Breaking Southern Ground-An Interview with Levi Lowrey
I spoke to Levi Lowrey on a sweltering Georgia afternoon. I had just watched Fried Green Tomatoes on CMT and was struck at the close of our conversation by how he reminded me of the movie…Levi is a man who does not let life pass him by–his sincerity rings true in every lyric. He believes there is nothing more in this world he was meant to do than create great music. Raised in Dacula, Georgia, Levi is an integral part of Zac Brown’s Southern Ground movement. Country music superstar Zac Brown launched the Southern Ground label in May 2011, signing Georgia-based artists Levi Lowrey, Sonia Leigh, Blackberry Smoke, The Wood Brothers and Nic Cowan. Each artist was selected for their unique style, unwavering talent and dedication to their craft. Brown’s vision for the label was to create a movement out of Georgia reminiscent of Memphis in the 60’s. He wanted to give a voice to the artists in Georgia who he knew were deserving of the spotlight.
Levi Lowrey talks about his favorite song writers with fondness. Levi is more than a player or singer, his sharpest talent stems from his pen. Levi’s poetic way with words was highlighted recently with the overwhelming success of the Zac Brown Band song he co-wrote, ‘Colder Weather’. Every story he shared, every anecdote he imparted was laced with musical expertise. His style is a mix of the elements he is inspired by, lyrical genius and old southern eloquence. Playing fiddle since he was young, you can hear bits of bluegrass and country in his music tinged with stinging morsels of soul. His debut album ‘I Confess I Was A Fool’ is filled with narrative and melodies that cross many musical genres.
CMP-Has music always been an important part of your life?
LL-I started playing in the sixth grade. I played all day long… either at my father’s house or my mother’s house. I guess you could say, I am obsessed with it.
CMP-When did you know that you wanted to be a musician or an artist?
LL-I’m not sure….I can tell you the moment I decided I wanted to become a performing artist was at a Butch Walker show in Atlanta. It was his first appearance in Atlanta after Marvelous 3 split up. I went with a few friends from school and could not hear for a few days afterwards (laughs). I remember watching him on stage and realizing that is what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.
CMP-Who have you been influenced by musically?
LL-I would say my three biggest influences are Kris Kristofferson, Darrell Scott and Mac McAnally.
CMP-So you’re very influenced by the song writer?
LL-Yes, I definitely connect with the lyrics more than the music. Music is a big important part of it and a great melody can make you pay attention to the lyrics but without lyrics, there is no reason for song.
CMP-Tell me about the writing and recording of ‘I Confess I was A Fool.’ What was that experience like?
LL-The recording process took a very long time. We started it just with drums and bass and then I hit the road with Zac. I was on the road with Zac for about a year. Clay (Cook) would set up equipment in rooms, put couches up against walls and create vocal booths where there were none. We recorded on the road and then went to Nashville and finished up the record with Matt Mangano in his house studio. It was a little bit difficult but I am very happy with how it turned out. If we had done anything different, we would not have the record we have now.
CMP-The record is very organic, not over dubbed or over processed.
LL-I’ m not a huge fan on slamming drum tracks and bass guitars under compression, trying to make it sound perfect. You can do that and the quality level may go up but you lose the soul in the midst of it.
CMP-Do you have a song that you are most connected to on the album?
LL-‘Hold on Tight’-it’s the story of me and my wife. Every word of it is true. It is the story of what we have gone through.
CMP-How did you become hooked up with Zac Brown-become a part of Southern Ground?
LL-I started playing fiddle with Sonia Leigh many years back. Our first gig was playing at Dixie Tavern during one of his sets. It ended up being a weekly thing. That’s how I met him. We had similar influences and ended up sitting there talking about Darrell Scott for 30 minutes.
CMP-I saw the Zac Brown Band recently in Charlotte, NC with Sonia Leigh and Blackberry Smoke. One thing that struck me about the Southern Ground artists is it really is about the “music” versus putting a “pre-packaged” artist on the market. You’re very authentic.
LL-Absolutely, that is something we tried to push through on our record. It’s “if you like us great and if not, fine.” We’re not trying to be anything that we are not just to gain momentum. It’s a slow and steady crawl but what you gain in the end is having fans that are ridiculously loyal.
CMP-I heard that Eddie’s Attic (Decatur, GA) is your favorite place to play. What do you like about playing on Eddie’s stage?
LL-The best part about Eddie’s is there is a giant sign that is behind the performer that lists all the house rules and basically it’s “shut up or get out.” It’s a listening room and they will tell you to get out if you are talking. It’s amazing. Now, I’ve never seen anyone be kicked out because the people that go there are there to listen to the music. A lot of folks are songwriting fans and they hang on every word which is very intimidating but at the same time is really rewarding. There is just something about it. It’s the only stage that every time I get on it I’m nervous, like it’s the first gig I’ve ever played.
CMP-Nerves are good though. It means you are still passionate.
LL-Right, it takes it back to that excitement and that nervous energy you had when you first started. It’s really refreshing to do that every once in a while. It reminds you why you are doing this.
CMP-You’re been a bit of a road warrior out on the Georgia Backroads Tour. Do you have any good bar stories to share?
LL-No (laughs). I played a place in Woodbine, GA called Captain Stan’s. It was unbelievable. The people were incredible and the owner was walking around with trays of shots full of tequila. It was like a giant party, like we knew each other and we were just hanging out. I love that place and we will definitely be going back.
CMP-What music are you currently listening to on your iPod?
LL-Andrew Peterson, Jim Croce…..if I get a few in me, I force everyone to listen to what music I have on my mind and have them pay attention to the lyrics. Most recently I had someone over to my garage who had never heard of Darrell Scott or Mac McAnally. I could not believe it so I locked all the doors and played a bunch of their music.
CMP-Forced music education?
CMP-If you were not doing this (music), what would you be doing?
LL-Wishing I was doing this. Or getting drunk and reading liner notes. I don’t know, I just can’t imagine not doing this. I have not given myself a “B Plan.” I took a stance at an early age that a “B Plan” was just an excuse, a way out of doing what you know you are supposed to be doing. Best advice I can give is quit your job. Go at this wholeheartedly or you will never succeed. You’re never going to find your answer if you don’t take that first step.
Be sure to purchase Levi’s debut album on iTunes or see him in person at the “Grassroots Revival,” a fundraiser Levi is hosting for his brother in law and friend who were recently involved in a tragic car accident.
August 29, 2011 at 8:00 PM EST
Tavern 99, Atlanta GA