Up until a week ago, when I was given this Artist of the Week assignment, I had never heard of David Levesque. Nor had I heard the music he makes under the project title Levek.
And, a week ago, if someone had told me that a 21-yr-old from Florida who used to work as a bus driver and draws inspiration from Disney films was about to become my new favorite artist, I would quite honestly have been a little skeptical.
However, Mr. Levesque is one of the rare breed of artists who do exactly what they set out to do and do it well. They create what they are led to create, and offer it to the world in a way that stays in keeping with their own principles. As such, what Levek offers are beautifully intricate songs that live somewhere between Paul Simon and Bon Iver—patchwork pieces stitched from swampy tribal beats, looped vocals, accidental environmental sounds, and quiet ukelele. Iron and Wine-like lyrics weave themes of childhood and nature into his lo-fi sound, from the lazy summer drift of “Loon and the Lion” to the ominous ambiance of “Chief.”
Using the tools he has at his disposal, Levesque creates his own recordings on a laptop in Garageband, making DIY less of a hip catch-phrase and more of an admirable dedication to genuine craftsmanship.
Levesque took time away from a family reunion and Bar-B-Q filled afternoon to talk with us a bit about his music.
BreakThru Radio: On your Myspace page, you describe your work as “Mickey Mouse tribal sounds”—I initially dismissed it as some kind of ironic hipster commentary, but after listening have to admit that it makes a lot of sense. How has Disney influenced your sound?
Levesque: I grew up only having Disney VHS tapes, because we lived overseas and that’s kind of all I could get my hands on as a kid. That was the only kind of TV I watched, and then I just listened to a lot of my parents’ music, so the combination of those two things kind of inspired how I learned what music means to me.
BTR: That influence makes total sense because listening to your music, there’s definitely a childlike quality, kind of an innocence. What apart from Disney has contributed to your sound?
Levesque: Definitely Paul Simon’s solo stuff, and everybody’s saying the Beach Boys now, but I’ve been listening to the Beach Boys since I was about four, so it’s… just the harmonies, really. I got a lot of inspiration from Bobby McFerrin—he does a lot of vocal stuff that rocked my world. I’m just obsessed with the human voice and what it can do, and stretching those limits. So that’s kind of where I’m getting the sounds from.
BTR: Did you grow up singing? I think I read that you have a background as a drummer, is that right?
Levesque: Yeah, that’s right, but no, I never really sang before. Actually my mom and my sister were singing just now, they’re doing a reunion duet thing. But no, I never really sang as a kid. I was always around it–my mom was always singing Motown in the house—and I’d had a huge interest in doing it, but I used to be involved in art, and I felt that that was a more “manly” thing to do in school (laughs) than, like, join the boy’s choir, you know?
I basically started singing when I started writing music, about two years ago. I started really small, trying not to sing too much, and then eventually wrote songs with more words in them because I was getting used to writing, and kind of got really involved in it.
BTR: If you will, can you talk a little about the experience of writing your first song—was that something you set out to do, very intentionally, or did it just sort of come to you?
Levesque: I had a trip in Haiti that was really inspirational. It was with a local church, we went to help an orphanage, and there was this music stuff happening there. I was playing with the people from the local village and they were great, doing, like, Afrobeat stuff, and that was so inspirational. I came back and wrote a song about the trip; it was my first time using GarageBand, or recording, and I got really into it. People seemed to like it, and I just kept on going.
BTR: Listening to the songs, you can hear some ambient sounds from time to time, like a dog barking at one point. Are those field recordings that you go out and record to incorporate?
Levesque: Usually I’m just on the porch recording or something, and it just happens to get into the recording. I’m usually recording outside—I like to move around when I’m recording. [That environmental noise] kind of works to my advantage, it captures the essence of where I am in a song.
BTR: Speaking of where you are… how does where you’re living inform your songwriting?
