Digital Leather On the Rise
By Shout Omaha Staff
If you missed Digital Leather’s show with The Desaparecidos Tuesday night at The Waiting Room, that’s too bad for you. Slated as one of Omaha’s most well kept musical secrets, Digital Leather is a band you want in your life. Digital Leather is the brainchild of Arizona native Shawn Foree, a talented multi-instrumentalist with a fondness for making music in his bedroom. After all, that’s kind of where Digital Leather was born. Foree was intrigued by the guitar as a teenager and is more or less, self-taught. With limited resources in his hometown of Yuma, his exposure to music was rather restricted. He forged ahead and eventually ended up in school at the University of Arizona-Tucson where it was much easier to get immersed in a music community. He managed to record three albums in a home studio, then ended up on labels such as Tic Tac Totally, Jay Reatard’s Shattered Records imprint and FDH Records.
In 2009, Foree handed the reigns to Reatard to take over managing duties. He then released Warm Brother on Fat Possum Records and followed up with 4 more full-lengths, culminating with 2012’s Modern Problems. His catalog spans the spectrum. For example, the tracks “Blackness” and “Styrofoam” couldn’t be more different from one another, but somehow he finds a way to make them clearly Digital Leather creations. “Styrofoam” swells with soaring synths while “Blackness” is more of a guitar-driven anthem that reaches outlandish proportions. Call it New Wave synth-punk or whatever you feel like, but Foree’s venture into synthesizers is a welcome addition, especially since The Faint’s Todd Fink took a hold of the keys. It’s nice to see him on stage with the rest of the guys. Digital Leather’s latest record, Diode, is out now. Foree took a second to answer some pressing questions.
Shout Weekly: It seems like overnight your name started popping up all over. What do you think is responsible for this surge in notoriety?
Shawn Foree: I don’t know if Digital Leather just sprung up out of nowhere. I’ve been doing this stuff for a while. I put out a lot of records and toured a lot, but I’ve managed to stay under the radar for the most part. Usually, when someone “discovers” Digital Leather, it seems like a sudden thing. That’s good, I think, because it causes an intimacy between the listener and the music.
When you were growing up in Yuma, Arizona, was it hard to get your hands on music you liked?
There were a couple of decent music stores actually, but I was poor and I stole CDs sometimes. It’s kinda like how kids steal shit off the internet now. These stores didn’t have anything too obscure, but it was better than some towns that only have a Wal-Mart or some bullshit like that.
Any particular person or experience make you want to pick up an instrument?
There are musicians in my family, but my interest was never piqued until high school. I had some friends who played instruments and I really wanted to play guitar, but I was a lefty so they taught me on their right-handed guitars. That’s why I play a guitar upside-down now. I can’t even play a left-handed guitar.
What brought you to Omaha?
I don’t know if any one thing brought me here. I think about it a lot and I can never give myself a clear answer. Maybe I’m pushing something back into my psyche. Probably am.
What do you think about the local music “scene” here?
I think scenes suck. A homogenized sound is boring and good for nothing except car commercials. However, I also think there are lots of great bands in Omaha. It’s actually pretty amazing. People are supportive, too. I didn’t see a whole lot of that back in Arizona. I’m glad to be here. People really push themselves.
I just interviewed Stephen Pope and talked about Jay a little bit. How did you guys meet and what was your reaction when you heard he had passed away?
I met Jay through my close friend Ryan Rousseau who was playing with Jay in Reatards. We were friends for a long time. I don’t have time to talk about how I feel/felt about his passing. That would take too long.
Where did the name Digital Leather come from?
Again, I think my friend Ryan Rousseau (Reatards, Destruction Unit) coined it. There’s not a lot to it. It’s just a name. It can mean whatever you want it to mean.
What are your goals with music? Where do you want to go with it?
I have to put out records. It’s in my blood. If I don’t do it, I’d probably kill myself and/or someone else. I am addicted to sharing my bullshit with the world. If I had a good, supportive label, that would help. But I also don’t mind bouncing around labels. I’m like a label bum bouncing around. I wouldn’t mind a home, but whatever.
I read it was difficult for you to adjust to having so much outside “help” from people- engineers, managers, etc. Did you feel you were giving up creative control and how did you deal with all the changes in your life?
That’s a little misconstrued. I’ve worked with an engineer one time (my friend William McDaniel) and, of course, we bumped heads from time to time, but things worked out and I never doubted his talent. I learned a lot, too. I do prefer to do all that stuff myself lately because I’m good at it.
So many artists these days are sober now, in rehab or straight edge. What’s your take on that? Do you think that idea is a bit cliche now, considering younger kids are getting addicted earlier and earlier in their lives? Do you feel any social responsibility as an artist?
I don’t care if someone’s a junkie or a health nut or anything in between. Everybody has his or her own journey, and it’s insane to judge anyone for that.