A mostly accurate retelling of the the story of Leaving Springfield
Born in the buckle of the 'Bible-belt' and now calling 'Sin City' their home, Leaving Springfield is a band that draws comparison to Weezer, Fountains of Wayne, and Social Distortion. Proudly wearing their influences on their sleeves, Leaving Springfield brings a sonic wall of big drums, loud guitars, and lyrics that are taunting, twisted, and usually with tongue planted firmly in cheek. Matt Norcross (drums, keyboards, vocals) and Brent 'BK' Kessler (guitar, bass, vocals) established themselves as a songwriting tour-de-force, and their live performances will left you wondering how two people (now three) can make that much sound.
The summer of 2006 found Las Vegas musicians Brent 'BK' Kessler and Matt Norcross both searching for new musical horizons.
"I had been in a band for about four years that had finally called it quits. BK had played in that band for about the last four months that the band was together and that was the first time we had played together."
Matt had several side projects going at this time, one of which was with guitarist/vocalist Jeff Carlson.
"Jeff and Matt were just starting to rehearse and put songs together when I ran into Jeff at a club. He said he and Matt were looking for a bass player and I told him I'd play bass for them and it was just kind of a done deal. Of course, the truth is, is that I didn't even own a bass at that time (a bit of foreshadowing here maybe?) So the minute I got home I ordered a bass online and hoped it would arrive before we were supposed to rehearse. I suppose deceit is as good a way to get into a band as any!"
By the fall of 2006, the band, now calling themselves Leaving Springfield (a tribute to the fact that they were all displaced Midwesterners) were ready to begin recording their first EP. In true rock and roll fashion, Carlson left the band shortly before the sessions were to begin. Finding themselves without a guitar player or vocalist, Norcross refused to halt the progress they had been making.
"Matt said we should do the songs I wrote and that I should play guitar and sing. It seemed more like a dare than a request. So that's exactly what we did. We set up a studio in a warehouse and recorded the six songs that are on the first EP."
The next hurdle was performing the music live. As a two piece band, it seemed obvious that they needed additional personnel or would have to resort to playing with pre-recorded tracks. In the end, they decided to do neither.
"BK's kind of an evil-genius/techno-nerd. He designed a guitar pickup and then an amp setup that basically allowed him to play bass and guitar and the same time. We didn't want to be a two-piece band that was a novelty act, we wanted to be a band that just happened to have only two members."
"It was kind of awkward at first," says BK. "It took several months and lots of shows before the guitar/bass system had the bugs worked out of it. We'd play and people would just kind of look at us like something was going on but they couldn't put their finger on it. After finally getting the system dialed in, we played a small club in Vegas and the other bands on the bill were standing by the side of the stage trying to figure out where all the sound was coming from. That's when I knew it was going to work. That we could be a band just the two of us."
Most of the music on the Leaving Springfield EP, were songs penned by BK. Two notable exceptions, Pretty, Skinny, and Blond, and the I'm-naughty-and-I-like-it Negative Attention, were the first collaborations between BK and Matt.
"Even now, when I go back and listen to that EP, those two songs stick out. Those were the two songs everyone picked up on and it was obvious that those songs were an indication of where the band was heading. Sure, I was bringing the songs in, but Matt would change things and add little parts that took them to another level. Everything I had been writing in the previous year or two was just laborious, self-indulgent, ten-minute songs that were about as exciting as toast. But when we wrote those two songs, I felt like I was playing in the my first garage band all over again. I couldn't put down the guitar."
One song that was not included on the EP was a tribute to legendary Southern California TV weatherman, Johnny Mountain.
"Matt was out in L.A., and drunk dialed me at about 4am yelling about this weatherman on TV and how cool he was, and how I needed to write a song about him. Now, I had lived in L.A. and knew who Johnny Mountain was, and yes, he's the Steve McQueen of weathermen. But it was 4am and I really didn't care. However, being unable to get back to sleep and I now have the name Johnny Mountain racing through my head, I got up, grabbed a guitar and wrote the song in about five minutes. Once Matt got back to town, we tweaked it and were eager to add it to the EP."
