Interview by Harry Kaplan
I interviewed Levi Parham via phone on June 20, 2016. We spoke extensively about a number of topics, especially the new album, These American Blues. It was a great pleasure for me and we had a great open dialogue. Levi is immensely talented and has himself a really special album. Besides being talented, he is a very humble an genuinely nice guy. I wish him nothing but success. You will love this new record! Here is part 1 of the interview:
TwangriLa: First, I want to congratulate you on your new album (I still say album) These American Blues on Music Road Records. You have to know you have something special here, right? I mean do you get that feeling that you know this is really good?
Levi Parham: Yeah, I feel that way. I think just like anybody else that gets very consumed with their work, and working, you’re never really looking up in enough time to get much congratulations, especially for yourself. You’re always thinking about the next step. I guess I do get consumed with just working and I don’t give it much thought. I try not to get my hopes up, I guess you could say (chuckle). It was nothing but talent in the room and everybody involved was just super amazing at what they do. So I kind of knew from the get-go. I felt like putting the people together that we did, it felt right the minute we were in the studio. And the minute we left, we knew we had something cool. And then, it just got better from there. So, I feel really proud of it very, very proud.
TwangriLa: Well that is good, you have a definite right to be. It is one of the best records that my wife and I have heard in a very long time.
Levi Parham: That’s very kind of you, thank you very much. I appreciate that.
TwangriLa: So you mentioned the musicians, can you talk more about the musicians that worked on the album with you?
Levi Parham: Sure, first of all, Mike Byars played the drums. He is a kind of an Oklahoma staple. He has been in a band for quite some time called the Hosty Duo. They have really instilled themselves as Oklahoma legends, kinda forever. Then I had Seth Lee Jones play slide guitar. He’s from Tulsa. He plays with a lot of the other Tulsa guys. He plays with Fullbright, actually was just playing a few shows with Fullbright just this last week. He is an amazing guitar player as well as a luthier (some who builds or repairs stringed instruments). He is a really talented and well respected luthier in Tulsa. And then, there’s David Leach, who played the bass. He actually has a band called Harumph sort of jazz fusion trio. I said trio, they’re not a trio at all (chuckles). They are kind of a jazz group. They are really awesome.
TwangriLa: I have actually heard of them.
Levi Parham: And actually David plays bass for Fullbright as well. So he is really, just an amazingly talented dude. And then Radoslav Lorkovic played the keys. He plays with Ellis Paul and Jimmy LaFave and many others. He’s just a wiz. And Phil Hurley. Actually I didn’t know Phil. Phil was a call in, he’s an Austin guy. And he plays with a few different Austin people. Jimmy knew him and I guess he had worked with Jimmy before. We needed an extra guitar player, we wanted somebody else’s brain in the room. And Jimmy LaFave knew just who to call. So he called Phil, and Phil came over in one day and just nailed it. And I liked him, I liked his playing. He is just a really awesome dude. So that just worked out great. Also Tim Easton, I don’t know if you have ever heard of Tim Easton, but he is a legend in the Americana realm. He’s been around for a long time. He’s been sort of a mentor of mine. I met him about a year and a half to two years ago and, I kind of lean on him a lot for advice and he’s been very gracious and kind. He makes me feel like a peer.
TwangriLa: That’s always nice to have someone like that. Everybody needs that in order to make it. Well, I guess you don’t need it, but it sure does help.
Levi Parham: It does. Hearing from someone who’s been there, done that, and hearing their take on things….Even if it’s not the path you are going on……it helps. Every little bit helps. Tim’s been very very…he’s been there and done it, and he has been very kind to share advice with me and I am very grateful for it. So we brought him in, and really didn’t know what we were going to do. I thought about covering one of Tim’s tunes and that ended up not being the case. But Tim played a little guitar on there. I was really fortunate to have him there. And then the background singers…I didn’t know them as well….They are all Austin girls.
TwangriLa: They are really good.
Levi Parham: Yeah, they are really great! Jaimee Harris, she’s one of the background singers that I became very close friends with after the record. She’s a really talented artist. We’ve got a couple of gigs together, coming up this fall, and I am super pumped about that. Noelle Hampton, she’s an awesome artist as well, she sang on it. And Emily Shirley…When you get that many talented folks in the room together, something really bad has to happen for it not to be good (laughs).
TwangriLa: So you answered my question. My next question is are these studio musicians or are you playing with them live? It sounds like a combination of both.
Levi Parham: It’s a little bit of a combination of both. Like I said, I didn’t know the background singers beforehand. I didn’t know Phil beforehand. But everybody else, I was familiar with. Even Rad Lorkovic, I’ve known him for years through WoodyFest (The Woody Guthrie Festival) in Okemah, Oklahoma. He’s always been a staple there. Unfortunately, I don’t get to play full band as much as I would like to. Or, as I plan to in the future. This last year and a half has pretty much been just me on the road by myself. But I do have some full band stuff planned for this fall and I am super pumped about that. And this weekend, the album release shows I’ve got a full band with me. Unfortunately, just because everybody is so busy, I don’t have the same lineup. That’s the only thing. David is really busy with his project. Like I said, Seth is out on the road with Fullbright. But, the great thing about being in Oklahoma is that you don’t have to turn very far to find someone that is really talented and awesome. So we are very fortunate to have this group of musicians that are all helping each other out. I don’t know if you have ever heard of Paul Benjamin but I played a festival just a few days ago in Muskogee called G Fest. They actually had Merle Haggard on as the headliner but unfortunately he passed away. It was an all-star cast, it was a great festival. A few of my guys that I had playing with me cancelled at the last minute and couldn’t make it. So I was scrambling and I got Paul Benjamin, who was playing there that day….I got his band to back me up…. So that was really cool and they learned the songs on the spot, and it ended up being really really awesome. There is this sense of community here where everybody knows everybody’s songs, and we’re all kind of ready to play with one another at any given time. It’s kind of nice.
