Past victories and future glory with Leoni Jane Kennedy
Once in a while, a musician appears that defies expectations. A musician who, aside from their clear wealth of talent and driving ambition, manages to also write captivating songs that neither bombard the listener with complicated riffs, nor present lyricism that strives to be layered but leaves you with a surface level impression. Enter Leoni Jane Kennedy.
The Blackpool-born, London based singer-songwriter has already proven herself in many ways as a musician. Aged just thirteen, she had received an artists sponsorship from Yamaha, and was endorsed by Orange Amps, after performing in the Rock The House competition. She received the Freddie Mercury Scholarship in 2018, after being chosen by Queen members Brain May and Rodger Taylor, and was given the chance to perform The Show Must Go On at Metropolis Studios.
Later that same year, she performed with KT Tunstall, and received further endorsement from BOSS Pedals.
In October of 2020, Leoni released her debut single Life Like This. The track is a beautifully composed, initially subdued, but building intensity until it crescendos in the choruses. Produced by John Gallen (Motörhead, Uriah Heep), it has a grungy flair, whilst also allowing every instrument and player to breathe.
The past few years have been a challenge for everyone, let alone up-and-coming musicians and performers. Intrigued by her past achievements, and interested to know what she has in store for 2022 and beyond, we sat down with Leoni to talk music, life, and masters degrees.
Hi Leoni, thanks very much for taking the time to talk to us at IAMUR. Can we start with a bit of background – Where did it all start for you?
My career officially started when I won the under 19’s singer songwriter title of the competition ‘Rock the House’ back in 2014 – I was 13 at the time had never been to London before. I received a sponsorship from Yamaha and an endorsement from Orange amps. There were representatives of both companies at the competition who saw me perform and got in touch after the show! It was a great career kickstart as having big names under my belt was a massive confidence boost and led me to where I am today. Since then, I’ve just kept on pushing!
What was the music scene like growing up in Blackpool?
I grew up in a smaller northern town of Blackpool called Thornton Cleveleys. There were a few venues that I would play when I was a teenager with the house band of my local pub, The Burn Naze. The band ‘Barkin’ became like family after I began playing with them at the age of 11. They are a bunch of old rocker blokes who taught me everything I know, and I’m so grateful for the confidence they all had and continue to have in me. I lived in Blackpool until I was 18 and studied music in high school and college there. I performed in the majority of well known pubs and venues in Blackpool, so when it came to deciding a university, I wanted to try out the south as music was driving me here all of the time so it just made sense. The scene in Blackpool like most places can be restrictive as it’s a holiday town where most people just want to have a few drinks and hear some cover songs, but I wasn’t really about that. There were and have since been some venues that keep new music alive though, such as The Waterloo where I’ve played a few times. It’s a fantastic venue among many that I would love to return to someday. Blackpool was awesome.
You’ve recently moved to London. How are you finding it, what benefit do you think this will have on your musical journey, and what (if anything) do you miss the most from home?
I moved to Guildford for university in 2018 and found a home away from home. I love this town with all my heart, especially the musos that run the place. Gavin Thomas runs fantastic local showcase nights at a few pubs that I was lucky to be a part of, but these nights are where I met most of my friends who I would now consider family. I lived and worked in Guildford for 4 years until this July, when I moved to Kentish Town in Camden to study a Masters Degree in Songwriting. I’m already seeing a benefit of living here – I haven’t even started the course yet but I’ve been gigging and networking more than ever! A lot of the times I’ll turn up to random open mic nights and end up chatting to the people running them who have since gotten me headline gigs with my band. None of this comes from just playing though, it’s all about who you know, so luckily my northern side gets me chatting to everyone! I can see this place giving me structure for the future too – the masters will help develop my work in songwriting which is a fallback if music doesn’t get me touring constantly, whilst also keeping me motivated. In London, there’s no time for doubt! Get in or get out!I miss my family all the time who still live in Blackpool. Aside from them and a cheap pint, I don’t see myself going back to live there any time soon. I’m much happier being a grumpy southerner!
