An Interview with Up-And-Coming New York-Based Singer-Songwriter CHRIS LEAMY About His Breakout Single and His Social Movement #heplaysforme!!
Posted On 07 Apr 2017
Inspired by a panhandler on the subway in 2015, the Chicago native started a social movement called #heplaysforme. Since then, nearly once a week, he plays guitar and sings in NYC’s Union Square on behalf of the homeless.
Using music to raise funds and awareness for those in need, Leamy has raised nearly $20k in spare change and donations to homeless shelters in the NY area.
Chris Leamy’s music is recommended to the fans of X Ambassadors, Jon Bellion and Imagine Dragons.
He has been featured in People Magazine, Chicago Tribune, CNN, Inside Edition, Page Six, UPWorthy, NowThis, Today Show, Huffington Post, MAXIM and The New York Times.
Follow Chris Here:
Learn more about Chris Leamy in the following All Access interview:
Thanks for your time! What are some words you would use to describe 2016 for you and your music? What were some of the highlights? What are you most excited about for 2017?
2016 was a year of trying new things. I put out an EP earlier this year that incorporated a lot of samples and electronic elements. Previously, the majority of songs I had written were constructed on a guitar with more of a blues/rock production in mind. I really wanted to go outside that comfort zone, and look at songwriting from a different place. I think it is crucial as an artist to continue to experiment and push yourself, both in process and perspective. I learned so much co-writing with the guys in BRAVES (Thorald & Isaac Koren, and Johnny What) and I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity to do so.
The thing I am most proud of last year is the growth of #heplaysforme. Several large media outlets picked up the story and focused on some of these incredible people who happen to be living on the street. I know the internet can be a very nasty place, but I was blown away by the outpouring of love and support for these people. Not only did people donate thousands of dollars to the NYC homeless cause, they also offered clothes, food, and even a place to stay. I was also stunned at seeing how small acts of kindness really can change another person’s life. Some of these homeless people were so inspired by the encouragement they received via my social media, they were able to completely turn their lives around and get off the street. People are capable of amazing things when they feel supported.
I am very pleased with this new batch of tunes coming out in 2017. I made large strides both as a songwriter and learned so much as a human being. I have worked hard to make sure it is reflected in the new work.
Growing up, did you always want to be a musician? Can you recall your earliest musical memory? Could you see yourself doing anything else today?
Music has always been a huge part of my life and a great stress relief for me. Did I think I would ever get to do it at a professional level? No! I grew up playing music with my best friends in a garage. As young kids, we formed a cover band called “Prom Band.” The dream gig as we saw it was to be so amazing that we are asked to play The High School Prom. We thought the name would be our calling card. As we got older, we morphed into a loud bar band and played clubs throughout Chicago. There was no deeper agenda than to push ourselves to get better as a group and also as performers. I don’t know if I have a first musical memory, but I look back with at the hours we spent hanging in the basement, practicing and goofing off with each other as some of my greatest memories growing up. Several of us moved away, and we all took different career paths, but music was and always will be a huge part of our friendship.
Let’s talk about your #heplaysforme social movement that you are doing in NYC’s Union Square. Where did the idea for it all come from? What has the reaction been like for you? How long have you been doing it?
It started last year. I was coming home on the subway late one night carrying my guitar and a homeless woman holding a cup said, “This would be much easier if I had one of those,” and pointed to the case. She said that people who play instruments often get more charity than those who do not. That conversation sparked the idea. That weekend, I went and played with several homeless people just to see if this would work. We always made a few dollars minimum, some went better than others. The best moments were by far were in the stories that these individuals told me. It is amazing what people will tell a complete stranger. I was also surprised at how much it impacted my life. I remember one older man I played with asked how my day was going, we had been sitting together for a few minutes so I felt pretty comfortable and said something like, “Tough day at work, and then I got in an argument over the phone with my sister.” And he replied to me, “Oh but you have a job? Man that is AWESOME! And about your sister, I haven’t talked to mine in years; I don’t even have a phone or number to call.” It really taught me a lot about perspective. That was over 2 years ago, and I’ve been doing #heplaysforme ever since.
What has it been like using your music to raise all that money for the homeless shelters in the NY area? Did you ever think that you would be doing something like this one day? Have you ever thought about inviting other up-and-coming NYC singer-songwriters to join you?
The thing that bothers most of the people I sit with on the street is loneliness. Most of these people feel completely invisible and forgotten. Given that millions of people walk around NYC each day, I was surprised by that. With permission, I started sharing on Instagram (Leamy_alone) some of words of wisdom that people on the street have shared with me. The goal being to humanize the homeless population. I never ever thought it would lead to these fundraising opportunities and media coverage. I am so incredibly grateful for the people that donated and supported the cause, as well as the homeless individuals who have been willing to spend time with me. I am in awe of all of it.
Yes! The more the merrier! I have done sessions on the street with other artist friends, as well as people passing by who decide to pull their instruments out and jam! By no means is this something that I own. Anyone with an instrument and /or a voice can get involved. Saying hello often means a world to these people, and that takes no musical talent at all.
What was the inspiration for your current single, “American Man”? When do you hope to release a full-length album of new songs?
When we wrote that song, I was juggling working in Corporate America and also diving further into my music career/ #heplaysforme. The drastic differences of wearing a suit to work every day and then playing with homeless people on the weekends made me look around and say “what am I doing with my life? “American Man” was me working through those sentiments.
Who are some of your favorite musicians? What musicians would you love to work with in the future?
Anyone on KIDinaKORNER. The X Ambassadors and Imagine Dragons are so good at weaving hip hop, electronic, and rock elements. Jon Bellion as well, I really like what he has been doing lately. I would love to work with Alex Da Kid in the future; I love just about every record he touches.
At the end of the day, what do you hope is the message of your music? What do you hope people take away from your songs?
My goal with both the records I write and #heplaysforme is impact. I hope that people can listen to the music I work on and say “I believe him.” Authenticity is the most important quality in an artist, regardless of the field. My life has been transformed by music. I hope people can hear that.
Thank you again for the opportunity!