Led by singer Kristian Leontinou, One eskimO formed about four years in London. Leontinou had a hugely successful solo career in the 2000s, starting when he was about seventeen years old. He released the album Some Day Soon in 2004 and then switched things up. In 2005 he worked with Faithless on the song “Hope & Glory” under the name One eskimO, and later started working with Faithless’ Rollo Armstrong on the album that would become One eskimO’s debut CD, All Balloons. Leontinou found several musicians to form One eskimo, starting with drummer Adam Falkner (whose distinct style of playing is really cool), and later guitarist Pete Rinaldi and bassist/flugelhorn player Jamie Sefton. In total the band puts on a moving and snug show and All Balloons is a CD to embrace as if it’s just for you alone. I talked with Leontinou at the start of their first official headlining tour of the States about what we can expect, how he developed that beautiful voice, and how the band created One eskimO’s incredible sound.
I first saw you when you opened for Gomez earlier this year. How was touring with them?
Kristian Leontinou: I think everyone we’ve toured with has been great. Our first tour over there [the States] was with Tori Amos – big venues. We had Michael Franti who we toured with as well so they’re all quite different. They’ve all been really cool.
The last name, Leontinou, is that Greek? Is your family Greek?
KL: They’re Greek but my family grew up in London – my mom did anyway. We’ve been back now and again but I haven’t been back for a long time – maybe eight or so years.
You had a successful solo career. How is it different working with a full band?
KL: It’s very different, for so many reasons. It’s nice to be part of a team, to have such good musicians onstage and to be working towards the same thing. There’s a great dynamic between the four of us.
How did you find your bandmates?
KL: Me and Adam, the drummer were the first people to get working on it. It took a while to get Pete, he was in the band but he was working on other things. It was definitely the case that we know a lot of musicians. London’s a very big melting pot for musicians. We definitely ended up with the band that we set out for at the beginning. Four years later we’ve gotten much stronger as a band, as a team. We feel like we’re really stepping up our show, stepping up our sound.
You all have really good chemistry with each other.
KL: We were on the road for about 13 months. Through that time of being on the road we were able to work out what we wanted to add to our live shows. We’ve just had our longest break in about a year and a half. We’ve gone back into the rehearsal room and [are] working out a set with an intense impact. We live with each other on the road but we meet up a week later and we’re happy to see each other.
One eskimO‘s Kristian Leontinou at the Crocodile, March 2010 – photo by Dagmar
How did you decide to use the horn in some of your songs?
KL: Funnily enough that started with samples of a cello that I used originally. Jamie plays the flugelhorn. When we were putting together the live show we wanted the horn sound to be a live instrument. We tried it on “Hometime” and it just fit the sound of One eskimO rather than the cello. They’re talented musicians and we’re adding more sounds, everyone’s trying to do more. If someone’s got a hand free, it won’t be free for long.
What about the song “Astronauts”? I really love that song.
KL: That’s one of my favorite songs. You don’t really get to talk about your favorite songs if you’re promoting the single or what have you. That and the song Hometime. I think those are songs that are personal to me, but equally they’re songs other people can listen to and drift off. Those two songs are definitely the sound that we wanted to create: these soft, almost lullabies with much heavier backing tracks. They’re my favorites.
How did you learn to sing?
KL: I don’t know if I learned to sing. I’ve been touring and in studios for a long time now. A few times I’ve stumbled across vocal coaches. I kind of struggle with them. My approach to what I’m doing is kind of different from just singing. I enjoy just getting up there. I think my favorite shows are when the sound is great, I can feel the lighting’s great, and I close my eyes and get into the song rather than worrying about everything else that’s going on around. I think it’s more like relaxing vocals, like letting go. My sister, she’s eight years older than me, she’s always been in bands. I grew up with that. I play the guitar a little bit, but not onstage.
The beat on “UFO” is great – who came up with that?
KL: That was programmed between me and Adam – the guitarist as well. We had an original guitar part that led the song, but we took the guitar out. The big groove, the bass line, along with the drum beat is that kind of hypnotic sound we’re going for.
Have you begun working on new songs for a second album?
KL: We’re in nice space. It’s been really nice recently because we all feel like we can just get in a room and we’ve been creating some nice sounds. We’ve got new songs that we’re just finishing that we’re playing in this set. You have to get out there and play the songs.
You came up with the name One eskimO when you were working with Faithless?
KL: Yeah. We were working on this vision side of the album at the time, which was a long process. When you’re looking for a name all the sudden every word jumps out at you. We wanted something that made sense with the sound of the music.
Who are some of your favorite writers?
KL: I love Bob Dylan. I love Leonard Cohen. They’re very different writers, but my favorites.
I always like to find out what people’s favorite food is. What’s your favorite?
KL: I don’t eat meat, for many reasons, but the first reason is the smell of it. I couldn’t stand in a butcher’s for too long. I love eating Japanese food. If you try not to healthy food [on a tour] it’s really difficult, just living on a bus, not getting to move around that much – and venues having drinks every night.
I read that you’re a huge anime fan. What do you enjoy about it especially?
KL: I love their stories. They’re definitely out of the box, very imaginative. I love the magic in them. I still watch them – even when I’m writing I’ll put one on in the background.
One eskimO plays the Triple Door at 7:30 on Thursday, October 14th. Click here for details and tickets.