Levi Weaver is wandering through the Great American Southwest. He’s on his way to Phoenix, Ariz. for a show as the interview advances. Despite the occasional dropped call and a few moments of pseudo road-rage from Weaver as Arizonans are cutting him off while driving down the highway, the interview becomes more conversation than the drab interrogation that all-too-often can happen during the “phone interview.” And, I’m using the term road-rage loosely here with Weaver, who is undoubtedly one of the calmest, serene, and well-rounded people I’ve spoken with. If anything, it shows that assholes on the freeway can be just that.
But I really don’t have to speak for Weaver. It’s always better for a musicians’ music to do that. Within a few moments, all those qualities pour through the speakers and paint themselves onto a wall in your mind. It’s just something you know.
Weaver’s last album, “The Letters of Dr. Kurt Godel,” came out earlier this year, and is just the latest batch of angelic and beautifully crafted songs he’s been framing since his teenage years. Although it was just five years ago when he was opening for Imogen Heap and was playing large bars and venues, Weaver’s content with the much smaller, attentive crowds on the house show circuit.
“People talk to you like a real person,” says Weaver.
In many ways, I think that’s a testament to Weaver’s talent as a performer and songwriter. It’s much more difficult to get the seal of approval from thirty people in a living room, where they can see the whites of your eyes while performing versus the distance of the large stage and screaming fans.
Something great that Weaver has done, is that earlier this year, he–along with friend Aaron Dethrage–began recording some of these intimate live shows and making a handful of tracks available at Weaver’s bandcamp page.
Yet, something unmistakably cooler (and important) is when Weaver learned last year, that the Ridglea Theater in Fort Worth was planned on being bought by mega-bank (and American dream drainers) Bank of America with the intentions of demolishing the majority of the historical site, in favor of a brand new, polished drive-thru branch. Weaver then lead a movement to save the theater.
With the help of friends, Weaver created a business plan, secured investors, and helped a community rally to save the Ridglea. In other words, Weaver took on the man.
In the end, Bank of America decided that they no longer planned to purchase the theater. And despite the fact that Weaver’s investment group didn’t win the bid for the legendary building, make no mistake, he won in the end (I’m also sure this would make a great film or documentary).
Just a few days ago, Weaver tweeted, “Lost 18 followers by Live-RT’ing history in the wee hours this morning. Sorry. *dances, sings, entertains* ‘nothing important is happening.'” The 18 apparently didn’t appreciate Weaver’s tweets about New York City Police going into Zuccotti Park on the night of November 15 to evict protesters, and more alarming and cause for concern, denying any media in the area.
Overall though, I’m positive Weaver will find at least 18 new fans after Friday’s show with his brand of shadowy folk.
New Slang: When you’re playing so many shows consecutively (Weaver has roughly played 60 times with another 20 dates on this U.S. Tour) do they begin to blend all together?
Levi Weaver: Hmmm…no. The individual performances of the songs probably, but I’m playing a lot of house shows, so it’s kind of an intimate setting. I’m spending a lot of time with the host and the people involved there. I definitely have distinct memories from each one. I really like touring this way. You know, I toured with Imogen Heap a few years ago–and no complaints about that at all–but with that kind of touring, you get to meet people for like 30 seconds at the merch table after the show. But with touring now, you get to actually meet people.
NS: Now, at one point, you moved over to England. How did that help you develop as a songwriter and performer?
LW: Yeah, it really did help. From a songwriting perspective, I was just off a really bad breakup. And at the house I was staying at, I would just keep myself entertained by playing guitar and singing. So, spent a lot of time there practicing a lot and I wrote a lot. From a performance standpoint, it kind of gave me confidence to perform live. I had always played in bands before, but it’s different to be up there by yourself. And, the British crowd is a little different. There is obviously the bar crowd that loves to drink and watch football, but typically in an actual concert setting, they’re more inclined to just sit and care about the performance. Because of that, they listened and care more about what I had to say. You would work up more of a back and forth with the audience between songs as well, so that really made it feel like an intimate setting.
NS: How long were you over there? And, what made you want to go over to England and what was it that brought you back to the States?
LW: Two years. Well, I always kind of wanted to move over to England. I really didn’t have a reason to why. Like I said earlier, I had just broken up with a girl, but I also had just broke up with a band at the same time. So, I got offered a job by a friend of a friend and I thought “if I don’t do it now, I’m probably never going to.” The reason why I had to come back is because of the tour with Imogen Heap. With that, I had to quit my job and therefore lost my Visa. It worked out great. I re-met my wife on that tour. I went to the same church as her in high school. So, she was at the Dallas show. And she was really cool in high school and I was kind of a nerd. And I remember thinking to myself, “you’re never again going to be cool enough to ask for on a date. You got to do it now.” So yeah, I moved back that February and married later that year.
