lucky brand feature 12/21/18
L.A. is filled with talented artists, each with a story waiting to be told. We caught up with local musician, Levi Petree, to talk southern roots, his career, and more. "Opportunity comes from putting yourself in a position to succeed," says Petree. Read on to get to know the man behind the music.
"I feel a genuine appreciation that maybe things happen for a reason and it’s led me to form great relationships and friendships with people I may not have met or worked with otherwise."
When did you start making music and how does it affect you?
I started making music about 5 or 6 years ago. It was something I’d wanted to do since I was a kid, but I never took lessons and didn’t have the self-discipline to teach myself. About 9 years ago, though, I was in a play with some Irish musicians and they invited me to their jam sessions. I sat in the back and just observed what other people were doing. I learned a few chords and just started tearing into my guitar, teaching myself how to play songs I loved. I already had the itch to write, so I started doing that pretty quickly once I’d learned how to put some progressions together.
As an artist, what challenges have you encountered and overcome throughout your career?
The biggest and most constant challenge is always that self-doubt of “Oh God, I have no idea what I’m doing.” My band and I still have a DIY mentality, so sometimes it can feel like nobody’s getting back to us, or we don’t know where we fit in our own city. But lessons I’ve taken to heart from other people (and now firmly believe), is that there’s a place for everything and everyone. So we just keep putting it out there with a little faith that it’ll get to the people that want or need it.
When it comes to your songwriting process, where do you typically draw inspiration from?
The first batches of songs stemmed from “writing what I knew,” pulled directly from relationships and friends. And I approach most of the songs from the angle of a storyteller, which often means sitting down with a notebook, or an open google doc and just letting the words come out. But usually, there’ll be a phrase that pops into my head, or something I observe in passing. My brain just seems to think in melody, so I’ll find myself humming, or singing nonsense and then dwell on it until I map out the rest of the song. Morrissey’s one of my favorite lyricists and I definitely try to emulate him at times by injecting a little humor.
You released your debut album, It’s Country, in March 2017. What was your experience like working on this project and what can new listeners expect to hear?
It’s Country was the first opportunity I was given to take time in a studio and build recordings piece by piece. Before that, I’d put an out EP where we cut 5 songs in one day, all live. But with the full album, I had the benefit of having a home base we could work out of at Exposition Studios. Our drummer, Chad, took on producing duties. Most of the songs were ones we’d been playing live for a while, so they were fairly easy to recreate, but we also had a couple songs, like “Lover’s Cove”, that we were able to take our time with and make more lush, experimental arrangements out of.
I can still get a little uncomfortable listening to my own voice on a song, but when I listen to the music from that album I get so happy to have Chad McKinsey on my side. He made those recordings sound like a big studio production and I’m very proud of what we have to show for it. For anyone that’s about to listen to it for the first time, I think they’ll be surprised to find there are a few different subgenres of music on there. Rock n’ roll, punk, folk, singer-songwriter, and yes, maybe even a little country. The name It’s Country was more a sarcastic reaction to what people call rock n’ roll these days.
Tell us the story behind your first guitar and the significance it holds.
My first guitar is actually my stepdad’s…but I’ve been borrowing it for 18 years! It’s a 1978 black Gibson Les Paul that used to be named after him (“Mr. Jim”) but I put a Magnolia flower sticker on it a couple years ago and started calling it “Black Mag.” There was a woman named Jillian Johnson from my hometown of Lafayette, LA who was shot in a movie theatre there a few years ago. She ran a shop called Parish Ink that has a lot of Louisiana-themed goodies and one thing I bought there was a sticker of Louisiana’s state flower, the magnolia. It was the last thing she designed and I felt it was a way to pay tribute to her, as well as keep a little bit of home with me when I play. And now I have a niece named Magnolia, so I think calling it “Black Mag” fits.
It doesn’t stay in tune as well as some other guitars I have, but I still love to use it as my main guitar. It’s what I learned to make noise on!
What’s your most memorable performance to date and why?
There’s a gig we did at this bar in the mountain town of Crestline a couple years ago that sticks out. It was a 4th of July festival and we’d already done two sets to a somewhat thin crowd. But once the fireworks were done, the place filled up to the point of claustrophobia and it just turned into a rager. I feel very strongly that, as a band, we shine when people are ready to party. People were dancing to songs they didn’t know, singing along to ones they did, and I found myself playing my guitar while standing on top of one of the bar tables. Our band actually jokes around all the time that “people are still talking about that legendary 3rd set in Crestline!”.