The band quickly went into the studio with the intention of adding Johnny Mountain and a couple other tunes to the EP. However, legal details delayed the process and prevented the song from being added.
"BK and I thought it would be great if we actually got Johnny Mountain to do a voice-over or cameo on the track. We pursued this for months and finally got a response from the CBS affiliate in LA, stating that they would not give us permission to use his name, likeness, image, etc., in conjunction with the track. However, they did wish us good luck with the project!"
The band scrapped parts of the vocal tracks and changed the name of the song from Johnny Mountain to Johnny Sunshine. Even though the track was not included on the EP, the song did open a lot of doors for the band. It was included in the Smash magazines’ Viva Rock Vegas compilation CD and the band began appearing as a support act for such bands as The Start, The Rev. Horton Heat, and Cowboy Mouth
By the time Leaving Springfield was released in April of 2007, most of the songs for 2008's And Leave all this Behind were already written.
"At one point we had to make a decision to stop writing songs while rehearsing for shows. We were spending so much time on new material that we found ourselves forgetting the songs we were suppose to be promoting! We had plenty of material to choose from when we went in to record the next record."
In picking songs for that album, the band choose to re-record Pretty, Skinny, and Blonde and Negative Attention and include them on the CD.
"We felt like they were a part of that first group of songs that we wrote as a team, so that's why we wanted to included them on the And Leave All This Behind CD."
Other favorites from the And Leave All This Behind CD included Leela - a love song to the Cyclops femme fatale from Futurama, I'll Spin - an anthem for every nerd who knows there's a debonair ladies man lurking somewhere inside them, and Burn Alive - a dark plea for attention.
To some there has been a bit of confusion as to the name of the first full-length CD. Some call it The New Album and some call it And Leave All This Behind.
"We were in the middle of mixing down the CD and BK asked a crowd what we should call the new album. Some of our hardcore fans shouted back, 'The New Album!' We thought that was funny so we called it The New Album. However, that name became a who's-on-first routine when it came to sales on the internet. So to reduce the confusion, we changed it to And Leave All This Behind. The phrase, fortunately, also happened to be on the CD artwork. But to us and the superfans, it's still The New Album."
2009's Tragic As We Speed Away release found the band with a slightly harder-edged sound that was more in keeping with their live show. One notable exception was the dark and haunting Lost. A song heavily layered in keyboards, Lost was one of the few songs with a guitar solo. It was also an immediate favorite among the fans.
"We put Lost on the Tragic CD because we thought it was a good song, but we also thought it would add a little spice to the CD. You know, just something a little different. We never expected the response that it generated, and BK and I hadn’t thought about playing it live. Once the response on the CD started coming back, we knew we would have to play it. It took a lot of time to figure out an arrangement that stayed true to the song, but could still be pulled off by two people. The response we get from that song live is amazing. I switch from keys to drums halfway through the song -- it's a circus act to pull it off, but it's worth it."
Other favorites from the Tragic CD are Love Smells Like Avon and Cigarettes - a tribute to ladies with county-jail tattoos, swap meet hair extensions and tube tops, Cocktail Cool - because all you really need is a silk smoking jacket and a martini to be cool like Michael Caine, and Walk On By - a song about being stalked by 40-something, botox'd-up soccer moms. (editor's note -- The title of the album comes from a lyric in Cocktail Cool -- almost. The actual line is tragic as we steal away. )
Late in 2009, the band offered CD-only EP For Some We Still Wait; a collection of songs written about a wounded soldiers' return from the front lines. The EP was only available at live shows.
"We were going to put some of these songs on the Tragic CD, but Matt and I felt like they told a story and kind of stood on their own. I had seen a news story on a kid that came home from Iraq in pretty bad shape and it just kind of stuck with me."
