Kristian Leontiou was 22 and on his way to becoming a Top-40 pop star in 2004. He'd landed two singles on the U.K. pop charts. He signed a contract with Polydor Records. His muscular good looks and smooth voice put him on the fast track to being a mass-media heartthrob.
But soon after leaving his native London to meet the chairman of the Island Def Jam music group in the U.S., Leontiou decided music meant more to him than pop stardom. He parted ways with Polydor. He left behind lucrative deals. He gave it all up for the freedom to experiment with music on his own terms.
This Wednesday, July 7, at the Majestic Theatre, Leontiou will appear with One EskimO, the band he's been slowly nurturing since 2005. The band released a debut CD in 2009.
One EskimO's songs have an ambient edge. It's a sound that blends singer/songwriter acoustic melodies with electronic samples.
The band's drummer, Adam Falkner, supplements his playing with samples he triggers with his hands and feet. Jamie Sefton (bass and horns) and Peter Rinaldi (guitar) round out the quartet.
"We've been constructing songs together for so long that we've developed a special kind of connection on stage," Leontiou told me by phone last week. "We're more confident in what we do now than we have ever been."
That confidence is paying off as the band gains commercial success. One eskimO's first single, "Hometime," backed a television ad for the Toyota Prius. The follow-up single, "Kandi," rose to #1 on the U.S. adult album alternative chart in 2009. It's a simmering acoustic guitar track and a vocal duet with 1970s soul singer Candi Staton. Animated music videos have furthered the band's artsy, indie image.
Leontiou says "Hometime" is his favorite One EskimO track. "That song represents the sound I love and the percussion I love," he says. "It sums me up in that way."
It's the kind of song Leontiou might never have made if he'd grown up to be a pop star.