You may know him from ‘Detroit’, ‘Victorious, for being 1/2 of ‘The Rascals’, or maybe even from ‘Insecure’ — Leon Thomas is a multifaceted artist whose catalog is only growing towards bigger and better things.
Thomas recently released his single ‘Favorite ft. Buddy’ — and the song has cultivated over 2 million streams on Spotify and peaked at #27 on the Billboard charts. We sat down with him during his most recent trip to New York City, and talked about everything — from his rise in the entertainment industry to balancing his music and acting careers, as well as any future collaborations.
Appreciatively, Thomas spoke candidly, with an unwavering confidence and a clear and passionate drive.
The Knockturnal: Let’s start from the very beginning. You started very young in the entertainment industry from Lion King to Detroit to Victorious. I want to talk about your progress and how you developed from musical theatre to bigger budget films per se?
Leon Thomas: “Well, musical theatre was the beginning to everything you know. At 10 years old I did Lion King but I also did 2 other plays called “Caroline, or Change” and “Color Purple” – “Color Purple” was produced by Oprah, and she really put on for me, showed me a lot in the musical theatre space. I met a lot of really amazing people and it also brought me to LA. So once I got out to LA, I started working with Nickelodeon and they picked me up very early. I was 13 years old, with a development deal, record deal and they were developing a TV show around me and put me on a lot of their other shows. But the progression into film started even before I got to Nickelodeon, with a film called “August Rush” with Robin Williams in it and I got a three picture deal with Warner Bros. through that. So for a long time, I couldn’t really do too many other television shows or films. I couldn’t do a lot of different films based on the fact that I was signed to this deal and couldn’t do a lot of the TV shows because I was signed to the deal with Nick. – But it was great, because it gave me time to just be a kid in New York and just live life. By the time I was 16, Victorious happened, jumped into that and the progression from major films after that was kind of just me figuring it out. I did a film with Danny Trejo and Danny Glover called ‘Bad Asses 2’ that worked out very well. And then after that, it was more so about TV shows like ‘Satisfaction’ on USA Network and then from there it became ‘Detroit’, ‘Insecure’ and a bunch of other stuff.
The Knockturnal: This is a big catalog for someone who’s only 24. As you’re also a producer and singer.
Leon Thomas: Yeah, that also kind of took over a lot of my time. I was producing, writing for a bunch of people. I won a grammy at 21 and was very blessed to work with some really awesome artists at the beginning of their careers like Ariana at the beginning of her career and her debut album and the same thing with Post Malone on his first album.
The Knockturnal: Are you still producing for other people. What are some of your most recent collaborations?
Leon Thomas: Most recent thing, I would say Zendaya, Ty Dolla Sign, Chris Brown. I’m thinking most recent, Jessie Reyez ‘Body Count’ is out now. There’s a lot of stuff.
The Knockturnal: How do you stay envisioning new sounds as a producer?
Leon Thomas: I mean I’m inspired by the things around me. I love to just work hard and for me, producing a track – I’d probably do 4 tracks a day like 4 different ideas. It’s kind of hard to be away from my equipment now, but it’s cool (laughs) I’m like unapologetic creative so I’m always jumping in.
The Knockturnal: Your new song ‘Favorite ft. Buddy’ – love that song – how did that collaboration come about?
Leon Thomas: We were all hanging out at my friend’s house… who also produced on it and we all went to the beach. We were riding bikes (laughs) randomly, there was a festival going on and we were kicking it there. Came back to the crib, my boy was cooking and a homie was on the piano. He started playing those first 4 chords. He then recorded those chords on a iPhone, threw it into Cubase, which is what he uses to produce, Wes – he’s from Germany, really interesting guy to be there but he was there. We just started producing the record. I wrote it barefoot in my boy’s living room and we recorded it in his backyard and that’s really the story. It just went from backyard to Billboard.
The Knockturnal: Any new songs coming soon?
Leon Thomas: Yeah, 6 songs coming. Six songs to be released. I have my second single “Sunken Place” coming out very soon. I’m just really hyped about everything.
The Knockturnal: That’s an interesting title, ‘Sunken Place’.
Leon Thomas: Yeah, it’s a very interesting title. It was from a real experience so I think it’s gonna be cool for people – I wanted something with shock value. We’re doing a lot of new things on this record. I produced it myself and I co-wrote it with my friend.
The Knockturnal: The video for ‘Favorite’ was also pretty cool. Very visually pleasing – was wondering whether you were heavily-creatively involved in the making of the video?
Leon Thomas: Oh yeah yeah. There was a really – I don’t wanna get his name wrong – Hyke. His name is Hyke. Hyke sent me a treatment on instagram. I was looking for directors and he sent me that treatment. I thought it was really interesting, it was more of a – I don’t want to call him inexperienced director – but he has a different aesthetic. So, I took it to Hyper House and they flushed out the idea and then we all got together and got collaborative – we all collaborated on that idea and just made it work.
The Knockturnal: It was definitely different, for sure.
Leon Thomas: (laughs) very different, very different, thank you.
The Knockturnal: I want to talk about ‘Insecure’ a little bit. How did you end getting that role?
Leon Thomas: Audition, just like everybody else.
The Knockturnal: And how was it like working with Issa Rae?
Leon Thomas: She’s an amazing, amazing actress and a true boss. In the world of just powerful women that I’ve been around in my lifetime – like I said earlier – I had the pleasure of being around people like Oprah. She has very similar energy, humble, nice, but extremely stern – not in a mean way – but just like she runs the sh*t, which is beautiful to watch. And I was just really thankful to be a part of that story. When I think about it, I was at the house watching HBO and I was like ‘Man I gotta be on the show’ and for me it was like well everybody is a little older so I don’t know if I fit, but whatever, I just wanna be on the show. And then, I kind of spoke it into my existence. I had an audition, a mere 7 months later with Vickie Thomas, who also casted ‘Detroit’. So, we worked together before so she knew what to expect… I beat out a lot of people (laughs) a lot of people. So, it was really cool to work with Issa and to have that opportunity and that role was crazy. Definitely crazy, I had to bare it all (laughs).
The Knockturnal: How is it like balancing acting and music. Do you feel the pressure to prioritize one over the other? Or is it more like rolling with both of them and seeing the path that each of them takes you?
Leon Thomas: It’s hard to balance but I kind of look at myself as a two-headed-dragon. I refuse to cut another head off to fit in. I want to continue to just do what I love. I don’t feel like going a year without filming and I don’t feel like going a year without writing songs and being creative in that way. I’m just kind of unapologetically myself and a big part of who I am is both sides. Is it hard? yes. But I think everybody who tries to do something different goes down a hard path. I mean you see, it took Childish Gambino years to be as great as he is today. I remember going to one of the Power Radio shows that they do in LA, Power 106 – and the audience showed love, but they didn’t show ‘This is America’ love. So, it takes time and seeing that example was great for me. Because it just shows that if I stay focused, continue to create and stay innovative, I’ll be noticed in the right time.