Reynolds packs musical skill, not musician attitude, into Leatherbag
Randy Reynolds is the anti-rock star. On the anthemic song "Forever Blue," from his band Leatherbag's powerhouse new album, "Hey Day," he chides frontmen who have a sense of entitlement. "This is not for the singer-songwriter," he sings, "who thinks that he's entitled, to always stand at the front of the line."
The song epitomizes the literate, three-minute bursts of timeless-sounding heart of rock 'n' roll that percolate throughout "Hey Day," to be self-released Tuesday . And while the song admonishes one kind of singer-songwriter, it celebrates another, "the broken-hearted artist, who wrote some songs that never got charted, but always found a way to speak their mind," among them recently deceased Alex Chilton. Reynolds namechecks Chilton on the song, out of reverence for his band Big Star's "Third/Sister Lovers," which Reynolds considers the best album ever made. But let's get back to the other frontman.
"A lot of my early time in Austin was spent with singer-songwriters who think that everything is owed to them," Reynolds says, calibrating his Southern drawl into something more neutral. "And I just thought it was ridiculous. All we do is write songs. Like, who cares?"
Reynolds is sitting at a windowside table in the Red River apartment he occupies with his wife of five months, Dena, and their flirtatious cat, Frida. He's 30, tall and wiry, and looks like Jonathan Richman wearing Buddy Holly's glasses. He might think others don't care about songwriting, but it's quite obvious he cares.
"I had a guy come up to me at the Continental Club and say, 'You guys are doing really well. How do you do it?' " Reynolds says. "And what he wanted from me was, like, a business answer. And I said, 'You write the best songs you can possibly write.' And he totally laughed in my face."
Reynolds landed in Austin from Houston, on the tail of Hurricane Rita. He fought through the regular twentysomething woes: no real job, no real money, no real family. He slept on Shawn Jones of the Lovely Sparrows' floor. He came out from behind the counter at Cafe Caffeine to play shows. He's whipped up seven albums in six years, in various incarnations of Leatherbag, a name that comes from a character in "Finnegans Wake."
Leatherbag got on the local radar with the song "On Down the Line," a guitar-and-drums stomp from their previous album, "Love & Harm." They've since graduated to performances at the Austin City Limits Music Festival and on Stage Left, ACL's Web-based production for bands on the cusp. Reynolds considers "Hey Day" — a stab at the baroque, manipulated rock covered by Pitchfork — his first real "band" album.
Were Leatherbag's success not so imminent, Reynolds' criticism of his contemporaries might seem self-righteous. But he is a musician's musician.
"I've played with a lot of different songwriters," says Kory Cook, Leatherbag's former drummer, "and they usually have this exact idea of what they want, and if you don't play it that way, then you're playing it wrong. When I play with Randy, we just go."
Cook split for Portland, Ore., after recording "Hey Day." He was tired of the Austin scene he'd plied for the past 15 years, as a mainstay in Sons of Hercules and as a part-timer in the reconstituted Skunks, with Jesse Sublett and Jon Dee Graham, and the Roky Erickson-Okkervil River collaboration, among others. Through Cook, and Cook's association with Sublett, Reynolds solidified his affinity for New Sincerity, a genre Sublett made headlines for snubbing in the '80s.
"We were at an early True Believers gig, before Jon Dee joined the band," Sublett e-mails. "(Austin Chronicle writer) Margaret Moser loved them, but I thought they were so-so. There were a lot of bands at the time playing Austin in a similar alt-country folk vein. Most dressed sloppily. She said, 'Aren't they great?' I said, 'It's just new sincerity to me.' "
Reynolds' approach is a perfect fit for New Sincerity, an earnest, substance-over-style aesthetic he perpetuates on "Hey Day." Among the standout songs are "Senseless Irony" and "Start All Over Again." The former is a gutpunch to listeners who fall back on the same old bands instead of discovering new ones, wherein Reynolds sings, "Don't gimme fiction, baby, gimme truth," in reference to Spoon's album "Gimme Fiction." The latter is a two-chord ditty about the departure from Leatherbag of trusted musical partner Mike Ross. "Essentially," Reynolds says, "my security blanket had been taken away from me."
"Hey Day" is a who's who of guitar-flexing, singer-songwriter assassins — Elvis Costello, Nick Lowe, Lou Reed, Jeff Tweedy and Paul Westerberg — without, of course, the rock-star posturing. "I'm not looking to go to the club, get drunk and then play," Reynolds says. "My job is to go play, kick their butt and then get asked to come back."
- What: CD release show for ‘Hey Day'
- When: 10 p.m. Tuesday
- Where: The Mohawk, 912 Red River St.