I meet Leo outside a coffee shop. Emphasis on the outside. Like me he’s a self-professed outdoorsy type and would rather the winter sun than the stuffy cosiness inside. Sandals in December.
We’re in Queens Park in London, where he lives. Leo moved here from French Switzerland in 2009, aged 19, intent on storming the world as rock star. He had been a singer and songwriter in Swiss pop rock band The King Steps. Since then, his musical journey has taken him as far away from pop fame as film score composition, and therapeutic gong baths, which is now his main focus.
Talking about The King Steps, his first band, he claims there was nothing esoteric or trendy about their musical influences at the time. He describes their collective musical interests as “what was on the radio”, and his parents’ contributions to his musical knowledge were household names like Simon & Garfunkel, The Beatles and The Beach Boys. Basically they played pop and he loved it. With a wry smile Leo confesses he wasn’t even what he’d call a musician at the time. He wrote the songs and sang them untrained, not that you’d know this to listen to their work.
By 19, Leo felt he’d outgrown Switzerland and wanted to be where he had a chance of making a bigger name in the music industry, so here he came. On arrival in the UK he started studying at The Institute of Contemporary Music Performance, London, but quickly sought to mix study time with career aspiration by forming a new band, The I.D, which had a much more rock and punky feel than The King Steps.
It was at this point that with the limit not having a specific instrument to focus on placed on his contributions to the band, Leo found his passion for the piano, and hunkered down to learn. He still didn’t want to just follow the formula of grades and classical music progression though, and through a Soundtrack module on his course found improvising on the piano was a great way to compose new material, for both the band and towards writing scores.
Since university, the rock star dream has been replaced with, if anything an even more global one: finding sounds that can help and heal people. Through an interest in Yoga, Leo discovered gong bath therapy and cymatics, the science and study of sound waves. Leo says he’d always found a joy in simple instruments and sounds that resonate strongly, such as cymbals and gongs. For him these instruments are universally playable, and his experience of gong therapy was one of peacefulness and joy, in turbulent moments. Alongside composing Leo is now a leading practitioner in gong therapy.
But turning the conversation to composition, I ask Leo how he sees his work on films. For Leo, he is simply mixing music and art. Whether he’s producing a film score, creating soundscapes for art installations or putting a song to spoken word, it’s all art and each project is individual. Talking about his work on Twisted, he says he immersed himself in all the material that writer Eliot Ash gave him. With a nod to my usual job he says “like an actor reading their script, but with music”. Any inspiration from character, setting, and conversations with the director he’ll use to create a theme, an underlying motif. Out of this motif he’ll make a score that works with the whole film and each moment in it. He says this way of working makes collaboration a joy, as he’s as up for bringing in other people’s thoughts and ideas, as driving his own vision.
For him, Twisted was thematically a departure from anything he’d worked on before. Whilst his style normally wouldn’t lend itself to “a standard thriller”, for him Twisted had an extra layer that he was able to work with, in terms of character and mood. From this he was able to create something that both sets the dark tone, but sets it off with an almost sweet light sound. Discordant yet lovely.
As we finish our talk in the sun, I can see how Leo could bring that energy to any project he goes onto next, whether it’s rock fame, movie glory or healing others. I look forward to seeing what the future holds for him.
Written by Alex Cordrey