With the release of The Leonard Lothlen Project's new album, 'The Journey Continues', Louder Than The Music set out to discover more about the man behind the project. We chatted with him to hear all about how a promise to his Dad as a kid, led to his incredible music career, plus the story behind his exciting new album.
For those who haven't heard of you before, can you tell us a bit about yourself and how you got involved in making music?
I was born and raised in Oakland, CA. My musical journey began at the early age of 5 when my mother forced my sister and I to take piano lessons. I hated playing the piano because I had a mean music teacher who would hit my fingers with a long stick if I played the wrong notes. I begged my father to pull me out of piano lessons and buy me a guitar by promising him I’d play the guitar in church when I learned how to play. By the age of 13, I had learned to play well enough to keep my promise to my Dad. And it was during my junior and senior high school years that I learned to read music and was selected to play in the high school band after learning both the trombone and baritone. I was also selected to sang in the school choir.
At 16, I created my first Gospel Quartet Group with my brother and a friend, naming ourselves the Gospel Clouds. It was during this time I realized my calling. Our group began to sing in churches; then along with Teen Challenge, a youth ministry, we started ministering in prisons. From there God flourished our ministry by expanding our territory throughout California into youth and adult facilities, State and Federal Prisons including San Quentin, Soledad, Tehachapi, Folsom, and even Monroe State Prison in Washington. This prison ministry lasted for nearly 30 years during which time we managed to record 8 albums: 2 by the Gospel Clouds; 4 by Infinity; and 2 by the Leonard Lothlen Band. After reaching our 30-year mark, I was called to be the Minister of Music at 3 different churches helping to build their music departments while establishing Praise Teams and teaching Praise and Worship classes.
Tell us about your new album 'The Journey Continues' and what the inspiration behind it was?
The Journey Continues is a continuation of an album I recorded back in 2009 entitled, ‘Incredible Journey’ by the Leonard Lothlen Band. What inspired me to record ‘The Journey Continues’ was the result of me losing a huge portion of my family. Over the years I lost my dad, two brothers, two sisters, and just recently my mother. Out of a family of seven, I am the only one left. My brother Charles played the bass guitar and sang with me on most of our early recordings until his passing in 2012. My sister Donna was not only one of my strongest background vocalists, but she was the heart and soul of the band; she was the glue that kept the background singers together. When she passed away in 2016, I shut down the band and put my guitar away. I had completely lost my desire to play. I was struggling trying to care for my sister Carolyn along with my mother who had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. However, in 2017 when my sister Carolyn passed away, I began to hear the music. I picked up my guitar and began to write song after song after song. I called my nephew over to program the drum tracks for 21 songs and my Journey Continued as I buried my mother.
Which is your favorite track on the album and why?
I’m really excited about every song on the album and it’s hard to choose just one. However, the song that means more to me than any of them is, “Take Away my Pain.” It’s hard to live in a world without your mom, dad, and siblings. It’s an unbelievably empty feeling to wake up every morning and realize they’re all gone. There are no more phone calls, no more Christmas Holidays, no Birthday gatherings, etc. Yet I am grateful to be alive and I learned that each day does get better, but grieving is forever. Only God can take away the unique pain that comes with the loss of loved ones..
What message would you like people to take from your music?
I want people to know that every song is real, anointed, and from my heart. Each song carries a message for each listener and if one song touches or changes someone’s life then my music has not been in vain.. All God!
How would you describe your style of music and what are your influences?
My style of music is all over the place and comes from many genres; Hard hitting Gospel, Urban Contemporary, R&B, Soul, Rock, Rap, Blues, Jazz, Rock, Folk, etc. My inspirations have been Earth. Wind & Fire, Delfonics, Temptations, Stevie Wonder, Smokie Robinson, Lenny Williams, Tower of Power, Isley Brothers. In the gospel field I listened to the Mighty Clouds of Joy, the Violinaires, and Andrae' Crouch.
If you could collaborate with any songwriter, who would it be and why?
I’m still old school. I would love to work with Stevie Wonder, Smokie Robinson, Lionel Ritchie, James Taylor, Paul David Hawson (Bono), Eric Clapton. In Gospel I’d like to collaborate with Kirk Franklin, and Richard Smallwood.
I consider Stevie Wonder and Smokie Robinson to be 2 of the greatest song writers in the world. Lionel Ritchie's lyrics are exceptional in their simplistic catchy style. James Taylor's lyrics can be described in one word, great. Bono is in a space by himself in that he is both political and profound. Eric Clapton has the ability to mesh his personal grief into meaningful and thought-provoking lyrics. In gospel, Kirk Franklin connects with a generation that needs to be heard and spoken to in a way that they understand. I believe Richard Smallwood is simply the greatest song writer in the universe.
How would you define success in your career as an artist?
I don't measure success or define it by the amount of money I can make as an artist. I believe success is attained when music can reach across all of life’s barriers and touch the hearts of people all over the world, primarily because music is universal and life changing.
What is your favorite album of all time?
Earth Wind & Fire; ‘Greatest Hits’
You're stuck on an island, it's hot, you only have enough battery life left to listen to one song on your phone. What track is it?
Richard Smallwood; ‘Total Praise’
What does the next year hold for you?
Presently, the future is so uncertain with all that’s happening in the world.. However, it is my desire to take the Leonard Lothlen Project ‘The Journey Continues..’ on tour with all the artists who participated in the making. It wouldn’t be just a regular concert but more of a life altering experience. It would be a theatrical production that tells my life story through the music I’ve written over the years..
I also have more music coming out in March of 2022. Before my brother Charles passed away, he wrote an Easter play entitled ‘The Accused.’ I wrote the songs and music score for it but it was never been released. ‘The Accused’ album will be released this coming March.