Walk us through your warm-up routine.
The pre-show routine is kind of a sacred thing for me. I try to get to the venue as early as possible so I can set my stuff up and then enjoy the other bands. I think it’s really important to support the other artists and make sure they’re getting good energy from the audience (... and I get a little annoyed when other bands on the bill don’t watch each other’s shows. It’s rude). I’ll also try to find a table, or corner for myself to write out the night’s setlist. I’m just a nerd for gauging the room each night and figuring out what the best flow of songs will be. I’ve always loved following my favorite artist's setlists from show to show, so it’s one of the things I love the most about playing live.
How does life in Los Angeles differ than life in your Lousiana hometown?
Lafayette and Los Angeles are more alike in ways than you would think. In Lafayette, the Cajun culture dominates everything (the music, the food, the laid-back and open way of life). So everything revolves around that and people take a lot of pride in it. In Los Angeles, we have so many other cultures to appreciate that you can have a hard time getting to them all. Around 2012, though, I made a lot of friends at this bar in Boyle Heights called Eastside Luv, right next to Mariachi Plaza. It became one of my favorite areas of town because of the way people had such love for their culture. It made me feel at home.
Who are some of your biggest musical inspirations?
Bruce Springsteen - His shows are the epitome of what live performance can be. And his songs always sound like they’re reaching for something higher. I just find a lot of emotional resonance in his writing and delivery.
The Sex Pistols - My all-time favorite band. Great energy in Steve Jones (our local DJ Jonesy’s Jukebox!) guitar playing. They were larger than life and I think underrated as a pure rock n’ roll band.
The Clash/The Who - I think these are the two bands I’d compare our live shows to. Go for broke, raw, powerful.
Jenny Lewis - She has something in her voice that I responded to the first time I heard her. It’s commanding and her songwriting is always clever and catchy.
Glen Campbell - His voice makes me emotional when I hear him sing. There’s truth and warmth to it. Would love to achieve that richness someday.
Morrissey - Definitely one of the bigger influences. I love the way he croons and his lyrics are great lessons in how to fill a verse in as concise a way possible.
Eagles of Death Metal - Saw them open for The Strokes in 2006 and was instantly a fan for life. Have always tried to capture the same sense of fun they have.
Neil Young - A plugged-in, buzzed-out electric Neil Young is my spirit animal.
If you had the opportunity to collaborate with anyone in the near future, who would you choose and why?
There’s a producer named Greg Kurstin we talk about a lot in our band text thread and I think it’d be cool to see what he’d do with our songs. He’s probably most well-known for working with pop artists like Adele, Sia, and The Bird and the Bee, but he also did Liam Gallagher’s (Oasis) solo album last year, which was great. Even though we think of ourselves as a rock n’ roll band, all the songs are rooted in a classic pop structure and it’d just be cool to see where someone at the top of their game would push us to, recording-wise.
Tell us about your personal style and how denim plays a role in your wardrobe.
Jeans are just classic Americana rock n’ roll, man. I like dressing up every once in a while, but I could never be an everyday suit-and-tie type of guy. Gimme a nice pair of darker blue jeans with a button-down long-sleeved tee and I’m happy. I’m like my grandpa in that I have a lot of the same thing in my closet. Born to be an old man in that way. I do love jackets, though. When I’m on stage I try to look nice and layer up with something that adds a little snazz…
Any advice for aspiring musicians?
Go to shows! Support live music and get to know the other artists. Build a community of artists and producers you can collaborate with. Just find a way to get yourself involved in the process of making music with other people, or find a place where you can learn from others. Opportunity comes from putting yourself in a position to succeed. If there’s one move I made that I think really helped me, it was getting an internship at Exposition studios, a small recording and rehearsal studio in Culver City. It gave me a network of musicians to learn from and the owner, Greg Thomas, gave me recording time for the hours I spent working. My first album is a direct result of that.
Do you have any exciting plans for 2019 you can share with us?
We just started recording demos for future singles and I’d like to get some of those out. And we’re finally going to tour through Louisiana in the late Spring, which I’ve always wanted for our band.
