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.