The cover of Tuff Lover's In Memorium.

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In Memorium

Before the pandemic, you could find a lion onstage at spots around town like DC9 Nightclub, the Dew Drop Inn, and Boundary Stone. This was Tuff Lover, an “electronic pop/deep house quintet” from Nikhil Rao, also the frontman for local surf rock band Bottled Up. Rao says the lion got involved when he went to perform at Boundary Stone and found a lion mask in his bag; it joined him onstage from then on. Rao started the project in 2018 as a distraction from his other projects and as a way of experimenting with the lo-fi he had been listening to. It took off among his friends—that’s how Freddy Leighton got into it. When Leighton told Rao how much he liked the music, Rao had him join in on vocals at the start of 2019. Leighton sang in the band until he died in October 2019. Rao reminisces about the way he used to “trick” Leighton into playing live shows. Rao would never hold band practice beforehand; he’d instead throw Leighton into a song live, because he liked Leighton’s improvisations. “Lyrics and melodies that came straight from the heart,” he says, “didn’t want to get rid of that.” The only new music on Tuff Lover’s Bandcamp since Leighton’s death is In Memorium, a live recording from February 2020 released one calendar year ago. Rao calls it “time we were all able to get together and celebrate that moment.” The recording is available on Bandcamp. Free—$7.