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Interview: Chris Leone

maxwell barna interviews Chris Leone, lead singer of The Youth Ahead, Rumor Has It and Wicker Hollow …

For more than 10 years, The Youth Ahead was one of New Jersey’s premier pop-punk bands. They shared the stage with national acts like Mest, Good Charlotte, Relient K, Yellow Card, Less Than Jake, Lit, Jimmie’s Chicken Shack, Fenix TX … and the list goes on. They toured extensively, released five albums, and skirted on the edge of major-label stardom for years. But suddenly and with little warning to their fans, the band split in 2005.

Yet on April 30, they will be playing the main stage at the Bamboozle Festival at New Meadowlands Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. The Youth Ahead frontman Chris Leone sat down with Pop-Break’s Maxwell Barna to discuss how the reunion came about, what fans should expect, and what he’s been up to since the band’s unexpected 2005 breakup.

Pop-Break: Big news came out this year about TYA reuniting for Bamboozle. Is there any reason for the reunion?

Chris Leone: Well, we’ve been talking about doing a reunion for a while. At the Bamboozle two years ago I was playing with Wicker Hollow, and I saw Jay [Monchik] there. We got to talking, and a couple different club owners and promoters were asking us if we were looking to do anything any time soon. Then we all got back in touch, hung out a couple times and regrouped.

Youth Gone Wild: Chris Leone (far left) and the Youth Ahead will be reuniting at The Bamboozle Fest

The first plan we came up with was that we’d do some kind of reunion headlining show either at Starland Ballroom [in Sayreville, N.J.] or The Stone Pony [in Asbury Park, N.J.]. But out of the blue, Joe Sernio contacted me and we started working on an agreement with the Bamboozle. We came upon an agreement, they offered us the main stage, and that’s going to be our breakout as a, ‘Hey! We’re back!’ reunion. They came to us and offered us a great opportunity, so we figured why not?

PB: What sucked you guys back in?

CL: You know what it was? We were a very fortunate band. We never got massive or got to the level we dreamed of getting to, but we got to do some pretty amazing things. We could headline the biggest clubs in the area — and fill them. We broke up and never did a last show — we never gave our fans what they deserved.

It’s really something that we felt we needed to do. We never expected to be put on the main stage of the Bamboozle, but it happened and we’re really super excited for it. We’ll see what it brings and we’ll see what happens afterward. But it really feels like it’s something we owed everyone.

I guess the best way to put it is that it’s just something we felt we needed to do for everybody and ourselves. It’s exciting because even though the songs are so old now, it’s almost like they’re brand new to us now because we’re getting back into playing them after not playing them in years.

PB: Why did The Youth Ahead go on hiatus to begin with?

CL: Basically, we were, I guess, just emotionally and physically drained because we just kept climbing and climbing and there was only one thing left to happen — reach major-label status. We kept playing showcases. All these promises were being made. It was always like do or die for us, and we loved it, but it just got to the point where all these promises were being made, all these things were happening, but the one thing that needed to happen just wasn’t.

It’s almost a mystery to us. I guess we just felt like it was time to move on and try different things. We sucked Youth Ahead dry of everything it had, and it was just time to move on. There was no more money to keep touring and putting out records ourselves. We needed that backbone and that help. We just tired ourselves out.

PB: But you guys had help, right? Weren’t you on GIG Records for a while?

CL: We definitely had people helping us and doing all they could, but we were at the point where we needed that major record. We needed to be put in a studio with a major producer and take these songs that we worked so hard on and learn how to manipulate them and turn them into radio hits — you can’t do that on your own.

So many people say it’s cool to be in a band, it’s so fun and it’s great. But it’s a ridiculous amount of work and sacrifice if you’re going to do it for real.

Leone (center) and Rumor Has It, one of the top cover bands in the state of New Jersey

PB: What should we expect from the Youth Ahead at Bamboozle?

