Pays Off for
Story: Jennifer Rolf
Photo: Cory Weaver
For Andy Stepanian (vocals, guitar, songwriter) and Mason Brent (guitar, bass, banjo), better known as Leon III (pronounced “Leon the Third”), the road to Austin City Limits Music Festival has been one of anticipation, dedication and perseverance. Known for their unique blend of rock, country and psychedelic influences, the duo has worked diligently over the years to gain the recognition they deserve for their soulful and atmospheric sound, with lyrics that often explore introspective and existential themes. We caught up with them quickly before their first-ever appearance at ACL and then had the opportunity to watch them live, a performance that lit up Zilker Park on the final day of the festival.
BTT: Where are you from and where are you based?
Andy: I live in Houston, and Mason lives in Richmond, Virginia. We’re kind of divided a little bit. I grew up in Virginia too. So, we’re like Virginians, but we live all over now. And we’re really connected to Austin, so we’re here a good amount.
BTT: Is this going to be your first ACL?
Andy: Yes. I’ve been here as a spectator. But this is the first time we’ve ever played.
BTT: How do you think this will compare to other performances you’ve done in other places?
Mason: Probably a lot bigger than anything that we’ve done before in this band.
BTT: How did you guys meet and start performing together?
Mason: We met back in the grade school days, I was barely a teenager, maybe; maybe not a teenager. We were in the same school. I have an older sister that he knew already. And then he started watching my band at the time play some music. And I was sort of the root of this all the way back then.
Andy: We were in a different band together for 20 years and then formed this thing trying to make different music.
BTT: Where does the name come from?
Andy: It’s really part of my family—my grandfather and my father are both named Leon. There’s no Leon the Third.
BTT: What are some of your musical inspirations?
Andy: It’s really all over the map. Mason and I are both really into reggae, but we’re not a reggae band at all. But there’s occasional moments that are influenced by that.
We also kind of grew up listening to British rock demigods, like Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and we both like the Grateful Dead a lot. We also like jazz and country and all kinds of stuff that comes from all over. But this band is frequently compared to some British rock royalty.
BTT: [To Mason]: Would you agree?
Mason: I grew up on classic rock overall, more than anything, and it basically continues right on through this very day. And the band has a lot of that.
BTT: You get tagged with the “psychedelic” term a lot.
Andy: It’s very song-based what we do. I’m trying to write good songs—it’s not just about making noise or being psychedelic. It’s really song-driven.
BTT: How do you accomplish what you want to do with your band when faced with challenges?
Mason: One foot in front of the other. Stick at it. Keep after it.
Andy: If you’ve been doing this for any amount of time, you’ve gotten your ass kicked a lot. That’s just part of it. And honestly, I think at this stage we’re in—in our lives and musical lives too—we’re just happy to be doing it and making music and being able to play at something like [ACL], and if you just take it in and just enjoy that, the rest will come to you, I think. Seems like it anyway.
BTT: I’m excited for you guys. I know you just dropped some new music, like right now, right?
Both: Yesterday! (Something is Trying to Change My Mind, MonoSonic Records/Soundly.)
BTT: We’re looking forward to seeing you live. Thanks for your time.