In “Airwaves,” the title track of his upcoming sophomore album (whose video is premiering exclusively below), Nashville rocker Andrew Leahey laments being part of “the last generation raised on FM” — and specifically on album-oriented rock radio. That tells you a lot about the rest of the album, a heartfelt homage to Leahey’s rock heroes such as Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty, R.E.M. and others.
“They’re kind of leaning on that Reagan-era rock n’ roll sound,” Leahey tells Billboard about Airwaves‘ 11 tracks. “I made a playlist and gave it to my producer (Paul Ebersol). R.E.M. was on there, the Jayhawks were on there, Bruce and Tom Petty, the War on Drugs and even more recent Ryan Adams tunes.” But Leahey adds that he had no interest in making an entirely retro record, either.
“We didn’t want to be too on the nose with it,” says Leahey, a Virginia native who’s played guitar for Elizabeth Cook, Rodney Crowell, Drew Holcomb and Will Hoge. “That was the good thing Paul did; He would really scale it back. When I was pleading for tons of reverb he would remind me that we want to make an album that doesn’t necessarily sound like ’88 — or 2018. We just want to make our own of album. I’m glad he had that perspective, ’cause he was right.”
The “Airwaves” track dates back to 2016, after the release of Leahey’s 2016 debut Skyline in Central Time. It wasn’t intended to be the new album’s title track, but as he finished it Leahey decided that “it was a really good summary of the whole album. It’s both a tribute to the FM rock n’ roll radio I grew up with and also a reminder that people are listening and everybody, I think, could use a good soundtrack to their lives. If you’re going to be one of the bands vying for space on that soundtrack you need to write something that’s worth it. So it’s just kind of calling everybody out — maybe a rallying cry is a better way to put it.”
Airwaves is due out March 1 and includes a cover of Echo & the Bunnymen’s “Lips Like Sugar” — the only track that features the current lineup of his band, the Homestead, with whom he played a monthly ’80s rock covers show in Nashville. And while recovery from brain surgery kept Leahey from touring in earnest to promote the Skyline album, he’s hoping to hit the road hard this time, starting with the Rock Boat cruise in early February.
“I’ve done that as a guitarist with other people’s bands,” Leahey says. “There’s a huge community, a national community that goes on those things, so it’s a good way to get the word out about what I’m doing now. I’ve noticed a huge upswing in people just knowing our names and knowing my wife was in veterinary school and every aspect of us. I love that. So I want to try and grab that engagement and run with it.”