An Interview with Levi Lowrey: Songwriting, Substance, and Music Cycles

Artist: Levi Lowrey
Album: Levi Lowrey
Label: Southern Ground Artists, Inc.
Interview Date: 3/26/14

I got the chance to speak to Levi Lowrey about a number of topics, including his self titled album, Levi Lowrey, which was recently released on Zac Brown’s label, Southern Ground Artists, Inc.  Check out the question and answer session with Levi and be sure to pick up his album by clicking here,

QUESTION (MTMS): Thank you for giving your time to speak to me.  I know you just came back from the Dominican Republic (Sun, Sand, & Southern Ground), how was that?

ANSWER (LEVI): Yeah, I got in last night. It was nice, but I am happy to get back to Georgia. 

QUESTION (MTMS): I saw a lot of pictures and posts on facebook and twitter regarding your individual performance.  It seemed like there was a lot of buzz. 

ANSWER (LEVI): The first night was a lot of fun.  The hotel forgot to barricade it off so anyone that was at the resort could come out, so it was a lot of fun.  It was a huge crowd with a lot of people who didn’t pay for it.  So it was awesome. 

QUESTION (MTMS): I know that you wrote all the songs except for one on your newest album and pride yourself as a songwriter. How many songs did you write for this particular project?

ANSWER (LEVI): I was writing a lot and think we ended up with about twenty or so that we entertained.  All I did between records was write and taking trips between Nashville and Georgia.

QUESTION (MTMS): What is the process is breaking down the songs to select which make it onto the record?

ANSWER (LEVI): Well, I typically take the ones that have no shot on country radio. That’s how I choose my songs on my record.  The ones I love.  The others I try to sell off to other artists, the catchy stuff. 

QUESTION (MTMS): December 31 was a standout track to me, is there any meaning or a story behind that song?

ANSWER (LEVI): It was a song I wrote with Travis Hill. He actually wrote the song “Anything But Mine” by Kenny Chesney which is the only song by Kenny Chesney that I like.  We wrote the song about how things can turn around in one second. It is just a strange part of the human psychology how the new year comes along and there is a new second.  It came during a time where my wife was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma and she was starting to get better and was in remission.  So it was how things were changing.

QUESTION (MTMS): I saw the Black Sabbath song, War Pigs, made it onto the record.  How did you decide to put it there?

ANSWER (LEVI): Zac (Brown) wanted it there from the get go and I fought him on it as much as I could.  He ended up winning out. I think he was right, I will now admit it. I did not think it fit the collection of work that I had recorded and thought that the song Long Way Home was a good stopping point.  But after listening to the album straight through when I got a copy, it seemed to me as it was thrown at the end as a we are done thing.  And I think it’s now resonating with a lot of people. 

QUESTION (MTMS): I noticed the production on this album seems so big and different from your last album.  Was that your choice to go in this direction?

ANSWER (LEVI): It’s actually a direction I’ve always gone in with my band and my records myself.  My first album with Zac was a departure from me.  The bluegrass thing has always been a part of me as I grew up playing fiddle and in Bluegrass bands.  I had never made a record like that as I came from a pop punk band.  I mean, I played fairs and around Georgia.  But when I signed with Zac and recorded this record it was just how that record came out.  And I am happy with that first record, but this one is more like what I’ve been doing. 

QUESTION (MTMS): I saw a lot of posts by Clay Cook (of the Zac Brown Band and Southern Ground Artists, Inc.) about this album.  What role did he play in making this album? 

ANSWER (LEVI): He and Matt Mangano were the Producers on this record.  So he came in every day and put in fourteen or fifteen hour days as well as playing on most of the songs.  I say the album sounds like my band with special guest, Clay Cook.  He brought a lot of incredible ideas, so did Matt Mangano. It would not sound as good without those two guys right there. 

QUESTION (MTMS): I know you are headed out on the Levi v. Clay Tour 2 soon.  I will be at your New York City tour stop at Joe’s Pub.  What can we expect from that tour? 

ANSWER (LEVI): Oh man, it’s hard to describe.  The first tour was so unique.  I know everyone gave us a good response the first time and have wanted a second round.  It’s two guys, no setlist, multiple instruments.  We just sit up there and pretty much give each other shit all night long and play on each other’s songs.  You’ll hear songs from this album, songs no one has heard before, and who knows what else.  We pull out covers and try to stump each other as much as possible.  He may be a little bit better than it than I am because he is more musically versed being a Berkley graduate and all.  There will be some curveballs as we try to stump each other.  We may even merge some tunes that no one has heard before.  Last time we did a complete A minor version of ‘Wherever We Break Down’ that was really dark and strange sounding. 

QUESTION (MTMS): I have seen you perform many times opening for the Zac Brown Band, in many places such as Madison Square Garden.  Any plans to get back out there with them?

ANSWER (LEVI): Any time I get to play with anyone at Madison Square Garden I will take that opportunity.  But right now no other dates yet with them.  Hopefully, sometime in the soon. 

