Meet Rory Leon, the musical maverick hailing from the vibrant streets of Los Angeles. Leon’s music is a striking departure from the norm, characterized by dynamic flows, captivating melodies, and unflinching exploration of impactful issues. Their tracks pulse with energy, blending tight rhyme schemes and ingenious wordplay, all while their velvety voice effortlessly shifts between fierce determination and heartfelt crooning. Leon’s artistry is a vivid paradox, as they skillfully navigate between intense vigor and soulful tenderness. Their harmonies add depth to their emotional delivery, turning each composition into a multi-dimensional journey. Beyond the surface, Leon’s music transcends sound, becoming an immersive experience that beckons listeners into their ever-shifting sonic realm. But what propels this musical chameleon’s unrelenting dedication and boundless inventiveness? In an exclusive conversation, we delve into the enigma of Rory Leon, uncovering the driving force behind their unconventional creations.
- Can you tell us a bit about how you got started in the music business, and when you decided to take it seriously?
Rory Leon: I mean I’ve always had a song in me, I remember being like 3 or 4 years old writing parodies to children’s nursery rhymes, I don’t even think I could read or write so “writing” doesn’t even qualify, I’d just try to remember them. Really it all kicked into gear when I went to college and ran into Willie, I mean from then on things just got really crazy, we went to San Francisco to perform an open mic and also do a free-styling radio segment on Oz-Cat, we went to Nashville and started recording at Blackbird (and almost got hit by a train.) We grew as people and as musicians and somewhere in there when he decided he could be “Sueco,” in my own way I decided to do the same, follow my artistry to the fullest extent, let myself be “Rory Leon.”
- Do you handle both the songwriting and beats on your songs or do you collaborate with other producers and writers?
Rory Leon: I’m always the writer, it’s very rare I let someone join me in my headspace to write a song, as for beats I have a series of really talented friends that happen to like working with me, Rowan Hodgson especially as we work together almost daily at this point. I like being involved in every step of the process if I’m able too.
- Who were your first and strongest musical influences that you can remember, and who are you listening to right now?
Rory Leon: Oh man, this breaks my heart a little, because most of my progenitor influences, have turned out to be anti-Semitic and thus I’d rather not mention them, but there is the one consistent “non-piece-of-shit,” whom I also believe to be the most brilliant spitter around, and that’s Aesop Rock. I could really wax poetic about this dude all day long if you prodded me about it, but yeah working with that dude is an absolute fantasy of mine and everything from “How to be a Carpenter” to “Long Legged Larry” just fills my heart with joy and revitalizes my energy to wake up and make more art.
- What do you feel are the key elements in your music that should resonate with listeners?
Rory Leon: I try my best to be honest…a lot of songs are me picking at scabs, trying to get rid of what’s bugging me in the most brutal fashion. A lot of it is fighting with my own ideations and temptations with suicide, or other traumatic things. Often I’m just trying to shine a light, whether a happy vibe-song or a depression anthem, I’m tryna scream at the void and let it be known what it is I’m letting go of, or what I’m failing to let go of.
- For most artists, originality is first preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you? How would you describe your own development as an artist and music maker, and the transition towards your own style?
Rory Leon: I mean all I really do is absorb whatever I obsess over, and I obsess over lots of music and artists. I’m sure it comes out some way or another. Whether it’s studying all of Aesop’s catalog or, Earl Sweatshirt or Open Mike Eagle, or away from hip-hop, Nat King Cole, Otis Redding, NxWorries, Sayonara Wildhearts, Attarashii Gakko!, BedRoom, Sinatra, Supertramp, god damn do I love music, and in some way shape or form it all influences me, consciously and unconsciously.
- What is your view on the role and function of music as political, cultural, spiritual, and/or social vehicles – and do you try and affront any of these themes in your work, or are you purely interested in music as an expression of technical artistry, personal narrative and entertainment?
Rory Leon: I think any type of art is just an expression of the spiritual. So activism, anti-capitalism, human rights, down to those base essences like a song about freedom. Or just how living in a world with all these conflicting things make us feel. Art doesn’t set a standard, society sets one but fuck em, because the only standard we really abide by at the end of the day is our own. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, weapons are aimed at first by the function but than by the man. Music is one of the most powerful things in the world because of it’s density. The amount of information in any given song is truly staggering, but the most powerful of people, good and bad, will use this tool not only to convert but also to explore. My childhood idols hate me because I’m Jewish, best we can do is spread our own positivity, and tear these motherfuckers down brick by brick.
- Do you write a song with current musical trends, formulas or listener satisfaction in mind, or do you simply focus on your own personal vision and trust that people will empathize and vibe with your sound?
Rory Leon: It is absolutely the latter, I make what I feel and feel what I’m able. Really I live under a rock, I don’t know whose popping and whose not, I just know what I like and know when I find it!
- Could you describe your creative processes? How do usually start, and go about shaping ideas into a completed song? Do you usually start with a beat or a narrative in your head?
Rory Leon: I usually bash my head against a wall until it’s nice and tender, my head not the wall, I’ll hear a beat however or why, and then the first words out of my mouth at that moment usually set the song, sometimes it’s even a full on free style and we get gems like “Long Haul.” There are of course times where I’ll transcribe a poem or start in an Acappella, but this is a pretty damn efficient way in my opinion.
