LEAVETAKING is a pop songwriting duo currently based in NY and LA. Founding members Tony and Matt first began making music together in 2011. Tony moved out to Los Angeles and Matt remained in New Jersey. They remained close friends while pursuing individual careers in music. In 2020 they began writing and producing songs together in pursuit of sync licensing opportunities. For this interview I spoke with Matt about their long distance songwriting and future plans.
What got you into music?
“Music was a part of my childhood. My father always had guitars around the house that would rest on stands. He’d always pick one up and play a song or two during the day. I used to take them off the stands out of curiosity and try to make some sounds that didn’t drive everyone in the house nuts.”
“Even as a kid, I was always very attentive to lyrics and really connected with certain songs. Without knowing a thing about making music, I remember listening to certain songs on repeat and wishing that I had the ability to create something that would make people feel like that song made me feel.”
“I really started to figure out enough about music to start writing songs (really bad ones) when I was around 16 or 17. It was never really goal-oriented for me. I just liked to do it. To this day, mentors of mine say things like “You have to love the process to make music a career.” The way I see this path from where I stand right now, that is the absolute truth. I always have loved the process of making music. If I didn’t, I probably would’ve moved on from trying to make a career in songwriting a long time ago. If you love the process of writing songs, you’ll always be writing and finding ways to make your songs better.”
You began making music together in 2011, when Tony was hired to produce an EP for your solo project. What can you tell me about your first collaboration?
“I was looking to hire a producer for a 3-song EP. Anthony was local and I found his website through a simple search. I remember listening to his audio samples that primarily featured his own songs and remember thinking, “Damn. This guy does everything.” I called him and told him about my project. I think we both agreed that, musically, we could have a successful collaboration. With that said, the success of artist-producer collaborations hinges upon so much more than music. You have to really like each other to be able to disagree respectfully, be honest, and offer opinions. After an initial in-person meeting, I think we both knew it would be fun.”
The first song we worked on together was ‘You are Home’ which was released under Bad Architect Records earlier this year. We chose to get LEAVETAKING off the ground by releasing ‘You Are Home’ as the first track because that song reminds us of the start of this journey as a team. The process of recording that song and building the arrangement was very organic and fun. The rest of the EP was just as fun to record with Tony. Someday we will probably release those tracks too because they’re special to us.”
Tony lives in LA and you live in New York. How did your new (long distance) recording project come about?
“A few years ago, I hit pause on releasing music as a solo artist and really focused on learning about music publishing and sync licensing. I was really excited to learn that there are ways to monetize songwriting if you’re willing to take the time to learn. I loved that, when writing songs for publishers, there’s often some sort of creative direction provided by the publishers. For instance, a publisher may need a pop song for a television show about a very specific topic. Once I started writing based on what companies need, I really loved the process because it challenged me to use techniques that I wouldn’t ordinarily use, meet deadlines, and there was an opportunity to make money doing it. I started to nudge Tony about writing some of these songs with me because I knew he would work really well under those conditions and he just is a great writer and producer. We gradually started to write songs together to submit to publishers and just found that it was liberating to make music with little attachments to lyrics or parts that I’d come up with because we had to meet deadlines and I always trust that what Tony comes up with will be really solid.”
“Because Tony lives in LA and I’m on the other side of the US, we had to just send files back and forth to get the songs recorded. For each song, we usually do a video call to map out lyrics and just check in as friends. The result of this arrangement has been that we we’re making music that we both really like. Whether a publisher signs the songs or not, we believe in them and wanted to establish LEAVETAKING to share them.”
What’s your songwriting and recording process like?
“It’s really fun and we really don’t get attached to ideas because we know that there will always be another song. Typically, I’ll send a very basic song and production idea to Tony. I don’t like to discuss with him what my ideas are for building the song out are because he always has great ideas to contribute once he listens. From there, he will add whatever parts or production features that come up and just send the files right back to me. We continue to add parts and sent files back and forth. At some point, we do a video call to decide on who will record the final vocals and to write the final lyric sheets together. After vocals are recorded, Anthony mixes and masters the song.”
Do you play all of the instruments?
“Yes, between the two of us we play all of the instruments except for drums. One or both of us programs the drum tracks.”
What kind of recording facilities do you have at home?
“I have a very modest setup at home that consists of one microphone, a small interface, and a laptop. Aside from that, I have an acoustic guitar, an electric guitar, a bass guitar, a banjitar, and a digital piano. Tony has a more extensive setup with gear for high-end mixing and mastering, along with an electric guitar, a bass guitar, and digital piano.”
Your latest single is ‘Under the Oak Tree‘. What inspired you to write this song?
“We spent a lot of time in the last year writing specifically based on what publishers needed. To take a break from that, I wanted to write a song just for the love of the process. Ironically, this song ended getting signed to a great publisher. ‘Under the Oak Tree’ was written about the importance of having a place go where you just can be with whatever is going on in your life. Tony and I were having conversations as friends about how fortunate we are to have those places where we can find space to accept, without judgement or pushing away, the thoughts and feelings that arise. The melody worked really well with the lyrical concept, so we just went with it.”
What inspires your lyrics?
“I think just being human. I know that sounds esoteric, but songwriting is a really powerful way to portrey a unique perspective of an every-day happening. Sometimes it’s harder to say with words in conversation what a song can convey. Also, publishers often ask for very specific lyrical content for certain TV shows or movies.”
Of your own songs do you have a personal favourite (and why)?
“This is a great question. I think this changes often based on what is going on in life. Sometimes I listen back to a song and connect with it in a way that I didn’t when it was written. Right now, our next single ‘Hide’ feels very intimate to me because the lyrics are very raw and vulnerable.”
You will continue to release a new single every two months. What can we expect from your future releases?
“Yes! You’re going to hear great disparity genre-wise. ‘Hide’ which will be released on August 27th, is a pop song that falls in line with bands like Imagine Dragons and One Republic. Also, you’ll hear Tony taking lead vocals on a number of future tracks. To this point, I sang the lead vocals on all of our tracks. Tony has a great voice and brings another element to the songs.”
Are you planning to release an album?
“Not at the moment. We have a lot of songs mixed, mastered, and ready to go. We like the idea of having a predictable release schedule for singles so that we can reliably release music for years to come while writing new songs in between.”
What are you hoping to achieve with your music?
“The first is to make a living writing songs that we love and that people can relate to. Along the way, it’s important to help people get in the door in music in ways that people did for us.”
In the Release Talk for ‘Broken Together’ you mentioned that the song was under contract with a publisher for sync opportunities and you were hoping to get some TV/film placements. If you could pick a film or a series yourself, which one would you choose?
“Yes! We really are just excited for any placement opportunities, but I could hear some of our songs working well in a show like ‘This is Us’. I’m current writing/composing songs for a network show right now, and it’s just so much fun regardless of the placement.”
What would you like to achieve in the next 5 years?
“We would like to be able to have enough traction with placements and releases that we could be very selective about where we play live. It would be really nice to exclusively play small, intimate venues for audiences who really value songwriting. Gigging can be really fun, but it’s very easy to burn out if you play the wrong rooms or play too often.”
Are you planning to do any live shows in the future?
“Yes, but not as a full band. I plan to play a number of solo/acoustic shows at house concerts and songwriter venues in the New York City area.”
What’s your favourite song from the Cool Top 20?
“I like a number of them, but ‘Wild Eyes’ from Jack Francis is very cool. The production is very warm and organic and the melody is great. Sonically, it sounds like a modern song from The Band.
What song would you like to add as a bonus track and why?
I really love ‘You In My Life‘ from Ed Patrick. It’s just a gorgeous song, just like his other tunes.