Interviewed by Harry Kaplan
Here is Part 2 of the Levi Parham interview from June 20, 2016. I know it is a bit long, but Levi gave such great answers that there was nothing to cut. This is great insight into the mind and routine of a singer, songwriter, and musician.
TwangriLa: Do you have a process for writing songs? Is it words first then music? Does it just come to you? How does the process work for you?
Levi Parham: It depends and I am at a point where I’m trying to get more skilled at that. I think up until just recently it’s been sort of just however it comes. Whether that is music first or lyrics later, lyrics first music later, or just all at once. Just like a bolt of lightning. I’ve been around a lot of songwriters these last 2 years, and like I said, have gotten a lot of advice. From some really great dudes that I admire. All of them practice the skill set of writing songs. I feel like that any person who wants longevity you have to nurture that. You have to exercise those muscles. I heard a story of Steve Poltz and I can’t think of his name now….. .Austin guy……Bob Schneider……So apparently they would send each other emails of just a few words and each would have to write a song with these words. They would exchange them a few days later. And it was nothing great, it was silly most of the time. But it was an exercise. I am at a point now where I’m trying to get more skilled at that but so far it’s just when it comes. I try to write every day but, I don’t always get that accomplished.
TwangriLa: I agree with you. I have found that in the short time I have been doing this blog, I am getting better at writing. It’s easier than it was a couple of months ago. As a friend of mine says, “The most important part of writing is to apply ass to chair” (laughter).
Levi Parham: That’s so right! That’s great!
TwangriLa: Do you consider yourself a recording artist, a live performer, or a combination?
Levi Parham: I hope to be a combination. Just by excuse of the numbers alone I would say a live performer because I have done a whole lot more of that. But I would like to be really proud of both. Like I said, I am proud of both. But I would like to be really good at both. It’s a whole other animal being in the studio. When you are on stage, without 13 people up there with you, you can only really accomplish so much. I try (chuckle). But I don’t have 15 pedals, I’ve just got me and an acoustic guitar most of the time. If I don’t have the backing band with me. So, it’s like, what can you pull off? As a player I get I a lot of pats on the back for the way I play. I play, sort of, keeping the bass beat with my thumb, and I play lead with my other finger. And I end up writing that way as well. So there’s a little bit of a struggle, and I had a little struggle with this album. Going into the studio and trying to reverse my own writing and in writing in a way that fits 5 other people. Sort of simplifying my part. That has been a different thing, sort of started thinking about that going forward. Like with this next album, I want to be on the road with a full band. I want to be playing shows with a full band. So I want to be writing songs for a full band. So I’ve already started to change the way I play, lately when I’m sitting and trying to write songs. I’ve been picking up a pick lately, which I usually never play with a pick. I’m experimenting there but, like I said, I hope to get better at it.
TwangriLa: You mentioned in your bio that your two biggest influences are Van Morrison and Sam Cooke. I can definitely hear both of those on the album as accents. I mean it is your style that is coming through, but I can definitely hear Van Morrison and Sam Cooke.
Levi Parham: Van Morrison especially. I love Sam Cooke, but I always liked other people doing his stuff. When I was listening to things, it was always someone covering a Sam Cooke song. But Van Morrison, I’ve always listened to a lot. I have always really been a huge fan of his. I love the way he records his albums, the production he puts behind it. And then the same thing with his live performances. His performance on The Last Waltz is just hilarious. He’s kicking and shouting and it’s awesome (laughter). I love that high-energy. I don’t even realize but I bounce around a lot on stage. I don’t realize how much, and someone showed me a video and I’m just like…..I’m 6 foot 6, 200 pounds…..I’m a big guy and so I’m really moving……..and people are like dodging my arms. I move around a lot and I really appreciate that from Van. I get a real kick out of that. And Muddy Waters too. I was always a big fan of Muddy Waters. I love watching old videos of him. Or hearing about him spraying people with a bottle or something.
TwangriLa: He could get a little antagonistic up there.
Levi Parham: Yeah (laughter), I kinda dig that. There’s a video of him at the Newport Folk Festival in like ‘64 or something. He’s got these white shoes and he’s dancing. It was like early Michael Jackson or something. He had the hair, he had it goin’ on.
TwangriLa: He was quite the ladies’ man as well.
Levi Parham: Oh yeah (laughter). He had that song Nineteen Years Old, and I think he wrote it as a much older man.
TwangriLa: So are there any other influences that you have that you think shaped you, musically?
Levi Parham: Yeah, you know it’s funny because, I’m saying this because I just got reminded of it recently when Guy Clark passed away. I always thought I was a big Townes Van Zandt fan and I always have been. But my dad has always been a big Guy Clark fan. And Dad was always just blaring Guy Clark. I love LA Freeway and some other of his tunes but, I do not like a lot of the talking blues tunes. I couldn’t stand the thought of them. I was like, “Man turn this off”! But Dad was always really into Guy Clark. So when he passed away just recently I dove back into him. I wanted to investigate this. I found that there was a lot more there that had sunk in with me than I realized. And I fell in love with his stuff all over again. So, I have been listening to a lot of that lately. It’s funny because some of these things, they kind of permeate you. They get through. And you don’t even know that they are there.
