Michelle Armstrong and Cristopher Leigh, together known as Armstrong Leigh, found each other at a Bruce Springsteen concert. The pair long traveled in the same music circles while pursuing independent ventures until one day, thanks to social media, they both found themselves in Los Angeles watching Bruce. From there the duo re-connected and soon after, started playing shows.
I spoke with Armstrong Leigh about the band’s development, their taste for fashion, and the intimacy they bring to their shows (see them open for Vance Joy at Stubb’s on Monday 4/27).
Sound Dessert: How did Armstrong Leigh form?
Michelle Armstrong: Cristopher started playing with me in L.A. We started songwriting together and just clicked. Our intention was to write music for other people, but then we hit it off. Through that process came “My Body” which we recorded in Austin with Frenchie Smith at The Bubble.
We’re planning to release a follow up single in June. We’re filming our first music video for “My Body” right now with dancer Mackenzie Taylor.
Cristopher Leigh: We’re filming at Arlyn Studios and our buddy Will Von Bolton out of Dallas is going to shoot it.
SD: What made you want to record in Austin versus Los Angeles?
Michelle: Both of us are so familiar with Austin and it’s such a welcoming music community, so it seemed more practical to begin our music foundation here.
Cristopher: We also started a residency called, “A Night With Armstrong Leigh,” where we’ve tried out new songs, new arrangements and we’ve invited all of our friends to come and create a listening room like The Bluebird in Nashville, or even like listening to Tom Waits’ Nighthawks at The Diner. That feel of a really intimate room where people can talk back and forth.
Michelle: That’s been a highlight for blasting off for 2015, and then the big exciting show is were opening for Vance Joy at Stubb’s.
SD: What have you learned through the whole process?
Michelle: When you’re starting out, it’s tough to have people tell you what they think you should be doing. Both of us have come out from our musical pasts with lots of people telling us who we are as artists and you start to trust yourself less: your impulses as an artist, what’s right for you, what you’re sound is, your direction, your look, what your songs sound like.
The more you do that the less fun it is and the less true it is. When I was young I was really direct and bold with my statement, somehow I fell away from that. Now I feel like I’m re-visiting trusting myself and what feels honest. It’s about being able to be brave and follow your vision and not care too much about how people are going to respond, and hope that they do.
SD: How does your style inspire and influence the band?
Cristopher: Michelle and I have a lot of the same wardrobe. We have nicknames for our shirts.
People’s first impression is always the visual. The right wardrobe helps with showmanship. In the 70’s there was a well defined line between bands and fans. Nobody dressed like Ziggy Stardust, that was him. Nowadays, I can stand to the guy next to me wearing a flannel shirt and he’ll be on stage next. We want something larger than life, that you can escape to in a show. That’s what I look for, and that’s what I expect, from bands.
Michelle: The music and our style has been developing over the past year; is it vintage? Is it current? Is it classy? Is it cool? Is it romantic? It’s a big canvas right now. There’s a French fashion icon named Catherine Baba and she’s fantastic. I’ve been using her as an influence on my style and it just feels right. That’s what Armstrong Leigh feels like to me.
Cristopher: When you get into the outfit for the stage, something clicks in your head a bit more. You’re suiting up for the show, like a basketball player suits up for the game. It’s a trigger.
My influence is from 60’s BritPop. It was so tailored. Pete Townshend and The Who, they would have days where they would go to the tailor and talk about their clothes. It was such a big part of their image – wearing the Union Jack blazers – it made them iconic. All that stuff plays a big part in identifying who the person is.
SD: What are some sources of inspiration for you outside of music?
Michelle: When we first met, we’d both just finished reading Patti Smith’s Just Kids, and she was visiting Amoeba Music that week. I went and saw her play and had her sign the book. She’s a huge influence.
Cristopher: The first song we tried to write together was called “Just Kids.” We’re both really into French nu-wave films, Woody Allen, Bukowski, Vonnegut, Ayn Rand.
SD: What do you like about Ayn Rand?
Cristopher: I like Ayn Rand because she teaches you the value of true selfishness. If you have something to say, you shouldn’t be afraid to say it and you should be completely true to your self. That’s how her stories are. A lot of people take it the wrong way, because she does introduce capitalism into it, but it takes someone with a vision to make change. Vonnegut’s the same way, it’s just not as political.
My friend gave me The Fountainhead and said, “this book will change your life.” It really changed my perspective at the time when I read it. I always give those books as gifts to people and they never read it. People who don’t have a vision of where their life is, I recommend those books. They’re motivating.
SD: How does the music change as you change?
Cristopher: The world turns and you get influenced by new things, and you have a different story to tell. You’re always searching for the next thing, and you never want to get stuck. It’s always a journey.
Armstrong Leigh play residencies in Houston and Austin in May followed by a cross-country tour. See tour dates here.