DFW Music News

Is Ted Leo's Career on the Rise Again?

Ted Leo in 2008, during what he believed was the peak of his career.
Ted Leo in 2008, during what he believed was the peak of his career. Ted Leo Facebook
During the early years, it seemed that rock band Ted Leo and the Pharmacists were on a rising trajectory. Their first tours stopped at Rubber Gloves in Denton. Later, they played Dallas establishments, like the Gypsy Tea Room and the House of Blues. But DFW hasn't seen much of Ted Leo in recent years, except for a 2014 performance at the Kessler with Aimee Mann, with whom Leo did a short tour as The Both.

Now that he's coming back, with an impending show at Club Dada on Oct. 27, it seems he's been watching the city's development just as we've been watching his.

“It’s been interesting to see Dallas change over the years from way back in the Deep Ellum days,” Leo says. “The last time I was through with The Both, I remember finding places to eat and places to stay that were in parts of town that I never even knew about before. It’s like you keep traveling, you keep finding new stuff.”

Leo and his band built a fan base from 2002 to 2007, during which time they released a trio of stellar albums: Hearts of Oak, Shake the Sheets and Living With the Living. Fans were particularly attracted to Leo's lyrics, which were political without naming names.

“Life gets tiring, but I’m glad I have the ability to talk about it," Leo says. “It’s about caring for the people who are affected by the politics."

But after Living With the Living, his career began to cool off.

“I think Living With the Living was like peaking for us,” Leo says. “Like, Coachella, Lollapalooza festivals and whatnot. It was more around the next record [The Brutalist Bricks] that things started to drop off a little. There was no real conscious decision to slow down. It sort of happened naturally.”

Leo began seeing fewer people at his shows. Record sales slowed.

“It’s the way it goes,” he says. “I’ll check out on an artist for a while and then check back in and realize if I’m missing something or maybe not.”

But when Leo announced in 2016 that he was launching a Kickstarter for a new album called The Hanged Man, the response was swift and positive, generating more than $165,000. The album came out in September to positive reviews.

“I’m not lying when I say I was blown away by the level of support,” he says. “I didn’t know I was going to make my funding goal at all, let alone that I was going to make it in the first day. That was huge. It really turned my life around, literally. Both financially and in other ways.”

The current Pharmacists lineup is a six-piece. Longtime drummer Chris Wilson is on board, along with James Canty on guitar and keyboards, Marty Key on bass, Ralph Darden on guitar, and Adrienne Berry on saxophone and keyboards. This gives Leo a chance to focus more on singing.

“We’ve been a five-piece in the past, but this is the biggest,” Leo says. “It’s awesome. The energy of the two new people is like a new, fun injection.”

Leo says he's already exhausted one week into his tour.

“We have stuff booked through the middle of December, and I just have to see what comes after that as we go along.”

Ted Leo and the Pharmacists, 8 p.m. Friday, Oct. 27, Club Dada, 2720 Elm St., $18-$20, ticketfly.com.

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Eric Grubbs is a Dallas-based writer who has published two books, Post: A Look at the Influence of Post-Hardcore 1985-2007 and When We Were the Kids. His writing has been featured in Punk Planet, Popdose, Fort Worth Weekly, The Dentonite and LA Weekly. He supports Manchester City and will never root for Manchester United.
Contact: Eric Grubbs

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