Leon Timbo photo credit by Jace Kartye
Leon Timbo Sees Dualities As A Spectrum On Lovers And Fools Vol. 2
Singer-songwriter Leon Timbo embraces country and soul traditions and comes from a gospel background in his native Jacksonville, Florida. Even more pointedly, he sees the umbrella of Americana as an embracing one that helps bring together musical possibilities that span his different musical explorations. His album Lovers and Fools Vol 2 arrives on June 17, 2022 via MNRK Music Group as the second part of a journey that began with Lovers and Fools Vol 1, which was Timbo’s first foray into Americana.
The second part of the project continues to be less spare than Timbo’s previous work, adding layers that suggest many influences, but also engages more directly with big emotions and articulates even more fully what it takes to bring a form of enlightenment and understanding out of conflict. Dualities like good and evil, right and wrong form part of the conversation, but when it comes to human beings, or even a country, there is always potential for a form of resolution and progress. I spoke with Leon Timbo about the milestone that Lovers and Fools Vol 2 represents, his journey into Americana, and what he most hopes the impact of this music will be in his own life and for others.
Americana Highways: What are your plans to celebrate the release of the album?
Leon Timbo: I have a few friends who are going to go live with me acoustically. All my family, friends, and followers will rally together online, but we’ll keep it intimate and still be able have a conversation. I’m excited to do that on release day.
AH: I love that it has an online component so people at a distance can be involved.
LT: Absolutely, I think the personal interaction is really necessary. We lack being seen and being known right around these times. I’m excited to provide that.
AH: That’s a great point. People have faced a lot of disconnection. That is one benefit of online activity is to be able to recognize and involved fan groups.
LT: We also have quite a few shows where I get a chance to have a crowd and release the songs in that type of setting, but I realized just last weekend when doing a festival that there was an amazing amount of people in the space, but it didn’t feel complete for me until I went online and discussed the experience with the people who weren’t there. They could speak to me from their experience across the screen and, as an artist, I don’t want anyone in the room left out.
AH: This has been an interesting topic of conversation with artists lately, how through livestreaming the past couple of years, they’ve developed a close relationship with fan groups, and now, when things move back to live play, they want to find a way to continue to involve online fan groups.
LT: It’s a very necessary element because your core people are usually never in one place. But it is very difficult to offer the same quality of sound wherever you go. Until we are able to streamline that aspect of it, we’re left at a bit of a disadvantage to serve the online audience. But it’s still an amazing goal to pursue.
AH: I understand that there’s a close relationship between your two albums, with the second part arriving now. Conceptually, did you start down a road where you already planned this to be a two-album project, or did the project grow to add a second volume?
LT: I think you build structures around your pain, creating a journey from it. With Lovers and Fools Vol 1, it’s really laying the foundation between myself and my daughters, and myself and my parents. It had given me an opportunity to identify both the lovers and the fools of my life early on. It even allowed me to exorcise some of the weakness that I saw in my father in myself. It’s so easy to point fingers at your own parents, only to see yourself as a parent fall into those same patterns of inadequacy. The children don’t even see what you see in terms of your weaknesses, but you do see them because you have had a parent with the same weaknesses. I was able to explore those passions.
Americana has given me a home to tell my story and to tell it transparently, as much as my upbringing has given me the ability to improvisationally pull any song into a moment of spontaneity. Americana gives me the ability to tell the story and sit in the story. It allows me to offer the listener the ability to sit in their story and hear my story, which might be relatable. Vol 1 did that. Vol 2 is a bit more angry, more bitter, but also more forgiving. It allows me the opportunity to release some of the tension of the results of what lovers and fools provide.
I feel like in any circumstance in our lives, we can either be the lover of that moment, or the fool. The lover of that moment will take care of it, understand it, and understand its value. We nurture it. The fool is when all the value is still there, but we lack the ability to see that, or engage with that, even though it’s ours. The point is that the gift is being both the lover and the fool. There is a gift in anything, whether in being left, divorced, or fired. Now you know those chapters are closed and you can build something fresh. So the two parts of the project speak to my personal process of evolving in love, but it also gives people permission to feel their own in their own space as well.
AH: I had heard that Vol 2 was a bit more raw or direct, or as you said, more angry, but when you said “forgiving,” that stands out for me. I think I’m used to even angrier music, because I didn’t feel negativity from the album, but conflicts that result in really interesting conversations. There’s an inclusiveness rather than a breaking down of conversation.
LT: I think the only difference between whether a moment is a success or a failure is our perspective of it. The laws of matter say that two things can’t occupy one space at the same time, so there’s conflict over what will occupy this space, but that conflict doesn’t have to be evil for there to be tension. Tension has the ability to build and create again, whereas evil doesn’t have a resolve in the same way.
I don’t think people are good or bad, I think it’s almost like a spectrum of variations in relationships. Once we identify the places where our variation was low, then we can do something about it. It does speak to some of the tensions that are beyond my control, like my relationship with my country. You may only have the opportunity to vent about it, even if that venting expresses tension and love. That’s what I’m excited about showcasing.