QUESTION (MTMS): I’ve enjoyed seeing the Southern Ground rise as I saw you back at the Bowery Ballroom in New York City and then just a few years later play the Garden. 

ANSWER (LEVI): The Bowery Ballroom, to date, is one of my favorite shows I’ve ever played.  I went in not knowing what to expect as it was just me and an acoustic guitar and a packed room.  And New York City surprised me so much because it went from a huge raucous crowd to a listening room at a split second.  And you guys were so incredible to me.  It gave me validation for what I do for a living.  It made me feel like I can make it as a songwriter and can make people listen to what I have to say.  That show still stands out to me to this day as one of my favorites.  I try to have just one of those moments from that night per show.  Even if the crowd is against you, if I can get one moment the way that whole show was that night, that makes it all worth it. 


  (My photo of Levi & the ZBB from the night at the Bowery Ballroom, NYC in February 2009)

QUESTION (MTMS): Do you have a favorite song off the new album?

ANSWER (LEVI): I am very partial to ‘Trying Not To Die’.  It is one one of my favorite that I’ve ever written and one that came to me fast. And to have one of my heroes, Mac McAnnally, help me on it and sing background, play piano and guitar on it, just put it over the top for me. 

QUESTION (MTMS): I saw in the liner notes, people like Mac, and Wyatt Durrette, Coy Bowles & Clay Cook of ZBB, and even Clare Bowen from ABC’s Nashville, all helped you.  How does it feel to work with all these great musicians?

ANSWER (LEVI): It’s awesome and I can say it truthfully that they are all my good friends.  I talk to them on a regular basis.  I am fortunate.  To have Mac MacAnnally to call or text with.  Or to be able to sit down with someone so talented like a Clare Bowen.  Me and Clay call each other and talk each other through crap all the time.  We are really good friends and I wanted them all on the record.  Luckily, they all are musical bad-asses. 

QUESTION (MTMS): I saw in the liner notes that you thanks Zac Brown for being able to beat him in Madden from time to time.  What’s the deal with that? 

ANSWER (LEVI): Zac likes to play Madden after every show and he gets on an elliptical.  I am not well versed in work out machines but he gets on one of those and plays Madden.  He has gotten pretty good.  I used to beat him every time but he has been studying.  The last time we played, I finally got him online and set up a profile for him so we can play when he’s at home and I’m at home.  I beat him 38-10 and he hasn’t asked for another rematch because I think he’s a little afraid.  He prefers a run on the elliptical, I prefer a cold beer. 

QUESTION (MTMS): I’ve seen your songs on Zac Brown Band records and even Randy Houser’s newest album, do you have any other songs right now that will appear on other artists’ albums?

ANSWER (LEVI): I hope so.  There are a lot of good ones out there right now.  It depends on these Nashville artists and what road they go and if they are going to record some songs with substance.  I think everyone is getting a little tired of it right now and I’m kind of hopeful because this new executive came out not too long ago and made the comment maybe we should start recording better songs and not just stuff about pick-ups and beer.  I have hoped things will turn back around.  Everything runs in cycles.  Even back in the day when Chet Atkins came to town and produced these slick-pop records, that I honestly cannot stand, but that was the trend.  But then came Outlaw.  So everything moves in trends and cycles and hopefully we are at the end of this “bro” country bullshit. 

QUESTION (MTMS): What would you like listeners to take away from your most current record?

Its personal, almost like reading my journal. I think the biggest thing for me is December 31 and how everything can turn around in a second.  I hope people can find hope in the songs and relate to the songs.  If you are going through the same struggle you can come out the other side. 

Watch The Throne: The Madison Square Garden Edition

Watch the Throne
Jay-Z & Kanye West
Madison Square Garden, NYC
November 8, 2011

The stars were out in New York City at Tuesday Night’s “Watch The Throne” concert at the world famous Madison Square Garden. As I took my seat in Section 107, Row 8, I could see the likes of Beyonce, Neo, Serena Williams, Fat Joe, and more. In fact, Alexandria Ambrosio and three other Victoria’s Secrets models sat down in the seats right next to me! About five minutes before the lights went out, Carmelo Anthony walked onto the floor and got a New York City home crowd standing ovation accompanied with chants of “Melo”. For all of the big names in the Garden that night, no one shined more than the true stars of the show.

The lights went dark at about 9:30 p.m. and it was on.  Kanye appeared on a platform on the right of the arena and Jay-Z came out a few seconds later on a platform to the left.  They were facing each other as they ripped into the egotistical “H.A.M.”, a bonus track off of the “Watch The Throne” album.  Jay-Z was immediately in showman form as he kept yelling to the crowd “What’s Up?”.  After the initial song, the platforms rose into cubes thirty feet off of the ground and transformed into giant shark tanks as they rapped “Who Gon Stop Me”. 

This was one of the highlights of the show and the shark stages are getting a lot of buzz in the world of twitter and facebook.  It really was a sight to behold.  The back and forth interaction across the arena between “Hova” and “Ye” while standing atop these giant cubes was memorable and the two rappers seemed larger than life. 