As the summer of 2010 approached, the band had begun pre-production work on their fifth album which would be titled Zihuatanejo.
Notable tracks on Zihuatanejo included Every Guy, a song about a guy who unapologetically loves "Oprah, A&E, tractor pulls and the UFC, I'm every guy you don't want me to be." Radio took a shine to Lock, Load, Drown and Leaving Springfields' cover of the Phil Collins classic, In the Air Tonight, was called the darkest cover of an already dark song.
In 2015 the band released Welcome to the Party, a collection of songs made strong by intense collaboration between BK and Matt. Anything, I Am, Welcome to the Party, and especially Never Enough resonated with listeners. These songs were much stronger musically, and era of being able to perform live as a two piece was coming to a close.
"I couldn't tell you what the final straw was that made BK stop doing the Bass/Guitar thing live. I know that some venues couldn't wrap their heads around what he was doing and things were often... difficult." Matt explained with a laugh. "Some places already had their minds made up that what he was doing couldn't possibly work so they would fight it. Not sure if they thought we had a tape player hidden somewhere and were trying to 'out' us, but BK would just turn up the wall of amps and we would just plow ahead. Without fail, when we would finish the show and [the sound engineers] would come up and say, 'oh, it really did do what you said it did.' No kidding. Thanks for the hassle."
Ladies and Gentlemen, please welcome to the stage Mr. Jim Campbell!
"We had played several shows with a band called The Solid Suns. Really tight, really kick ass band. We knew they had broken up or were on hiatus so we reached out to their bass player Jim Campbell about playing with us. We did our first show together in January of 2016. It was a new lease on life for the band, more sound, more textures, more harmonies, just more, more, more, and better, better, better."
"Jims' style was a little funkier than we expected, and songs that we thought were already good really got stepped up." BK adds. "The title track of Zihuatenejo is a great example. Live, it now had a freight train groove that was unstoppable. Somewhere in the archives is a live ulti-track of that song. However, the engineer thought adding distortion to the bass would be groovy. It wasn't. So the tracks were unusable, unfortunately. Jim had a very keen sense of when to fill the space and when to leave it empty. Very tasty player.
However, the good times were short lived as Jim relocated to the West Coast in 2017.
"The year and a half we spent with Jim was great. We rehearsed a ton just because it was fun to be a three piece. We wrote a few songs together but never really got the chance to finish them. I think some day we'll make it happen. Walls Fall Down (a song not yet recorded) definately needs to be captured."
Taking a break for a few months, BK and Matt got back together and began writing songs for the 2018 release Scars, Shame, Glory. "We wrote a lot of songs for that collection and narrowed it down to the ten that appear on the album. It's a little more political, excessive, smarter, and smart-assier, if that's a word."
Fan favorites from that album include Exit Thru You - a bold middle finger to partisan politics, Fade Away - an anti-poseur anthem, and Tragic Light - an ode to living your best life to it's excessive, downward spiralling, over-indulging gloriousness. BK often refers to that song onstage as, "that night in Wisconsin. Do you remember that night Matt? No, I'm quite sure you don't."
Shortly before the release of Scars, Shame, Glory (the first digital only release) it was time to find a new bass player. Or keyboard player. "I really could have gone either way on that," says BK. "Playing two piece was a challenge, playing traditional three piece was exciting, maybe having a keyboard player who played key bass, as well, would be a good turn-of-the-shoulder to conventional wisdom."
And then there was Brad.
No one can agree on how Brad joined Leaving Springfield. Here is the three sides of the story.
BK - We knew Brad from playing on the same shows. Brilliant guitar player. I sent him a message if he knew any bass players. No response. Several months later he got in touch and said, "I'll be at rehearsal but I'm not a bass player. I don't have a bass." I told him I had one he could borrow and that I would bring it. He showed up at rehearsal and it was instantly apparent that he was the guy. Matt claims he didn't invite him to rehearsal, but I think there could be some fuzzy memory issues happening.
