“A lot of people don’t really think about the existence of working-class musicians,” muses Leo DiSanto, as he sits next to his brother Nick, a fellow musician. “It’s either you’re famous or you’re a hobbyist. But there’s actually a middle ground that we occupy where we’re very busy, but just as working-class entertainers doing all different sorts of gigs at all different sorts of venues. It’s really fun to see where you’ll wind up,” he grins. “Like, how weird is it going to get? Because you’ll show up at some gig, and it’s like—‘Just set up over there behind that alpaca.’—and that’s a true story.”
The DiSanto brothers didn’t grow up in a particularly musical household, but both ended up centering their lives around music in the most inspiringly free-spirited ways. They started playing in bands together while they were growing up without much formal training. “It was pretty much the same band that went through a number of metamorphoses with most of the same guys, but we’d change from punk to psychedelic to whatever it was,” Leo notes. As they got older, they studied different genres and instruments more formally, and ventured into the world on different unconventional paths.
For Nick, who went to school to study sculpture, music became an extension of his love of art. “I was equal parts interested in putting things together and building things and playing music, so it was that combination that led to what I do.” Nick has probably one of the coolest job descriptions anyone could hope to acquire—he’s a professional one-man band. His instruments are all worn on his body and played with ropes and levers. “I remember putting one single bass drum on my back and thinking I was going to stop there,” he says, “deciding that I wasn’t going to be one of those gaudy one-man bands that has all kinds of horns and whistles attached to them, but I guess you sort of lose sight of that goal post once you start doing it for a living,” he laughs. “I’m on my fifth contraption that I’ve built. It’s basically a drum set worn on my back and then I play guitar, harmonicas, and some horns and lung-power percussion and whistles and things.” He calls his invention the DiSantomophone, and with each version it becomes lighter, more comfortable, with more instruments and able to play more sounds that capture what he calls his “garage vaudeville” sound, which harkens back to a 1920s variety show.
Leo, in contrast, utilized music as a way to explore the world. “Travel really ties in with playing music for me, because I’m kind of in it for the stories—the storytelling songs, and the doors that playing music can open,” explains Leo. He continues, “I’ve actually done busking tours where I’d play on the street to try to get my next train ticket and my next meal. I’ve crossed Europe and most of the States many a time.” Once, he even found himself in Transylvania, playing music on the street with a band of gypsies. How does that even happen? “I think it involves a profound lack of planning,” he admits, “and just kind of letting things unfold and being open to suggestions about where to go and how to go. The more of an itinerary you have… the less room there is for fate to put its hand in the door and make things happen.” Along with being a solo artist, now working on his second rock album, Leo is also the singer, songwriter, and guitarist for the well-known Lancaster roots band Vinegar Creek Constituency.
While the DiSanto brothers have each carved their own individual niche in the Lancaster music scene, occasionally they’ll play together and both are quick to help each other out and offer advice on a certain song or gig if needed. And both feel fortunate to make a living doing what they love. In the future, Leo plans to appease his wanderlust by documenting his travels and storytelling music via digital video. Nick will keep fine-tuning his DiSantomophone and entertaining audiences of all ages.
“The best advice I ever got was to carve out a very specific niche for yourself. Streamline your interests,” Nick says. “I had to turn down other work so that I could be a one-man band—go figure. But I really love doing it. I’m committed to it. I feel like I’ve made a serious study of it. And as long as my joints hold up, it’s what I want to do.”