Logically, Leon Else’s debut EP, River Full of Liquor, shouldn’t work. The young singer’s first album, a commensurate 4-track collection of moody, downtempo R&B tracks delineating a self-destructive time in the 24-year-old musician’s life, holds regret and eroticism in tension. For a less talent songwriter, this would result in a pack of disquieting tunes that awkwardly veer too much in to one camp. Else, laying down soulful vocals over driving piano and percussion beats, manages to suspend both elements in such a way that they accentuate, rather than mitigate, each other. The result is something that’s sorrowful yet sensual that leaves you melancholically introspective and kind of turned on.
“I’m not trying to say ‘look at me I’m so fucking great; I’m so Rock and Roll,’” Else explains. “It’s not about that. It’s saying ‘Yeah, I’ve done that but I’m actually ashamed of that. It’s not a good thing to be doing, it’s not a good place to be in. I wasn’t a good person to be doing all that.”
The album’s three principle tracks, “River Full of Liquor,” “Cheap Hotel,” “Messed Up,” are mournful recollections of Else’s troubled past. He opens the EP with its eponymous song, in which he describes an ultimately empty lifestyle replete with sex and drugs. He then transitions into “Cheap Hotel,” a song that expands upon “River Full of Liquor” by providing anecdotes of his own infidelity. Finally he rounds out the trilogy with “Messed Up,” a song about his struggles with ADHD, which Else says contributed to his self-destruction.
“ ‘Messed Up’ was kind of my way to open up,” says Else. “I want people to look deeper into my EP and see that there are things that go on that I can’t control. It’s not an excuse, but it’s saying that I’d gone through shit to get to that point.”
Else, whose music career began by uploading songs to MySpace, says that River Full of Liquor is only his first step and that’s he’s planning on releasing a full length LP. “I’ve actually been working on this album now for ages and what seems like a lifetime,” admits the Margate-native. “I’m working on a few more tracks and getting away from the atmospheric downtempo stuff, because there’s more to me than that and I want people to see that.”
When I asked where Else where he’d like his career to be in a year, the answer he gave was measured and thoughtful. “You know a year ago I would have said selling out Madison Square Garden. But now I’m starting to get to know the music industry. In year I guess I’d like to see myself with my first official single out. I’d love see that. I’d love to be doing more on tour. I’d love to come to America and meet fans out there. One thing I learned about the music industry is that you have to take each day as it is. I’m just going to wait for my moment and continue to do what I do. I dare not say what I want to do in a year.” Clearly his introspection did not begin and end with his album.
“River Full of Liquor” is out now on.