American singer/songwriter LEVI WEAVER talks in depth about his music and life.
Levi Weaver is a singer/songwriter not a manufacturer of jeans. This American songsmith is currently living in the West Midlands where he is enrapturing all who get to hear his stunning EP 'Civil War Between My Heart And Mind'. Tony Cummings pitched a few short questions at him. Here they are with Levi's somewhat longer answers.
Tony: So Levi, make with the life history.
Levi: It was absolutely great growing up with my family - my dad was an ordained missionary to the rodeo cowboys, so we would all pile into a camper on the back of a pickup truck and just go from rodeo to rodeo, church to church. I mean, we had a home in Texas, but every summer we would leave around the end of May/first of June, and we wouldn't get back home until like October. The grass would be all grown up, and it was this huge ordeal to get the place looking liveable again. Everyone at the various churches used to be just amazed, like: 'Wow, how do you do that? You have a family of five living in a camper?' But to us, it was just normal. If you're raised from birth living like that, you don't realise just how abnormal it must seem to everyone.
I became a Christian for the first time when I was... I think two, maybe three. I've rededicated my life more times than I can remember, but yeah. Really early, thanks to my mom and dad. My parents are absolute heroes. My dad for being so insistent on keeping his family with him, and not just leaving us for long periods of time to 'do the Lord's work'. For him, the Lord's work was to keep his family healthy, and to do that you have to keep them a huge priority, That has been a great example for me. When I think about being a musician, with the touring and the recording and just all the eventualities that will entail, I'm really grateful to have grown up under the example of my dad. My mom, I think, was probably everybody's hero - to be able to maintain a family atmosphere and keep a tiny little camper clean with three boys growing up in it, and to have us looking presentable every Sunday morning for a new church that would be meeting us for the first time, that was just huge and I never realised it until I was older. I think a lot of women looked up to my mom. Or pitied her. Maybe a lot of both.
My earliest foray into music, as best I can remember, was when I told my dad to sing the "ABC" song and my mom to sing "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star", which, if you hum them, are the exact same song. I think I was two, and my parents were convinced at that point that I was a musical prodigy. I grew up singing in church, in front of people (albeit not very well. I've seen video, and.... I had pitch issues!) and then listening to the radio, which was usually tuned to either talk radio or country music. Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, Randy Travis, George Strait, Marty Robbins... All these people that could just tell a story with their songs, and I never really knew, growing up, that there was a whole world out there that thought it was weird to listen to country music and go to rodeos every day. My dad was also a really talented musician. The older I get, and the more I play, the more I realise just how creative he was. He was using these jazz chord progressions and putting them into country music. At some point in the future I want to do a project with him and re-record all of his songs because they are really, really quality.
Socially, growing up, I home schooled, so my peer group was just my family and other kids that were living the same life we were. I didn't start piano lessons until I was about nine and then started playing the drums at about 13 when I finally started public school in a little town in North Texas. Even then, though, I was more into sports through high school. I was a huge baseball fan and played every sport the school offered (except power lifting... I was rather a "thin" boy). So I never really picked up a guitar until I was out of high school; I was 19 or 20. I think the first song I ever wrote was on piano when I was 18, and I did it for the Senior talent show and everyone was just like, "What, you sing, too?!" and I remember thinking, "Well, I would just write a poem, but nobody would listen."
Music for me has always been something I've enjoyed listening to, but as far as performing it goes, I have never ever been a great "musician". It's always just been a tool for me to say what I felt like I needed to say. And obviously the longer it goes, and the more I play, the better (hopefully) I will get. As it's progressed through the last few years, I can look back and see what I've learned musically and I can hear a difference in how I play, and I can tell I'm improving. But the drive, the main force behind all that learning and playing and everything has been the writing. I got really into bands like Counting Crows and Dave Matthews and these people who weren't so much telling a story anymore, but were writing about things like depression and addiction and politics and just these heart-rending lyrics that went WAY beyond where country music had taken me. It was this natural progression that went a little circular, like - country gave way to blues (Jonny Lang, BB King) gave way to the Counting Crows, Dave Matthews 'Blues Traveller' era, then Matchbox 20, who were a little more rocky, on to Weezer and that whole scene, which opened the door for bands like the Juliana Theory. Then somewhere in there, someone showed me Kid A and my mind exploded! From there it goes something like At The Drive-In, then Muse, progressing back to that whole scene of Blindside, Further Seems Forever, the Used and Thursday, which led me back to bands like Dashboard Confessional, back into singer/songwriter stuff like Ben Folds, Rufus Wainwright and Damien Rice. I've come kind of full circle now, listening to alt-country like Ryan Adams, Josh Ritter and Clem Snide. It's been a huge circular pattern and I've taken a little from each part of that cycle. I'm even just now getting into really technical metal stuff... bands like Autumn To Ashes, He Is Legend, Between The Buried And Me, and classical stuff. Vivaldi is a genius. Rachmaninov (Rachmaninoff?), and that's causing me to re-evaluate my early disinterest with jazz, so I've been listening to Miles Davis and the like and I am blown away. Maybe I'll start listening to rap next?
