When The Weekender meets drummer Josh Karis of local roots rock band Leroy Justice at his current place of employment, the Crimson Lion Hookah Lounge in Wilkes-Barre, he explains that his employment record outside of music hasn't always been the best.
“I've been fired from every single other attempt to not play music. I recently counted – it was like 31 jobs I think I've been fired from. And I've never been fired from a gig, so obviously there's a sign there,” the Kingston resident pointed out.
“I'm hoping to make this 32.”
“You will,” vocalist/guitarist Jason Gallagher encouraged. “We believe in you.”
While Gallagher and guitarist Justin Mazer haven't been through quite as many professions, their stories are similar in the sense that their lives have always been about music above all else. After two gigs playing as “Counter Guy” in the place he worked at the time, the singer formed a full band around 2005, releasing a debut record, “Revolution's Son,” as Leroy Justice in 2006 and a follow-up in 2009. Much like Karis, Mazer cut his teeth in various Northeastern Pennsylvania acts, becoming a fan of the group before joining.
“I'm so happy to have a band that feels like my musical home. I can totally be myself and put all my creative effort in. When the opportunity arose for me to play with these guys, I was like, 'That's the band,'” Mazer related.
The current lineup, which also includes bassist Bradley Wegner and keyboardist Sloan Marshall, stuck with the name, which was decided upon by previous members.
“One of the guys had gone to school with this guy named Stoney, and Stoney's stepdad was named Leroy Justice… Leroy played a Telecaster in a s—t blues band – older dude, owned an auto body garage with poker machines. He was just this southern, South Carolina motherf——r,” Gallagher, now living in New York City, recalled.
“We just kept coming back to that name. He's got a great name – we're taking it!”
Like that badass old man, their music is an Americana mix of rock, country, bluegrass, roots, and other influences – but they stress that they are in no way a jam band, despite being widely accepted by that scene.
“We're not a jam band. I'd like to put that in caps. I don't mean any disrespect toward the embracing of the jam community, but we're not a jam band at all,” Karis insisted.
“I love that scene; it's a great scene, but it's funny because every time we play one of those festivals…a dozen people come up and they're like, 'God, you guys were awesome. Thank God there's a real rock band here,'” Gallagher added with a laugh.
“Maybe we're a real rock band.”
“Real” may be the best description of the group, as it's sincerity and openness that drives the quintet's music.
“There's this thread of honesty that we're trying to maintain. It's basically just like, 'What does this song need?' If it doesn't need a back beat or a crash cymbal, I'm not going to play one,” Karis said.
“Let's figure out what's best for the song and do the simplest, straightforward, honest approach,” Gallagher continued.
“I think we're defining it as we go,” Mazer noted. “We all have our own voices as musicians, and I think being honest in each song allows our voices to come out, which ultimately is defining our sound kind of on the fly.”
Their latest record, “Above the Weather,” came together just as organically as their sound.
“I think some of (the songs) are inspired by…this area, or your hometown, and coming from there – where it is possible to go and what holds you back and what helps you break free. It's definitely about moving on. It's definitely about rising above, hence 'Above the Weather.' I think I was writing a lot of songs about relationships that were ending, experiences I needed to kind of move on from and above, and that just ended up being a theme through a lot of songs,” Gallagher explained.
“I had this moment on an airplane where it was a sh—-y day, when you fly through the clouds and you break through that one moment where you leave everything below and it's all the rain and dreariness below. You get up to that moment where it's completely different. It's a different world. You're in outer space.
“I had a moment. That was it. I'm like, 'This is the name of the record.' And that was two years ago.”
That one idea drove the entire album, which was mostly recorded in Hoboken, N.J., at Think Tank Studio, though the first single, “Watch Him Fall,” was recorded in New Haven, Conn., one of their most clear-cut and accessible tunes yet.
“We're like the six-minute song band, which is why we're not famous. We wrote a tune and we were like, 'It's three minutes! It seems so short.' (Jason) was like, 'That's how long most songs are,'” Karis said jokingly.
“Don't we need a longer solo or something?” Mazer cracked. “Double that outro.”
While spending much of their time writing and practicing their original work in their unusual rehearsal space, a former bakery that closed after flooding, on Saturday, May 4, Leroy Justice will perform The Beatles' final studio album, “Let It Be,” in its entirely at the River Street Jazz Café (667 N. River St., Plains), making it their own in the process.
“They're the greatest songs because they sound so simple and they're so sweet and great, but when you try to play them, you're like, 'Wait, what is he doing?'” Gallagher acknowledged.
“We did it at Brooklyn Bowl in January and we added 'Don't Let Me Down,' the B-side. It's just fun, too. To be honest, it's just a blast to do,” Karis added.
“It's fun to play. It's fun for the crowd,” Gallagher continued. “We definitely try to give it our own flavor. We will change songs. We change the feel the songs and rearrange a few.”
“The Beatles stopped touring well before that record was released, so I don't think they wrote those songs with the intent of ever performing them live, so in order to successfully execute that, we definitely had to change some things around,” Mazer said.
“We wanted to make it entertaining,” Gallagher concluded simply. “We turn the guitars up and kick the back beat in a little harder and it becomes a Leroy Justice song.”