Levesque: Well, I moved up to Gainesville about a year ago, and it’s been a different experience than I thought it would be. I joined a different band, and I’m still kind of keeping up my music, but I found this group of guys that are more… creatively friendly, I guess you could say? I just moved in with them about two weeks ago and I’ve written about four songs since I’ve been living in the house. It’s going really well.
There’s a lot of stuff in Gainesville that I’m really loving right now. It’s a smaller town and there’s a lot of younger kids here. It’s kind of a unique experience, coming from Orlando, to go to a show and have people you’ve never seen come in and check stuff out. That just doesn’t happen in Orlando. It’s a different experience—you can have music collectives, and it’s realistic here.
BTR: I remember reading some comments from you in another article on the DIY music culture in Gainesville. Do you see that growing and thriving?
Levesque: It’s doing really great. There’s these other bands called Totally Nebular and Here Hum—I actually just played with Here Hum at a house show last night. We were talking about it, and they’re both moving up because my old roommate, J.T., is kind of creating this whole DIY scene in Gainesville. He’s single-handedly doing a great job putting on festivals that are bringing people down from New York and the whole east coast. He’s done it all himself. Now we kind of have this great bike shop that we’re playing in locally, we’ll be getting our beer and wine license. We’re making it all it can be.
BTR: Yeah, the internet has had a huge impact on enabling musicians to be DIY. It used to be that in order to really be heard, you kind of had to be in one of the “major” music markets—Los Angeles, New York, Nashville, Chicago—but the web has really changed that. Now you can stay where you are and make the music you want to make, and spread the word from there.
Levesque: That’s another thing I’m still getting used to–just how much the internet can sway people. Events on Facebook, and blogs, these huge networks, that’s a different community unto itself. With the help of people like J.T. they’re all slowly crossing the internet borders and becoming a real community. You can create hype online as much as you want, but if you’re not creating physical hype, too, you’re not really doing much.
BTR: You’ve also said that you’re pretty committed to the DIY route in producing your own music, at least at the moment. Does that come from a desire for creative control and self-motivation?
Levesque: I’m fairly new to this music writing thing; two years is not a terribly long time and I’m still trying to find my niche. Within the past couple weeks, living in this house, I’m starting to find who I am musically, but I’ve been experimenting in these two years with just what sound I want to share with people. I have creative freedom this way, I don’t really have to worry about anything whatsoever.
I’ve been talking to Father Daughter records in San Francisco—it’s not a signing or anything, they’re just gonna help press my first release in October which will be cool. I haven’t really finalized it with them yet, but what they’re doing is also totally DIY. It’s just this woman and her dad, and she’s just using some of her dad’s funding to help get this thing off the ground.
BTR: Can people purchase your demo songs now, or will that happen with the release coming in October?
Levesque: There’s nothing really online that you can get, but if somebody messages me on MySpace and they really want a song I have no problem sending it to them for free. But usually I just sell my demos at shows and stuff. The October release will be more available, like online and other places.
BTR: And is that the project you’re focusing on most right now—getting that first release ready?
Levesque: What I’m doing right now is just kind of figuring out what kind of sound I want to go for. It’s a seven inch, so it’s five minutes on each side. I’m trying to figure out how to lay it out and have different themes on both sides, like maybe one side will be more ambient. Just trying to figure out where to take those songs, and if I’ll use what I’ve already written or start from scratch. So that’s mainly what I’m focusing on right now.
Stay tuned to the Levek MySpace page for details on his upcoming tour with fellow singer/songwriter and Levek band member Nicole Miglis; the two musicians will be on the road from August 13-22, going from Gainesville to New York and stopping at various venues along the way.
Keep your eyes and ears open for the upcoming release, but if in the meantime you need a Levek fix, Levesque also has a well-established YouTube presence of both original and cover songs, which he pairs with animated clips or video footage. The mini music videos clearly show his passion for and talent with film, just one more outlet for this self-aware young artist. We’ll also be playing him faithfully on BTR, so check back in with your favorite DJs to hear more of these beautifully inventive “Mickey Mouse tribal sounds.”
Artwork by Levek
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