Published Sep 07, 2017The past seven years haven't been easy for Ted Leo. After releasing The Brutalist Bricks in 2010 with his band the Pharmacists, the singer and guitarist suffered a series of staggering personal, professional and financial hardships. "There's been a lot of tragedy in my life," Leo tells Exclaim! "But there's also been a lot of amazing stuff."
In 2011, his wife was forced to go into premature labour, which his daughter did not survive. He also started to come to terms with the sexual abuse he suffered as a child. On the business side, Leo fell into debt after a financially disastrous European tour and then found himself in contract limbo with his record label, Matador Records, after a turf war over who would release Leo's record with Aimee Mann as The Both. (Mann eventually put it out on her own label, SuperEgo.)
Leo and Matador parted ways and by all accounts it was amicable. But the process took its toll. "I felt very stymied and in suspension," he says. Once a prolific road warrior, his record with Mann was the only new music Leo released during this period.
"It was depressing until I started to see it as fertile, incubating time," he says. Deadlines were set and missed over and over again to the point where "it stopped mattering. Once I started making that shift," to where timelines were no longer a concern, "I was able to tap into a deeper vein of creativity." The break also allowed him to process the personal turbulence he had experienced. "I had a lot of grieving to do around a number of things and a lot of growing to do around a number of things. But I can look back now and feel glad that I was forced into a fallow period."
This tumult eventually became The Hanged Man, Leo's most personal and sonically diverse record to date. Always a model of DIY ethos, Leo recorded the album in a newly assembled home studio in Rhode Island and is releasing the album himself thanks to a successful Kickstarter campaign. Although the long gap between albums allowed for a lot of personal growth, as he tinkered away, learning to engineer and mix himself in the process, Leo began to fret that he'd never be able to let go of the record. He amassed more than 30 songs, and added another three just as the final record was being sent off to be mastered. "Luckily I achieved what I wanted to achieve, right when I needed to achieve it," he says.
Credited as a solo album, a number of different musicians did make contributions including Mann and Pharmacists drummer Chris Wilson. Leo plans to tour with Wilson and his old Pharmacist bandmates James Canty and Marty Key as well. If everything goes according to plan, he figures he might just be able to crawl out of debt. "I think I managed to walk the tightrope and stick the landing."