In this video, singer/songwriter Abe Leonard is joined by keyboardist Lloyd Hill and violinist (and Busk Break alum) Erica, performing a pair of then-untitled songs. Originally recorded in 2011, these never-before-seen video was recently discovered in the Busk Break archives.
Why have these never been seen before? Both are very weird songs, being deeply dissonant and also strangely performed. At the time I recorded them, I honestly didn’t think much of either. Two years later, I’m still conflicted about them. It’s time to share.
Here’s the thing: I’m not sure what the deal is with these songs. I’m not sure if this is how they’re supposed to sound — dissonant, a little grating, somber — or if the sound is the result of one guy playing songs he always performs alone, his two friends doing their best to follow along, only to make them worse in the process.
That’s not a criticism on the performers, or even on the songs. If anything, it’s a criticism of the context. If you’re a young musician, struggling to get a few bucks while playing covers on a street corner, odds are you feel a little weird. Even in a town like Asheville, busking is still seen as a few steps above begging. But you became a musician so people could hear you, and appreciate your work.
When a strange guy with a camera approaches you and asks you to stop playing those covers, and instead bust out some originals for his YouTube channel, of course it’s flattering. Of course you try to comply. Even if you’re not ready. Even if the song isn’t ready. Even if your friends, who came there to play covers, don’t know the songs and have to fake it. You do it because this is your chance to finally get some glimmer of recognition.
I asked Abe Leonard to play me an original, and he flat-out told me that, while he was happy to do it, the songs might not sound right in a busking context. He usually played covers when busking for that very reason. In fact, it was their cover of “The Only Living Boy In New York” that caught my attention in the first place.
I’ve seen Leonard play plenty of times since and recorded him a handful of times since. While his songs are always unusual, they’re never quite as off-putting to me as these two were.
I’d also seen Erica perform at least a a half-dozen times at this point, and know she was a very capable musician. Lloyd Hill was a new face, but even a quick listen to the video will reveal that his keyboard playing is minimal, and barely audible on both tunes.
Shortly after I recorded the songs, I decided that I’d put them on the furthest back of burners. I had a backlog of a dozen videos at that point, and little incentive to put up any videos I didn’t genuinely like, particularly when I was also worried that they didn’t flatter the performers. If I didn’t like it, how could I ask anyone else to?
So, why post them now?
In part, it’s about completing the Busk Break archives. We have hundreds of videos taken from 2009 to 2013, and perhaps a third of that content didn’t make the cut the first time. Stuff I didn’t like didn’t take priority, and as a result it kept getting pushed back. I was also working with a partner organization, the Mountain Xpress, until 2012, and I generally gave priority to content they’d actually post on their site rather than things that weren’t a good fit.
Now that I’m going through those archives again, however, I don’t have any of those pressures. I can just post what I have, and let the chips fall where they may. It’s not really my job to decide what’s good or bad. It’s my job to post what I recorded on the day.
I’m still not a fan of these songs, but that doesn’t mean that somewhere out there it’s not exactly what another person is desperate to hear. And once I’ve uploaded these to the digital ether, I can scratch them off my to-do list. I’ll let YouTube and the internet do what it does best, and decide what’s worth listening to.