Brian and Michael LeClerc, brothers who suffer from a genetic disease that causes blindness, have not lost sight of their dream to “make a splash” out here on the East End, they said in an interview on Saturday. Their goal is to “play good, interesting music that makes crowds happy,” Brian said. They play a combination of unique and challenging covers of songs they grew up with, mixed with their own originals.
Born in Southampton, the brothers have lived on the South Fork since childhood and have played together as well as separately in bands since their teenage years — Stress Industry with Brett King, for one, which Brian, who plays guitar, said once won a statewide battle of the bands contest.
Their blindness is not very noticeable. Retinitis pigmentosa, a rare, degenerative, hereditary disease, does not result in any outward effect on the eyes that can be easily detected. “I fake it pretty good,” Brian said. He admitted, however, that when other band members go offstage to greet the audience after a show, he is sometimes “stuck up onstage” without that option.
Brian is completely blind. After a slow progression since his late 20s, he now sees only occasional fragments of light. Michael can still see shadows and shapes. The condition led to the revocation of his driver’s license four years ago.
Musical skills apparently run in the family. Their mother and aunt were radio stars known as the Moylan Sisters, who had their on-air debut in 1939, when they were just 5 and 7 years old. Their success continued through the World War II years, and at one time they had the second most popular show on radio. Their grandfather, whom the brothers called “a virtuoso,” would tune the family piano by ear and arrange the Moylan Sisters’ music.
Today, “[Paul] McCartney tunes help me to be a better player,” Michael said. After the LeClercs performed the song “3 Legs” on Feb. 23 with their band, the Hot Pockets, at Crossroads Music’s “On the Air” show in Amagansett, Cynthia Daniels thanked them for the tune and for “staying so true to ‘Ram,’ ” the only album by Paul and Linda McCartney.
“We are all Beatles-heads,” Michael said of the band. He said they are able to take on difficult material that he and his brother’s previous bands “couldn’t touch,” what with the musical abilities of Sean Rafferty and Christopher Walsh, a reporter for The Star. Michael, the band’s bassist, said they play “interesting, deeper cuts that other bands don’t attempt,” including songs from “Abbey Road.” It’s “challenging material,” he said, “especially for a blind bassist.”
In addition to writing original music like “Three Mile Harbor,” the musicians enjoy playing covers of Led Zeppelin, the Allman Brothers, and the Rolling Stones. (Mr. Rafferty, who started the band, is creative not only with music and lyrics but also with food, as the chef at Indian Wells Tavern in Amagansett.)
“One day it will be dark all the time,” said Michael, who is preparing for what he considers inevitable by relearning the bass without looking at it. A glimpse of hope exists with the research being done into adaptive goggles and a computer chip for the retina, he said.
Aside from watches that announce the time, neither of the LeClercs uses gadgets such as those that detect color or read aloud the words on a computer screen. Brian reads Braille, but it is very difficult to learn as an adult, he said.
Michael’s adaptation involves regular visits to his dojo, Third Eye Insight, for martial arts, meditation, and yoga, and to Helen Keller Services for the Blind for tips on how to get around safely. Training for sighted guides is also available there, and those who seek to extend the courtesy of helping are made aware of what can be dangerous, Brian explained. One example is not to open car doors for visually impaired people, but instead lead them to the handle so they can orient themselves.
Similarly, with a chair at a table, he said, “Don’t pull the chair out, lead their hand to the back of the chair.” Otherwise, the brothers said, “don’t worry about us. . . . If we need help, we’ll ask. We know our limitations.”
The band, formed last June, hopes to be part of the Montauk Music Festival in May, and can be found on the Web site ReverbNation.com as “Fabhotpockets.”
So far they’ve performed a few times at the Stephen Talkhouse in Amagansett, where they also practice, and are booked there for a 10 p.m. show on March 29. They have also played at 230 Elm in Southampton, Gosman’s Dock in Montauk, and the Montauk Yacht Club. On Saturday they’ll give a 10 p.m. show at Wolfie’s Tavern in Springs.