There are changes afoot for local outlaw country outfit Anthony Leon and The Chain, as members Benito Rose Plaza and David Badstubner are moving to Austin and Leon himself seems to have grown weary of the Santa Fe scene. By the time you read this, The Chain will be no more, and Leon will be focusing on solo music, shows alongside his fellow local musician Paige Barton (of Hot Honey) and his third record.
“The last couple years, there have been certain events in my life, like a custody battle with my daughter during which I have been accused of some pretty awful things I never did,” Leon says. “I’ve kind of been smacked in the face by life, but because of this and the general bitterness I’ve been feeling, the songs have never been better.”
And that’s saying something. Leon’s last release, Hell to Pay , is a raucous country affair that melds outlaw style with an almost punk-rock aesthetic in songs that are equal parts inward personal reflection and an angry outward attitude. Hell is a killer record if you haven’t already picked it up, but Leon isn’t content to rest on his laurels or to repeat himself.
“The new one’s going to be a bit of a journey,” he says. “I’m a big fan of the concept album—records that aren’t just a collection of songs, but where the whole thing has one cohesive message.”
Leon says his new material utilizes the fall of the American cowboy as an allegory for the decaying music/rock ’n‘ roll industry.
“To me, rock stars are the new cowboys in America and American music in that the fantastical view people once had for cowboys is gone, and it’s kind of the same for rock stars,” Leon says. “Music is similar because it ain’t what it used to be. Becoming a rock star used to seem like this amazing dream. But the Internet bred all these songwriters who can release music constantly, and fans who want instant pleasure, and suddenly, anyone can be a rock star, so it’s almost less special.”
It’s an interesting connection to make, and this concept coupled with Leon’s willingness to explore his own hardship as a means of therapy will surely make for an intense and deeply personal album. Throw in his hard-rockin’ ability, and we might actually have a locally produced album to get super-excited over.
But even so, once the as-yet-unnamed record is released, will Santa Fe even get a chance to see the songs live? Leon faces many of the same problems local musicians have forever—lack of venues, small pay and listless audiences who seem to pledge allegiance to no band—and it sounds like he’s looking elsewhere to rock.
“When [we] play outside of town, people go nuts, but I feel condescended to far too often at local venues,” Leon says. “When a venue won’t pay well and won’t even buy you a fucking beer, it’s hard to justify playing there. But there are always bands who think that one show is going to change everything, is their ticket to fame, will be worth making less money—and the venues know this, so they get away with it.”
Still, Leon knows that the fans are the most important part of the equation, and he’s grateful for the warm reception he’s received both solo and with The Chain.
“I’ve never felt like the fans take us for granted…the bars, maybe,” he says with a laugh. “Even so, I’m not sure this town wants to do anything for me anymore. This isn’t to say there aren’t appreciative people or that I haven’t been extremely lucky, it’s just that you eventually come to this dead end in Santa Fe.”
This is true. Bands don’t often blow up by playing weekly shows in bars in tiny towns. Nobody ever said Santa Fe owes them anything, but how can a band justify plugging away when nobody seems to care? Think about that, nerds. In the meantime, it’s important we all buckle down and do one thing: pay attention to Anthony Leon before he moves away and we all lose out.
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