Renaissance Ramblin’ Man: An Interview with Musician and HMNS Employee Chuck Leah

October 15, 2019
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Chuck Leah in Death By Natural Causes

Spooky season is upon us and in celebration of all things creepy and terrifying, the Houston Museum of Natural Science is hosting a film screening of the 1922 cult classic Nosferatu. Long before vampires sparkled in the daytime, Count Orlek’s shadow was haunting audiences’ dreams. To make this experience even more special, our very own Chuck Leah, musician and HMNS employee, has written an original score for the film. I pulled him away from manning the exhibits to ask a few questions.

How did you get into music?

I started playing music when I was very young. I was 3 or 4 years old. I recorded for the first time when I was about 10. I just made music and records and toured, that’s all I’ve ever done my whole life.

You started music so young. Was there musical influence in your family?

Not really. My dad played a little bit of guitar for fun. Never had any professional musicians around. The first time I picked up an instrument it felt like I kind of already knew what I was doing. I don’t know how to explain that. I never had lessons. I studied bass, which is one of my main instruments, years and years after I first learned how to play. So I do have some formal education, but most of it came from playing with people that were better than me.

How did you get involved with the museum?

I stopped touring about 2 years ago and I moved here to Houston and I always loved the museum. And I thought well I love dinosaurs and was coming quite a bit and saw they were hiring.

Why work here at HMNS?

This is a really great environment. We’ve got a lot of creative people. A lot of highly intelligent people. I love coming here.

Can we look forward to a paleontology infused album?

I’m always thinking of stuff. A paleo album would be some classic rock, right? That could be an idea!

Has your traveling while on tour influenced your music?

It does. Yeah, quite a bit. Constant roaming, just always roaming. I am from Texas, but I left when I was really young. I went to Nashville, I went to LA. I spent time in Italy. Went to Puerto Rico.

Who are your musical influences?

Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen. Tom Petty. The Band was my favorite band. Still is my favorite band. This guitar was made for me by a fella named Luke Peterson several years ago and it’s named after a Band song, “Ophelia.” I have so many guitars, but this is one I pick up the most.

Does the Nosferatu project tie into your style of music in any way?

I’m kind of attracted to really old music, you know, 1920s Depression Blues, Country music of that time. Nosferatu is more classical. This is not only my first large classical work, but also my first full soundtrack, too.

What was the production process like?

It was something on the bucket list that I always wanted to do. And it was very difficult to do by myself. Normally, when I make records I have somebody with me at the recording console and sometimes I’ll have a co-producer with me and they can reassure me. There’s more than one person there. This is all by myself. It was very difficult to do in that short of a time, since June. That’s like 90 minutes worth of music. My last album, I think was around 34 minutes. That’s a full album.

Now that you’ve completed the project, will this alter your recording process?

That is a great question. I’m sure that it will have some influence on it. On my last album, the band was never in the same room. I took each person and got exactly what I needed and built it like a cake with different layers.

Do you prefer high-end recording or something more low-key?

My last album was not recorded in a basement or anything. It was done in a very nice studio with some very high-end equipment with some musicians that are the best of the best. I like it very low-key for writing. I do all the writing by myself. When I bring [my team] in they’re magical. They get me.

What motivates and inspires you to write?

It’s life. It’s circumstances. I try and write real songs. I don’t write pretty songs. I feel that if you want a pretty song there’s plenty of pretty people out there to get pretty songs from if that’s what you want to listen to. I try and be as authentic as I can and write from experience.

What are you working on for the near future?

I sit in with different people sometimes. Right now, I’m pretty busy on top of the score. I’m producing two other records for two other people. I’m doing the new Traveling Ground record and the new Charlie Darmer record. That’s kind of where my heart is. They’re giving me some amazing music to work with so I’m grateful and fortunate.

Nosferatu will be shown with a live score performed by Chuck Lee on Friday, October 18 and Thursday, October 31. Purchase your tickets now! Look for new music Spring 2020.

Authored By Jilliane Johnson

Jilliane began her HMNS career in Visitor Services, greeting and assisting guests on a daily. Now as a full-time member of Marketing, Jilliane educates visitors and viewers of the various stories and storytellers within the walls. When Jilliane isn't writing, you can find her gaming, spending time with friends and family or watching trashy TV dating shows.

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