Leamy (29, Chicago), is proof of how kindness can take you far in life, even in the music business. He is wipping out the show bizz stigma that one most stomb on anyone to get a contract. You may know Chris Leamy from his viral campaign #heplaysforme, where he played his music next to homeless people in New York to help them raise money. Now he can leave his job as investment banker and inspire more people with his music:
“I grew up in Chicago, so I will always love that city, but there is something about New York that really makes you think you can do anything. You are surrounded by some of the most successful people in the world across many different industries. I like the city’s competitive atmosphere, it forces you to raise your game and continue improving. A huge part of my influences are the people I have met. I have met absolutely incredible musicians in NYC, all of whom are very different from me. It is always exciting to work with someone who has an original approach, it really allows you to take a step back and look at things from a unique angle.”
Do you think your style would be different if you were in a completely different location?
Absolutely. Growing up, I listened to a ton of rock music. I learned music by jamming in a loud garage with my best friends. We played lots of shows and had a blast. When I moved to New York, I really got turned on to hip hop and pop influences which goes about performance and recording production very differently. This new EP due in September, The American Man EP, has a lot of pop tendencies. Without coming to NYC, I don’t think I would have pursued hip hop influences and I am having so much fun doing so. I also think I would never have been able to get into the songwriting rooms I have gotten myself into without being in NYC. There is definitely something said for being around the scene, I have met so many unbelievably talented people that taught me so much about music as well as the business.
I think like most musicians, music has always been an outlet for me. Whatever I am dealing with, music has always calmed me down, which is why I think it has always played such a huge part in my life. I also think co-writing is very invigorating. There have been so many times where I worked with another songwriter and we started in one place and ended up with a finished product unrecognizable from the initial idea. That is one of my favorite things. The fact that I can view an idea one way and someone else can see it going a completely different direction is very exciting. Seeing the creativity of others play out right in front of me is so inspiring.
Your music has gone viral thanks to your #heplaysforme project, where you play music to help raise awareness for the homeless in New York, and tell their stories. What inspired you to start such a wonderful campaign?
It started last year. I was coming home on the subway late one night carrying my guitar and a homeless woman holding a cup said, “This would be much easier if I had one of those,” and pointed to the case. She said that people who play instruments often get more charity than those who do not. That conversation sparked the idea. That weekend, I went and played with several homeless people just to see if this would work. We always made a few dollars minimum, some went better than others. The best moments were by far were in the stories that these individuals told me. It is amazing what people will tell a complete stranger. I was also surprised at how much it impacted my life. I remember one older man I played with asked how my day was going, we had been sitting together for a few minutes so I felt pretty comfortable and said something like, “Tough day at work, and then I got in an argument over the phone with my sister.” And he replied to me, “Oh but you have a job? Man that is AWESOME! And about your sister, I haven’t talked to mine in years; I don’t even have a phone or number to call.” It really taught me a lot about perspective. And I’ve been doing #heplaysforme ever since.
Did you expect it to become so huge? It’s in the worldwide media!
I have been doing #heplaysforme session for almost two years, so to see it suddenly flourish was completely unexpected. I am so grateful for all of the people that covered the story, also to those who donated and shared it on social media. Amazing. I am also excited about the conversations on homelessness that seem to be occurring now.
In a competitive place like NYC, it is so easy to lose appreciation for all the fortunate things I have and focus only on the things I want next. There is no better reality check than having a chat with someone who keeps all the positions they own in a small bag. I leave each session incredibly humbled.
What are your biggest struggles as a musician trying to make it in such a difficult industry?
I don’t really view the music industry as a struggle. If anything, I just feel really lucky. It has been so
incredible to work with the songwriters and producers I have met. And frankly, I have been invited to songwriting sessions with people far more talented than I am. So the focus has always been to keep moving forward both as a songwriter and with #heplaysforme as well.
What does music mean to you?
I heard a great quote from a friend, when words fail, music speaks.
Who’s your biggest influence, at a personal level and also as musician?
On a personal level, my Grandfather. He is a WW2 concentration camp survivor. It was great for me to grow up with a man who had so much perspective on the important things in life. His wisdom was something that kept me grounded through life. Also my friends are amazing. They show up for shows, give me honest feedback, and really support me. I am so fortunate to have them. Music wise, I would have to say Metallica. When I first started playing guitar, I would only play classical music. Bach, Beethoven, Paginini, etc. I loved how intricate and complicated the music was, and admired the technical abilities needed to play it (12YR OLD NERD ALERT). That all changed when I heard The Black Album. I bought a cheap electric guitar shortly after and started practicing my behind the head soloing.
How would you define the style of your music?
I would say it is a bluesy singer songwriter throwing himself into hip hop influences.
What are your songs about?
It depends. Almost all of them are from my life experiences.
If you could collaborate with any band or singer, who would it be?
Really, anyone who has a different perspective on songwriting than me, I am always looking to learn.
Using #heplaysforme, we were able to get a homeless man, Miguel, off the street. He now has a job, place to live, and some savings in the bank! Very grateful to those that donated and helped change his life.
I am just trying to enjoy the moment to be honest! I am excited to release new music as well.
What’s the next that we can expect from Chris Leamy?
I have a new music video coming out for a tune called “American Man” on Sept 2nd . It focuses on the #heplaysforme movement and stars Miguel, the man I described above. The American Man EP drops on Sept 16th.
My advise to upcoming musicians is do not be afraid of a day job. I think a lot of musicians view it as a cop out and I disagree. If you need to work 50 hours a week you can still work on music at night and on the weekends. It just requires discipline. Will it be easy? No absolutely not, but I think piece of mind on where your next meal is coming from will allow you to really dive in creatively Also most musicians sleep super late, so if you get up in the morning and work the 9 to 5 you won’t miss anything.
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