NS: Just love the whole “Never going to be this cool again ever” line. You sound pretty confident you were never going to be that cool again.
LW: Yeah [laughs]. I mean, I had just gotten a standing ovation from 2,200 people, so it was really now or never [laughs].
NS: Obviously you’re in the car a lot. What do you typically have playing on the radio?
LW: A lot of talk radio, actually. A lot of baseball talk radio shows. I just got Spotify Premium on my phone, so I’m trying to catch up listening to new albums. I listen to a lot of The Bird and The Bee, some Tokyo Police Club, Antlers. I feel like I need to get back to regular Internet access to be able to discover some new things. Not a lot of suggestions lately.
NS: When listening to your songs, your songwriting really comes across like you’re reading a novel. Really great diction and wordage. You think literature has creeped into your songwriting?
LW: Yeah, I love to read when I’m at home and I’ve always loved to read. Words have always been important to me. I did alright on my SATs [laughs]. But yeah, everything I read affects me and my writing. And other songwriters too. I tend to gravitate towards other songwriters who have great vocabularies. I like to be challenged in all aspects of life so–well, maybe not all, I don’t like to work out–but at least mentally, I like to be challenged. A buddy of mine named Aaron Long, who is a songwriter, he’s been blowing me away. He’s a person who challenges me mentally. I’ll be listening to something, and go “oh, I’ve not heard that song in a long time. I’ve got to look that up to make sure I still know what it means.”
NS: After you’ve performed and you’re meeting everyone who has come out, what have been some of the things people have told you that you’ve really appreciated?
LW: There was one in Reno recently, where there was a little girl at a house show, she was maybe eight or nine-years-old. And I had finished a song and after people had finished clapping, she says “You use a lot of detail in your songwriting. Do you think you could help me with my writing?” That was just awesome. I was like, “Yes. Send me an e-mail. I would love to help you with your writing.” Then, I had a guy in Salt Lake City tell me that when you run electricity through atoms, they all align and “that’s the way I feel when I come to one of your shows. Like if I’m being confused by art or something, I come to one of your shows and it just realigns me. I feel I get inspired again and it gives me direction.” I’m really humbled by that. Another guy was talking about a divorce he had just gone through and about how one of my songs was so pivotal for him at that point in time. And now, that song is part of his story. That’s really heady stuff. It’s nothing that I feel I deserve at all. But, it’s definitely encouraging.
NS: What’s been some of the things you’ve received as gifts from fans out on the road?
LW: I do receive care packages every once in a while. And letters are really cool. Oh!–This guy gave me a 52-year-old bottle of Scotch last night. It was at the end of the night and he was like “That was great. I really appreciate you coming. And here’s this bottle.” I guess he kind of deals in old alcohol. I don’t know how much something like that costs, but I know it’s a lot.
NS: Now, this is one of my favorite things to discuss with artists. And it’s the whole genre and labeling of music. I’m reading on your Facebook, and I know it’s tongue-in-cheek, but you describe your music as ‘Dark Post-Americana Art-Folk.’
LW: [Laughs] Yeah, I just threw that up there. I have no idea what it means. But it comes up in almost any kind of interview, the “What kind of music do you do?” I mean, I don’t know. All I know is when you’re throwing seven or eight words up there, you just start looking like a pretentious jerk [laughs]. So, I don’t know. I think all those words apply but that’s still not something you can say to somebody in a Starbucks when they ask.
NS: Yeah, I always have felt it’s typically a joke by a band or artist just to see what ends up being written in a newspaper or magazine. Anyways though, going back to the whole house show setting, you say that people talk to you like a real person. Do you feel that when you’re that close up and it feels more like you’re playing directly for them, that they don’t take you for granted? Is there more effort displayed by them to connect to you directly?
LW: Well, I think it’s kind of vice-versa, actually. I don’t take them for granted. It’s really easy when you’re playing for a thousand people every night, to get off the bus, hang out backstage, go out and put on a show, and never really talk to people. Maybe go to the merch table and sign a few CDs as they’re selling. But you don’t actually meet people. You just get back on the bus. And the people you meet, are sort of just the VIPs. The people who are used to being at things like that. And a lot of them really don’t care anyway. So yeah, for me, I do get to hear those stories now, like the ones we were talking about earlier. And it’s not just telling those people thank you, but it’s showing them that you are thankful and that you’re not taking them for granted.
NS: I know you’re a huge baseball fan. Let’s talk about some baseball.
LW: Yeah, I’m a huge Rangers fan, so yeah, I’ve got a little sports depression after that World Series. Yeah, Game 6 really just broke my heart.
