Leila Dean is a magnificent singer and violinist from the Syracuse area. Her band, Just A Memory, is one of the more innovative bands making music in New York these days. They deserve big things, and will most likely achieve the goals they have set for themselves. I caught up with Leila to talk about the immediate future of Just A Memory.
Leila: My mother exposed me to a lot of classical music. At the age of 7, she brought me to a symphony, then afterwards asked me which instrument I'd like to play. I chose violin. It turns out that I have a great great great grandfather that played violin in Mozart's court. I instantly fell in love with it. I started with the Suzuki Violin Method and eventually went to Ithaca College for Music Education. I burned myself out while I was there and stopped playing for a LONG time. Then I was pretty much forced into taking it back up when a co-worker of mine, Mike Featherstone, found out I played and wanted me to play in the company cover band. I'm glad he did. I'm in love with it again.
Erik: Within the genre of music you are playing, the violin is an instrument that can be used to add a depth that is hard for other bands to truly capture. How did the decision to add the instrument come about?
Leila: That was all Joey! Joe DiMaggio, my singer. Yes, that's his real name, and yes there is a relation. I was close friends with our guitar player's parents. So I was around a lot and he found out that I played violin. He wanted it on a song he wrote that they were recording at Moletrax Studios called This Time Around. He didn't really have an idea on the melody he wanted, just that he wanted violin. So while they were recording tracks, I wrote a violin line and played it for him. He also knew that I sing and wanted a female harmony on a couple of parts in the song. It went really well, and a little less than a year later he asked if I could join the band and write more. Nate's parents had a lot to do with me being a part of the band. Had I never met them, this interview might not be happening.
Erik: I was wondering if you could elaborate on what lead to the changes that morphed Augustine into Just a Memory.
Leila: That's a story! HAHA! I'll sum it up! Joey wants a lot more out of his music career than most people are willing to put forth, and needed people in his band that felt the same way. I'm not sure if I have the timing exactly right, but I think around January of 2010 he ended up parting ways with all of the former members, except for Nate Hopper, our guitar player. The new rhythm section was sent down in a lightning bolt from Zeus. At least, that's what Rob would say. Joey found Joe Culotti (our drummer) because Augustine played a show with his cover band, and he liked his style and ability. He joined the band in February 2010. He went to high school with Rob Fehrman and randomly found out from a mutual friend that he plays bass, so he reconnected with him on Facebook. He joined in May 2010, around the same time I joined. In January of 2011, we found out that a power pop duo from NYC federally trademarked the name Augustine. We stubbornly refused to change our name for a while, then the female in the duo ended up with her own show on MTV. We started bumping into them at college gigs, where they had played the week before, or were going to be there the week after, and decided it was time to make the change. It took forever to find a name that stuck. Finally one of our close friends, Mike Sabin (Broken Tooth Productions), came up with Just A Memory. It means something a little different to everyone in the band. The jist of it for me is that your entire life, except for the moment you are in, is Just A Memory. We made the change official on May 20th, 2011 on the stage at Mac's Bad Art Bar, and released our first EP on July 15th.
Erik: With the release of your EP last year, you were able to officially display the new direction for a readied audience. I heard that you won the studio time to record in a competition. How did this come about?
Leila: I'm pretty sure we heard about the Band Wars Battle of the Bands put on by JK Toth in Utica through Nate's Parents, who were managing the band at the time. We went and played against several other bands. It was spread out over a two day period, and the best bands from each of the two days battled on the third day. We won 20 hours of recording time with Matt Wagner at J. A. Castle Recording Studio in Utica, NY. We also took home a giant plastic trophy and Armani flip flops. I'm pretty sure the flip flops are kicking around somewhere in my house. One of the great things that ended up developing out of that was our friendship with a couple of really great Utica bands, Shattered Envy and Autumn Fire. We've played a lot of shows with since then. We took the 20 hours of recording over to SubCat Music Studios in Syracuse NY and had them mixed and mastered there by Ron Keck. Rob did the cover art.
Erik: I understand that we can expect a full length out of the band this year? What can we expect from the record, and how is the whole process going?
Leila: The whole process is going extremely well, better, in fact, than we could have wished for. You're timing couldn't be more perfect. We were just given the go ahead to start talking about this! We'll be working with producer Jeff Rains (of the band Rains, go look them up, they rock) in a new studio in Fort Wayne, Indiana. We start the whole process really soon, so you will definitely be hearing a lot more about Just A Memory.
Erik: The national scene would benefit greatly from your band's presence. What are your plans in regards to touring and spreading out into the unknown?
Leila: None of us wants a day job that requires us to do anything but touring, writing, recording, interviewing, and more touring. The Unknown is my favorite territory, even though it scares the shit out of other people. Our plans are to take over the world! The ultimate dream, of course, is to make Just A Memory a household name, like the Foo Fighters, or Queen.
Erik: You have had the ability to share the stage with a multitude of national acts? Who were your favorites to play with? Likewise, what bands from the Upstate area do you enjoy?
Leila: I would say my favorite nationals to play with were Taddy Porter and Saving Abel. The stage was awesome out on the Island in B'Ville and the guys from Taddy Porter were some of the nicest dudes I had met. Framing Hanley was fun because the crowd reaction to us was totally awesome. I also really enjoyed playing with Crossfade. Their light show and stage energy are absolutely phenomenal. As far as Upstate band, do I have to keep it confined to upstate? I don't want anyone to feel left out, there are so many “really good” upstate bands. My favorite bands right now are Silent Fury and Professional Victims from Syracuse, Autumn Fire from Utica, a great band out of Susquehanna, PA called Dirty Rotten Liars, two Long Island bands - Revel 9 and Finespun, and a great up and coming band from NJ called Scarlet Carson. There's also Brand New Sin, who's making a new break into the national market, Born Again Rebels, and a very young new band, Far From Over, all from Syracuse. I totally feel like I'm Facebook tagging right now. HAHA! I highly encourage everyone in every city in America to really dig in to your local bands. They are a gold mine of great music! Without first being a local band, none of the bands you hear on the radio would be there today.
Erik: Being nominated for a SAMMY is a great honor, especially with the increasing talent level that is manifesting in the city. How did it feel to be nominated for an award that means a lot to so many local musicians?
Leila: It was a very cool feeling, and quite an honor. Syracuse has always been an amazing hot bed of talent. All of the bands in the rock category were deserving of the award. It must have been a really difficult choice for the judges to make.
Erik: There is a lack of depth in some of the heavier acts that are out there doing it today. Emulation is getting redundant on many levels. Being that you are in a highly original band, does this trend frustrate you? What are your thoughts?
Leila: On some levels, the imitation aspect of it frustrates me. As a whole, it really doesn't affect me. We really are different, and we stick out on almost every show we are put on. I think it gives us an edge that a lot of bands out there don't have. There are people in this scene who might disagree with me, and have even said publicly that we put a band together so we could sound just like Evanescence or some nonsense. There are a lot of bands out there that we have found on the road, or on-line, that would rather help each other out, than put each other down. Those are the bands we enjoy working with. Emulation is to be expected. People have their influences and it really has all been done before on some level. So trying to do the same thing better takes place. The rivalry that comes from it is natural. We don't try to re-invent the wheel on anything we write, and the only people we try to be better than are ourselves. It might sound trite, but we don't really pay a lot of attention to what everyone else is doing. We just do what feels right, and most of the time there are people out there that like it. We would love to be on the same level as some of the super stars out there today, but we don't desire to play music that sounds exactly like what they are doing. We are Just A Memory.