside of his Alt-Country artist renderings, or the confines of always writing songs for someone else to sing. In 2013, Cockrell, alongside producer and drummer Jeremy Lutito, released You Belong Here as the debut record for their newly formed group LEAGUES.
“Everyone in the industry told us that LEAGUES would never work,” Cockrell tells me over cold tall-boy beers at Drifters BBQ on Nashville’s east side. At the time his partner Lutito also had his doubts. “Starting a band in your mid-thirties is pretty darn ambitious,” he is quoted. But maybe being a bit crazy – daring – and different is what would work.
Bolstered with singles like “Spotlight” and “Walking Backwards”, LEAGUES’ debut You Belong Here soon outpaced industry expectations, earning a rabid fan base, as well as high profile placements in film, television and advertisements. You Belong Here proved that forming a band ‘late’ in one’s career was neither too ambitious nor short lived.
In 2014, the boys went back into the study to work on a sophomore record. I remember hearing cuts in the studio – noting a remarkably different departure sonically from the previous release. I was digging the new effort.
But I was just a spectator – I wasn’t inside the minds of Cockrell and Lutito who at the time decided their new recording was not “saying everything we wanted to say, or pushing each other musically to do all we could do,” says Cockrell. They scraped the album – an incredible testament to pursuing their craft when so many resources and so much time went in to producing something that just lacked the Je ne sais quoi.
Alone Together is the resulting 11-track album that was always meant to be. Cockrell tells me that making You Belong Here consisted of a process of “making the best album we knew how, based on past experience, to record.” Alone Together is drastically different – “it is our best version of what we do not know how to do, an adventure that is half on and off the rails.”
In the title track, Cockrell, in my mind, surely knows what he is doing – belting out his signature clever style of writing and phrasing by repeating the lyrics, “maybe the closest that we’ll ever get, is alone, together.”
But it’s the track Slow and Steady, where I catch myself having my own aha moment for what could be the track that breaks the radio’s back. “I’ll get over you in time, I’m not ready. I’ll get over you in time, slow and steady, “ sings Cockrell. Sure it’s an anthem of pain and loss, but the abundant persistence that plays out both lyrically and musically provides an incredibly light-hearted enduring sense of hope – put simply, it’s a song that is really, really good.
I’m convinced that LEAGUES will not be one of those bands leaving you scratching your head. Listing to Alone Together, I promise y’all will soon stomp your feet, dance like it’s the 1980’s, and more importantly, stand flat-footed from time to time.
Sooner than later, LEAGUES will be considered a band that – well, finally made it.