Acknowledge that everyone has different growing rates. Some people progress quicker than others and that is totally fine! Sometimes I get jealous that this person has this gig or that person is heralded this way but eventually I accepted that the type of gigs I really want to do will present themselves at the right time. At the end of the day who ever calls you is entirely out of your control so the best thing you can do is be kind, respectful and to never lose sight of what is it you want to pursue.
As a part of our series about “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Became An Artist” I had the pleasure of interviewing Leon Sierra.
Leon Sierra is NYC based bass player working primarily with his band Cocomofo as well as doing session work with up and coming RNB, jazz and rock artists. During the pandemic’s halt on the music industry, Leon’s main line of work shifted to producing and composing in the recording studio.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
Thank you for having me!
I was born in Madrid, Spain and lived there until I was 18. I attended the American School of Madrid which is where I learned to speak English and began to get interested in music. I pretty much grew up doing ordinary things other kids my age were doing like skateboarding, playing soccer, listening to music and riding bikes.
Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?
I began playing guitar when I was 8 years old and quickly began obsessed with rock bands like ACDC, Aerosmith, Led Zeppelin and many others. The first time I played electric bass I was 11 years old and it was on a gig with a couple friends of mine at another friend’s birthday party. I believe we only played one song, Im yours by Jason Mraz haha. From that day on I was instantly hooked on bass and even though I kept taking guitar lessons, I started to progress very quickly on bass since I was playing with different people in my school.
Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
When I started my sophomore year of college, me and some friends decided to go on a week-long mid-western tour during thanksgiving break. With barely any money and an old van from the 90’s that some friends lent us, we embarked on a 6 day tour hitting cities like Chicago, St Louis, Philadelphia, Des Moines and Lincoln. The van had all sorts of issues like a faulty heating system, slippery brakes just to name a few. After our last stop in Lincoln, Nebraska we drove all the way back to New York without stopping. It took us 26 hours to get to Manhattan and as soon as we parked in front of our school, the van completely broke down and was never used again. Looking back that was one of the most memorable and unique experiences of my life.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
Right now, my band Cocomofo just finished mixing our debut album and we recently put out our first single “Shapes” on all streaming platforms. I have been in this band since my freshmen year of college and we have been working on this record for 2 years now! I’m very excited to finally release this album to the masses and see how people react to our music.
Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?
I have been recording bass for this middle eastern rapper named Felukah. She’s from Egypt and has been quickly rising in the music scene so much so that she just did a song with Coca-Cola Egypt for the 2022 Qatar World Cup! Working with her in the studio has been one of the sweetest and mellowest studio experiences and I hope to keep collaborating with her in the future. I don’t have any memorable stories working with her except the first time that we were in the studio together she went into depth explaining the lyrics of her songs and really tried to show me what kind of feeling she wants her music to evoke, something that totally influenced my playing on her song that day.
Where do you draw inspiration from? Can you share a story about that?
During the last 4 years I have been obsessed with Wayne Krantz. He is a jazz/rock adjacent guitar player that has a unique sound and a beautiful composing voice. His music touches me in a way that no other artists does, and I credit lots of my influence and improvisational ideas from him. I remember the first time I saw him performing at the now closed 55 bar in the west village, I was utterly blown away by his bottomless bag of ideas and his ease to elevate the music at any given moment.
In addition, I grew up skateboarding (even before I was a musician) and watching skate videos. I have discovered so much music and seen so many different parts of the world through skate videos that I would be remiss if I didn’t credit it as a huge well of inspiration. It made my notice the art of film making and editing, different fashion styles, individuality and being true to yourself. Skateboarding to me, and many others, is a total form of self-expression so to draw inspiration from it and aim it towards music, is inevitable.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I always try to be supportive of up-and-coming artists or younger musicians that are starting their own bands. I know what it’s like to be overwhelmed when you don’t know anyone in a new place or not knowing how to break out into the scene, Whenever I meet someone in that position, I try to empathize with them and share some advice if they are interested in listening. I’ve had some people that I look up to give me life advice that to this day I still live by.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
Acknowledge that everyone has different growing rates.
Some people progress quicker than others and that is totally fine! Sometimes I get jealous that this person has this gig or that person is heralded this way but eventually I accepted that the type of gigs I really want to do will present themselves at the right time. At the end of the day who ever calls you is entirely out of your control so the best thing you can do is be kind, respectful and to never lose sight of what is it you want to pursue.
Do your thing, there’s a scene for every type of artist out there.
When I first got out of school I felt like I wanted to go out of my circle of friends and explore what the city had to offer. I knew I was into improvising, jazz and rock but I had also been DJ-ing for a couple years and had a big love for electronic music. At first I thought I would take me forever to find a group of people that would encompass many of the things I was into but I eventually found artists that shared many of the same influences I had. It was honestly about being patient and forcing myself to get out of my comfort zone.
Develop a practice/work routine.
I spent a lot of time partying and hanging out with friends in my early years of living in NYC and it was great! However, I wasn’t progressing as quickly as I wanted and that frustrated me quite often. Eventually I began journaling and logging my practice sessions which helped me become more disciplined and efficient with my work.
A missed opportunity doesn’t mean the end of the world.
I recently had to turn down a cool gig with some very fine musicians to DJ at a bar near my house for practically no crowd at all. At first, I felt like getting a sub for DJ gig and going out to play with these cats however, I had committed to this gig and I didn’t really have anyone to call to sub for me. I turned down the offer and went on to DJ at the bar. To my surprise, it was a great night and to top it off I met more musicians that I would later gig with so all in all, I was pretty happy with my decision.
Get out of your comfort zone and hang!
I remember being at this jam session with some killing musicians after a gig with my band. It was getting late and my bandmates were about to leave but I felt like I had a mission to stay that night and just hang out with the musicians. Being a relatively shy dude, I made the decision to stay, and forced myself to talk to the house band as well the rest of the people in the bar. I ended up staying friends with the band and even got to play with them a couple times, all because I trusted my gut and decided to hang!
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I have been working on listening to people more attentively and trying to give people the space to express themselves. I met a lot of people that like to talk about themselves a lot and its frustrating because conversations are only insightful if there’s give and take from both sides. I guess I would tell people to get out of their own head and listen, listening is very powerful.
We have been blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she just might see this.
If I could spend some time with anyone in the world right now I would probably choose Trent Reznor from Nine Inch Nails. He has made a tremendous impact on me the last year and I would to pick his brain about his music, his creative process and influences he’s had. He has also scored some of my favorite movies like “The Girl with Dragon Tattoo” and “The Social Network”, I would love to talk about that too.
What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?
Follow me on Instagram and soundcloud @leonsierr4
I don’t post much but I will respond to anyone that reaches out!
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!
Thank for having me!
Leon Sierra of Cocomofo: 5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Became An Artist was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.