TwangriLa: I am surprised at the number of talented musicians from Oklahoma.
Levi Parham: Oh, It will blow your mind. I was joking with a friend of mine not very long ago and what it is, you know, we don’t have very much education here so no one tells us this is a bad idea (laughter).
TwangriLa: I’m not sure that’s the case, you sound pretty smart to me (laughter).
Levi Parham: (more laughter) We are dumb enough to make this a life. No, I think it is we happen to be right here in the center of it all…..Oklahoma has a lot of different cultures within it, a lot of different ecosystems within it, and I think that we ………. I think because everybody here is so strapped, we all grew up sort of strapped……….but we kind of take for granted how beautiful this state is……..and how different this state is…….and how much it has to offer. Other than the landscape and poor education, I don’t know why we are all doing this (more laughter).
TwangriLa: Obviously, parents must pass down, I guess, music to their kids which is a great thing.
Levi Parham: Yeah, my dad doesn’t play and I really don’t have anybody very close to me that played. I had a few distant cousins that played. But, what I did have was full support the minute I was interested in it. My dad has always been a big music buff, he has always a big music collector…..He had vinyl………He had 8 tracks……..and he had cassettes, CDs…(chuckle) just piles of them….. So I grew up with getting to listen to a lot of different kinds of stuff, which I was very fortunate. The minute that I was interested in music, my dad with taking me to festivals or taking me to one of his friend’s houses that knew what they were doing. Actually, there used to be this old music store in the town I grew up in, long since gone now, but every Saturday morning all the old men around town would go in and they would sit around and drink coffee and play guitar. Mostly bluegrass, but every Saturday morning my dad would take me down there and listen to these guys pick. Now, bluegrass never really became my thing but I always really appreciated that. And, I think I absorbed more than I really even know. I was very fortunate, I got encouraged from the get-go to pursue it.
TwangriLa: Well, that’s great. That really helps having supportive parents. That means everything. So getting back to the record, how long did it take you to record?
Levi Parham: We recorded it, over…..I would say collectively……about two weeks. I came back to do the vocals about a month later. It was around Christmas time and I had been on the road quite a while…..so my voice was pretty roughed up at the time. We got some pretty good scratch tracks during the recording but I ended up coming back. So, all in all, I would say around two weeks. But really, the recording of the album itself……the first three days we had had pretty much everything tracked. Seth, like I said, he is a luthier so he’s got the wood shop there in Tulsa and he’s kind of an eccentric guy. So, like the minute he was done, you know, he was packed up and like I’m going back to Tulsa (chuckle). I remember it was like noon on Wednesday and I think we had been there since Monday. And he was done so he was like, OK, I’m going home (laughter).
TwangriLa: That’s good that it didn’t take too long.
Levi Parham: No! I didn’t take too long at all! We didn’t overthink it. And that was what was great about it. I was really nervous going in as I’d been on the road for a while and they had all been kinda busy. But I’d gotten them on the schedule for being in the studio. And thankfully, with Music Road…. considering not that we would spend a month in there…..they had left it open-ended. We can take as much time as we needed……but, I was kinda nervous……..because we hadn’t rehearsed at all. And I knew they were talented, I knew who I was bringing to the table. But, I thought there was some work that was going to be involved……..and we got in there………and I probably ran through the song maybe once or twice and they just nailed it! By the third or fourth take, we had it. Very little overdubs, we kinda left it the way it was. And these are all guys that are playing all the time. Like Seth, I remember Seth said to me, “man this is great because I didn’t overthink it at all. I just felt it.” I think that comes through.
TwangriLa: Absolutely! That leads me into my next comment which is talking about the production of the record by Jimmy LaFave. I think it’s brilliant.
Levi Parham: Yeah, and you know, it’s so funny because I’m really proud of how we were able to showcase the different…….I feel like we were able to showcase different sounds……..without getting too muddy or without getting too much from what Music Road is……they represent singer/songwriters and are very proud of that. I think that there were times where we could’ve gotten off track from where we were headed and what we’re trying to make. And Jimmy definitely kept us on track and is focused on the song and not going overboard and muddying them up too much……just letting them be clean and what they are……..and what came out of that was a really great representation of me and what the guys brought to the table.
TwangriLa: I totally agree. I think he used the most powerful tools of production, which are, discipline and restraint.
Levi Parham: Exactly! Yes!
TwangriLa: It’s beautifully produced, but not overproduced.
Levi Parham: Exactly, and that’s what I love about it. Jimmy, you know, he just let us do our thing. Whenever we were running into a situation, he was there to guide us, but it was never heavy handed. It was always very subtle. And like I said, it just flowed really easy. The whole time it felt really easy.
TwangriLa: It has the feeling of a live album but the production quality of a studio album.
Levi Parham: Right, I totally agree. It’s funny because we are all used to late nights. When I recorded Avalon Drive, I recorded it in Nashville. We only recorded it in three days, but they were 16 hour days in a hot studio. We had to turn the air conditioner off to track. It was scorching hot in there. It was miserable and so this album was the complete opposite of that. We didn’t start until 10, we quit at 6 every day. We had lunch (laughter)! We took long breaks. It was very easy. It was a lot of fun and I can’t say enough good things about the experience. We had a really great time. It was comfortable and I think that was important.
To stream the album before you buy it, click here.
To buy it (and you will want to buy it), click here.