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Fear Itself: Marcus Ghiasi of Your Fearless Leader 

Wednesday, Jul 20 2016
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Musicians aren't always fearless.

In fact, Marcus Ghiasi — the frontman for San Francisco indie-rock band Your Fearless Leader — was gripped by anxiety during his first performance under that moniker, on a trip to South Africa in December 2014.

"It was one of the scariest things I've ever done," Ghiasi says, "but it was awesome."

Ghiasi was in another band at the time and unhappy with that group's output. He had never played a show by himself, and while he had started writing stuff on the side, Ghiasi never actually thought he'd perform those tunes. He had no grandiose thoughts for the future. He didn't plan on putting a band together, either.

"It was just me, simply writing," Ghiasi says.

Upon returning from the trip, Ghiasi realized that if he wanted to actually spend his life playing music, he had to commit to the idea. He brought in singer-keyboardist Aeryka Denton — one of his college friends from S.F. State — and at his 25th birthday party met Hannah Glass. Glass and her brother Elliott would join the band on violin and drums, respectively, with trumpet-guitar player Lucas Kang rounding out the ensemble.

Even though Your Fearless Leader is a recent incarnation, its roots go all the way back to 2004, when Ghiasi started playing guitar in eighth grade after switching to a new school.

"At this school, all the guys played guitar, so I kind of thought it was the cool thing to do," Ghiasi says.

He purchased "the coolest guitar" he could find and has essentially been in bands ever since. The origin of the Your Fearless Leader name actually goes back to that time period as well. It was the name of one of Ghiasi's school-day acts — "We had like one show, maybe, and we kind of just jammed in a garage really," Ghiasi says — and when he finally started doing music on his own, Ghiasi asked his friend if he could use the name.

With that name, Ghiasi also took on a new persona. When he first started performing as Your Fearless Leader, Ghiasi used a stage name, creating a distance from his work. This was music that he'd never planned on sharing, and it was covering personal topics, saying things about his past and his family that he was, perhaps, too shy to say himself.

"Those were things I didn't really truly want reflected upon me, myself," Ghiasi says. "Just because they were coming from a pretty negative place."

Again: Musicians are far from fearless.

From that negativity, Ghiasi did end up dropping the charade — "In a way, I kind of created a mask," he says — and the stage name along with it, ultimately uniting himself with his musical creations.

"I just kind of took ownership of the songs that I was writing and the experiences that I had," Ghiasi says. "I was like, 'You know, this is very much part of me and the type of person I am today, and that I shouldn't be kind of scared or ashamed or nervous of expressing that through the music I'm creating.' "

Your Fearless Leader's first show as a band was April 20, 2015 at Brick & Mortar. Its first EP — Retrospection — was released in November.

It's "sort of under the umbrella term of, like, indie rock," Ghiasi says. "But I don't know. I sort of think of it as this fusion of, you know, the indie rock up-driven sound, but then we incorporate like violin and trumpets and sax. So we have this sort of orchestral element to it."

Ghiasi mentions how he'll come up with complicated parts that he wouldn't be able to play and give them to Glass and her violin, which take the sonic space of what in other bands may be the lead guitarist role.

And unlike some indie bands' usage of strings, which may only focus on using the arrangements for texture or longer background notes, Your Fearless Leader goes for a different approach.

"Here I get to let loose and like, you know, really be featured," Glass says.

And while she doesn't really use pedals or any of the electronic trappings of many guitar soloists, she does feel the freedom to play scratchy or to bring in other styles, like jazz.

"I think I play a bit more blues scales than the average indie violinist, I'd say," Glass says.

As Your Fearless Leader has grown, its also started to shift toward a more collaborative effort. Before the past month, Ghiasi was the main songwriter, but that task no longer falls on his shoulders alone, as other members are starting to bring their own songs to the group.

"It's been kind of an awesome transition that we're in right now," Ghiasi says. "Because it seems that everyone's a little bit more motivated, a little more driven."

The band is in the process of working on four new songs, which it hopes to release as singles later this year. And while Ghiasi is still not sure where Your Fearless Leader will take him, it's already gone farther than his initial thought of just writing for himself.

"If I can find a way to connect people emotionally, mentally, find a way to bring them out of whatever position or place they're in, just for a moment and connect with them with the words I'm singing and the chords I'm playing, I don't know, that's my ambition as a musician here in San Francisco," Ghiasi says.

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Willie Clark

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