It opens in a haunted church, ends at Stanley Kubrick’s estate and in between takes in LA cults, killer bees, hallucinatory weddings and Jim Morrison’s clairvoyant dog. If the story behind ‘Good Luck, Everybody’ – the second album from rising British alt-folk master Kieran Leonard, AKA Saint Leonard’s Horses – were pitched to the producers of Independence Day: Resurgence, it’d be laughed out of the room. Yet everything here is true, all compiled into an album Leonard describes as “almost a verbatim chronology of the experience”. It’s a surrealist, mystical odyssey of self-discovery, maximal hedonism and jaws-of-death revelation. Mark Beaumont sits down and has his mind blown…
Who is Kieran Leonard?
Not to be mistaken for the rising Oldham eclecti-songsmith Kiran Leonard, Kieran is a long-time associate of The Libertines, Dirty Pretty Things and Babyshambles – Carl Barât produced his 2009 debut EP ‘Scapegoat’, the four songs released to coincide with the full moon each month. He renamed himself Saint Leonard in the wake of his debut solo album, 2012’s ‘Out Of Work Astronaut’.
The LA goddess cult
After touring with The Libertines, Adam Green and Ryan Adams, Leonard’s five-year relationship disintegrated. At the behest of Adams, Leonard moved from Yorkshire to LA to live with actor friends and “find redemption on Sunset Strip”. “Just by being at the right parties I was immediately invited to more and more strange things. If I didn’t say no I could get right to the very heart of this weird megaplex of entertainment that LA is,” he says. How weird? Leonard fell for an “unusual woman who’s quite well known… She was part of this cult that I had to become involved in to continue to woo her… Really bad move. It’s sort of a goddess cult based on Greek principles – a cult of discord with fairly nefarious elements. If you’re in the mood to keep saying yes until you can’t say no, you’ll be in Laurel Canyon saying ‘OK, I’ll drink this and put the goat head on.’”
Fear and loathing in Tijuana
Leaving LA didn’t stop the madness. A weekend road trip to Tijuana with his tour manager, for ill-conceived visa purposes, felt like hurtling headfirst into the dark web. “You go down one side street and you can buy a handgun, a kilogram of cocaine and a prostitute; down another side street you can buy a machine gun, a car-full of cocaine and a brothel. If you keep going down side streets you could probably buy a weapon of mass destruction. It’s like Sodom and Gomorrah – it’s bad to the core. I thought I was a lightning conductor for murderers. Trying to explain you’re a heartbroken poet to a drug overlord, you feel the ground separating from your feet, you’re getting out of your depth so quickly. When we got back onto the US side I got out of the car and kissed the soil.”
Mushroom tea at Father John Misty’s wedding
Adam Green introduced Kieran to Father John Misty and the pair bonded over mescal to the degree that Leonard found himself invited to Misty’s wedding at “the last outpost of true bohemianism” in Big Sur. “The Fluxus art movement came out of there and Miller and Burroughs wrote there. There’s a currency of neo-hippyism there, so I was able to enjoy the fruits of the mescal, the tequila flower and heroic doses of mushrooms. We had this huge stash of mushrooms and made this vast cauldron of tea and everyone that wanted to took a cup and went for a massive hike. It felt quasi-madly religious, and with that many folk rock luminaries in one place the singalong was truly profound.’
(Near-) death in the desert
Taking a 5am diversion deep into the Mojave to sing the sun up at Indian Rock – “a huge horseshoe crescent of prehistoric igneous rock, something to behold when the sun’s rising and you’ve been taking psychotropics for four hours” – Leonard and two friends beached their Mustang in the sand, forcing our hero to trek off towards almost certain death in the desert.
“I had a quarter of a bottle of white wine and a little bit of ice cream,” he recalls. “It was a very morbid, mortal moment because we all knew there was a very good chance we were all going to die that day. In 130 degrees you’re dead in two hours. I had this total faith and confidence, said my goodbyes and off I trotted, one foot after the other, getting hotter and hotter. I had this really profound moment where you’re really slowly staring death in the face. It’s a strange, sobering and deeply ruminative state to find yourself in.”
Thankfully the ranger station, complete with water and phone, wasn’t a mirage, although ranger HQ warned him that if the heat didn’t kill them they’d probably be stung to death by nightfall. “The guy said, ‘The rangers will be with you as soon as possible – they’re dealing with an outbreak of killer bees. Do not get in the car, the bees look for dark places.’”
Jim Morrison’s meditation pyramid
At a photography exhibition launch, some randoms claimed to live in Jim Morrison’s old house on Mulholland Drive. “I grabbed my friend Mitch and said, ‘Even if they’re mental, we’re going with them.’ It was deepest, darkest David Lynch territory; there were these two giant lizard sculptures either side of the door… It hasn’t really been touched since Jim left. I nicked a book from his personal library, I slept in his bed and I went up to his meditation chamber – at the top of his Chinese garden he’d built this pyramid of wood and glass. I was sitting in it having this true LA experience and Mitch knocked on the door going, ‘I wanna shag this bird in this pyramid meditation chamber!’ and kicked me out.” There was also a psychic Irish Wolfhound in residence. “I could sit there and think of an instruction and it would do it.”
Stanley Kubrick’s house
Having spent three months writing a novel to make sense of the “b*tches’ brew of madness” he’d recorded in LA, Kieran returned to London. There he ran into The Bad Seeds’ Jim Sclavunos, who sent Leonard’s ‘Little Girl Scientist’ – which references Stanley Kubrick – to Jack Hobbs, Kubrick’s grandson. “The song carried itself to its home,” Leonard muses: Hobbs had installed a studio in Kubrick’s Childwickbury Manor and Leonard was invited to record there. “We wanted to really inhabit the space with the songs,” he says. One song became known as ‘The Strangelove Hotel Suite’ – the place crept into the record? “It did; it was weirdly a self- stoking cycle.” And the final scene of one of the most bizarre rock’n’roll stories ever told…