TwangriLa: Or sometimes it actually takes a few years to sink in. At least with me, I’m like, why didn’t I like this when I was younger? Or when they were alive?
Levi Parham: I’ve said this before, but I was not really into the blues in my early 20s. It wasn’t until I got into the Black Keys. They were playing Junior Kimbrough songs and my dad had played Junior Kimbrough at the house. And that was kind of obscure to me. So immediately….I was like…..Whoa! These guys are listening to that? So I started going back into that. And I was like wait, I like this!
TwangriLa: They did their homework on music and they opened up a whole new audience for Junior Kimbrough music that probably never heard of him before. I had never heard of him before they did their EP.
Levi Parham: That Chulahoma EP is just amazing. It is so good!
TwangriLa: Not to get off topic here, but I don’t know what happened to them. They changed their style so dramatically, they’re not even the same band anymore.
Levi Parham: Well, I hope that going forward I am able to keep my integrity. But I also understand that at every level through your career that you get to, what that means probably changes a little bit. To them, I think getting to continue to produce records…..to make records…..to continue to put out music…..to have a fan base…..to bring food to the table to their families…..I think that outweighs “Oh ok, so we gotta play it this way?” And the major label wants this production to it? We’ll cater to that. I would hope that if I ever got to that level that I would maintain some integrity. But I’m sure if you ask them they wouldn’t even think that they were doing anything wrong. They would tell you that this is the music they want to make. It’s hard for you and me to swallow. It’s like, what? You were making such better music before. But they were there, they did that, and they have already moved past it. They are probably having fun playing the songs they are playing now. And they have a screaming fan base that loves those songs. Some 13 year old girl that has never heard Thickfreakness. It’s all about this new stuff. What I’m saying is I guess I get it. I wish it was different. I wish they would….maybe they will……come back to the garage Thickfreakness.
TwangriLa: You never know. Maybe another version of Stack Shot Billy.
Levi Parham: Yeah! Hahaha! I made an attempt at writing my own version of Stagger Lee. I might actually try to dust it off. I wrote it several years ago with some friends and I never really came back to it.
TwangriLa: It’s funny because I did a radio show a few years ago about that song. I played like 15 different versions and that doesn’t even come close. It has been recorded over 200 times. In all genres, I mean from like punk, to blues, to folk. Even Neil Diamond had his hand in a version of Stagger Lee.
Levi Parham: And everybody has heard the Nick Cave version.
TwangriLa: Yeah, well I couldn’t play that on the radio (laughter)! And there is also R.L. Burnside version which is pretty filthy also. That isn’t really radio friendly. But it’s been covered from The Clash to the Grateful Dead and everybody in between. It is a fascinating song.
Levi Parham: It is funny how stuff like that sticks in the popular culture and in the writer’s mind.
TwangriLa: It’s become folklore. No one even knows the original story anymore. It doesn’t even matter.
Levi Parham: The version I was starting to write sort of like a folkier tone to it. It was more like progressive folk sounding. It wasn’t quite bluesy.
TwangriLa: You should do it, I would love to hear it. So in Oklahoma, I guess you’ve heard of JD McPherson.
Levi Parham: Oh yeah, JD is awesome.
TwangriLa: I’ve never seen him live. He’s been here a few times but I never got to catch him. His voice is just powerful.
Levi Parham: Oh, it’s amazing. So good. It’s so funny you mentioned him. I put on one of his records today for some people I know. And I kinda secretly put it on and I didn’t say anything. And they are older folks. I saw the older man like tapping his foot. And I asked him, “Do you like this?” And he said, “Yeah when is this from?” I said this was made just a couple of years ago. I love that. I haven’t listened to the newest record as much as I have the first one, “Signs and Signifiers”. It’s just an immaculate album. It’s perfect, it’s so good.
TwangriLa: It must be something in the water in Oklahoma. You already explained it. There’s a lot of great musicians and it’s not really a rivalry, it doesn’t seem like. It seems like everyone sort of embraces the other artists and want to help each other, which is great.
Levi Parham: There’s a real sense of the love and camaraderie between everyone and that’s really awesome. To see everybody is out for everyone else’s benefit. I feel if one of us wins, we all win.
TwangriLa: I think that’s great. It definitely shows and it will help to spawn the next generation of musicians. And that’s a great thing.
Levi Parham: And every genre. We’ve got Broncho, who are just killing it. And, of course, The Flaming Lips. We’ve got a ton of country artists that come from Oklahoma. Like Jared Deck is an Oklahoma City guy. He’s kind of a top 40 country guy, but he’s got some pretty decent stuff. There are all kinds of bands. There are probably some metal bands that I am not even aware of. It’s really great to be from here.
TwangriLa: Well that is all the questions I have. I want to thank you for taking the time to talk to me. I really appreciate it.
Levi Parham: I appreciate you, Harry. I appreciate you very much.
TwangriLa: Thank you, and I wish you nothing but success in the future.
To stream the album before you buy it, click here.
To buy it (and you will want to buy it), click here.