How has music helped you overcome the last few years?
Music has helped me throughout my whole life, the past few years is no different. During the lockdown, I was busy writing my dissertation and finishing my Degree, so there wasn’t a lot of time spent writing or doing much of anything else. However, at the start of 2022, I decided to quit my job and become a self employed musician full time. It started off really slow, but gave me the chance to get my website and merchandising / branding down. This year in particular has been very testing as so many gigs have been cancelled. There came a point where I felt like giving up, but someone somewhere has other plans for me for sure.
Do you think you have found your sound? Can you talk a little bit about your journey, and how you reached this point?
I think I’m still in the process of finding my sound. I’m still working on the album, but I can tell by the end of the recording / production process I’ll have a clear direction. I don’t see my sound as one thing in particular at the moment, as one day I’ll write a 9 minute prog rock song and the next, something along the lines of Steely Dan mixed with Jamiroquai. When me and the band do live shows, there’s definitely a vibe to be recognised, so I think we’re half way there!My journey has been incredible so far, and I’ve definitely been lucky, however I’ve worked my ass of for it. Aside from the achievements and awards, I’ve seen myself grow as not only an artist, but as a person. I’m just a host for a soul that’s willing to learn (if you know, you know…). I started out as a kid who just wanted to rock out to Status Quo! There’s a lot to tell, but I believe I’ve reached the position I’m in now by believing that I have more to offer each time I feel I’ve given my all.
Your career so far has taken many impressive turns. What are some of the highlights for you personally?
The highlights would have to be winning Rock the House and receiving the sponsorship from Yamaha as well as the orange amps endorsement, followed by the PRS Guitars and Boss pedals endorsements. Queen paying my tuition fees is definitely one of the best things a musician could ask for! I’m also working with an insanely talented and well known producer at the moment – I can’t wait to reveal their name once the album comes out. Working with this person is honestly a dream come true and I can’t thank them enough for their confidence in me and my music.
You’ve met and spoken to some amazing people in the industry. Has there been anything you’ve taken away from a conversation that has stuck with you?
I was recording a podcast with Ace from Skunk Anansie a few year ago, and the subject was about the early days of the band and how they built up such a following – I remember Ace telling me about how he was essentially homeless for a while and the only income he had was gigging. They used to ask friends to come to their shows, and those friends would bring more of their friends and so on. It’s stuck with me because this proves that success comes from hard work and dedication, but also through support from the network of people around you. I think I have an amazing network of musicians around myself which I have built from the ground up and continue to do so. It’s a confidence booster I guess!
What would you say is your greatest strength as a musician/ what are you most proud of with regards to your development and progress to date?
I think my greatest strength is actually thinking I can always do better. I could make something incredible that gets brilliant feedback from top notch producers, and I’ll still want to do something else to it. I remember in high school I was working on a drawing for my art class, and I just kept picking at it with the pencil adding in tiny details. Every time my teacher John would come up to me and say “For god sake will you move on!” and I guess I hear his voice when it comes to my music now as well.I’d say I’m most proud of myself for learning how to appreciate my talent and skills, whilst also not letting people get what they want out of me without something in return. I’ve struggled knowing my worth in the past, but thanks to people taking me for advantage, I’ve learned a lot and I appreciate myself more now as a person and musician.
It’s an age old question, but what do you reckon you’d be doing if you weren’t a musician?
I would more than likely be working with animals! I grew up with dogs and worked with them for a while, but I also had a bearded dragon when I was younger and currently have a pet snake of 7 years! I’d definitely be in a foreign country working with an endangered species preservation company or something along those lines. Animals are amazing and to keep them safe is probably the only other thing I feel an urge for aside from music. And beer…
With new music in the pipeline, what’s next for you?
I start my masters degree in a week, so for now, this will keep me busy! I’m planning a really interesting project for it that I’m trying to get funding for to create a documentary. The subject is essentially monitoring people’s physical reactions to my music to create a song based off of the impulse responses of their brainwaves… complicated, but exciting! I have a load of gigs in the pipeline also and me and the new band are planning a tour for next year.