How Jane Ellen Bryant and Daniel Leopold Found Personal and Musical Harmony
By Jeff McCord
Sometimes it takes a weird confluence of events to pull things in unexpected directions. For Austin musicians Jane Ellen Bryant and Daniel Leopold, it all started with a certain restlessness.
“We both had been doing our solo careers for a while,” explains Jane, who was working as a singer/songwriter, while Daniel was fronting his rock-oriented outfit Leopold and His Fiction. “We met at a time when we were both a bit burnt out on doing the same thing. Meeting each other swung some creative doors open and allowed us both to explore sides of our artistry that we had not done before. Daniel was really enjoying writing from a female perspective, and I was enjoying getting to dive into some different characters and sides of myself that I wasn’t able to do as a singer-songwriter.”
Daniel continues. “We weren’t out to necessarily try and form a band. We crossed paths via Black Fret (now Sonic Guild). They have a program that encourages co-writing. So we said, ‘Yeah, let’s give it a shot.” We didn’t expect it to really go in this direction. ”
So they paired up, at first musically, then in an actual relationship. They named their musical endeavor Jane Leo and began recording their new songs.
Even so, Jane Leo was initially only thought to be a recording project.
“We were just trying to write and we were both kind of, stuck.” says Jane. “[Daniel] didn’t have any Leopold tours coming up. And I was winding down some of my music. It was just an odd in-between time where it wasn’t really about live performance yet. And then right when we thought, ‘Hey, maybe we should play these songs out’, literally, that’s when COVID hit. So we didn’t do that at all. We wrote the rest of the record.”
Daniel continues. “We started writing these songs and just getting fully immersed in it. We got a bunch of new instruments [which] started us in a very different direction because it gravitated towards synthesizers, you know, Juno’s and Yamaha’s and drum machines. 808s, 909s, all kinds of things that we’ve never really been well versed in. Within 3 to 6 months, that was our mainstay as far as the sound goes. It was heavily influenced by the Cars and Iggy Pop with David Bowie, Devo, Lee Hazlewood & Nancy Sinatra, you know, all those things that we weren’t able to touch on with Leopold or in Jane’s solo career. It was like a switch that we were able to flip, so many new elements all at once. And then comes the pandemic. We’re locked down together for two years with all these new instruments and new ideas and next thing you know, we have an album coming out. And we have a whole another album that’s in the can.”
“For this first record,” says Jane, “it’s the first songs we wrote together. We started this project recording at home, and we took it to multiple producers, and finally landed with Danny Reisch, who had a studio in Lockhart. We loved working with him because he embraced what we were doing at home and then just continued running with the baton rather than trying to break it back down and change it. That really gave us much more confidence and freedom to continue producing and recording everything at home. [We’d] bring what 80% of the tracks to him and he’d finish the last 20%, making better drum sounds or replacing synth sounds with awesome, actual vintage synthesizers. We were able to take our time with this record and really build it up and figure out our sound. We discovered how to play together, how to write together, how to figure out who we were as a band. And full credit to Danny Reisch for completing the sound and encouraging us with what we were doing.”
So now Jane Leo is a real band, performing a February residency at Hotel Vegas, and an after-hours session here in Studio 1A. Their debut album releases on February 17, and they have a busy schedule ahead of them.
Daniel lays out their next few months. “South By comes up and then at the end of March, we have some tour dates in the ether. It’s coming together. You know how that works. Right after that, we have a European tour on the horizon that we’re piecing together. We teamed up with a European label based in Amsterdam. They’re really small but wonderful people and really excited. So we’ll get out there and push the sound, which I think will be a great fit.”
“A beautiful thing about any relationship is that you get to share with one another your knowledge, everything you’ve learned up to that point. And for Jane and I, it’s the best-case scenario. You start learning from one another, teaching each other.”
Jane agrees. “It’s a reflection of our growth as people and as artists. And it’s really great to share it with someone that you’re close to. I’m very excited about the direction we’re moving in and for how the live shows and the responses have been. It’s so out there that I don’t know how it fits in with the world, but we’re not worrying about that as much as we are just pushing ourselves as artists and letting whatever happens happen.”
Album: Jane Leo (out Feb 17 on MARS Group)
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Jane Ellen Bryant – vocals, keys; Daniel Leopold – vocals, guitar, baritone
Producer: Deidre Gott; Audio Engineer: Jake Perlman, Rene Chavez, Audio Mix: Jake Perlman; Cameras: Michael Minasi, Patricia Lim, Alyssa Olvera; Edit: Alyssa Olvera, Michael Minasi; Host: Rick McNulty