Ian Sugrue taps rock and Midwest emo influences with his Eastern Leaves solo debut, "Reach." // Courtesy of Andrew Schrock

Premiere: Crystal Lake’s Ian Sugrue looks to his past with Eastern Leaves debut

Sometimes moving forward means letting go of the past. But sometimes, embracing where one has been can be a key to success.

As he debuts his new solo project Eastern Leaves Friday, Crystal Lake native Ian Sugrue trips through his memories on the full-length release, “Reach,” a work six years in the making.

First dreamed up during his undergrad years at Eastern Kentucky University, Eastern Leaves took on a spark of life when Sugrue was playing in the band For September.

“We all became really good friends, and they introduced me to a lot of really cool music,” Sugrue said, “so the vibe on this entire album is really nostalgic and personal to me, where if I throw it on it really reminds me of the sounds I was introduced to when I was down there and just the feeling I have of fall in eastern Kentucky. The visuals, smells. I wanted to create kind of like this time capsule for myself and get lost in the past a little bit.”

The 11 tracks on the new album tap back to a number of influences, from late-’90s alternative to Midwestern emo blended with vibes from Jimmy Eat World and Moving Mountains, one of Sugrue’s favorite bands and the inspiration for the project’s title.

Coming from a family steeped in music — both of Sugrue’s parents have music degrees — his interest in performance grew from an early age. His specialty is bass, but he’s learned drums from his father, dabbled in guitar, performed jazz while attending Crystal Lake South High School and had been in a number of rock bands throughout those and his college years, where he most recently played with Chicago-area rock band By Design.

“I had just kind of put it on hold. I was still writing, but I knew they were doing hard rock stuff and my stuff is just different,” he said. “I was writing for a certain kind of idea, because I had this album in mind for a while. This was something I really wanted to do, and the bands I was in didn’t really fit that mold, so I was like, ‘I’ll do it one day.'”

Now pursuing a doctoral degree in mathematics at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb and seeking his own path in education, the timing seemed right to bring his solo work to the forefront. Working through higher education and teaching as a TA during a global pandemic all while staring down his dissertation proposal, Sugrue has faced a number of challenges, not the least of which was not being in the same room with other musicians. So he performed all the instruments and recorded the project solo.

“I decided I was gonna do this in March, which is right when COVID happened,” he said. “I’m not gonna be playing shows, which is a bummer, but I was still determined to get it out there, and I wasn’t gonna let anything stop me. I was set on a fall release. That’s significant because I just love fall, and I feel like this album sounds like fall to me.”

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