Gang of New Jersey

Ted Leo and the Pharmacists mingle rampant Europhilia with "American Girl"

Maybe it's his Old World outlook, or maybe it's just his age, but Leo stands apart from many rockers today who rush their music headlong from verse to chorus and back again. The songs on Living With the Living move at their own pace, arrive at their choruses at their leisure, fade out gracefully, slow and low or fast and hard, as circumstances dictate. Leo thinks it has more to do with maturity.

"I think it's natural that younger people that have grown up in a music world that is more single-driven and flash-in-the-pan would have those impulses to do things like rush to choruses quicker," he says. "For me, it's an ongoing, learning-about-songwriting process. Going back to Hearts of Oak, I think there are some songs on there that I could have tightened up. I could have not allowed myself to enjoy sitting on a riff for that extra four measures. So I took that idea going into the next record— Shake the Sheets—and actually did really try to tighten them up and see if I could achieve that same impact with a much tighter song structure, kind of get to the same end in fewer steps, but have it cover the same amount of journey."

Leo says he felt pretty good about the way Shake the Sheets turned out. Looking back on it, though, led him to decide that concision could be sacrificed for spontaneity this time around. "On Living With the Living, I just kind of wanted to let things unfold as they would," he says. "So 'Colleen' and 'World Stops Turning,' those are really tight pop songs where you get to the chorus fast, but a song like 'Sons of Cain,' it's really like one riff that just builds and builds. So I guess I did make a sort of conscious decision to, like, go with the flow."

And then there's "Who Do You Love," with a lovely, almost "Layla"–like two-guitar punk fade-out. "The main body of that song is kind of quick and tight, a Clash-y pop-punk song," Leo says. "But then I do enjoy those 'ride you off into the sunset' moments, so it was like I could have ended it at one point, but it was like, 'Nah, let's ride it off into the sunset instead.' "

Ted Leo and the Pharmacists play Webster Hall May 5, websterhall.com.

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