Atlanta has a great music scene with large numbers of great bands and musicians. Kevin Leon is one of the many local musicians that have had Atlanta as a launching pad for track records touring with popular bands as well as solo gigs. I’m happy to call Kevin a friend, as he has been a presence on the scene always with a smiling face and a great attitude. A couple of years back he hooked up with St. Paul and the Broken Bones as their touring drummer. I’d seen Kevin playing around town with a few different groups but had no clue how versatile and thoughtful a musician he was. When I got a chance to review this EP, THE SENSE, I jumped on it out of curiosity. Man, was I rewarded with some really cool tunes and a great overall vibe. I asked Kevin about the overall album concept and the context of each song and his replies are in the call out boxes. Interestingly enough, I always listen to the albums I cover in a quality pair of noise reduction headphones and Kevin notes that’s exactly the setting he wants the listener to get immersed in — and I did. Check out each track with my coverage and Kevin’s commentary below.
THE SENSE EP is intended to be an immersive experience that draws on the five senses for inspiration. I wanted to make an album that you could listen to on headphones and get totally lost in.
FEEL starts out big with a fanfare fit for some arena rock and settles in to a deep synth groove with a trippy electronic fusion groove. The mix is great as it transitions to a little lighter tone and then back to the head. About midway through, another major player on the ATL scene, Dash Smith (trumpet with Mausiki Scales and Roy Ayers) comes in with some slick rap verses. He’s definitely got that shit down and there’s some really great references including a little tip to his daughter, Mecca, as wall as Santana’s Abraxas – not an easy thing to rhyme. The tune ends again with some heavy electronica synth, a nice jam to open up with.
FEEL is sort of my nod to west coast hip hop like Dr. Dre and Kendrick Lamar, with a dash of Tame Impala thrown in. To me, all of that music is so visceral and feel based. I took that energy and tried to make a song that compels you to bob your head when it comes on. I asked my buddy Dashill Smith to interpret the concept of “feel” however he wanted, and he came up with the amazing rap verse that ended up on the track. Paul Miller’s guitar work is the rug that ties the proverbial room together and ramps up the epic factor in a big way.
- Kevin Leon – composition, synthesizers, drums, percussion
- Dashill Smith – rap verse
- Paul Miller- guitar
SMELL (A MEMORY) is meant to be nostalgia in song form. I wanted to evoke the feeling that comes from watching home movies or looking through old photos. The smell of the house you grew up in or the person you love is such a powerful thing, and I wanted to try and capture that feeling in a piece of music.
- Kevin Leon – composition, piano, synthesizers, drums, percussion
SMELL (A MEMORY) starts with piano and background sounding like a kid at the playground or beach and then an adult party. The combination of piano and percussion (congas) with the conversation going on does sound like a scene that anyone can imagine from the past. When the multilayered textured synth comes on it washes over you like a chill melodic dance. It’s a really nice combination of piano, synth and percussion offering a larger lush, feel.
SEE starts with a question from the philosopher Jiddu Krishnamurti, “What does it mean to have a feeling that the whole world is you?” and launches into a hypnotic sequence augmented by some nice flute work from Amari Ansari (St. Paul and the Broken Bones) with some funk-laden bass from Brandon Boone (Tedeschi Trucks Band). Kevin does a great job with the mix with the synth flying back and forth left to right. He injects (John F Kennedy) quote “The rights of every man are diminished (left channel) when the rights of one man are threatened (right channel)” smack in the middle. There’s a change up midway through with some synchronized claps and then Amari takes a terrific flute solo with it, that breaks down back to drum and bass with Kevin and Brandon before SEE closes out with the main theme.
sEE is a think piece on seeing the world through the eyes of your fellow human. It’s an artistic exploration of empathy. Brandon Boone’s rubbery bass playing brought the grooves to life in a way that I couldn’t on my own, and Amari Ansari’s flute and sax playing is so beautifully emotive and gets the feeling I wanted to convey across better than I could’ve hoped.
- Kevin Leon – composition, piano, synthesizers, drums, percussion
- Brandon Boone – bass
- Amari Ansari – tenor saxophone, flute
HEIGHTEN is a short meditation on drums and synthesizers. I set up my microphones to record drums and, without much thought, recorded the drum solo that ended up on the track on the first take. I was just trying to make sure sounds and levels were good, but I couldn’t top that take, so it’s truly a meditation from behind the drums. I wrote the rest of the music around it, trying to channel that feeling of having a calm mind, open to whatever wants to flow through you.
HEIGHTEN begins with some cool percussive rolls and some epic synth clarion calls building to a crescendo before subsiding back to some very trippy synth fade. It’s a short tune but definitely fun.
- Kevin Leon – composition, synthesizers, drums
HEAR (LIKE A LIGHT) opens with some rain sounds and thoughtful smooth piano setting the tone. Kevin comes in with the synthed-up vocals offering hope to all listeners. He hits hard with the kick drum and some 70s sounding fusion. Again, this is a super relaxing meditative tune. Kevin comes back with the second round of vocals with a note “You should know all the good you bring” really emoting positive vibes throughout this melody.
- Kevin Leon – composition, vocals, synthesizers, piano, drum programming
HEAR (LIKE A LIGHT) is my love letter to the human race. My hope is that if someone feels alone, unloved, or misunderstood, that they hear this song and it reminds them that they are important and worthy of love. I wanted the track to feel like a warm hug.The lyrics popped in my head in one burst a couple years back, and I wrote the track around them to try to capture that feeling of warmth and comfort.
TASTE was influenced by Bjork’s album “Medulla” in a huge way. I wanted to capture the idea that taste can be fun and light, like when you’re enjoying a good meal with friends, and also spiritual and sensual, like knowing the taste of your lover. I sampled my fiancé, Erin’s, voice to make the choir, and I sampled my voice for the drums and some of the synths in the first part of the song.
TASTE has a spiritual feel to start with Erin Johnson’s choral chants. This is a nice electronica jam, with some buttery synth offset by some jungle, nature sounds. Midway Erin’s chants come back which break into some stronger piano and percussion sequence, breaking to some fun interlude lyrics before coming on strong at the finish with some synchronized percussion and synth blasts building to a very vibrant climactic ending, fitting for this fine mix of tunes
- Kevin Leon – composition, vocal percussion, drums, piano, synthesizers
- Erin Johnson – choir voices
About Kevin Leon and THE SENSE
THE SENSE EP by Kevin Leon
Produced by Kevin Leon
Mixed by Tony Terrebonne
Mastered by Kristian Montano
I am a Birmingham, AL native. I studied music at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, and, while in school, I played in local clubs, bars and venues with dozens of different bands, from top 40 bands to jazz bands and everything in between. If I pride myself on anything, it’s my versatility.
After school, I went and lived a NYC for a year before returning to Birmingham where I went back to playing and teaching. Not long after I returned to Birmingham, I joined Niko Moon‘s band who was on Zac Brown’s Southern Ground record label at the time. That led me to Atlanta where I’ve lived for the past 5 years.
Shortly after the move to Atlanta, Niko Moon’s band broke up and I began freelancing and playing regularly with Kevin Scott, Sam Burchfield, Emerald Empire Band, Artimus, and Beau + Luci.
Now, I tour regularly with St. Paul & The Broken Bones and I fill my time in between tours by continuing to play with local Atlanta artists and writing and playing my own music.