Lastly, how do you personally feel lucky?
Sometimes I wish I’d have started playing music at an earlier age, but I really do feel lucky that it all worked out this way. I feel a genuine appreciation that maybe things happen for a reason and it’s led me to form great relationships and friendships with people I may not have met or worked with otherwise. I’m happy to just enjoy the present with the family and friends in my life. In the end, they’re all that really matters and I feel lucky that whatever comes my way is something we get to share.
Keep up with Levi and The Radio Publica on Instagram: @lpandtherp
Live Review: Music connection
Published October 2017
Album Review: Adobe and Teardrops
Published April 4, 2017
Levi Petree's debut album will feel familiar to fans of this blog. But to one of his friends, Petree's blend of punk, honky tonk, and country pop perplexed her so that when she asked Petree what his music was, he smiled and gave her the name of his debut album: It's Country.
If you're a fan of Frank Turner, you'll get hooked by the album's first two high-octane tracks "The Rapture" and "Fight On." Petree, a California resident by way of Lafayette, LA, certainly appreciates blending genres and putting on a great show. Petree's delivery on the album feels a little practiced and theatrical, but he's a great actor so it's hard to be bothered by it. It's Country is as entertaining as it is thoughtful, as can be seen on Petree's love songs and "With You By My Side," a slower version of "Fight On." The band's sense of fun is infectious and makes me excited to see them in person -- hopefully they'll make it over here.
Live Review: Daily Independent - ridgecrest, ca
Published March 28, 2017
Levi Petree & The Radio Publica took the stage next. Petree's bandmate, Chad McKinsey, knew someone from Ridgecrest and had performed at the Historic USO building before. Petree said, "He said when you walk in here, it feels like the kind of place Johnny Cash would've played."
The band opened their set with a bit of country, making a smooth transition from the soothing sounds of Alas de Liona's set. After a few songs, Petree grabbed the mic and said, "Thank you for enjoying the country segment of our set. Now it's time for some rock and roll."
He proceeded to rock the Historic USO building like it's rarely been rocked before. By the end of his set, a crowd had gathered at the foot of the stage to dance to the band's thrashing riffs, highlighted by HSUMD's multi-color flashing light display. - Michael Smit
Levi Petree’s debut album is called It’s Country, but it isn’t. It’s a delicious melange of things that might fit neatly under the Americana umbrella: pastoral balladry, kick-ass stompers, folksy sunniness, and more than a little punk-rock snarl. They come together to make a debut that is strong and assured, with loads of personality.
Levi Petree is from Lafayette, Louisiana, and there’s a hit of swampy garage rock that wanders through It’s Country. The opener, “The Rapture” showcases Petree’s gift for lyrics (the last verse is fantastic and shot through with humor) and opens in a strident, almost Proclaimers-like way. That swells into a barreling, swaggering rave up with soaring guitars and a great deal of appeal. Petree’s lyrics on “What’s It Gonna Take” are shattering. The song is about the theater shooting in his hometown, and he asks when is enough enough? When will change take place? How many more people have to die? It’s heartfelt and moving and infuriating. The final line cuts right to the bone.
“Do What You Want” starts out sounding like the Sex Pistols, and becomes a pop-punky diatribe of one-sided friendship. It’s got an early 1980s feel of the masters of confessional writing, like an early Elvis Costello without the angularity but with an earthy grit instead. It’s deeply lovable and sounds like an instant classic. “Rockaway,” too, feels classic. A sly charmer with accordion, it’s an easy lope that bursts into a beautiful, Beatles-y technicolor stroll with utter sweetness.
It’s Country is often a terribly fun album. “The Habanero Do-Si-Do” is a witty and grungy story song, reminiscent of a Refreshments track. The punky closer, “Eyes So Blue” is a sing along that ends in a full on rave up of blistering vocals and giddiness. It’s enormously fun.
Levi Petree’s voice has a delightful timbre to it, and it’s highlighted nicely on “Lover’s Cove.” It’s a beauty of a ballad, lush and lovely, warm with sentiment. “Fight On” is both heavy and hopeful, lyrically, with bright guitar and a chugging beat. Petree’s voice has the barest twang, and the sound of a singer unstuck in time; current and classic at the same time.
