Songs In The Key Of… Philadelphia

The End Of America
The End Of America

The End Of America: James Downes and Trevor Leonard highlight some choice cuts from their home city. Photo: Sean Quilty

The End Of America’s Trevor Leonard and James Downes join us to serve up some of Philly’s finest musical treats

Tou can’t listen to the indie folk of Philadelphia-based The End Of America (TEOA) without being dazzled by their tight harmonies. Trevor Leonard, James Downes and Brendon Thomas just seem to have the knack of knowing exactly where to pitch their voices for maximum effect. Anyone looking for proof just need listen to Not The End, their captivating and uplifting new single. But whichever one of their songs (three albums and counting) you drop the needle on, you’re sure to discover a vocal blend akin to the masters Crosby, Stills and Nash.

Here Leonard and Downes highlight some choice cuts from their home city, so it’s over to James for the introduction…

Listen to the 12-track ‘Songs In The Key Of… Philadelphia’ Spotify playlist here > >

James Downes

I’ve always had the impression that people in Philly created art as if no one was watching. There’s an edge and a freedom that comes with creating for yourself first. It means the impetus is more of a conduit of release and expression rather than a hope of entertaining. And to be clear, there’s nothing wrong with creating for the purpose of others’ enjoyment.

Having the support and attention of art lovers certainly is an awesome and necessary part of being a creator. But there’s something special when an artist creates the music they’d want to listen to themselves, and if you happen to like it too, cool, let’s grab a Citywide Special (shitty beer + shot) and rock out. This ethos is everywhere in the music culture in Philly. Combine that with the city’s strong sense of community and you get one of the most potent, diverse, and colourful music scenes in the world.

I feeeeel this song. The desperation, the confusion, the longing. Really, what sealed the deal from me was the line where Tim Showalter sings “How much did you say I should take? You said a cap, shit, I took an eighth. Glad it’s just me on the beach.” I heard that line and immediately thought that this song was written for me. This music feels like Neil Young’s darkest music being played through speakers at the edge of the world. 

I mean, c’mon, the groove will get you right from the top. Feels like Steely Dan and Vol. 4-era Sabbath had a baby. This band hits all the guilty pleasures that are lurking in the most indulgent corners of your 70s rocker soul. A highlight of my musical career is sharing the stage with Ruby the Hatchet’s lead singer Jillian Taylor for the 25th anniversary show of Jeff Buckley’s Grace. Her vocals can go from shredding to haunting in an instant. 

Kirby has an old soul. When you hear this song, you might think that it was written in the 70s. I mean that in the most complimentary way. It feels like it comes from a purer time, where the lyrical couplets ring clearer, the melodies less adulterated. There isn’t a single person I’ve played this song for who hasn’t felt the magnetism of this tune. It feels spiritual. 

The thing I love about this tune is the mix of the angular guitar stabs and the beautiful lead vocal melodies. As soon as the song’s groove kicks in, you know you’re in for a great ride. I also love the unexpected turn the song takes towards realms of dark psychedelia (at least that’s how I feel it… which probably says more about the state of my mind). In addition to being great dudes, this band works hard and creates incredible music. 

Michelle Zauner’s lyrics slay me. They’re sharp, fun, and deliver something new every time you listen to one of her songs. I dig this tune, decked out in a reverb-soaked production that almost feels a 60s doo-wop recording. As I looked back on the artists I listened to most this last year, this band was towards the top of the list.

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The End Of America

The End Of America: There’s something special when an artist creates the music they’d want to listen to themselves. Photo: Kirby Sybert

Trevor Leonard

The first show we ever played was in 2010 at Kung Fu Necktie in Philly with Frances Quinlan of Hop Along. Needless to say, this group has been a favourite of ours for over a decade. The tone of her voice and her melody choices blow my mind. Intimate and breathy to intense and back again, the vocals are an exhilarating rollercoaster ride. Then Joe Reinhart, who I’ve been hanging with in the music scene since high school, weaves his charmingly textured guitar parts around Tyler and Mark’s solid rhythm section. What a fun rocking tune. Also pretty cool that this record was recorded two blocks from my house. It slays!

These guys manage to beautifully meld dreamy guitars and driving space-rock. They remind me of a stoney, modern Tom Petty. This song has all the verbed out guitars, mesmerizing beat and well-crafted lyrics and melodies that I want out of a song. It makes me want to get in my car late at night and never stop driving. 

TEOA and Great Time shared the stage at the 2019 Philly Folk Fest for WXPN’s Helen Leicht’s Philly Local showcase. This group brings the vibes so hard every time, and that hot Saturday was no exception. They’re experimental, super groovy and just try to tell me that this track doesn’t make you move your feet. We really admire them for their sound, work ethic and also because they produce/record/mix their own songs like we do. And they sound amazing!

This jam makes me want to sit on the beach at sunset and just watch the waves. Ken Vasoli produced, mixed and mastered this instrumental album of lush, tape-saturated hip hop vibes. I’ve known Ken for years from the Bucks County, PA, early emo scene and this dude has always been such a creative artist and he continues to push the boundaries. This is the kind of music I want to make when I’m not playing folk rock. 

I love the fast snare-shuffling drum beat that carries this song. The distorted, delayed guitar riffs bring the spacey into the rock, which I’ve always loved in a song. The members of Restorations are some of my oldest friends. We came up together in the same Philly suburb scene. They play with intensity and passion that grows with every record they make. I really relate to the chorus, how it speaks to the rapidly changing Fishtown landscape here in Philly. There might be a new name on every corner, but these guys are the neighbors we all need.

Not The End is out now and TEOA are hosting a weekly Facebook live stream every Thursday at 20:30 EST. All the latest news and info can be found at

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