Andy Leo sums his band up like this: "We're the Backstreet Boys of the metal world." It's a sort of half-joke, but the five handsome members of Crown the Empire do look a bit like what would happen if you gave a boy band some strong whiskey and a fistful of tattoo coupons. And though the band was formed in a Dallas high school, the group now finds itself doing some serious growing up. "We've learned during our live show to let the music speak for itself," Leo says. "I figured out it was silly to be a hype man screaming, 'Everybody fucking kill each other!'"
Leo knew as a toddler that he wanted to be a musician. "My mom would leave me at my grandmother's house while she was working. She'd watch Telemundo, and they always had the same infomercial for the Beatles' 1 CD. I memorized the commercial and sang all the songs. I knew them like they were nursery rhymes."
He began learning how to play guitar as a 12-year-old in hopes of getting girls. A couple of years later, he heard some metalcore guys at school were looking for a singer. Though Leo was in the school choir — a far stretch from metal — he decided to audition. "The band tryout was the first time my parents let me drive anywhere that wasn't school."
The audition went well, and at the age of 17, Leo and his new band were already hitting the road. It didn't take long for them to find an audience. Crown the Empire's third album, Retrograde, was released this year, and Leo thinks it's a prime example of 20-somethings grasping for identity. "When we started, we were 16 and our perceptions of music were narrow," he says. "We started to realize that metalcore had a bad connotation — that everyone is making the same music. We wanted to be more genuine. Fans will always be apprehensive about bands changing their sound, but so far they have been loving it."
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Part of Leo's maturation process has been realizing that if he wants to hit those high notes and guttural screams (and still have a working throat in ten years), he would have to undergo some proper vocal training. He's since worked with noted coaches Melissa Cross and Ken Anderson. "High-school choir gave me a leg up in understanding what I had to do. I don't want to lose my voice in the middle of a show. I have to take care of my instrument."
The band's tour, which hits Fort Lauderdale's Revolution Live next Tuesday, has the group on the road during Thanksgiving — something that happens just about every year. But the band finds a way to get a good holiday feast in regardless of the location. "We were in Australia one year for Thanksgiving. We ate at a pizza parlor that was also a topless barbershop. We ate Thanksgiving dinner while I was getting my hair cut by a half-naked woman."
Now that's something to be thankful for.