The cubes descended back into the floor and the two superstars vanished for a few minutes as they made their way to the main stage.  For the next two and half hours the fans were treated to a sing along catalog of Jay-Z’s solo hits, Kanye’s solo hits, the duo’s collaborations over the years, and of course a heavy dose of Throne songs.  The stage set up was unique and featured a plethera of pyrotechnics, giant images on the big screens of the two, as well as a laser light show that was breath-taking. 

As you know from my previous post on this blog, I attended the same concert two nights earlier in New Jersey.  While that show was incredible and had a distinct “wow” factor, this night was extra special.  I have never, in all of the 200 plus concerts I have attended, been part of a crowd that was so energetic. 

 The entire crowd danced, rapped, sang, jumped, swayed, and bounced along with Jay-Z and Kanye West.  And the two of them responded in due fashion.  Kanye was acting like a maniac running sprints, dancing wildly, and giving it his all.  Meanwhile, Jay-Z was as cool as ever, delivering his lyrics clearly and smoothly, and his interaction with the crowd was really what made MSG shake. 

“Empire State of Mind” and “Encore” never sounded so good to me.  It was like Jay-Z thought of those lyrics while standing on stage at the Garden.  He was smiling throughout the show and geniunely looked like he was having the time of his life.  I took a lot of time to just study his facial expressions as well as to look around the arena at all of the people going crazy.  There was a special, special feeling in the air that night and everyone was a part of it. 

Kanye’s wardrobe was as bizarre as ever.  He changed his clothes at least five times that night and made his way through a collection of  Bill Cosby-like sweaters.  All throughout he wore a leather skirt and leather tights.  But he gave extra that night into his performance and for once, I even saw him smile a few times.  He and his big brother clearly have a lot of admiration for each other and that was evident that night as their on stage interaction was flawless and real. 

The setlist was a bit different from the show I saw at the Izod Center as Kanye, to my delight, added in his first single “Through the Wire” and the two sang “Made in America”.  During the latter, they dedicated the song to Heavy D, who had died that same day.  They had everyone take out either a lighter or their cell phone and the entire arena became a spectacle of lights. 

A funny moment was after Jay-Z performed the smash hit, “Big Pimpin”, Kanye stated to the crowd “Jay-Z was my hero growing up and I always wanted to be like him. But every time I would try to live Big Pimpin, I couldn’t because ….” and the speakers broke right into the Jamie Foxx chorus of “Gold Digger”: “she take my money”. You can see the video below of this humorous scripted moment.

The encore was completely different from Sunday night’s show and was a true fan’s delight.  “***** In Paris” was played for the third time and, of course, they did “Encore”.  The whole crowd was chanting “Hova, Hova, Hova” and Jay made sure the crowd also gave love to Kanye.  Then Jay-Z went off script and asked a fan in the crowd what time it was and said “no really, what time is it?  Like the real time”.  He then said that they had fifteen minutes to run through some more hits.  The two broke into some old classics like “Guess Who’s Back”, “Dead Presidents”, “All Falls Down”, “Get Em High”, “Jigga My *****”, and more.  They just kept turning back to the DJ behind him and called out a song that seemed to come off the top of their head. 

Like I said, there was a special feeling in the air on that night.  The two music powerhouses combined at the World’s Greatest Arena to put on one of the best shows I have ever seen.  It was an amazing 50 song setlist, performed flawlessly and with great pride, swagger, and passion.  I have been absolutely blown away by the Watch The Throne Tour and this night was, perhaps, the best of them all. 


  1. H.A.M.
  2. Who Gon Stop Me
  3. Otis
  4. Welcome To the Jungle
  5. Gotta Have It
  6. Where I’m From
  7. Jigga What, Jigga Who
  8. Can’t Tell Me Nothing
  9. Flashing Lights
  10. Jesus Walks
  11. Through the Wire
  12. Diamonds From Sierra Leone Remix
  13. Public Service Announcement
  14. U Don’t Know
  15. Run This Town
  16. Monster
  17. Power
  18. Made In America
  19. New Day
  20. Hard Knock Life
  21. H to the Izzo
  22. Empire State of Mind
  23. Runaway
  24. Heartless
  25. Stronger
  26. On To the Next One
  27. Dirt Off My Shoulder
  28. I Just Wanna Love You
  29. That’s My B****
  30. Good Life
  31. Touch The Sky
  32. All Of The Lights
  33. Big Pimpin’
  34. Gold Digger
  35. 99 Problems
  36. What A Wonderful World
  37. No Church in the Wild
  38. Lift Off
  39. ****** In Paris
  40. ****** In Paris
  41. ****** In Paris
  42. Encore
  43. Jigga My *****
  44. Blow Your Whistle
  45. All Falls Down
  46. Get Em High
  47. Lucifer
  48. Dead Presidents
  49. Guess Who’s Back
  50. Why I Love You


Big Pimpin’ into Gold Digger
Dirt Off Your Shoulder
Kanye’s Cube Rise

Made In America

Who Gon’ Stop Me