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Monday, August 1, 2016

After Overcoming a Brain Tumor, Andrew Leahey Returns to St. Louis with a New Outlook on Music

Posted By on Mon, Aug 1, 2016 at 6:29 AM

click to enlarge PHOTO BY ALYSSE GAFKJEN
  • Photo by Alysse Gafkjen
It was the mid-summer of 2013, and Andrew Leahey was on the cusp of his big break. His band, Andrew Leahey & the Homestead, had been around for a handful of years and was showing real potential to blow up in the rock & roll world. Leahey had just returned to Nashville for some much-deserved downtime with his wife. 

It was there, back at home after around 100 shows, where things began to go wrong. It started with a drop of hearing in his right ear, followed by trouble with balance. After a misdiagnosis of a viral infection, a boatload of steroids and a fateful nosedive in a Kroger parking lot, Leahey received disheartening news: He had a brain tumor on one of his hearing nerves.

The diagnosis was particularly ugly for Leahey, who has been influenced by music for his entire life.

“My family has cassette tapes from when I’m three years old, singing along to my mom playing the piano,” he says. “I couldn’t hold a conversation, but I could hold pitch and sing nursery rhymes for sure.” Surgery was his only option, but it carried the risk of losing his hearing and, consequently, his livelihood. The fact that Leahey never had any other goal in life made the potential for health complications all the more bleak.

Luckily for him, the surgery was a success. Although it took more than a year to fully recover, Leahey hit the road just two and a half short months after going under the knife.

“I didn’t want to give the impression that my career was over, so I went on tour for three weeks against the wishes of my doctors,” he says. “It was a good tour, but it left me in a ton of pain. I knew I had to go back to the drawing board and create my good luck in a different way.”

The new approach to music sparked the creation of Andrew Leahey & the Homestead’s most passionate album yet: Skyline in Central Time. Leahey came together with producer Ken Coomer to create this album, and the two shared much more in common with him than just love of the craft. Coomer was halfway through a recovery of his own when the two met; he'd suffered a heart attack onstage during a concert in Nashville. Together they created a powerful ode to looking back on life while constantly moving forward.

The album features four of Leahey’s previous songs that were re-mastered, as well as seven new ones, all written from his couch in the immediate wake of his operation. In fact, Skyline in Central Time was finished about a year and a half ago, but Leahey chose to hang back in order to perfect the release process.

“Given what I went through, I didn’t want to do what I had done in the past when it came to releasing albums,” he says. “I wanted to make sure I could do it right this time.”

Skyline in Central Time is a combination of past and present, mixing Leahey’s traditional feel-good, guitar-driven pieces with slower, emotional tunes that truly capture the essence his struggle. The album’s release is set for August 5, the same day that Andrew Leahey & the Homestead will open for Amanda Shires and Billy Joe Shaver at Off Broadway.

St. Louis isn’t just another city on Leahey’s tour schedule. It also happens to be the first place he performed after his tumor was removed. “We played on Cherokee Street, and everything about it was awesome,” Leahey says. “I remember a big bonfire in the back after the show that people were throwing chairs into. It was chaos, but a great way to get back into the swing of things.”

He anticipates the band’s return to St. Louis to be just as memorable as the first time they performed here. With his health, band and new album behind him, Leahey is moving forward with a new outlook on music and life in general.

“It’s been a good story because it has a happy ending,” he says. “Playing music now resonates with me much more than it used to. It’s a privilege, not a guarantee or a right. I don’t take that for granted anymore.”

Andrew Leahey & the 
Homestead will perform at Off Broadway on Friday, August 5 at 8 p.m. as part of Open Highway Music Festival.

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