Auckland band Leisure’s laid-back approach hasn’t stopped them gaining a global following
Before they were Leisure, the five band members – Jaden Parkes, Djeisan Suskov, Tom Young, Josh Fountain and Jordan Arts – were friends through various side projects, including stints in popular bands Goodnight Nurse and Kids of 88. A summer weekend away in Muriwai in 2014, organised by lead singer Parkes, was their first real opportunity to collaborate. It was meant to be pretty casual, but the trip generated not only their first single ‘Got it Bad’, which now has more than 600,000 Soundcloud listens, but the bones – and most of the flesh – of their debut LP.
The album is entirely collaborative but remarkably cohesive, blending influences from The Beatles, 1970s funk and soul and, for Parkes, a solid stint of “listening non-stop to Boyz II Men”. Each band member has a day job in the music industry: producing, managing, promoting or directing. “Everyone has had different musical experiences and that’s influenced how we’ve formed our ethos and navigated our way through [forming the band],” says Parkes.
They’re keen on sticking together. They recently watched the Oasis documentary Supersonic, concluding that working collaboratively was the only way to survive and grow and that anything resembling Noel Gallagher’s independent streak would be the wrong approach. Leisure is “more concerned with what’s best for our songs, than what’s best for someone’s ego,” says bassist Suskov.
No one in the band seems fussed about fame. The guys mill about as though time means nothing, turning up in dribs and drabs to be interviewed. When I arrive early to meet them, Parkes seems genuinely surprised that someone could arrive ahead of schedule.
Band members write, record and mix all their songs themselves, only recently signing to management agency Saiko. For each of them, making music needs to allow time for creativity and, as Suskov says, give them all the chance to “enjoy the journey” and their lives outside of Leisure.
“There’s no point doing it if it isn’t fun,” says Suskov. Production is slow and has, up until this point, been quietly ticking along. The band’s main ambition is to make songs they believe will have longevity, and that they actually want to listen to.
Perhaps surprisingly, this laid-back approach is paying off. Leisure has played only a handful of shows in the past year, most of them domestically, but the band’s reach on Spotify is global, with thousands of listens in Paris – their biggest Spotify player by territory – and Melbourne.
“I have no fucking idea why we’re so popular,” says Parkes. “Certain places just connect with us and you don’t always understand why that is until you’ve been to those places and played.” It may be this simple: their sound – smooth enough to listen to in the car, but bassy and fun when it’s loud – is everyman’s music, without ever feeling tired or cynical.
Even more surprising, they’ve achieved all of this without much commercial airtime. Auckland student radio station 95bFM has played them a bit, as has George FM. They’ve also been played on BBC radio in the UK and enjoyed a short stint at number one on Triple J in Australia. Mostly though, people have found them through the internet and word of mouth. Their local connections and industry contacts haven’t hurt: despite the band being shrouded in mystery in its early days, its members seem to know everyone in Auckland.
A few key gigs have helped, too. They played the opening show at REC – Sam Harmony and Connor Nestor’s new downtown record store and gig space – and sold out at Crystal Place, the once-derelict 600-seat theatre at the end of Mt Eden Road.
Most recently, Leisure played at Meow Meow in Wellington, a tiny Te Aro venue. They don’t play often, nervous about potential overexposure. It’s easy to become overplayed in a little place like New Zealand, they reckon.
Some time ago the band members agreed that they’d release a couple of songs and, if they made enough money from them, they would go to, say, Provence and write some more. That was almost two years ago. Since then, the band has finished recording an entire album and sold enough copies to make such an exotic music-creation retreat possible.
Still, Leisure can’t quite get themselves to the northern hemisphere. In fact, they can barely organise being in the same room at the same time. Not that it seems to matter when it comes to their success so far. The easy-going approach seems to be working just fine. Besides, the clue’s in the name, right?
Leisure’s tips for Auckland
Jaden Parkes – Waitakere Estate is pretty special. 573 Scenic Drive, Waiatarua.
Djeisan Suskov – Has to be Narrowneck beach for a swim. Old Lake Rd, Devonport.
Tom Young – Homestead café in Hillsborough for lunch. 72A Hillsborough Road, Auckland.
Josh Fountain – Get to Volume; Music in Aotearoa while you can. Auckland Museum, until 21 May 2017, Auckland Domain.
Jordan Arts – Best ice cream is at Ollies. 802 Manakau Rd, Royal Oak.