Stephen Leonard
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Stephen Leonard

Chicago, Illinois, United States | INDIE

Chicago, Illinois, United States | INDIE
Band Rock Singer/Songwriter

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By Ross Forman

Stephen Leonard had a passion for music as a youngster and his mom persuaded him to it. She signed him up for trumpet lessons and he played for a few years.
Then, in the mid-1990s, he discovered his mom's classical guitar under the basement stairs at his home in the Detroit area—and he found his calling.

"I was very self-indulgent [ at the time ] , listening to female singer/songwriters and coming to terms with my body and the idea of sexuality," said Leonard, now 25 and living in Chicago's Lakeview neighborhood. "I picked up that guitar and wanted to sing and express myself like Alanis Morissette and Tori Amos."

His first single, titled "Still Say No," has its roots in California's Proposition 8.

"After Proposition 8 passed, I remember how horrible it felt," Leonard said. "I sat in my room thinking to myself, 'How could this have happened?" The day before, there was this positive energy in the streets everywhere that we couldn't escape when [ Barack ] Obama was elected [ President ] . But the moment it passed, that energy quickly disappeared for many of us. It was tough experiencing it in the Midwest and I couldn't fathom how those in California were dealing, and I really felt as though I could do something. But being in Chicago I knew the only thing I could really do was continue to say 'no' and stand up and get involved here."

The public has been saying "yes" to Leonard's No.

"I mean, it's no 'Poker Face,' but I think on a local level it can really allow for some to feel connected to this movement without being on the frontlines," he said. "I have no control over how many people listen to it, but I can at least contribute to some awareness and if that is the only takeaway from this, then I consider it an accomplishment."

"Still Say No" landed on the 13-track National Equality March compilation CD, an album with songs from various LGBT and supporting acts. The proceeds benefit Equality Across America and the National Equality March on Washington, D.C. The song has been the most downloaded of the 13.

"In my eyes, I think [ the march and the CD ] serve as another leg in this movement and support toward national awareness for equality," Leonard said. "I am very honored and thrilled to share my voice alongside other great artists who also stand for such positive change and action. I really hope the album does well.

"Still Say No" is available on iTunes.

"When I wrote 'Still Say No,' I remember daydreaming about playing it at a rally or protest; little did I think this song would play a bit part in the national movement," he said. "But, if anything, I think it's encouraging to know that if you push and allow yourself to be heard, you will. And sometimes such incredible opportunities arise."

Leonard said the October march in the nation's capital was, "incredible; a memorable and exhilarating experience."

"I had no expectations of what the turnout would be, and I certainly did not expect the numbers that they are still estimating," he said. "The most beautiful moment happened just minutes before the march. I was standing in McPherson Square was told to look up. So I did and in the clear, blue sky, we saw an intense rainbow haloed around the sun. It was absolutely stunning and it lasted there for a few minutes. I can't help but think of it as a nice, supportive gesture from the gods."

Leonard will release his first album, With A Pen, in mid-November.

"It's been a long time coming," he joked. "These songs have been with me for quite some time and I'm ready to give them a proper release. It has always been something I've wanted to do since I started writing music. And this year I really found a voice and confidence inside myself, [ so ] I decided to buckle up and just do it.

"The majority of the album was recorded in my bedroom. I moved this past summer and, until recently, I didn't have a bed frame, so I would push my mattress against the wall and created this little homemade-style studio. But the record itself consists of songs written over the past six years, surrounding personal experiences and self-discovery through relationships, politics and intoxication. I think each song has a reference of drinking and I'm not sure if that's a good thing or bad. The title track, With a Pen, is a song about taking experiences whether perceivably good or bad, owning them and letting them build the basic confidence to move forward."

Leonard has two local musical gigs, at Wild Pug and Mary's Attic. Wild Pug offering is "Unpugged"—an acoustic music series with LGBT and supporting acts. Leonard is the host and introduces two different acts every Tuesday—and each plays sets of almost an hour. "Wild Pug is a great venue and it's an incredibly fun time," Leonard said. "We have some very talented performers from the community. The lead singer of Sixteen Candles, Adam LeBlanc, will be performing solo with us next month."

Leonard's alliance with Mary's Attic stems from - Windy City Times


By Joseph Erbentraut

Chicago’s talented singer-songwriter Stephen Leonard had not performed live for some time when he moved to the Windy City from his alma mater Michigan State a few years back, but when California’s Prop. 8 became law in late 2008, he found a new motivation to pick up the pen and get in front of an audience.

