Leon Budrow had big plans for the first half of 2020, including another national tour opening for pop singer Aaron Carter and the release of his second LP.
Of course, nothing went as planned. But something unplanned came out of it. Instead of releasing his sophomore album, he released an ode to high school seniors.
The fallout from the coronavirus pandemic inspired the recording artist, a Boyertown High alum, to write "Time of Our Life," a tribute to students who missed out on the rites of passage that define the final months of high school.
"I think the hardest part is that they didn't get to say their proper goodbyes," said Budrow of Douglassville, whose youngest sibling, Trayton, is a member of Boyertown's Class of 2020. "It was just all of a sudden, 'Hey, you're not coming back to school. Bye.' There was no final walk through the halls or one final time on the football field. To me, that's the most heartbreaking thing for them."
Though the song's creation was sudden — the lyrics, which include a shout-out to his alma mater, came quickly and it was recorded in two days — its genesis reaches back to his own graduation.
"It was a long but quick process, if that makes any sense," said Budrow, 29. "I had an idea even back when I graduated in 2009. I always wanted to do music, I just never knew how until the past few years. But I thought it would be really cool to do a graduation song for one of my siblings. This year I thought, this is the last of my siblings and this class is going through a lot right now. So I'm going to do it."
"We may never get to have a senior prom night
We may never get to throw our caps to the sky
We may never get another chance for goodbye
But you won't ever get to take away the time of our life"
Before the Douglassville resident released the track, he let a few high school seniors hear it. Their response boosted his confidence to put it out. A member of a Facebook group for Boyertown's Class of 2020, Budrow posted the song to the group's page. That in turn drew a strong response from parents.
"I've actually gotten a lot of feedback from parents, more than students, actually," he said. "The students obviously are upset since they're missing out on their memories, but the parents are just as hurt as the students."
For the song's video, Budrow set up an email for parents to send him pictures and clips of their seniors celebrating their graduation. He hopes to compile those and release the clip in the near future.
"I'm really big on looking for silver linings and positivity in any situation that you're facing," he said, "and I'm glad that I was able to find inspiration for that song."
Trial and error
"Some of us had crushes
Yeah we had high school sweethearts
And we may be moving on but
We won't forget where we're from"
Budrow's initial attempts to write music involved a lot of trial and error — mostly error, he admits. But then inspiration struck in the form of a summer relationship in 2016.
"It was one of those summer loves that faded out when the fall came," he said. "But all of a sudden a spark just lit in my head and I was able to use that as inspiration to start writing. And then from there, people just started coming into my life that were able to recommend me to different producers."
While working at his full-time job as regional manager for GNC franchise stores in eastern Pennsylvania, a customer referred him to a recording studio in Harrisburg, a site that ended up being the birthplace of his first recorded song.
His debut EP, "Dreamin'" came out in February 2018. Since then, he's released a handful of singles, additional EPs and his debut LP, "The Taylor King Project." The former men's physique competitor also performs as a male revue dancer, and landed a guest spot on an episode of the Hillary Duff-led TV Land series "Younger."
"My music definitely varies," he said. "I have some songs that are party tracks, like hip-hop tracks, which I would relate more to artists like G-Eazy, or even like a Machine Gun Kelly kind of sound. And then I have more of my pop stuff, which is heavily influenced by Justin Bieber, Backstreet Boys, Aaron Carter and artists like that. I do both because I don't want to put myself in a box."
"From the old to the new now
Gotta start a new chapter
But we'll still bleed Bear Pride
Till the next life after"
Heading into 2020, Budrow was riding some momentum. He warmed up crowds for artists like Ginuwine, Ghostface Killah and Drake Bell. His nationwide 2019 tour opening for Carter included a gig at the famed Whisky a Go Go nightclub in West Hollywood. Groups that launched their careers at that Sunset Strip venue include the Stooges, Buffalo Springfield, Van Halen, Led Zeppelin, Guns 'n Roses, AC/DC and System of a Down.
"You can feel the energy off that stage in that room," he said. "Performing there was awesome, but my favorite part was actually after the show was over. They were closing up, most of the lights were off, and I said to the venue manager, 'Hey, do you mind if I just hang out and sit on the stage a little bit?' And I just sat there alone in the dark onstage looking around taking it all in for maybe 20 minutes."
His connection with Carter, the younger brother of Backstreet Boys member Nick Carter, came about through persistence. After learning that the singer was touring the region in early 2018, he called up every venue on Carter's itinerary to see if he could land a spot as the opener. Eventually, a promoter from One Centre Square in Easton said yes.
While talking backstage with Carter, whom Budrow idolized while he was growing up, he thanked him for the opportunity.
To which Carter replied: "Let's do it more often. Let me introduce you to my manager."
It didn't work out that year, but everything lined up in 2019.
Had COVID-19 not scrambled his schedule, Burrow planned to release his second album in June. There's no new release date yet, since he has yet to finish production on it. But he is planning three additional lead-in singles to join "Think About You," which was released on Valentine's Day, and "Time of Our Life."
"It's my first full-length pop LP," he said. "This one's going to be more singing and more pop vibes."
His long-term goals include landing a song on the Billboard charts, but for now he's content simply getting back into his pre-pandemic rhythm, releasing as much content as possible, including revisiting some old songs on which he had given up.
"And then my next goal is to just start booking shows again," he said. "Engaging the fans face to face and meeting with them after the show and taking pictures, because that's how you grow a fan base."