Pop Levi’s return to form
Currently in a hotel room in Cologne, Germany in the third week of a 20-week tour, the first words Pop Levi utters are “I’m tired and lonely”. Understandably.
For those not acquainted, Pop Levi is a 29-year-old singer-songwriter from Liverpool in England. He’s had plenty of experience in the industry, playing with Ladytron and Super Numeri, as well as working as a producer. He has ventured into the world of the solo artist this year, releasing his first studio album, ironically titled The Return to Form Black Magick Party.
“Solo work was something I’d always done from the beginning but it was working with other projects that helped me to finance that,” he explains. “It was just a matter of waiting for the right deal and time.”
“The work I did with Ladytron and Super Numeri influences, helps and inspires me. But [solo work is] about finding your own voice.”
His debut solo album has been a long time coming. In 2004 he completed Foxwatch, but decided to pull it at the last minute.
“It wasn’t about the time,” he says. “It was about the music.”
The Return to Form Black Magick Party took him just one year to write and record, compared to the five-year marathon that was the ill-fated Foxwatch. For Levi, it was the culmination of the knowledge and experience he’d built over the process of making the first album, combined with the right creative energy that made this the right one.
“I’m into first takes and mistakes and anything that reveals total failure as a man.
The bits where you’re failing and how you transcend those moments. That’s what I’ve tried to make a whole album about, a complete musical landscape,” he says.
“The record was made like a diary. It was recorded in Greece, China, LA, Liverpool, on top of churches, on beaches and in planes. It was a kind of sonic diary.”
The album’s name, however ironic the intentions were (keeping in mind the album is Levi’s first), is perhaps more aptly titled than it may have been intended. It doesn’t sound like your typical debut album, but a return to form; perhaps the best of his career. His style of songwriting and production is developed and intelligent. The music is complex, involved and epitomizes Pop’s vision of a vast creative soundscape.
It only takes a few minutes of talking to him to discover that his artistic vision for the album was inspired by deep-seeded beliefs about the nature of the industry.
“Its been 50 years since Elvis,” he says. “There is 50 years of rock and roll history behind us, you really have to do something to break the mould. You can’t just keep producing the same old music.
“I don’t have a TV or a radio, I don’t read magazines. I don’t want those outside influences. I mean, there must be people who have been changed by the Arctic Monkeys’ music. For me making music is an unashamed egotistical act. I try and cut myself out of the equation and let the songs speak for themselves.”
He may sound like the ultimate brooding, self-conceited alternative muso. But hearing the album clarifies one thing: that wasn’t just an off-the-cuff remark; this is an album that really is different.
“It’s not like anything else you’ll hear this year,” Levi clarifies. “I’m trying to write stuff you don’t hear on your iTunes playlist.”
It’s no wonder the album is unique. To write the songs he adapted a technique called scrying which was invented by ‘Doctor John’… in Edwardian England.
“You use sound with such a small dynamic range your brain has to interpret it for itself,” he says. “I don’t know whether it’s an angel speaking or my brain.”
Another method Levi used on the album was channeling songs. It’s this approach that he used to write See My Lord, playing and recording the song on his Powerbook G4 in one take at the same time as writing it. It is that same take that appears on the album.
“That song is my crowning achievement of that particular approach to songwriting,” he says. “It’s about the moment you’re truly flowing and you’ve transcended into a vessel. You don’t need to have anything to do with it. I like it when it sounds like someone else.”
According to Levi, there really is something magical about The Return to Form Black Magick Party.
“I’ve seen all the songs on the album come true after I wrote them. 90 per cent of the subject matter came true,” he says.
“That could be one of three things. One, coincidence. Two, increased awareness or three, downright dark magic. I don’t know which one it is but I believe in all three.”