Two years ago Ozzy Albor and Eric Bernal formed the Fort Wayne-based alternative band Leones. After Bernal messaged Albor and arranged to set up a jam session (a scenario that leads to the formation of almost every band) they began churning out the slow, heavy and dreamy sounds that their audience has come to expect.
Leones have a sound that could fit in anywhere in the last 25 years. The drums are flashy where they need to be, constant everywhere else. Guitars are airy in some songs, sludgy in others and downright saturated in more recent efforts. This saturated guitar sound would help a genre like grunge take hold of a band like Leones, but the vocals keep them fairly aloft of that description.
Drummer Albor's vocals are sometimes so soft and low that they sound like another instrument adding to the audio hill of each Leones song, a description that puts them distinctly in the shoegaze genre. Listening to the band's recorded music and lyrics helps the listener to understand the tone Leones are striving for.
This style of singing does not always come in handy, however, when playing live. Albor's singing is perfect for what it is and what it's meant for, but it's a shame that some venues in the area don't know how to mic a singer who's not belting it out. Instead, the vocals are often lost in an onslaught of guitar, drums and sometimes bass. Bernal, the only guitarist, creates a lush background, however, so the lack of vocal clarity doesn't mean a bad sound. Perhaps this is on purpose.
Bernal channels the emotions he and Albor feel for a particular song through his guitar and out the amplifier. This is recognizable in someone as famous as Jimi Hendrix, a man who could speak through his fingers, but for a local twenty-something to be attempting this is ambitious.
"Whatever emotion I feel from personal situations, stories, landscapes, visual art or culture, I will translate that emotion through the guitar, like the emotion of not seeing progress or growth in yourself but seeing it in others, that feeling of being stagnant and numb to the idea of settling," says Bernal. "This was how our song 'Sueno Azul' off our second EP, Holy, came to fruition. Those feelings translated into that main guitar riff and the lyrics of the chorus."
Bernal will also try to translate emotions that Albor has, ones he can't quite get across via the drumkit. Once the emotion is achieved, Albor writes lyrics and figures out how the melody will go. These melodies are often like a snake in wet sand: the drums, bass and guitar are creating a thickness while the melody is weaving through, leaving a delicate impression.
The role of bassist in Leones' has a life of its own. In the studio the bass is performed and recorded by Caleb Lewis. If you're not familiar with Lewis, who, if he's not in a local band you've heard of, has recorded them. Onstage Bernal's brother Manuel, who both translates and writes his own parts, covers the bass. The recorded bass smoothly adds to the audio wall Albor and Bernal create; live, it definitely becomes a lot more punchy, giving that missing treble to the low-end.
Although grunge and shoegaze wouldn't be wrong cubbies for the band to fit into, they are reluctant to subscribe too closely to any one label.
"It's difficult to classify because we're always progressing and trying out different things we love and incorporating them into our own sound. So we'll probably sound a little different on each release," said Albor.
"We just want to make feel-good music that'll get people moving or dancing, and a lot of our newer music has that kind of vibe. It will be a slow transition, though; we don't want to rush it. We are just going to keep doing us and do it better each time. We are excited about our next batch of songs that we are releasing," the band says.
Bernal is the main songwriter, though Albor pulls his fair weight and, depending on the song, the lyrics can come from both of them. Like many bands, the writing process happens in different stages and arrangements depending on the song.
"We'll sometimes get together and write, or sometimes I'll just write by myself. The songs become a little more personal when it's just me doing the writing. If we do get together, we'll talk about subjects that matter to us and we'll try to make a song from it," says Albor.
"I sometimes write lyrics and pass it on to Ozzy and see if it fits with his train of thought. I write about all the emotions that the songs bring up. Sometimes it's just a line or so, but I enjoy doing it and hopefully it helps spark more [or] new ideas for Ozzy to play around with," says Bernal.
Leones' first EP, Vibrant Company, released in December of 2015, is a fairly noisy grouping of songs, with Albor's fills mixing right in along his slightly held-back singing, accompanied by Bernal's both melodic and driving guitar. He lets it out just a bit on the second half of the EP, adding a lo-fi intro while some solo, distorted bends leak through.
Their second EP, Holy, released in October 2016, is a noticeable step in a different, more progressive direction. On Holy, you can actually hear Albor's voice. It's a haunting and dreamy addition to this set of songs. Hearing Albor's voice rise just as evenly as the guitars swelling around him is a moody yet pleasant ride to be on.
As this is being written, Leones are finishing up their third EP which will be out later this summer.