Photo Credit: Gregory Berg
For much of his life, Mickey Leigh had been part of a group, and it served him well through a childhood that was so fascinating a book had to be written about it to the ‘70s in the depths of New York City’s booming music scene. Now the music vet is focusing on the next chapter of his journey by riding alone for his debut, solo album. We talked about the February 2022 release, ‘Variants Of Vibe,’ the importance of mutating with time, and the exciting things on his horizon.
Kendra: Musicians often have two foundations…they either come from a family that has zero artistry or their talent is biological in a way. You seem to be the latter. You detail as much in your memoir ‘I Slept with Joey Ramone: A Family Memoir,’ about you and your brother, the late great Joey Ramone. With that, I want to know what initially guided you towards music? Was it a song, an artist, a performance, a relative?
Mickey Leigh: Well, it’s a little embarrassing to admit this publicly, but, since I’m the only one here at the moment, I suppose I’m only admitting it privately. Either way, it happened naturally, innocently, and rapidly. When I was very young, around 2 or 3, my mom sang me a song. I was fascinated by the first feeling of a rhythm being brought to life inside my body. The mesmerizing melody made me happy, giddy, and euphoric. My mom gave me one dose of “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star,” and I became addicted to music. I fell in love with it. Then, my grandma bought me a little ukulele, and the marriage was consummated.
Kendra: Once you got older you spent a great deal of time in the NYC scene back in the ‘70, and I recently spoke to another artist who said we often romanticize that time in music history. How do you feel looking back on it as someone who was there as well?
Mickey Leigh: …old.
Kendra: From then to now, it goes hand in hand with something you said, “…music is perpetually re-adapting itself in order to survive = mutating.” As someone who has been ingrained in the industry for a handful of decades and has seen firsthand how it’s had to evolve, what would you say have been some of the most eye-opening mutations over the years?
Mickey Leigh: Hmmm…the most eye-opening mutations in the industry… I haven’t seen it, but I’m gonna say that would be the Buddy Holly and Roy Orbison hologram concert. Definitely an eye-opener, despite the fact that they look the same as they did – or, so I hear.
But, to be serious (and I’m not an expert or an authority on this subject), when things “mutate” it’s not like a caterpillar-to-butterfly type of metamorphosis. It’s so subtle, you barely notice that it’s mutated, or that it’s mutating – just that something seems the same, yet is somehow different at the same time because it’s actually something old but becoming “new” – I know…That’s deep stuff.
Kendra: Again, you’ve been making music for a long time but you’ve always done it in a band setting. This year you’re mutating yourself and stepping out for the first time with your debut solo record, ‘Variants Of Vibe.’ Did you learn anything new approaching an album solo?
Mickey Leigh: I learned that I could save 15% by switching to Geico.
Sorry, I joke because I get nervous doing interviews. I DID learn something (though I was already aware of it) – that when I write the songs, produce the recordings, and play every instrument other than the drums – played by my dear friend and drummer of 25 years, Sir Lord Duke the Honorable Patrick “the carpenter” Carpenter – it goes really fast and is extremely economical. It’s less stressful in a way because I know what I want to hear. And sometimes it’s easier to lay the track down yourself, rather than to teach it to someone.
But, now that I have my “brudda” and former bandmate Wes Crawford with me, I feel it’s better for him to take part in the studio experience by playing the bass parts and singing the same parts he would be playing live, during the recordings. And I’m always open to all ideas throughout the process.
But, the greatest thing I gained from making my own record was confidence. I mean, I know when something’s good and when it sucks. But, when someone like Stevie Van Zandt deems five of my tracks “Coolest Songs in the World” on his radio program, Little Steven’s Underground Garage, it’s certainly a nice confirmation.
Kendra: So the past few years have been hard, especially on musicians with live events being one of the first things to get cut in 2020. With that, a lot of musicians have struggled and found making music “No Fun Anymore.” Being that you’ve had such an admirable career, what advice do you have for artists struggling right now with creating and focusing?
Mickey Leigh: Wow, that’s kind of a psychological issue; and would probably be a question for someone like Dr. Phil could answer – Except he’s not an artist or a doctor!
My advice would be this: there’s ALWAYS going to be a struggle in life. There might be a few breaks in the action, but life is a series of struggles of one kind or another. The various hardships we’re all currently enduring loom larger than in any other period in my lifetime. I can’t deny the sense of confusion and apathy prevailing, but those things can be as inspiring as they are disturbing. I see these things as ammunition for song slingers. There’s always going to be turmoil on this planet. Get used to it, and say what you have to say about it, whatever that is. …I don’t know if that was helpful advice but it’s the same advice I give myself.
Kendra: A bit of a side note…being that it’s February, I’m asking every artist this month to share their favorite love song…
Mickey Leigh: Oh man…I hate trying to pick my favorite song when there are so many to choose from. I can tell you that it’s one of these, and probably the first one:
Kendra: Lastly, with ‘Variants Of Vibe’ out this month, what else can fans both new and old be on the lookout from you as we continue to get through this first part of 2022?
Mickey Leigh: Why do I feel like I’d be bragging answering that question? …I’ll get over it.
Well, this could be a biggie, I wrote a book that’s been optioned to be adapted for film. It’s very close to going into production. I’m not really big on talking about things that haven’t gone into production yet, but it’s looking pretty good at the moment.
I’ve already written some new songs that we began recording in February of 2020. I’ll never forget walking out of Mercy Studio on 14th St & Ave B in Manhattan on March 13th, 2020. The streets were empty and the city was dead quiet, except for ambulance sirens. The lockdown began that night. I’m anxious to finish the songs we were recording at that time, and the others taxiing on the runway behind ’em.
There’s another book, or two – whose pages I’m hoping to put words on – that currently reside either in my head or sheets of printer paper. Despite the pandemonium, I have no shortage of projects and ideas for more of them.
I guess some artists thrive when they’re struggling.