One of the first things Leif Routman and his bandmates did after forming the folk-rock group, Inland Isle, was head to a cabin in the woods. The four veterans of the Jackson music scene — Leif, Dusty Nichols, Pat Chadwick, and Shawn Fleming — packed up and hid out in a remote, scenic cabin in Montana for several weeks last fall. Surrounded by the calm of nature, they recorded a new album of original songs.
“We’re really excited about it,” Leif says. “We had the songs written, and at the cabin we arranged everything and recorded the harmonies all together in a room singing live.”
Leif’s excitement over the new group is palpable, but the longtime musician has an eclectic mix of projects that keep him busy and creatively motivated. “I’ve always got a few irons in the fire,” he says. Leif is an integral part of several local bands — primarily Inland Isle, Whiskey Mornin’, and Freda Felcher — and earlier this year became involved with PlazaCUBA, a Berkeley, California-based program that takes high school students to study at a music school in Havana. Leif relishes the opportunity to be immersed in a new culture and exposed to new musical techniques and ideas.
His initial interest in music was sparked when he started playing the guitar at age 9, continuing lessons through his teens. “I had some incredible
teachers that turned me on to rock ‘n’ roll, classic rock, jazz, and funk,” he says. “It spiraled from there — I got hooked.” With encouragement from his parents, he attended Montana State University and studied musical composition and classical guitar. Following graduation, he returned to his hometown of Chicago and began teaching guitar and bass lessons while studying jazz with well-known guitarists Scott Hesse and Jeff Parker. Teaching upwards of 50 students a week, Leif started burning out, yearning for a change of pace.
An avid skier, his next stop was the mountains of Switzerland and then, the Tetons. Leif moved to Jackson in 2010 and became a ski instructor. Happy to be in the mountains, he wasn’t actively searching for a career as a musician — but opportunities found him.
Leif and fellow ski instructor Taylor Upton began playing together at a local open mic night. “We started jamming together at the old Eleanor’s,” he explains. “We were rocking out, having drinks, and having a good time.” The duo caught the attention of a patron who was looking for a band for a wedding rehearsal dinner. That was all it took for the guys to start their band Whiskey Mornin’.
“I recognized a niche for high-quality party music, and that is what we pursued,” Leif says. The two friends turned their jam sessions into a nine-piece cover band that plays at weddings and events. Leif and Taylor also perform regularly as an acoustic duo, putting a unique interpretation on their favorite classic-rock songs.
Building on his early success, Leif continued to become more involved in the local music scene — an evolution that continues today. His focus is
creating music, whether it’s performing, writing, recording, playing locally, or touring. “I like to be the loudest person in the room, to instigate the
party, to amp it up,” he says. Leif also notes that dynamic situations suit him well. “I like action, jumping from one thing to the next,” he says, and
that preparedness to jump right in certainly serves him well in his career. Leif plays guitar and bass, sings harmonies, and writes original music for strings, horns, piano, and vocals.
One recent endeavor with Freda Felcher, a band helmed by Leif and Hilary Camino, has been creating music videos to accompany the band’s original
music. The soul and funk band released their first record, Human Love, in 2018 and have continued to release new music and play at events like the Treefort Music Fest in Boise, Idaho. “It’s original music,” Leif says. “Written, recorded, and composed right here in Jackson.”
With every new adventure in Leif’s path, the one constant is his curiosity, his desire to learn more about music and create constantly. “I’m always creating. I have to express myself to feel artistically fulfilled,” he says. “I’m living my dream. I get to play music, I’m creating art, and I feel really blessed.”