The culmination of his new campaign-via-song is A Concert for Equality, a fundraising event Leonard is headlining January 27, 2010 at Sidetrack to benefit the Chicago chapter of Join the Impact (JTI-C), a grassroots organization taking an action-oriented approach to social and political change. Feeling angry after California’s loss at the ballot box, Leonard became heavily involved with the organization as they launched solidarity rallies around the city. He hit the streets and shared his marketing expertise to lend visibility to the organization’s efforts.

Combining the personal with the political

But Leonard soon realized his passion for the movement came in the form of a song, rather than a chant and began recording a series of songs - written over the course of some six years - for a record titled "With a Pen," whose release will also be celebrated at the Sidetrack concert. The songs combine the personal and political, most notably on the poignant "Still Say No," a song penned as response to the LGBT community’s hard-hitting political loss. The acoustic guitar-laden songs surround "coming of age accounts of self-discovery, infatuation, politics and intoxication," as the album’s description reads.

"I realized I had to tap back into my music, both on a personal level and as a means to add a different leg to the movement," Leonard told EDGE. "Sharing this moment with [JTI-C] is important because they were the catalyst that led into this whole process. They’ve given me a lot of inspiration."

About Unpugged

That inspiration also motivated Leonard to curate a queer-centric acoustic concert series, Unpugged, held weekly on Tuesdays at Uptown’s Wild Pug, 4810 N Broadway St.

Originally an eight week trial-run offering Leonard a chance to showcase his songs, the series has just launched its latest run earlier this month and has blossomed into a new cornerstone for the city’s LGBT acoustically-inclined music community.

"With Unpugged, I wanted to build a new music scene within our community, bringing an aspect of creativity to a community that’s often overlooked and overshadowed at times," Leonard said. "I’ve been very fortunate and happy to meet a lot of great people over the last few months who are truly talented and deserve the opportunity to perform."

And, of course, the series - which Leonard admits entailed "biting off a lot to chew" - has remained important to the performer not only as it’s brought together a family of talented performers, but also as it serves an ongoing opportunity to share his message through song.

One of those messages - learning from an experience and taking it to move toward the future with confidence - is another he hopes will resonate with the activists leading today’s movement in a way that reaches far beyond this month’s event.

"With the wins and losses of last year, I want this night to be a kick-off celebration to say we’ve come a long way," Leonard shared. "While there’s still a lot of fights there, I hope to instill the idea that we are still alive and we’re not dependent on a law to determine our value of life. Our value of life will make those laws happen." - Edge Chicago


Discography

His Fire, 2012
"His Fire is a personal collection of confrontations," says Leonard. "When I started writing this record, I was drawn to the physical and emotional effects and fears of fire and its parallel relationship to man. Both can be warm and giving. Both can be strong and attractive. And both can be rather impulsive and seen as threatening. Every song on this record is me confronting the fire and digging beneath the flames."

Reaction has cited the folk-rock album's rich melodies, sonic consistency and raw emotion. Queer Music Heritage has hailed the album as "exquisite" and "a total work of art." Includes "Wanting It All," "Like a Dog", "For Me", and "I'm Fortified."

With a Pen, 2010
Stephen Leonard’s debut self-produced album, With a Pen, embraces independence and self-discovery. “The album was written, recorded and finished in my Chicago bedroom in three months," says Leonard. "I had nothing in my room but a mattress to help isolate sound and a computer to track each song. It was a rather tumultuous time in my life, but I wanted to capture that as I considered that time to be a new beginning for me."

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Bio

STEPHEN LEONARD is an out rock powerhouse known for his commanding vocals and captivating stage presence. His original music has garnered recognition for projects appearing on television, in film and online.

His current video and single, "Wanting It All," has received national attention for proudly and beautifully displaying the sensuality between two men.

In his new album, HIS FIRE, Leonard showcases a deep evolution in his voice, songwriting and producing from his 2010 home-recorded debut album, WITH A PEN.

"His Fire is a personal collection of confrontations," says Leonard. "When I started writing this album, I was drawn to the physical and emotional effects and fears of fire and its parallel relationship to man. Both can be warm and giving. Both can be strong and attractive. And both can be rather impulsive and even seen as threatening. Every song on this record is me confronting the fire and digging beneath the flames."

Leonard's passion for powerful music and individuality has helped pioneer a growing and supportive community of singers and songwriters and has produced and hosted concerts and events that have helped raise thousands of dollars for various causes. In 2011, Leonard received the Windy City Times' 30 Under 30 Award for his outstanding contributions to the Chicago music and sports communities. And just recently, Leonard joined renowned national artists Sami Grisafe, Steve Grand and Marcus Terell on stage at the March on Springfield, IL for marriage equality.