AH: Was it difficult to let yourself tell this batch of stories, knowing that they were going a bit further into tension?
LT: Absolutely. It was difficult because, at times, I didn’t know if my children really understood my emotions concerning certain chapters of their lives. I don’t know if it was even the public that I was afraid of. I had already performed a number of the songs live and gotten amazing feedback from it. When I’m no longer here, this music is something to celebrate me by, so I think as a father, something I always want to do is be clear in terms of who I am to my daughters. That was some of my reluctance in releasing my music.
AH: I imagine that can be a weight and difficulty, but I could see it as a driving force, too, wanting there to be clear statements as a form of legacy.
LT: Absolutely. My oldest daughter is gay and I think that she has shown me a perspective of love that, growing up, I had never known to see. It came through tension and us working out how we were going to love. To love is one thing and how we love is another. To say “I love you,” isn’t complete unless there’s some action. I wanted to demonstrate some of that evolution in the new music as well.
AH: That’s really an amazing approach. I’ve definitely had conversations like that in my family with the previous generation and about feeling that there could be a disjunction between words and actions.
LT: For love to be love, it also has to come without conditions. It has to come without expecting results from it. All of that dilutes what your love could be in the context of someone’s life. If I’m honest, my daughter taught me how to love my country. She taught me that my expectations, and the tensions, and the things I don’t agree with, are part of my love relationship with my country. It’s not a part of a relationship with my enemy, it’s part of a relationship with my close friend. This symmetry allows me to love even if I don’t understand. Those spaces have allowed me to explore what love is and what love isn’t.
AH: Did going into this new territory of storytelling affect your sound approach on Vol 2 in comparison to the songs on Vol 1?
LT: I think they both hold a similarity in terms of sonic and musical structure. The songwriting sessions that spoke to some of the more aggressive songs in Vol 2 actually happened on the heels of the songs in Vol 1. I just chose to separate them because in this day and age, it’s so easy to miss the evolution of an album. I wanted to be really specific about how we rolled out the songs and the albums in terms of themes. But sonically, it was either all in or an intimate guitar moment. It was either heels to the floor or, “let’s campfire around this moment and think about it together.”
AH: People have commented in the past on your minimalism, but I think this album goes well beyond that.
LT: I think it definitely grew. I think the next album that I pursue will be more stripped-down. I didn’t realize that I had so much to get out of me just to kick off this idea and my relationship with America. Even though these are albums, I consider them to be EPs with no limits. I needed to get those out, and I needed to release my marriage with gospel music and my marriage with R&B music. These albums show a hybrid musical approach with some of the genres that I’ve been a part of. I just needed to bring those complexities to the table. But there may be minimalism moving forward even though you definitely hear a lot going on in some of these pieces.
AH: Do you find the development of Americana useful in bringing together the different traditions you’ve been part of so far?
LT: Absolutely, because it’s forms that are rooted. There’s roots gospel, roots R&B, and even roots rock ‘n’ roll. They are elements that have been pulled out of blues, especially. They are all American-born and American-bred. So, Americana, she has the bones to handle all of us to create an excellent form of unity. That’s oneness, but not sameness. I’m just realizing that for us to be one in Americana doesn’t mean that we have to be same.
AH: The collection has an intro and outro that are little, short songs. How did they come about?
LT: The common values in Vol 1 and Vol 2 are finding home, and what it was, and what it wasn’t. In Vol 2, I’m able to open up with the death of my father, maybe the most important segue in my life. I get to speak to that and have my guitar be the canvas for that thought. I reflect on what the closing of the casket does for my life, and how I’m here to find my way home.
The next segment speaks to the fact that the greatest man that we say ever existed, Jesus Christ, had enemies. And kindness hung him on a broken tree. It’s the idea that even being the best version of who you are doesn’t eliminate you from tension. Your kindness may the very thing that points you out to your enemies.
It taps into my experiences in my life because my father was my pastor and so his passing was a revelation for me. The revelation has been that being someone of faith did not eliminate him from tension. Those little pieces were quick but they really spoke heavy for me. Letting go is an element of finding home. Letting each other go gives us the ability to still be the best versions of who we are and not be enemies.
AH: Is that what informs the song “Let Me Go”?
LT: Letting go definitely led into the song “Let Me Go” and that the reason why the song was written. It’s the idea that ending a relationship isn’t the end. It may the end of that form of relationship, or it may even be the end of that season of relationship, but it’s not the end. Sometimes letting go is important to re-establishing what each component is. I don’t think all relationships are final in the way that they are relationships.
Some lovers should be friends. Some friends should be lovers. Some spouses should be friends and some friends should be spouses. The truth of how we are evolving as people has to do with what we take in and what we let go. Taking in isn’t the answer to all of life’s problems. Just like letting go isn’t the beginning of all our problems. It’s all just this beautiful tapestry of life and how we see it in perspective is how we see the success in it.
Thanks so much for talking with us, Leon Timbo!
Find more about Leon Timbo and his music here: https://www.facebook.com/leontimbomusic
Check out more interviews and stories here: https://americanahighways.org/category/interviews/key-to-the-highway-series/