Nashville-based alternative duo Leagues is a heady blend of uplifting pop and heavyweight electronic gravitas. Comprised of lead vocalist and songwriter Thad Cockrell and producer/programmer/drummer Jeremy Lutito, Leagues first turned heads with their 2013 breakout debut album, You Belong Here, but it was hardly either’s debut on the music scene.
Cockrell, a preacher’s son who grew up largely in Tampa, began his career as a songwriter and alt-country performer in 2001 while living in Raleigh, NC. After a debut EP earned him a multi-record deal with Yep Roc Records, he set the course for decade’s long journey that would later lead opportunities to write and play with Tift Merritt, Donovan Frankenreiter, Jars of Clay & Caitlin Cary (of Whiskeytown).
Meanwhile Lutitio, who grew up in Denver the youngest of 5 children, spent his post-college days honing his chops in Music City as a drummer, producer & engineer. In 2005, he was given an opportunity to tour with Jars of Clay, and wound up staying on the road with them for five years. Along the way, scoring opportunities to write & record for an array of projects, notably Jars of Clay, Ingrid Michaelson, Mat Kearney, Ben Rector & Marc Broussard.
Prior to the advent of Leagues, both seemed set for stable careers many steps removed from the path that would lead to the band’s inception.
“Starting Leagues actually seemed pretty delusional at the time,” says Lutito, “and many times since I might add. To start a band when you’re 34, 35 is pretty damn ambitious. When you’re a 22-year-old starting a band, you’ve got nothing to lose.”
Widely hailed as an indie standout in 2013, Leagues’ debut You Belong Here garnered a rabid fan base behind the breakout alternative and AAA singles “Spotlight” and “Walking Backwards.” The latter appeared during a pivotal scene on the first season of blockbuster Netflix original, Orange is the New Black. In total, they were given a number of high-profile uses in film, television and advertising campaigns.
Following that success, the band set about making their follow-up album, which they completed in late 2014 but with a sinking feeling that it wasn’t the right one.
“It’s hard to see when you’re in the middle of that process,” says Cockrell, “but I think we both had this growing feeling that we weren’t saying everything we wanted to say and weren’t pushing each musically to do all we could do. So we had to wipe the slate clean and start over.”
“That was so, so hard,” admits Lutito. “We’d put so much time and all of our resources in to that process only to realize that it wasn’t right. The one good thing, though, was that from that point on neither of us pulled a single punch – the stakes were too high to give anything less then our absolute best.”
The resulting 11-track album proves the band’s instincts sound. Produced entirely by Lutito, and comprised both of reworked songs from the first pass as well as wholly new ones, Alone Together captures a creative duo egging each other on the ever-greater heights. The songs themselves are among Cockrell’s best. Made all the more dynamic by Lutito’s ability to continue pushing the programming envelope.
“I always want to learn something new, to try something I’ve never tried before,” Cockrell explains. “I believe in songs; truly, I love songs. The goal with Leagues has always been to make songs that go places I’ve never gone before.”
The simultaneous weight and lift of the songs is well exemplified by the title track. “Alone Together” is about the unavoidable loneliness in each of us,” notes Cockrell. “No matter how well you know someone, your best friend, your lover, whoever; at the end of the day deep down inside you’re still alone. To me, the beautiful mystery is that a song can reach that place. Whether listening alone or even better at a show, a song can connect us in that deeply individual place.”
Jeremy rounds out Thad’s thoughts. “Thad and I try to remove ourselves from thinking that our music’s all about us.”
“I want to create music that connects to people,” Thad continues, “and songs that not just connect to a crowd of people but connect us to the audience and the audience to us. In Leagues, we always say that the silent member, the third member of the band, is the audience and the pleasure of the crowd.”