It’s Country is one fine debut album. It firmly establishes Petree’s world view and heart, as well as showing his versatility as a singer and songwriter. It’s a Sunday morning album, but it’s also a road trip album. It implores you to sing along, but it also wants you to just sit and listen. It’s a good one.
It’s Country was released on March 3 from Skye Media.
1/31/17 - Profile and Interview in RebelNoise.Com
Ragin' Cajun singer-songwriter/musician Levi Petree talks about his heartland rock/British punk/Outlaw country sound and premieres his new rockin' single.
by Jen Dan Jan 31, 2017
Ragin’ Cajun Levi Petree may currently be located in Los Angeles, but his roots are in Lafayette, Louisiana where he grew up on the bayou. That unique environment and upbringing runs through Petree’s blood and informs the music that he creates. The singer-songwriter/musician also blends British punk, New Wave, 1970s Outlaw country, and classic heartland rock to into his sound.
Petree is set to self-release his upcoming debut album, It’s Country, on March 3rd. Most of the songs recorded for the album had been in the live repertoire he had built up with his backing band, The Radio Publica. Sean Novak, bass player and Petree’s right hand man, was the key force in guiding the songs to the finish line. John Salgado, Jr., who’d joined the band after befriending Petree at an East L.A. ‘Morrissey-oke’ bar, provided the guitar fireworks.
Wanting to go all out on the production value, Petree reeled in his network of musician friends he’d built up in L.A., from Liz Beebe (The Dustbowl Revival) on vocals and washboard to John McKenna of L.A. Irish band Slugger O’Toole who added his accordion on the album’s back half, Aedan MacDonnell on accordion, and Erick Szabo at the piano and organ.
With songs that are lyrics- and guitar-driven and which boast a healthy dose of humor and a touch of American swagger, Petree’s album was recorded at Exposition Studios in Culver City, CA, with Chad McKinsey at the production helm. The record was mixed and mastered at Exposition Studios, with additional mixing done by Paul Broussard at Leap Studios in Lafayette, Louisiana.
The album title It’s Country, said with a wink and tongue planted firmly in cheek, was the direct response given by a friend when asked to describe her thoughts on Petree’s first public performance. It was always meant for a laugh, but whether people were thrown by the occasional twang in his voice, or the presence of guitars on a classic structure, the country comparison started to happen more and more. Rolling his eyes at what he felt was a generalization, Levi began to embrace the description “It’s country” as a smartass’ act of defiance; an inside joke that maybe this is just what people called rock ‘n’ roll nowadays. “I still believe in the promise of rock ’n’ roll, and our aim is to remind people it’s out there,” says Petree.
“Do What You Want”, which premieres right here, does just that. It’s a gritty, but upbeat rocker filled with Petree’s direct, but rich vocals, harmonizing backing vocals, jags of distorted guitar, deep bass line twang, an emphatic drum beat pace, and constant smash of cymbals scintillation.
Interview with Levi Petree
Hello Levi! It’s a great pleasure to have this chance to chat with you. Can you please go into the inspiration behind “Do What You Want”?
The inspiration for this song stands about 5'4" with jet black hair and piercing blue eyes. There was history there, and after she put the kibosh on us repeating it, my 29-year-old teenage self went home and pouted into my writing pad. The first verse came out of a classic case of replaying, or acting, the conversation out loud and I started to mimic her in a mocking tone ("What's my age again?"). Almost immediately, there was a happy accident of "Hmmm... that actually sounds like a decent melody."
So, the initial spark basically came from me whining about not getting my way, but there's a real convoluted sense of irony in that the rest of the lyrics evolved into me realizing that I was probably the one in the wrong. On first listen, I'm sure it comes off as me being scorned and dismissive of someone else. The truth of it, though, is that a lot of it is me being dismissive of myself and certain patterns of behavior. It's an assumption on my part of what certain people probably felt I'd done to them. Sorta my comeuppance.
What was it like working on this song in the studio? How did the recording process go?
