Just a few months after the January 2022 release of his debut album, Jonah Leatherman was right back at it, working on the follow-up that is set for release Sept. 1.
“There’s one or two songs on the new record that sound like they almost belong on the first record,” Leatherman said, noting the amount of time that passed before he was back writing.
While work on Ensuring My Uncertainty began shortly after its predecessor, Leatherman sees a much different feel on it.
“I don’t think this one rocks as hard. Things are kind of slicker,” he said. “There’s still some rock songs on there, for sure. The last one was a bit more proper rock n’ roll.“
Putting it on tape
When it came to recording Ensuring My Uncertainty, Leatherman returned to Jason Davis at Off the Cuff Sound, where he made his debut.
“I don’t know if it’s the gear and how he mixes it, but he definitely has a sound that he’s crafted over the years,” Leatherman said. “I’ve recorded at a few places, including Nashville, with a couple bands I’ve been in years ago. He’s the first person I’ve been able to say, ‘I want something like this,’ and he knows exactly what I’m talking about.”
On top of knowing what sound he’s looking for, Leatherman and Davis have developed a relationship over the years. That relationship came in handy when Davis was moving his studio from Maysville Road to East State Boulevard a couple years ago.
“I have a background in construction,” Leatherman said. “So, when he was building the new studio, I helped him with a lot of stuff. We kind of worked out where I help him hang some drywall, he gives me a couple hours of studio time.”
That studio time has resulted in a 10-track album that Leatherman recorded the way he likes it … on tape.
“What I really like about it is you get 24 tracks,” he said about analog recording. “So, every instrument you play kind of has to earn its spot. You can punch in, sure, but it’s not one of those things where I can play that guitar solo 15 times and pick out the best one. You play and decide, ‘Is this the best take or not?’ Because, if you record it again, you have to tape over it.”
Finding his sound
Before dreaming of recording any kind of album, Leatherman was growing up outside Albion, learning piano from his mother.
“At around 12, I told my mom, ‘I don’t want to play Beethoven. I want to play The Rolling Stones,’ ” he said.
Luckily for him, his father had an acoustic guitar in the closet. Though his father did not play all that much, the younger Leatherman had plenty of time to learn.
“Since I was in home-schooled and lived in rural Noble County, I could get my schoolwork done before noon,” he said. “It’s like, ‘What else am I going to do?’ So, I’d just play guitar. We didn’t have internet at my house until I was probably like 14.”
Leatherman caught the ear of a local bluegrass band, The Blue River Boys. Though he would not stay in the bluegrass genre for long, it did lay a good foundation.
“That transformed into an outlaw country thing, and that goes into Southern rock and even a Tom Petty sort of thing,” he said. “And that opens the gateway to a lot of stuff.”
Through a homeschooling group, he met another music lover in Riley Demaree, and they would form Red Arrow, which played a lot in the area, including the 2016 Down the Line at Embassy Theatre.
Leatherman’s been in other bands over the years, and some of that experience led him to form his own … with his own name.
“It’s kind of set up like a solo project, not because I think I should get all the glory or whatever, but I’ve been in a lot of bands and I know the average lifespan is like 2 to 5 years,” he said. “I did a couple rounds of that, and I was just ready to have something I could build on for a long time.
“Granted, when there’s an expense, that’s on me. I own the van, I book all the shows. It’s way more responsibility, but I just know I can do this as long as I want to.”
His solo project does receive some help.
During recording, Davis supplied some of the drumming and guitar work, and at local shows he has keyboardist/multi-instrumentalist Edith Coplin, drummer John Foxworthy, and bassist Lance Roberts alongside him.
On the road, Andrew Moser will fill in on bass, while Coplin might jump on the drum kit.
“She is probably one of the most skilled musicians I’ve played with,” Leatherman said of Coplin, who played vibraphone, autoharp, and timpani among others on the album. “She can just play everything well.”
That kind of diversity is what Leatherman needs with a majority of his gigs being out of town. It’s also on the road that he’s able to make connections, even at the most unexpected times.
During a recent trip to play in Cleveland, he stopped in Lima, Ohio, to purchase an amplifier he found on Craigslist.
“I met him in Lima at this record store,” Leatherman said. “I met him, got to talking to him, sold him one of my records. The owner of the record store comes out, I start talking to him, he’s like, ‘Stop back on your way home.’
“I go on to play the show, come back the next day, sell three records to the store, then I tell him about a date I’m trying to fill. He said, ‘Oh, there’s this brewery here, I bet they’d have you. Call them and tell them I referred you.’ I did, and they’ll paid me $300, which covers gas for the whole tour, basically. So, all that happened just because of this side quest.”
The date he filled will close out a 10-day tour to promote the album, beginning Sept. 8, making stops in Ohio, Kentucky, North Carolina, and Chicago.
Lucky for him, not only is he adept at construction, but also car maintenance, which you can see on his social media as he keeps his 1993 Ford E-150 van in tip-top condition.
“My van is a good van, and I have a lot of faith in my van,” he said, noting he’s had to do his fair share of work on it in parking lots.
Stream of Consciousness
The touring and vehicle maintenance epitomizes a jack of all trades who also teaches at Sweetwater Academy and can be seen reading in-between sessions.
“A lot of my songs were inspired by Kurt Vonnegut, Virginia Woolf, George Saunders,” he said, pointing out that he’s drawn to early 1900s stream of consciousness writing.
“You read Virginia Woolf, and you’re not really sure what’s going on, but it’s beautiful: All the sentences and descriptions.”
It’s a style he incorporated on Ensuring My Uncertainty.
“The first song is called ‘Overlap,’ the last song is ‘Victory Lap,’ ” he said. “So, there’s some overlap there. There’s times in songs when I refer to other songs. There’s times when I refer to songs on the previous record.”
And when it comes to listening to it, he goes a bit against the grain, ordering vinyl copies, which have been available to his shows this summer.
“I think it spins off the wax pretty good,” he said of the album. “The people that listen to vinyl get the experience of, like, putting it on, listening to a whole side, then flipping it over.”
However you listen to, Leatherman planned the tracks to grab your attentions from the start.
“I’m a big believer in the first song has to be one of your stronger ones,” he said. “It’s gotta rock. You have to get their attention. I doubled down on that, so the first two songs rock.”