- What has been the most difficult thing you have had to endure in your life or music career so far, and how did you overcome that event?
Rory Leon: My answer to this is, dig deep into the music, and take your pick. I’m still overcoming it. All of it.
- On the contrary, what would you consider a successful, proud or significant point in your life or music career so far?
Rory Leon: Oh, meeting Zak Aron very literally changed my life. That in itself is a very long a crazy story, but me and him always fell into absolute perfect harmony, and we grew a tremendous amount musically working together. Just because of our work ethic we were pulling 5-18 hour days in studio just getting fucked up and making like 100 song concepts a minute and 10 would get explored and 5 would get produced and we’d scrap it by the end, cus we already plotted something better. That was like the Hyperbolic Time-chamber for Artistry. It was dope.
- Putting aside any accolades or criticisms that fans, the industry, or the media may afford your persona or music, is there anything about you or your music, you think people may overlook, underestimate or misunderstand at all?
Rory Leon: I hope, because what is art without all that. I do think I have some pretty deep cuts that people won’t notice unless we’ve lived a shared experience. I speak using everything I know, sometimes that’s Buddhism and the Infinite and breaking through the concept of “expectation” and hope. Sometimes that’s smoking fat blunts and watching Jujutsu Kaisen, or reading Toriko or Punpun. Acid Trips and watching the og Perry Mason. Mushrooms and staring at the moon. Ya know all that good stuff.
- Your flow and rhythm are distinctive. How do you work on perfecting these elements while still pushing creative boundaries?
Rory Leon: I just try to drown myself in any music I love and see if it ever finds its way in as a reference point down the road. My flow is unique because I was the worst rapper, I struggled with aspects of bar structure for the longest, and still one of my crutches is rapping on the ‘2 instead of the ‘1. Just a habit I can’t break but, I don’t think it’s detrimental at this stage, just a cute lil quirk.
- With social media having a heavy impact on our lives and the music business in general, how do you handle criticism, haters and/or naysayers in general? Is it something you pay attention to, or do you simply ignore and move on regardless?
Rory Leon: Man, I do not use social media. I probably should I bet it would enhance my artistry. But I really don’t have the full motivation to push past into it, I wish I could explain it more without a “Mental illness probably,” and a shrug. I don’t feel good using them. Point Blank.
- If you had a choice to collaborate with any acclaimed international artist or producer right now, who would you choose, and why?
Rory Leon: Artist? Aesop Rock, hands-down, like I said earlier, I’m head over heels for this dudes work and method. Producer? 9th Wonder, first beat I rapped on was one of his from the Murs collab project, I can’t even get into it but those samples, the jazz influence in most his drum patterns, wow.
- Share an instance when a fan or critic’s interpretation of your song surprised you, and gave you a new perspective on your own work?
Rory Leon: I matched with someone on tinder and during the conversation, it came up that I’m a musician and so I sent her my link and what not. A couple hours pass… *ding* “You’re really honest, I like how you put all your red flags in your music.” And she never talked to me again so – still interpreting that interpretation.
- Could you tell us something about your latest project(s), and what the highlights are to watch out for?
Rory Leon: I drop things mad sporadically but I can tell you about some future things. There is going to be a song that is entirely based around a Jujutsu Kaisen character. There will be a song with the word “Barnacle” in the chorus.” I am making a “Rich Man 3,” and that is for the 5 people in the background that know what that is; love yall, wassup Dani. More songs about my toxic relationship with my father. Mire songs about toxic relationships with myself and others who chose to love me and the mistakes I’ve made. A couple of Hooligan Lou feats. I’ll drop a single where I name drop my therapist in an adlib. Also, I’m gonna start selling lapel pins, but I have anxiety real bad so my deadline is the year 3006.
- Creative work in studio environment, or interaction with a live audience? Which of these two options excite you most, and why?
Rory Leon: It’s unfortunately the former, I like painting more than showcasing, you know? Maybe that’s anxiety and insecurity, I wouldn’t doubt it, I just have to learn to approach that concept and get used to it more, it does excite me though.
- Do you have a favorite motto, phrase or piece of advice, you try to live or inspire yourself by?
Rory Leon: It’s silly but I grew up with Eureka so- “At any given time in this world the one who feels pleasure is the winner.” I love wallowing in raw emotion, but I try to enjoy myself even when I suffer. Halfway trauma response, Halfway I have a lot of energy devoted to my passions, or even just the essence of “Passion”.
- What message or feeling do you aim to convey through your music, and how do you ensure that message resonates with listeners?
Rory Leon: I have none of this in mind when I work, what you are watching, listening to, experiencing, is always me making the absolute most of what I have and consequently what I am. I aim to convey change, I’m just not sure if that lies in a concrete space for me, it’s something more liminal.
- Looking ahead, what are your ultimate ambitions and goals as an artist, both creatively and in terms of your career trajectory?
Rory Leon: To be honest, I’ve already achieved them, my end goal isn’t related to wealth or fame, it would be disingenuous to say I’m not aiming for recognition or validation, but at the end of the day, I love creating. I believe that’s the state when we’re closest with the universe, and I’m gonna keep writing and singing and rapping and playing magic the gathering and doing anything I love to the absolute nth. Because I love it.
Connect with Rory Leon @theroryleon