The Leahy family goes where the music wants to go


Making music with the Leahys of Lakefield, Ontario has always been a family affair. They play together, sing together and teach together. They have also self-produced their recordings. That has changed with the record that will be released next September.

For a change, they had the help of a producer to put some dozen songs onto a CD. Not any producer mind.

They worked with David Bottrill, who has made his mark with Peter Gabriel, RUSH and the Smashing Pumpkins among many others in his Grammy winning career. The Leahys will be performing at the NAC on Saturday and playing some of the songs on the new record in a sneak preview in the Babs Asper Theatre. The first single to be released on the new disc called Good Water won’t be out until later this spring, said Maria Leahy in an interview with ARTSFILE.

For the Leahys, it was a solid learning experience working with Bottrill, Maria said.

“We were really lucky. David had been in England for about 20 years and had just moved back to Toronto.”

They took a shot and reached out to Bottrill.

“We have actually never worked with a producer. We thought what are the chances and miraculously it worked out. It has been one of the best experiences of our lives. David couldn’t have been more perfect creatively, personally, technically, musically, we just can’t say enough about him.”

The Leahys are huge Peter Gabriel fans and his interest in world music forms part of Bottrill’s resume.

All of that helped with the connection, Maria said.

“When we were working with David, he brought all his creative ideas and musical influences to the table. He has worked with so many people. I still  can’t believe it worked out for us.”

When the Leahys get ready to record there is a lot of planning.

They have side projects and the family also runs a music centre which takes a lot of their attention. Still they do get it done. It helps that “we all have our own home recording studios. There is always recording and writing going on.”

Six members of the family are on the new record. .

“This record is unique because we are recording more vocals,” Maria said. “In the past we have focused primarily on instrumentals, but we have always had couple of vocals in there.”

They had talked about a record with more vocals on it, she said. “We finally decided to do it.”

They sifted through tons of material and came up with 15 songs. In the end, a dozen original tunes made it on the disc including some instrumentals.

“It is who we are,” Maria said. “It’s in our blood and bones and it wouldn’t feel right if we didn’t include them.

“We tend to have the same instincts about certain things, not everything, but we have a pretty good feeling about the material we are working on. Everyone generally likes or dislikes the same things.

“We have learned over the years how important it is to communicate. We have learned how important it is to have order.” So everyone had their tasks to perform so there was always someone available to take care of the details of the recording process.

“On this album we play piano, fiddle, acoustic guitar, mandolin singing drums and bass. The members of the family on this record are Julie, Denise, Siobheann, Maria, Frank and Erin.” Over the years, the membership of Leahy has changed “basically because of life,” Maria said.

“People have come and gone depending on whether they were having children or were on different projects.”

In the family theirs is a close connection and deep understanding.

“It is something I have come to understand more clearly as time has gone on.

“We have spent some much time with each other in a work environment, in a creative environment and in a family environment. We know each other in ways we ourselves may not fully grasp.”

They have been playing together since they were children. Their parents were very musical and there was always music being played in the house. That has just continued, Maria said.

“It’s normal for us.”

With 11 children, the family dinner table was lively, she said.

“We love to discuss and talk. There was always a very dynamic conversation from music to sports.”

Maria said the Leahys have a strong affinity for the music of the Ottawa Valley. The family members have been coming to fiddle competitions and other events since they could pick up a bow.

“We grew up going to fiddle and step-dancing contests in the Valley.” The siblings made many friends who remain close to this day.

These are the kinds of contacts that have influenced the musical evolution of Leahy.

“We have never, throughout our musical careers, set out to sound one way or another. Literally we have just played because we have an idea or we are inspired or we are responding to something we have heard.

“One of us will play something and another will respond, and the response can be more interesting than what was originally played.”

“We have to serve the music as opposed to trying to control it. We have always tried to find what feels most natural. We want to go where the music wants to go.”

Where: Babs Asper Theatre, NAC
When: March 9 at 7:30 p.m.
Tickets and information:

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Peter Robb began his connection with the arts community in Ottawa in the mid-1980s when he was the administrator and public relations director of the Great Canadian Theatre Company. After a long career in journalism with the Ottawa Citizen where he served in a number of different posts he returned to the arts when he became the Citizen's arts editor.