Lead singer and guitarist Steve Leaf says he wrote most of the album while living in Australia with his girlfriend. He moved there after quitting his job teaching English as a second language to Korean students abroad to pursue music full time.
Leaf says the title Three Circles & A Speaker actually comes from a saying during the Chinese revolution.
The “three circles” are a bicycle, a sewing machine, and a wristwatch. The “speaker” is a radio.
“And the saying kind of goes that if you have those four things then you’re doing pretty good in life. You don’t need much more,” says Leaf. “So it’s kind of a call for simplicity and to be happy with what you have.”
So what does that have to do with the album you ask? Leaf says while writing the songs in Australia, he basically only had an acoustic guitar and his own voice. Leaf says the saying just resonated with him.
“I like to think of myself as a kind of simply guy,” he says.
Each song in Three Circles & A Speaker is meant to tell a story, whether it’s from Leaf’s personal experiences or a story he’s made up or retold. Some of those stories are pretty fantastical. Leaf says he has quite a few short stories he’s always trying to finish up on his laptop.
One example of these ballads is the song “Cosmonaut, a Criminal,” in which Leaf embellished a Twilight Zone episode about a man who is sent to a different planet to serve his prison sentence.
Leaf’s vocals are varied. Sometimes soft and almost sultry, other times loud and soulful. Leaf says he developed his voice while collaborating with Michigan musician Chris Dorman. He says since it was just the two of them, he had to use harmonies and other methods to fill in spaces in the music. Leaf says, after that, he wanted to use his voice as more of an instrument.
Steve Leaf & The Ex Pats often play shows in Michigan. Leaf says he’s thinking of heading back to the state, but nothing is set in stone yet. Leaf says the Chicago music scene is vibrant, but the network of musicians in Michigan is supportive if you want to make music for a living.
“It’s a perfect storm for…if you want to be a creative person, you can do it,” says Leaf.