Thousands of screaming fans will greet native Nebraskan Brady Leffler when he takes the stage on Saturday.
They won't be there for Leffler so much as Justin Bieber, the pop superstar who caused the CenturyLink Center to sell out. But some friends and family did buy tickets to see the 27-year-old West Point, Neb., native who plays keyboards with Hot Chelle Rae, a band known for songs such as “Tonight, Tonight” and “I Like It Like That.”
Now based in Los Angeles, Leffler graduated from West Point Central Catholic High School and attended the University of Nebraska-Lincoln for two years before embarking on his music career, which has taken him all over the world.
Hot Chelle Rae's last tour included stops in Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia and Japan, and they will head back to Asia again this year.
We talked to Leffler, while the Bieber tour had a day off in Wichita, Kan., about the tour and how he ended up playing for the majorly popular pop-rock band.
Question. How long have you been with Hot Chelle Rae?
Answer. I've been playing with them since October, but I met these guys about 3½ years ago. I was playing with Emily Osment, and Hot Chelle Rae was their support. I was filling in for another boy band thing, Big Time Rush, and Hot Chelle Rae was also the support for that.
We've toured together a couple times and remained friends, and last fall they asked me to join them.
Q. How has it been going?
A. It's been great. The guitar player called me and was like, “Hey, do you want to go to Australia?” Yeah, of course.
This Bieber tour kind of came up. When I got the call that it was confirmed, I had to fly 48 hours after that to Nashville. It was extremely last-minute.
Q. How has the Bieber tour been? You're playing some huge, sold-out places.
A. It's a huge tour. When we first heard about it, it was like, “Whoa.” Then you start looking at it, and it's one of the biggest tours going on right now.
Q. What is the Justin Bieber tour like? It's a massive production.
A. It's a huge production. There's security everywhere. There's just mobs everywhere. There's probably 25 buses on this tour, and they think Bieber is in every single bus. When we roll up, we'll poke our heads out the window and they think we're Justin Bieber and they lose their minds. It's pretty funny.
Day one, we went in the day before the first show to meet everybody and set up our stuff, and they welcomed us with open arms. A lot of these people on the Bieber tour have been working for him for years. It's kind of like a big traveling family with them. They were very cool.
And we're all great dudes and everybody's super kind. It just works out really, really well. We play right before Bieber comes on. We have the best slot, really.
We only perform for 30 minutes, and we don't soundcheck.
Q. How did you get into music?
A. I took piano lessons starting in first grade, and I did that through grade school. Then once I hit junior high and high school, I was a drummer. I got into drums and did the school band. I also started picking up guitar when I was 11, but in school I just did drums.
In college, I brought my guitar with me, but I didn't really play music a whole lot. I more got into booking bands and doing that kind of stuff behind the scenes. I didn't necessarily want to be a musician anymore. I started touring when I was 19 with bands selling T-shirts and teching and whatnot.
Then one of these bands was like, “You used to take piano lessons when you were a kid. Our keyboard player is leaving, and do you want to take over?” That got me into this.
It was the Stilleto Formal, and they're from Tempe, Ariz. Shortly after that, I started playing in a band called We Are the Fury, and they were on a subdivision of Warner Bros.
I played with them for years. That band kind of brought me to Los Angeles. We all moved out there, and that's when I started auditioning. It's a weird game out there. I moved out there with a band and then I got a call one day: “This pop artist needs a band, and I think you'd be great.” I ended up auditioning for Emily Osment and got that gig, which eventually led me to this.
Q. Do you play in a lot of bands? A lot of touring musicians jump from thing to thing.
A. You were playing with Enrique Iglesias and next week you're with Kanye West. (Laughs.) I do the same thing. Back in Los Angeles, I play in five bands. One is electronic, one is pop, one is country and kind of Americana and another is a rock 'n' roll band. It's fun. It allows me to not tie myself down, and I get to explore other types of music. It's never a dull moment, that's for sure.
Q. Before you toured with Hot Chelle Rae, they had to do a lot on their own. Does having you on keyboards allow the band to do more?
A. We still do run a little bit of backing tracks — the things that human beings can't play like the sound effects and whatnot.
When I initially saw them, they never had a keyboard player. Their last record was very keyboard-heavy, and I was always feeding them crap. “Why do you guys not have me playing with you?”
When I initially started with them, I was queueing the tracks, I was playing keys and I was doing background vocals and doing percussion. I was kind of running the show. Now, it's nice. We have a tech who runs all the backing tracks.
Now, I can play around with the parts for the live versions of the songs. They've definitely opened up — they're allowed to breathe a little bit more. It is really nice having a full band performing a song.