NS: Yeah, definitely. I felt some experts out there were maybe being “caught up in the moment” after Game 6, saying things like “the single best baseball game in World Series history” You know things like that. We’re a few weeks removed from it now. Do you personally feel like it is one of the “Top Five” baseball games of all time?
LW: Oh yeah. What a freaky game. It destroyed me because my team lost, but what a game. I mean, the whole baseball season was great. The last day of the season, teams are flip-flopping positions with the Red Sox and Rays and the Braves and Cardinals. And you had all those games coming down to the last minutes and all decided in about an hour of each other. That was amazing. The first round of the playoffs, three of the four rounds went the distance. Then to top it off with the World Series going the full seven games and with Game 6 being the way it was. Just what a season for baseball. I mean, my team lost, but what an amazing time to be a baseball fan.
NS: Now I’ve got to ask and I want that honest answer. [I’m not going to judge.] How confident were you going into Game 7 after the way 6 ended?
LW: Minimal at best [laughs]. The baseball gods weren’t going to let the Rangers to come back and win Game 7 after that. It’s the same reason that when the Red Sox came back in 04 to win Game 7 after being down 0-3, they were not going to lose that World Series. It had to end that way. Yeah, I listened to it on the radio. I was actually moving. I was back in Nashville for a couple of weeks. It was my last night at home for Game 7. So I listened to it on my phone…it was ugly.
NS: I was about to ask you about where you were. If you had to cut a show’s length or anything.
LW: Yeah [laughs]. During Game 6, I had been playing a show in Nashville. I didn’t have to cut it short, but I had ended right around the fourth inning. Now, I was in Kansas City when Cruz hit that extra-inning walk-off grand slam. It was a bit of an earlier game and we had been listening to the game during set up, I had done sound check and people were there coming for the show, and I was like, “Guys, I hate to do this to you, but we’re not starting this show until this game is over [Laughs].” So then, Nelson Cruz hits that homer and I just leap into the air. Then was like “Alright, now let’s hear some kind of sad songs.”
NS: Alright, I’ve got a good question for you. I’ve never really interviewed any musician as of yet who has had children. And, it’s something I’ve thought about myself–which is really probably weird and strange–but, how did you introduce your son to music? It’s just a nightmare of mine to think that my children may be listening to Miley Cyrus if I don’t put them on that right path of music. Did you have “a plan?”
LW: Right. We had a playlist actually. I don’t if this is true, but somebody said that they can hear music if you put headphones up to your wife’s stomach. So every once in a while, we would through some headphone on. Play some Radiohead. And he knows–like even before he turned two, we were driving down the road and the radio was on–and he was asked what was playing. So I told him was The National. Then another time driving we had some Ryan Adams on and he asked about it. Then the next thing we know, he’s requesting to listen to The National. And then Ryan Adams. So that’s pretty cool. I just started teaching him songs so he knows a lot of songs and artists now. I mean, I don’t know if it’s genetics or what, but it’s really great.
NS: Now I’m sure he knows what you do, but do he really know what you do? Like does he express an opinion about it already?
LW: Yeah. I talk to him before he goes to sleep every night and he’ll ask when I’m on the road where I am. “You playing music?” Yeah, I’m playing music. Do the people clap?” Yeah, I hope they will clap. “And people will say ‘Yay?'” Yeah, and people will say yay [laughs]. If I do good, hopefully people will say yay. So yeah, he gets the concept of what’s happening. And hopefully within a year or so, we get to a point where they can go on the road with me when I play. I don’t want to be gone during his childhood, you know? Being there for that one person is much more important than being out here for all these other people.
NS: I know some artists, when they look at their discography–and in particular, their debut album–they’ll have these mixed thoughts and feeling about previous works. What are your thoughts on your albums?
LW: Yeah, I definitely have some of those feelings. “Civil War Between My Heart and Mind” was that first six song EP I did. And I recorded it all myself. I mixed it myself. So it’s pretty lo-fi. There’s definitely so much I wish I could just retract. I do think there’s a couple of songs on there that are good. “Good Medicine,” the opening track, I do think really turned out well. And then the second one, “You Are Never Close To Home, You Are Never Far From Home” I did in Nashville, and I kind of went too far in the other direction. I hired studio musicians, hired a producer. So it’s got some of that Nashville gloss on it. It’s a little shiny. I really am proud of those songs and the songwriting on it. And there were really a lot of people who responded well with it. I do think with my new album (The Letters of Dr. Kurt Gödel) I found my sound. I do cringe at a few parts, but I do think it bodes well for what I want in future projects; not sounding like anyone else but me.