The Sam Leyde Band grabs attention with its own mix of the country-rock formula that is equal parts bravado and vulnerable passion. The band – Leyde on vocals and guitar, Dillon Campbell on lead guitar, Mike Hensley on bass, Aaron Anstett on keyboards and Justin Ruggles on drums – formed in Coeur d’Alene about a year ago.
Since then, the group has released a debut album, “Big Small Town,” and kept a busy schedule of live shows throughout the region with a singular goal in mind: growing an audience large enough to allow the band’s members to quit their day jobs and devote themselves to music full time. As one of their songs implores, all that they need is one hit.
The band’s cause is helped by the fact that principal songwriter and frontman Leyde can effortlessly write songs that, even on a first listen, sound like familiar playlist classics and are rooted in rock, rhythm and blues, gospel and country/Americana. But Leyde did not set out to become a songwriter.
“I did not really touch a guitar until I was 18,” Leyde said. “I come from a family of musicians, but I did not play. I only picked up the guitar to learn some chords to finish a song that I had written for a girl that I liked at the time. She was not impressed. And she was right. That song was awful!”
Despite the initial failure, Leyde’s foray into the guitar led to an adulthood-long immersion in music. For nearly two decades, he worked as a musical director at churches in Washington, Oregon, Arizona and Idaho. But about three years ago, Leyde had the epiphany that – as yet another one of his songs says – it was time for him to take his shot.
He played as a solo artist at any restaurant or bar that would give him stage time. Then, inspired by the storytelling frameworks of artists like Ray LaMontagne, Gregory Alan Isakov, Jason Isbell and Chris Stapleton, Leyde wrote song after song, testing them on audiences by mixing them into his repertoire of covers.
“Writing a song is always an interesting experience because you write something today, sleep on it, and it just doesn’t sound good when you play it back the next day,” Leyde said. “But then a few years ago, I wrote a couple of songs that I did not hate in the morning. And I thought, ‘Hey, maybe there is something here. Let’s see what can happen.’ ”
Leyde has come a long way since then, winning several local and regional contests, including both the 2019 and 2020 editions of the Spokane Songsmith Challenge, as well as the 2019 North Idaho’s Got Talent competition. For Leyde, these successes validated a longtime dream to get his original songs out in front of receptive crowds.
“Radio and the music industry … it’s all a business, and it’s very difficult to break into it,” Leyde mused as he reflected on his band’s purpose. “For us, we’d rather play in front of a crowd any day so they can see our energy and the sweat that we put into it. That’s what it’s all about for us. And if we can make enough money out of it not to have to work at a warehouse during the week, then that’s a success.”
That is not to say the Sam Leyde Band is satisfied to be strictly a local live band. Fueled by Leyde’s no-filler songwriting skills and the band’s muscular sound, the group released its self-produced “Big Small Town” via streaming platforms in February.
Much like the outfit’s live shows, the record is a fully realized affair that finds the band poised to pursue its grander vision. Whether or not country or rock radio is ready for the Sam Leyde Band, the band’s output, well-honed through regular gigging, is ready for the radio.
“ ‘Mixtape Summer,’ for example, I wrote while thinking about driving down the road, rolling the car window down and cranking up the radio, trying to replicate that kind of feeling,” Leyde said. “I want people to enjoy the music and to have that heartfelt connection to what we are putting out.”
That song, and the rest of the band’s catalog, is typically hopeful and inspirational, but not grounded in cliches. While the aforementioned song and others (“Huckleberry Wine,” “I Don’t Want to Love Somebody,” “12 Step”) are unapologetically radio-friendly, they are focused by the group’s ability to build well-crafted tales of an America that still lives vibrantly both among the mountains and prairies of the Pacific Northwest and in Leyde’s lyrics.
The debut album’s title track is a case in point, a tune that finds Leyde almost-grouchily bemoaning the changing landscape of his hometown (really Anytown, USA). And yet, one never gets the impression that he would rather be anywhere else. Another song, “Baby’s in Billings,” is a rousing example of the band’s effervescence.
When Leyde invites his mates to “Take It Away!” they joyfully do so, with Anstett and Campbell trading incendiary rockabilly bars while Ruggles and Hensley churn the number along with locomotive ferocity. These guys want to be in the same room bringing down the house together, and it sounds like it.
“Writing songs, playing shows and putting music out feels like exactly what I’m supposed to be doing right now,” Leyde said. “It’s like when you’re cutting paper and the scissors start to glide. And it’s the band really that makes it go.
“We have had this chemistry from day one that shouldn’t have been there but is. Everyone does their part and pulls their own weight and just makes it so easy.” If possible, however, they will still take that radio hit.
For more about the Sam Leyde Band, go to samleydeband.com. The Sam Leyde Band plays next at 8 p.m. Saturday at the Lariat, 11820 N. Market St., in Mead; $5 cover. Also: on June 18 at From the Ashes Idaho (for more information and tickets, go to fromtheashesidaho.com).
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