CL: We’re practicing every week as much as we can. The songs are sounding great — it didn’t take us long to get back into the swing of things. We want all the fans coming to see us and we know what you guys want to hear, but we’re only getting a 30-minute set. We’re basically going to do kind of like a “greatest hits” set. All the songs we’re going to play, everyone’s going to know. We’re going to do all the ones that got the greatest reactions from the fans and the ones we made videos for. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out how these festivals work. It’s kind of like a tease. The band comes out, and before you know it, they’re off.

We’re going to follow it up with a headlining show, we don’t know where, we don’t know when, but it’ll probably be early summer. For the real die-hard fans, I think they’re going to lose it when we play a headline show — we can play as long as we want and cover everything.

PB: In December on you’re The Youth Ahead’s MySpace, a post was made saying, “WE’RE BAAAAAACCCCCKKKKKKKKK!” Should we keep our fingers crossed, or is this just a one-and-done-type thing?

CL: We haven’t really talked about the longevity of it. We’re just excited to have this opportunity and we’re definitely going to, without a doubt, have a headlining show and play all night. We’re basically going to take it day by day, and see what kind of reaction we get. It’s kind of hard to answer that question because we haven’t really discussed what’s going to be the final outcome of what we’re trying to do here.


PB: Okay, now what was next? Wicker Hollow?

CL: Right after The Youth Ahead, me, Jay and Chris [Sparta] started a band immediately called MatchMaker. We had a really good run and picked up where The Youth Ahead left off. We toured, played the Bamboozle that year, but that was short-lived, mainly because of me. I needed to take a nice long break for myself. MatchMaker ended quickly, and the whole summer went by and I didn’t do anything musically. Then I started writing stuff, and while that was going on, I started getting into the cover scene. A friend of mine came to me and said he was starting a cover band called Stuck In A Decade, and I started playing with them. It just kept snowballing and snowballing, and after the course of the last four years, it just kind of became a job. We changed the name to Rumor Has It, and that’s when things really started taking off. We’re in every big bar playing the biggest nights, and it’s a ton of fun.

Leone, with Wicker Hollow, at The Bamboozle in 2009

PB: How many releases does Wicker Hollow have out? What is going on with this?

CL: That’s another thing that came out of the blue. Basically, Wicker Hollow was always kind of my thing, and then the guys came in and we recorded two albums (Live Like You Know What You’re Leaving and Wake Up Call). For the last two years, I’ve just been writing a ton of songs. The guys in Wicker Hollow had a lot of things going on, and I had no problem with that, but I wasn’t done putting out records and trying to make something of it. I just wanted to continue with it. So rather than burden anyone else, I put the project on by myself. I kept recording and saving money, and then on Jan. 3, with the same producer since The Youth Ahead, I went into the studio and recorded an album. I recorded the drums, bass, guitars and vocals myself, and it’s finally done.

PB: So what are the plans for that?

Album cover for Leone's album, Where The Pieces Lie

CL: I’m just going by my last name, Leone. The record’s called Where The Pieces Lie, and it’s coming out April 28. It’s going to be everywhere — iTunes, CD Baby, Rhapsody, Verizon V-cast, Amazon and pretty much any online store. It’ll be in select stores around here, as well as every show I play. And it will be at the Bamboozle.

You can go listen online right now at reverbnation.com/chrisleone. Four brand new songs are up, it’s been getting great reviews, and everyone’s already talking about it.

I’m just very excited for the Bamboozle, and I hope everybody’s going to make it out. Between the Youth Ahead reunion, Rumor Has It’s schedule, and the new record coming out, it’s looking like it’s going to be a great year. I owe it to my family friends and fans because I wouldn’t do this without them.

PB: Final question. This is something I ask every single person I interview, and you absolutely have to answer: What’s your favorite beer?

CL: I’m going to go with Tommyknocker Maple Nut Brown Ale. [laughs] That might not be its exact name, but whatever the one with maple in it is, that’s my favorite.



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