Matt - In 2018 BK and I needed a new bass player andwe wanted someone that had the chops and also knew how to write a song, but mostly we who could tolerate our shenanigans! So we did the obvious thing...ask a guitar player to play bass for us. The first email to Brad went unanswered, but our short list of one was written in ink. I reached out to Brad again and I explained we were looking for a bass player. His response of “you know I play guitar right?” was the perfect answer!!! We got together to jam out some songs and after the first night I knew we’d found our guy. He breathed new life into the band, asking to play songs we hadn’t played in years (forcing us to relearn them!!! ) And the man knows how to write a setlist!!! Can’t thank Brad enough for saving the band!
BK - Okay. So you did invite him to rehearse. That makes way more sense than Brad just randomly showing up. Though my version is vague, mysterious, and way cooler.
Brads' intial response -
Brads' second response - "This has been addressed in the media. I feel no need to discuss it further.
I’m Brad Bailey, the FNG bass player for Leaving Springfield. The other guys don’t like to talk/write about themselves, so I got drafted. (BK said this, but didn’t say to say this. But I’m the creative writing major, so I’ll say whatever I want and they’ll sit there and like it.)
Some history. Matt Norcross (drums) was in a band with a guitar player, and they asked Brent “BK” Kessler to play bass. (Before that, Matt was in another band, or maybe the band that became that band, but we don’t talk about that.) He said “Sure,” and then went out and bought a bass. After a while, the guitarist left and BK took over. Eventually, they picked the name Leaving Springfield, and operated as a drum/guitar duo with mad scientist BK assembling a rig to cover bass and guitar lines at the same time. (Matt said to make sure I mentioned this.) They released five albums over the past ten years or so, and a couple of years back, added a bassist (not me). The band functioned as a trio for about a year, and then Jim Campbell (bassist who is not me) moved up to the Northwest. The boys took a bit of time to regroup, not knowing if they would be getting back together. So naturally, right about then, they started writing songs for what would become the album Scars Shame Glory.
Sometime in there, BK had sent me a message, asking if I knew any bass players who might want to play with them. I think I forgot to reply. Or intentionally didn’t reply. Or I was barely playing any music myself and had hardly left the house in months, so didn’t know anyone. One of those. I had played on the same bill with Leaving Springfield a few times over the years, and thought they were really cool guys to hang out with. A few months later, Matt messaged me and asked if I would want to play bass for them. My first thought was: “Um, I don’t really do that.” I’ve played guitar for over 30 years, but have only even touched a bass for a total of 13 minutes.
What I actually said was, “So, do you guys want me to do my 7-string with octave pedal thing?”
Matt: “No, we want you to really play bass.”
Matt: “We have a bass and amp if you need them.”
Me: “Oh, cool. Sure. Also, I don’t really play bass.”
Matt: “We’re sure you’ll be fine.”
I learned all the songs on my guitar, and only picked up a bass for the first time at our first rehearsal. And I f-ing loved it. A lot. I was hearing music differently than I ever had before, thinking about it differently. It felt like my music brain had been rewired. When they invited me to join them, I had been maybe a month from selling off all my gear. I just didn’t want to do it anymore. Now, I was truly enjoying playing again, for the first time in forever. (*Intentional Frozen quote in case my daughter ever reads this. Assuming she still likes Frozen.)
Basically, I saved the band. The other guys say this all the time: “Brad saved the band.” Usually they only say it after I say it, and stare at them, expectantly. But they say it.
Dang. Now I only have 34 words left to tell you about our future, like Matt said I should. We’re back playing shows, including January 12 at House of Blues with a metric ton of other awesome bands. And we’ve been talking about rerecording some of the tunes we play now, because we sound super totally different than before. Also, because I joined the band approximately 4-and-a-half minutes before they released Scars Shame Glory.
Brad's third and final response to BK and Matt -
I'm tired of talking about this. Stop asking me about it.
And that is the story. So far.....