As far as moving to England goes, I have always had sort of a fascination with England, but since probably 2000 I felt like I was supposed to move here eventually. I travelled with a guy from Liverpool for a summer and he was just one of the coolest guys I've ever known - he totally challenged me on issues of faith and politics and music and it really opened my eyes to a lot of the world that I hadn't seen. This was probably enhanced by the fact that I was travelling the world for the first time as well (with an organisation called Book Of Hope.) The original plan was just to travel for the summer, but over the course of the two months I really felt God was making it evident that I needed to stick with it, so I quit university and travelled with Book Of Hope for the better part of two years. I eventually went home and I was a youth pastor at my dad's church for a couple of years. By this time he had started a full-on church in Texas, aimed at the cowboy culture, and it was great because here is this guy who is, by this time, into rock bands like Taking Back Sunday and Thursday, wearing his black t-shirts and long hair and I'm a youth pastor at a church with dirt floors and wagon wheel chandeliers. But it totally worked because most of the kids in the youth group were in the same boat as me: their parents were cowboys or horsemen, but they were just... kids... So we really connected in a lot of ways, and the dynamics were just great. In the back of my mind, though, there was always this huge desire in my heart to go to England. I would watch videos from the time I had spent there and just sit in my office going "WHEN?!?"
I was also in a band at that time, Stories Of London. We were really starting to get a little buzz going in the Dallas scene, and things just fell apart. I was struggling with a relationship that I was in at the time, and I think everyone sort of had their own reasons. I'm not going to point any fingers, unless it's at myself. At the end of the day I was the first one to say "I'm out". Anyway, so that fell apart and i just kind of lost it. I'd put so much effort and hope in that band, and then just like that [finger snap], it's over. Combine that with the fact that I was already struggling in my relationship with my girlfriend, and I just didn't feel like I was doing those kids in the youth group any good by being a "leader" while my personal life was falling apart. In retrospect, maybe it would have done them good to see me go through that and come out the other side, but... the past is passed, I guess.
I moved to Houston and lived with my brother down there for about five or six months, and a couple months in ended up finally breaking up with my girlfriend. I didn't pick up my guitar for pretty much the entire time I lived down there because with the band it had just turned into a symbol for preparing for war. Every time I strapped on a guitar, I knew I was, in effect, preparing for a fight. I hated what music had become to me, and so inasmuch as I wasn't required to play it, I didn't. I listened mainly to talk radio. When I did listen to music, it was mewithoutYou, and it was on the way to work (I got a job at a restaurant) and I would just cry. I mean, no shame. Just sobbing to the point where you don't sound like a human. It was really pathetic. I would get to work and would actually put on concealer to cover up the redness and go in and work like nothing was wrong. Then at the end of the day, I would get back in the car and just weep my way home. It wasn't every day, but altogether too frequently for a couple of months. This was even before I broke up with my girlfriend. But I think I probably knew somewhere inside that it was headed that way. I did eventually end up breaking up with her a couple of months later, and... yeah... that didn't help.
There have been probably four times that I can count in my life where EVERYTHING changed but my name and the fact that I believed in God. This was one of those times - band: gone; girlfriend: gone; job: quit; address: changed. I kept my car and that was about it. I was just broken.
So anyway - along comes Christmas. I'd been saving up to visit England anyway, and a couple weeks before I came I get offered a chance to interview for this job mentoring high school kids. I still didn't feel like I was fit to be telling anyone how to run their lives, but I jumped at the chance to finally get to England, and it wasn't as if there was a whole lot left holding me back. So while I was here visiting I came in for an interview and a couple weeks later I get a call and get the job! So there it began. I don't want to end it there, like "all my problems were solved and life was beautiful and the sun came out!" (Sun? England? C'mon.) Those were the circumstances that brought me here, anyway. It's been a long journey that I'm still on in a lot of ways, 14-15 months later...
Tony: Where did you record your EP?
Levi: I recorded most of this CD myself. I'm still paying off the system I bought, it was just a Mac Mini with a Pro-Tools set up. I borrowed a keyboard and a condenser mic, and the rest is just me and my guitars and a lot of tinkering around. It's been a huge learning experience for me - I mentioned earlier I wasn't really a musician when I started writing songs, and man, I was CERTAINLY not a producer or engineer when I started work on this EP. "Good Medicine" is the first thing I ever recorded myself on Pro-Tools. I've never been a gear-head at all, so... yeah, I listen back now and sonically speaking, I'm like, "Ahh. yeah, the EQ is off there, and the levels and decibels and...". I could pick it to pieces now, and I'm still not anywhere near as knowledgeable as I want to be, but it was really a cool thing to learn to the point where now if I go into a studio, I will be more confident about the sound I want instead of just "ummm... I have some words and chords...".
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