Last month David Leha, otherwise known as Radical Son, released a sample CD with three tracks on it. The opening track Human Behaviour immediately shot to number 1 on the AMRAP Great Southern Charts.
Radical Son has been making music for ten years. His previous releases being a self-titled EP in 2005 and the Black Stones EP in 2008. But this is David’s first recording with the Radical Son band, which has provided him with both the musical backing and experience of others to up the ante on both his delivery and creative expression.
David had just heard the news about his number 1 debut on the AMRAP charts when we spoke.
“You just never know about these things,” David said. “I never have high expectations. I just want to keep writing songs, and who picks it up? You don’t know.”
The three-track sampler features songs from Radical Son’s yet to be released album Cause & Affect. To say the three tracks showcase David’s vocal ability is an understatement, moving through reggae, dub, spoken word and RnB. And then there’s the horns, harmonious back-up vocals and more than a hint of soul and gospel.
The 37 year old singer / songwriter has hooked up with a team of accomplished musicians to craft songs which are poignant yet hard to pigeon hole in terms of genre. And David’s Indigenous heritage provides a strong undertow in his music.
“When I was 21 I put a big tattoo across my back – Kamilaroi tribe – I kind of acknowledged my physical attributes, being gifted at sports – it was all about my Aboriginal heritage and my Tongan DNA contributed to that as well,” he said.
“But it was also about the life our people lived. The beliefs and values especially.”
And it’s these values that have influenced David’s songs.
“This world we live in is so materialistic,” David said. “Comparing that to the ideals, the culture that we used to live – believing that everything was connected. We were the animals, the plants. That to me is very beautiful. It’s something I yearn for – that connectedness. That’s what the song One Dream is about.”
“My mother, she never lived on Country,” he said when asked about his physical connection to hisKamilaroi heritage. “We moved around quite a bit.”
“She went to three unis – Wollongong, , Adelaide and Armidale – and me and my brother were with her. I think because she didn’t go to school when she was a young girl, she decided to try and get educated as an adult.”
That’s a lot of moving around to do with a young family and David explains: that’s the only way of life his mother knew.
“That’s just the way mum was. To avoid her being stolen as a child, her mother and father just kept moving and moving. And she kept doing that when she had us boys – she just kept on the go,” David said.
David’s mum is retired and lives in regional Queensland now. “She has a deep love for me and no matter what I do, she’s supportive,” David said. Her years of study at University lead to roles in one of NSW’s Aboriginal Land Corporations including a stint as CEO.
It took David a long time to follow in her footsteps as far as tertiary education is concerned. Just this year he started studying at University of Newcastle.
“I’m doing a Bachelor of Music, specialising in voice,” he said. “I love it.”
“I’m able to articulate, or I’m learning to articulate what it is that I’m doing. Up until now I’ve been able to just do this thing with my voice – I can sing in just about all genres – and I don’t know – this course is just creating a better understanding for me, and that’s important.”
The songwriting process for David is quite contemporary. He says when he first started writing songs he had a recording device. “Ideas, when they come to me now, I either jot them down on paper or just record them onto my iPhone,” he explained.
He says he’s gotten much better at telling his story. “I’ve been on a journey myself, and there’s a maturity in my work now. I definitely didn’t get here overnight,” he said.
And despite the fact that David has been singing since his mid twenties, it still takes work to be comfortable in the limelight.
“I still get nervous before each show. I also feel a bit pumped. I do enjoy it,” he said.
David’s connection to Archie Roach is obvious. In fact, the best gig he’s ever played, he says is being part of Archie Roach’s choir. “I liked not being the main focus,” David said.
“I also sung at the Sydney Festival in front of 100,000 people, that was amazing. There were a few of us artists doing a tribute to Ruby Hunter.”
Growing up with alcoholism, and on an Aboriginal mission, Archie Roach’s story has been well documented. David has experienced his own ups and downs, having children removed from his care and struggling through relationships and addiction. It’s no surprise that David values his connection with Archie.
“Uncle Archie is one of those people I’ve had the opportunity, the great fortune to meet. It’s great to have that wisdom and unique voice,” David said.
“It’s one of the beautiful things about being a musician – the connections that you make. Whether it’s someone in the audience connecting to the performance or songs. Or through an interview, connecting with a reader at some level.”
“We have (connected on a level other than music),” David said of Archie Roach. “If you know Uncle, you know he’s a quiet person and I’ve been very fortunate for him to open up to me and tell me some things that are quite personal to him.”
David plays a role now mentoring young musicians, facilitating writing workshops and helping people with expressing themselves. What’s his advice to aspiring young musicians?
“I think the most important thing is to keep writing. The more words you have and the better picture you can paint – I’d say just keep writing, keep telling your story, you eventually get better at it.”
David’s a father to eight children, four of them living with he and his wife. If you think the life of a touring musician is hard, throw being a dad to that many kids into the mix, and it must be positively manic – especially when the youngest child is just 18 months old.
“I really am a homebody,” David said.
“I love my wife and my children and I miss them so much when I’m gone. It’s the hardest thing for me – being away from them. I’m generally a kind of quiet person, so I’m not into doing the social thing when I’m gone. I like to spend time by myself.”
While I’m talking to David I’m envisioning a household strewn with instruments, family jams and sing-alongs. “We do have musical instruments around the house, but no-one has any real talent,” David laughs. But he’s quick to correct himself saying his wife is learning to play the ukulele and that he loves to listen.
So with a new album out mid September and a national tour on the horizon, what does the future hold for Radical Son?
“I don’t know to be honest,” he said. “I see myself doing more music, growing as a musician – yeah, more collaborations, and more songs.”
“Music is going to be a big part of my life.”
There’s something in David’s story-telling that’s humble and under-stated. His quiet and considered responses to my questions hint at something else bubbling under the surface of his tattooed skin. Some kind of resistance, some kind of humility at his journey, a deeper past.
When I mention this to his publicist she tells me there is. That the lyrics to Human Behaviour give you a sense of the stuff of his soul – a journey that David has only just started to articulate in song.
“Said I’d never do that again.
What is this weakness in me?
It gets hard just to control myself.
Don’t know if I’ll ever change … human behaviour.”
It seems David Leha has a much bigger story to tell. And there’s no doubt there’s a growing number of people waiting to hear it if Human Behaviour’s chart success is anything to go by.
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Radical Son’s album Cause & Effect is due out mid September. The Radical Son live show features a seven piece band with horn section and they’re slated to tour nationally soon. Stay tuned to Blank GC for dates when they’re announced.