Swedish country singer/songwriter, TJ Leonard got his first guitar from his grandfather, when he was eight. Eventually, TJ was introduced to pop and blues through his cousin. At eighteen, TJ became lead singer and guitar player in a dance band. Many genres have passed through TJ’s life: Jazz, hard rock, gospel, soul/r&b, but not until country music came along, did it feel like home.
In late 2013, after 3 years in the award-nominated band Chestnut, TJ decided to release his songs under his own name, TJ Leonard. TJ is now a Top 50 CMT.com Most Popular Artist, an Academy of Western Artists award nominee, a 2016 Indie Music Channel Awards nominee, and a Top 10 New Music Weekly charting artist with “Remember Those Times.” His latest single is “The River” from the album, High On Livin’ (MTS Records).
- When did you decide to take music seriously and how did you go about getting started?
TJ Leonard: I’ve wanted to perform my whole life and in ‘95 I moved to Stockholm to study music. After that I started to write and didn’t perform as much. In 2002 country music grabbed me by the arm and said -from now on it’s only country for you 🙂
- Who were your first musical influences that you can remember?
TJ Leonard: From the beginning I didn’t listen that much to music I only played with my grandpa so he is my first influence.
- Which artists are you currently listening to?
TJ Leonard: Chris Stapleton, Chris Young, Toby Keith and Blackberry Smoke among others.
- Have you ever had any formal training and do you think it is a necessary requisite for artists today?
TJ Leonard: Yes I studied music for two years and after that I’ve tried to keep a couple of things and forget about others. I lost myself in that process but I found my way back to the way I sounded before so for me it didn’t work BUT it may for others. It wasn’t a waste because I met a lot of people and made a lot of contacts in the music business.
- What are your thoughts on visual media? Do you see video as purely a marketing tool or as a creative extension of your songs?
TJ Leonard: I think it’s both of those things. It seems to be an important thing to have a video to your song today and its great fun to make a video.
- Which do you ultimately prefer? Entertaining a live audience or creating songs in a studio setting?
TJ Leonard: There’s nothing like performing live. I love recording in the studio but being on stage is a natural high.
- Can you talk to us about the art of lyric-writing? How connected are the lyrics to the melody? What is your general process like, words or music first?
TJ Leonard: Most of the times I get an idea with a melody and a topic and I go from there. I try to write the lyrics and music at the same time but sometimes it’s easier to write the music first and then the lyrics. Often time I have to change the music so it’ll follow the lyrics. The best song writes themselves I think. When it feels like someone else wrote the song, and then I know it’s a good one 🙂
- What kind of a songwriter do you consider yourself to be. Someone who is inspired at the spur of the moment, or someone who ‘locks’ himself away, and works at it until the right idea comes along?
TJ Leonard: The idea to the song is always comes fast and I record it on the phone. Then it can take several days before I have some time left to do down to the studio (in the basement) and finish the song. It’s a slow process when you have a day job and a family 🙂
- How do you feel about the way people interpret your songs, and what do you feel your listeners should get out of your music?
TJ Leonard: I try to write lyrics that I hope people can relate to. The songs are about things that happen to me or people around me, everyday life.
- Pick one or two favorites of all the songs you’ve written, and tell me about them. Why are you so fond of them?
TJ Leonard: I have a song called Flying over water. I wrote it to my son a couple of months after he was born. It was released on an EP with my old band Chestnut. It should have been on my album High on Livin’ but I saved it for the next one. Becoming a parent is such a big thing so writing a song to that little baby really gets to your heart.
- What type of recording process do you use? Who produces and plays on your recordings?
TJ Leonard: I produce everything myself. There’s a lot of our best musicians on my album. Nicke Widén on steele, dobro and banjo, David Henriksson on electric guitar, Gustaf Hielm on bass and Roine Johansson on the drums. First I record a demo with programed drums where I play all the instruments and then I send the demo to all the others. Some of them comes to my studio and record their parts here, others have their own studio and they will send me the files over internet.
- How do you market and manage your music career? Do you have a management team or do you control everything by yourself?
TJ Leonard: Last year I started to work with MTS Management and Michael Stover and that is the best decision I’ve ever made (when it comes to music). It really got my career going. Now my music is played all over the world and that is a hard thing to manage by yourself.
- As an independent artist, how would you define the word “success”?
TJ Leonard: I guess it depends on what your goal is. For someone a success could be having a song on a top 40 chart and for others if you get a deal with a major label and you’re starting to earn money and playing music full time.
- What is the best piece of advice in this business you actually followed so far, and one you didn’t follow, but now know for sure that you should have?
TJ Leonard: The best advice was to get a GOOD manager the other ones I’ve forgot about 🙂
- If you had the opportunity to change one thing about the music business, what would that be?
TJ Leonard: I would erase Napster while it still was in the cradle HAHA! From there the music industry went south, at least when it comes to earning money on your music. The streaming services are good in the sense that your music spreads to the people but it’s quite expensive to produce music so It would be nice if some of the money would go back to the songwriters/performers.
- Do you consider Internet and all the social media websites as fundamental in building a career in music today, and what is your personal relationship with the new technology at hand?
TJ Leonard: As I said, internet is great for getting your music out there and it would be hard to get what I got today without it. I guess it’s a love/hate relationship 🙂
- What is the title of your latest release and where and when can fans find it?
TJ Leonard: The new single is called “The River” and is from the album “High on Livin’”. It can be found on ITunes, Amazon and all the other sites like that. The video can be watched at my YouTube channel.
- What is the one compromise you would never ever accept, in your quest to achieve or consolidate a more successful musical career?
TJ Leonard: I would never accept anyone to tell me what to write about.
- If you only had five minutes left on earth to perform one famous song that could leave a major impact on this world, what would that song be and why?
TJ Leonard: I would sing a simple and easy to understand song about the gospel of God like Jesus loves you. After all, that is the most important message of all.
- What does the near future hold for TJ Leonard? What can fans look forward to?
TJ Leonard: I’ve started to work on a new album, and me and my good friend Hicks have recorded a duet. I don’t know when or if it will be released by us but it’s a really good song. June 2nd I will perform at a place called Stampen here in Stockholm. It’s a really cool venue where a lot of good artists have performed.