Unsigned Interviews were lucky enough to have a conversation with emerging singer songwriter, J.J Leone, who blends his masterful guitar skills with touches of R&B and soul.
When did you first get into music? What or who Inspired you?
I first picked up the guitar when I was 12, largely due to my older brother. He was already out touring when I was a kid but when he’d come home, I was amazed by what he could do with this piece of wood with six strings. My first guitar cost £20 from Argos. Patience is something I’ve never had a lot of, so when I couldn’t play anything by Metallica after a day, I lost interest in it! Then I heard this guy called Jimi Hendrix one day, and it blew my mind completely and made me pick up the guitar again. Just by listening and watching live videos on YouTube, I taught myself how to play, and I did the same with drums, bass and electronic production too.
Who did you grow up listening to, and does that impact on what you create now?
I grew up on a lot of Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Rahsaan Patterson and other soul singers. This was mainly my brother and mum’s music as my dad was into Bowie, Thin Lizzy, Rod Stewart – all that type of stuff! The guys I would include as my top three influences are Stevie Wonder, Prince and Cody Chesnutt. Prince was just an incredible artist, a real musician and he had such a wide variety of music. I really liked his attitude towards everything too, he just wanted to play music and that was it. Stevie Wonder has been in the game so long and made maybe two songs I don’t like. Both he and Prince have influenced me so much in terms of their longevity, it’s something I really aspire to! Cody Chesnutt influenced me as a DIY musician – he’s someone who in the early days really didn’t fit in to the manufactured scene. ‘The Headphone Masterpiece’ which he recorded entirely in his mum’s kitchen is still one of my favourite albums today. They’re not necessarily influences in terms of a musical style, since what I write doesn’t sound like their material, I would describe them more as role models.
How long have you been playing/writing?
I’ve been playing music since I was 12, but only really gigging and performing since I was 14. My first show was in a high school assembly where me and two of my mates performed ‘Californication’ by RHCP, I just played guitar though, didn’t sing. Then I won the school talent contest the next year with an acoustic version of Paolo Nutini’s ‘Last Request’ – and that’s the first time I had any confidence in my voice. Then me and some mates formed a band where we’d play birthday parties and ‘battle of the bands’ kinda stuff before we started writing originals – I was lead guitarist and singer. Then we got picked up by a promotions company at 15 and we opened for Hot Chocolate and Suzi Quatro amongst others, we toured Barcelona and other places in the UK- we thought we were the bomb! I write everything myself, including all lyrics and instrumental sections and perform them all too.
How often do you play live (include details and links for any upcoming gigs)?
I play live pretty regularly, back in 2011 when I was living on the streets – I performed everyday for six months so I’m trying to put that to good use! I’ve been lucky enough since then to play in so many different countries though, and met other amazing musicians and great people. In July I’m playing at the ‘Urban Food Fest’ in Shoreditch, then in August I’m going to Murcia to play a show for ‘Sofar Sounds’ and will be performing at another one of their events in Birmingham in late August.
5 – What has been your favourite moment in music?
I haven’t really got one favourite moment, but rather lots of little ones that have added up. Just seeing people’s faces when you play something you’ve written that touches them, or messages of support from people saying ‘your song really meant something to me’. Even in different countries where the culture, language and values are so different, music really brings people together and that always gets me – it let’s me know that I’m doing what I’m meant to be doing. It’s still kinda weird to me that people are coming out to see me – a traveller who’s had some real hard times, and they want to come and see me sing my songs!
6 – Where is the best place to find you online?
You can find me on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram using: @iamjjleone. My website is over at www.jjleone.com too, which has got further links to my Spotify, Soundcloud and YouTube – come along for the ride!
Listen to J.J’s latest single, ‘With You’ here: