By Andrew Checchia
In conversations and interviews, artists often broadly describe their styles as either outward facing or inward facing.
With the former, they look at the world and try to capture something unique within it—maybe a special community, a cultural experience or a type of person—to present some kind of enlightening new perspective on the way we see things around us.
With the latter, artists will look within themselves and try to express an emotional truth, outlining an extremely specific feeling to help others reevaluate themselves or, as is the case with the definitively inward artist Leighton Antelman of Lydia, “to just feel something.”
“I usually don’t wait for something to happen,” Antelman says of his songwriting process. “I think day-to-day life inspires me, but I’ve been trying to dissect why I write songs for years now. It’s kind of a selfish thing, I guess. I don’t know how else to spend my time during the day. I’ll sit down and noodle on a few ideas.”
Lydia’s frontman and songwriter, Antelman noticed the circumstances of his life and the world around him took him further inside himself for the band’s new album, “I Was Someone Else,” which came out November 20.
Intermittently written and recorded over the course of the past two years by Antelman solely, the record comes after his year-and-a-half break and his six-month tour hiatus before the pandemic hit. The album was produced by fellow Lydia musician Matt Keller.
“It had its pros and cons,” Antelman says of the loose recording time frame. “When I write songs, I feel like they’re never really finished, (but) if you can make enough bad songs you can make a few good ones.”
With this excess time, Antelman lived in Portland, Oregon, for six months before returning to Phoenix. In both places, he found himself in friends’ and bandmates’ backyards, notably fellow Lydia members Keller and Justin Camacho. Every day, especially during the throes of lockdown, Antelman and his recording partners would get together to work on a few ideas.
“I was just kind of tinkering and noodling on songs before the pandemic hit. We hadn’t really had a plan to get back together and write a record,” Antelman says. “It kind of organically happened.”
This intimate, almost neighborhood situation gave the album what Antelman described as a “unique but minimalist” focus. The stripped-back style can be heard in the album’s lead single, “Heavy,” a pop-leaning track built primarily around a piano sample the band found on the internet audio-sharing platform Splice.
“Me and Matt were kind of messing around with piano samples. If the part didn’t need to be there, we took it out, and the piano stood on its own,” Antelman said on making “Heavy.” “Usually with the past records, there have been a lot more cooks in the kitchen.”
With that sample, Antelman also stressed the value of the internet for bands like his. It gives “freedom and power to independent artists” that don’t neatly fall into any kind of genre boundary or traditional narrative. And no wonder; Gilbert-based Lydia’s unique music and arc fits perfectly into the diversity of expression that defines music’s internet age. Despite its general association with Warped Tour-era punk acts, the band’s distinct blend of pop, ballads and candidness never quite lined up with what the dominant “culture” might have pushed them toward.”
“The problem: No one ever knew where to put us on tour,” Antelman says of Lydia’s place in the Valley music scene.
Now, years after starting Lydia, Antelman still sees his early influences from that associated scene and the music of his youth on this record, especially in the emotional work of bands like Bright Eyes. That era of often sad, inward-looking music fostered his particular style of songwriting.
“I think that’s probably what I was listening to. Everybody has their angsty teenage years,” Antelman says of the lasting impact of that influence on his current style.
But more than anything, this record comes from a place of personal reflection. Antelman finds his inward songwriting’s greatest strength is how it flows directly from him, an authentic expression of his emotions only influenced by the things important to him. Though absolutely not critical of artists more reliant on prevailing trends or cultural clout, Antelman expressed the genuine value he placed on simply being able to share his feelings through music that sounds definitively his own.
“I hope to make songs to make you feel something. To bring some kind of emotion or make you think differently—just to bring individual people joy or peace,” Antelman says.