Even though the recording of this one was very start and stop, I remember it being one of the more fun ones to do, at least musically. (Not so much vocally, which I'll come back to.) The two big influences on this song are the Sex Pistols and Weezer. Sean, our bassist, is a huge Weezer fan and he really took hold of some production and background vocal choices on this one. That left me to focus on the guitar parts, where I was definitely trying to emulate Steve Jones (complete with Gibson plugged into a Marshall). There's video somewhere of me with a big goofy grin recording "swooshes" and making faces straight out of old Pistols documentaries. ("Never mind the bollocks, ya'll!!!")
Vocally, I stressed over this one for a while. I think I was too worried about what type of voice it should be sung with, partly because I didn't trust my natural singing voice to match the energy I felt the song required. The natural timbre and inflection of my voice is more Dwight Yoakam than Johnny Rotten, but I was a little in my head about whether that would work. Because of the Sex Pistols influence on the song, I played around with some snarl and kinda created character voices that weren't sounding right. I think I started to drive Sean crazy and he finally had to put his foot down, insisting I just sing the damn thing. "Three takes - best one, move on!"
I'm still learning to trust my own voice when I take it out of the comfort zone. Now that I'm a little removed from the recording, I'm able take it as a lesson that sometimes you just gotta shut up and sing.
Got any great stories about working on recording this song - funny, crazy, etc…?
Anybody who's ever seen us live knows that Sean bounces all over the stage and does an incredible job of selling this song. He's a '90s punk rock kid and just has this really great energy about him. When we'd play it live, he'd throw in this hilarious Ric Flair-like "Wooooooooooo!" right before the second chorus. I really wanted to make sure we got one on the record, so we set him up with a microphone and let him go to town. While he was doing that, I filmed and later edited them all into a "Woooooooooo!" super-cut, which kinda sounds like Mick Jagger at the beginning of "Sympathy for the Devil." I go into a giggle fit every time I watch it on Instagram.
There's also a moment before John's guitar solo that was an improvised idea. When we'd play the song live, I'd always call attention to John to let the audience know he was about to start shredding. A "hold onto your butts!" moment, if you will. When I was putting vocals on the recording, I felt like something was missing when the chorus went into the solo without some type of segue. I started throwing different guttural sounds at it, but nothing seemed to fit. I spent a lot of time on this small, almost throwaway moment and it was starting to become ridiculous.
There were two things that eventually led me to what you hear on the record. The vocals on this song were recorded around the time David Bowie passed away and I'd been spending a lot of time listening to his music. In addition to Bowie's own catalog, though, I kept listening to Peter Schilling's song "Major Tom (Coming Home)," which is an homage to Bowie's "Space Oddity" and had the great "Fooooouuuuuurr, Threeeeeeee, Twwwwooooo, One!" before each chorus. So, that was already on my brain. The second thing is that the idea of a countdown seemed to fit within the context of our band. For reasons he probably doesn't want in print, years ago I lovingly nicknamed John (Salgado, lead guitar) the "Space Man." Since I wanted to announce what I felt was a pretty great solo by John, I thought a countdown was perfect for the Spaceman before he took liftoff. So, that's why you hear the "4,3,2,1" coming from mission control. It's me sending John into orbit.
I'm sure you had an idea in your head of what this song would sound like. How does the end result measure up to that idea in your mind?
I always wanted it to be a swift kick in the ass and I think we got that. Any time we play it live, I like to lull the audience with a false sense of quiet. There's usually a softer number right before it and I let the end of that sink in before jumping right into a loud "1,2,3,4" and going airborne for the opening chord. That opening moment was something we had to get right in order to set up the rest of the song.
As for the rest of it, the recording process was a great opportunity to finally add all the other layers we couldn't replicate live. As I mentioned before, other people in the band had really taken to this one and it was cool to step back and let them add things I hadn't thought of. I think it represents the best of everyone in the band. It's so explosive, but well contained and they each pack everything they have into it.
How do you think this song represents you as an artist, sonically speaking? What do you hope listeners take away from having listened to it?
Oh, I think this one perfectly captures the rock 'n' roll fantasy of what I want myself to be. I occasionally get told (and can accept at times) that the softer, more acoustic and country stuff is a more natural and comfortable setting for my voice. But in my heart, I want loud guitars. I want energy, I want chaos, and I wanna move. That's what speaks to me. What I hope listeners find in it is a song they pump their fist to while shouting along at full throttle. We designed it to be a volcanic blast of energy and I sincerely hope it's a song people put on when they need something visceral.