20 Questions

Mark Leach – Singing, Songwriting and “He Comes From Ohio”

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20 Questions is our opportunity to talk with various people in the country music industry. Everyone from musicians and DJ’s to concert promoters and singers.

This month we talk to Barberton, Ohio native, Mark Leach. The singer/songwriter moved to Nashville a couple of years ago to further pursue a career in country music.

  1. Where did you grow up and go to school?

“Grew up in Norton/Barberton. My parents live in Norton, but I spent the majority of my life in Barberton…whether it was working at our family’s shop, playing baseball, bartending or just hanging out with family and friends. Went to Walsh Jesuit High School and graduated from Kent State University.”

  1. When did you start singing and playing a guitar?

“My parents got me an Alvarez for Christmas when I was 9. My brother (who plays guitar with me now) was the one who taught me chords. I remember watching him play Mr. Big’s “To Be With You” and thinking ‘I need to learn how to do that.’ The singing didn’t really come around until my sophomore year in high school.”

  1. Did you grow up in a musical family?

“Not really…my brother Chris plays guitar and my brother Josh played saxophone. There was a point where Josh was playing harmonica with us, but that was really it.”

  1. Do you have anyone that has influenced your life you outside of country music?

“Really, everyone in my family and my wife. They all teach me different things, whether it’s working hard or being kind. I’m very blessed with an amazing family that has supported me from day one. My brothers are really my best friends, my parents taught me hard work since I was little coming in to work in our shop, and my wife is the most kind person you’ll ever meet. I used to call her the “Mother Teresa” of our high school.”

  1. When did you first decide that singing and performing country music was something you wanted to do as a career?

“My brothers and I flew to Greensboro, NC to watch Eric Church play in his hometown, and I remember standing there watching him play “Sinners Like Me” and sayin’ to myself ‘I’m gonna do that. That’s what I wanna do.’”

  1. What was the first time you ever performed in front of a crowd?

“I was a sophomore in high school, and it was a pretty bad rock/punk band. We played at a venue that isn’t around anymore. It was called The Orange Street. It used to be a strip club, and I remember there was a hole in the stage where one of the poles used to be. I’m pretty sure the owner of the venue just unlocked it (door) and left because there was no one there.”

  1. What other groups did you perform with before you started your solo career?

“Two different high school bands. The one was what I mentioned earlier, and the other was a cover band. We played some bars and college house parties. The one party we played at the University of Dayton is still one of my favorite shows.”

  1. Do you remember the first solo show you performed and where was it?

“Like it was yesterday. My brother and I did an acoustic open mic at The Shrunken Head in Columbus. I remember he was so nervous. We practiced our set in an alley behind the venue. I was wearing a t-shirt, shorts, and flip-flops. Our producer at the time told me afterwards that I couldn’t wear that onstage anymore.”

  1. What was it like during those first few years performing as a solo act with your band?

“It’s tough. You have to prove yourself before anyone really becomes a fan or takes interest in what you’re doing. I remember knocking on the door of the Thirsty Cowboy back in 2011 and asking Aaron if I could play there. He gave me a chance, and we were awful. We played “Boot Scootin’ Boogie” and a lady came up to the stage and actually tapped out the tempo for us so she could dance. After that, we played it so fast it was impossible to dance to. I was surprised he let me come back and play.”

  1. What have been some of the highlights for you, so far?

“Ah man, there’s been a lot. Touring with Granger Smith, opening for Eric Church and so many others, writing with award winning songwriters, having my EP debut at #12 on iTunes, my single being #2 on iTunes preorder…” It’s been a grind, but there have definitely been moments where I go ‘Wow… We did that.’”

  1. Is there any part of your career that might not be your favorite part?

“Waking up in the back of the van freezing cold and using the spare tire as a pillow while the fans from the night before are walking by laughing at you isn’t exactly awesome but looking back, it makes for a good story. Taught me my lesson for not booking a motel/hotel that night.”

  1. You spend a lot of time traveling. What is the hardest part about being on the road?

“Being away from my family and my dog. Driving 8 hours one way all the time can be exhausting but now it’s like driving to the grocery store.”

  1. What was the feeling of releasing your first EP?

“I was very nervous. I remember calling the producer in a panic like an hour before it dropped. “What if people don’t like it, what if no one buys it, what if…, what if…” He just told me it’ll be fine. And it was. I’ve grown so much since that EP, but the first time you put yourself out there can be nerve wracking.”

  1. Do you have any favorites of the songs you have written and performed?

“”I Come From Ohio” is one of my favorites to play out live. It’s insane how many people sing that song back to me. “She Don’t Go To Church” is another. I wasn’t even planning on releasing that. I wrote that with some buddies a year before I even put it on YouTube and woke up one day thinking ‘I haven’t put anything on social media in awhile. Let’s see how this does’ …next thing you know…”

“”If There’s A Bar Up In Heaven” will probably always be my favorite. It’s the first song I wrote when I moved to Nashville. I was sitting on a half-deflated air mattress because we didn’t have furniture, and I wrote those first couple lines. It used to be “if there’s a bar up in heaven, I know you’re sittin’ there, swappin’ stories with James Dean and the man upstairs.” I took it to a write with Doug Johnson (“Three Wooden Crosses”) and Pat Bunch, and the line changed to ‘…man in black and the man upstairs.’ I was more than okay with that.”

  1. What is your process for writing songs and where does your inspiration come from?

“For me, it’s all just stuff I hear. I’m answering these while I’m on a plane, and someone just said something that I typed in my notes. I’ll probably take that idea into a write with someone, and we’ll try and tackle it. Sometimes a song flows out in 30 minutes and other times it takes days.”

  1. You have also had the honor of writing with so many others. Do you have any favorite co-writers?

“I don’t know if I have a favorite. I write with so many different people, and everyone has something different to bring to the table. I’m very lucky to call the people I write with my friends; otherwise, it would seem like a job and I probably wouldn’t look forward to doing it all the time.”

  1. You moved to Nashville almost two years ago. How has the transformation been and what is the hardest part about leaving your home?

“A little over two years. It’s definitely an adjustment. Coming from Barberton, Ohio to one of the up-and-coming “it” cities isn’t something I was used to. You’re lucky to get up to 55mph on the highway because traffic is getting so bad, but the hardest part is being away from family. Watching my nieces and nephews grow up via social media, hearing about one of them getting a trophy in baseball or karate and not being able to be there. I miss working at my family’s shop, too.”

  1. Do you get to visit your family back in Barberton often and do they get to come and see you in Nashville or other cities where you are performing?

“Since a lot of my fans are in Ohio, I get to come back a lot for shows and get to see my family when I do. They’ve come down a few times so that’s always nice to see ’em and take ’em around.”

  1. We all know that you are a huge sports fan. But if you had to pick, what team is your favorite of them all?

“That’s tough…ah man I don’t know. It would be between the Indians and the Buckeyes. I grew up playing baseball and watching the tribe, but I really love watching Ohio State on Saturdays, too. Not really a good answer, but I’ll have to go with that.”

  1. What is next for Mark Leach as you finish out 2017 and look forward to next year?

“I always try and top whatever I did the year before. Next year we’re looking at playing shows in other parts of the country, I’m still looking for that big cut from a major artist recording one of my songs, and I found out I have fans in 6 other countries so who knows…maybe making a trip to play for them.”

Mark Leach performing at The Country Fest in June 2016. (Photo by CCM)

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1 Comment

  1. CJ Rooney

    November 23, 2017 at 11:05 am

    Nice interview, and interesting to learn about his background. I want to co-write with you!

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