Video Credit: Lydia’s Official YouTube Channel
Lydia front man Leighton Antelman seems right at home when he takes the stage at Brighton Music Hall in Boston in bare feet.
Each band member takes steps on stage, illuminated by the golden hue of hanging string lights, they take their place. As they settle in, Leighton turns to the audience and flashes a grin. Just when the crowd’s excited energy seems like it might implode, the house music cuts out, and Lydia starts their hour-long mix of new tracks and fan favorites.
Originating from the unlikely hub of Gilbert, Arizona, where the music scene is primarily metal, Lydia emerged in 2003 as something fresh – Lydia are a little bit indie-rock and a little bit pop. When they first started out, the Arizona music scene was “basically all screamo, hardcore stuff,” says Leighton. But he says that coming into themselves in that area inevitably helped them because they “We were one of the only bands that wasn’t screaming at people.”
Because their early influences like Death Cab for Cutie’s The Photo Album, and Bright Eyes’ Lifted, Lydia knew they didn’t want to get noticed by screaming. Their first album This December; Its One More and I’m Free attracted a listenership interested in their soft, melancholic, piano driven tunes. With their second release Illuminate, Lydia really hit their stride and their fan base embraced them and has grown with each new album. Their latest release, Devil, is a collection of mostly light, melodic tunes that touch on everything from nights out on the town, to getting in your own way.
Lydia’s music, which is all written by Leighton, has relatable ideas and real life notions because he draws inspiration from everywhere. “I try to just live my life day to day,” says Leighton. From music heard while walking down the street, to driving around in a friends car, “If something catches my ear, I make it a point to listen to it again more intently,” he says.
While the core of their sound has remained the same throughout their releases, Lydia – and Leighton – aims to challenge themselves in their creative process. Leighton says “I don’t want to stay in one little niche area” because restricting themselves creatively would limit them in the future. “I might want to write a swing record next, or a fuckin’…I don’t know. I just don’t want to stay in one area,” he says.
Straying from people’s expectations, Devil is simultaneously drastically different from anything they have previously released, and classic Lydia. Working with a new producer, Colby Wedgeworth, brought about a new spin on Lydia’s distinctive sound.
Leighton and Colby, along with keyboard player Matt Keller formed the creative think-tank for the songwriting on the ten-track album.
The writing of his music is generally free form, while the vocals require a little more structure from Leighton, he says that every album begins with unfinished and unpolished ideas.
Entering the studio with anywhere from 20-24 song ideas, Leighton says “I would literally pour it all out onto them, and they would be like ‘yes’, ‘no’, ‘this is cool’, ‘move this over here’. And we would just kind of arrange everything.”
Humbly, he gives a lot of credit to his two collaborators saying that he “cant take full credit, they obviously were a big part of it… I just bring everything to the table as a rough idea, and we would all kind of hash it out together.”
Proving themselves after a one year hiatus from the band, Lydia has been warmly welcomed back with Devil. The response to the album has been very positive according to Leighton. He says that he has had a number of instances where fans will “come up to me and say ‘I never thought you could top Illuminate, but I think you did with this one.’”
One of the only complaints that he has heard is regarding the album art. A huge transition from their previous picturesque, colorful, and delicate painted covers, Devil is a photograph of two masked women. The image, while striking on its own, juxtaposes the group’s previous covers and highlights the difference of Devil. Leighton, who says that the album art is a reflection of a new route for the band and that “we wanted to go with something new, something different, just to get people talking. I think it worked.”
Everything seems to be working for Lydia. Through making this release, they have developed a team of people who works together well on both the business and creative sides. Throughout the history of the band, there has been a flux of musicians in the studio and on tour. Nowadays, Leighton says that Lydia is “getting closer to having a set lineup because you come across musicians that you cant really let go of.” And while they aren’t on a label, their management team at Eighty One Twenty Three, and their booking agent have been really good to them and they are all “stoked about the team we have behind us right now.”
“We finally have a really great group of dudes on the road with us,” says Leighton, which makes touring that much more rewarding. Travelling the world, and making music with a group of people that genuinely loves what they are doing together is one of the highlights of life on the road for Lydia. For Leighton, being able to make music that impacts people around the world is a surreal experience. He says that going to new places and hearing stories of how his music has helped complete strangers is an amazing experience.
“Its just incredible to me that I can write a song and it can change somebody’s life on the other side of the world. That’s kind of a highlight of touring and playing in a band. For me at least,” says Leighton.
With such positive feedback on Devil and the impact of his music on people, and vice-versa, Leighton says they are “definitely going to do another record. Probably early next year.”
In the meantime, Lydia will continue to tour in support of Devil. Leighton, who is also working to wrap recording of his other musical endeavor, The Cinema, says that his goals for this year revolve around his music, but he with all that he has going on, he “want[s] to find some way to find a balance to not lose my mind.”
All kidding aside, he knows how lucky he is.
At the end of their set, he takes a moment to look out into the audience and thank everyone for coming out, saying “truly, you guys humble us. Thanks,” before hopping off the stage and disappearing into the crowd.
**A version of this story was published in Naked Magazine in May of 2013