I distinctly remember downloading Levi Weaver’s album, You Are Never Close To Home, You Are Never Far From Home, from Noisetrade just months after Derek Webb and others initiated it. I had never heard of Levi Weaver nor knew what his music sounded like, but like so many bands I have come to love, I downloaded it because the cover art interested me. After the first listen, I was hooked and I bought everything he produced from that point on. If you have a chance to see Levi Weaver live or to host a house show for him, then take it, because it is an experience unlike any other. What keeps me coming back to his music is its sheer emotional intensity and penchant for the perfectly chosen word. He is one of the most sincere musicians I have heard in the last ten years.
I was given a chance to interview Levi Weaver over email recently to talk about his new album, Your Ghosts Keep Finding Me.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you became a musician.
Hey everyone. Let’s see… I grew up in a home where my dad was a professional rodeo cowboy and also an ordained home missionary to the cowboys in the PRCA (Pro Rodeo Cowboys Association). He was (is) also a musician, and taught my brothers and I to sing harmony when we were little kids. I started playing drums when I was about 12, and played through high school and college. About 19, I got tired of lugging all my drums everywhere, and I was tired of trying to talk to the audience from my snare drum mic, so I picked up a guitar. I’ve sort of always been a writer, too, so songwriting was the natural next step.
Your new album is entitled Your Ghosts Keep Finding Me which you have conceived, like your last album, The Letters of Dr. Kurt Gödel, as a concept album. How did your mindsets differ in the making of each album?
Process-wise, I think the last one started, from the onset, as a concept album – it stemmed from a dream I’d had (the Butterfly, The Beast, The Bird tell that story) and knew exactly what I wanted to say going in, so (aside from the last song, which took forever), the songs came pretty easily. It was a Big Life Lesson that I was dealing with personally, and I felt eloquent, or more easily so, in that writing process. This one started as one thing and morphed, a few times. Some of it is based in personal experience, but other parts are taken, here and there, from other relationships I’ve seen; some of it is fiction. So I labored over these songs a lot more.
From a production standpoint, though – this album is so so so much better. I did part of “The Letters…” with Mitch Dane, who was amazing, but then I ran out of money, did a few songs on my own, which – I’m proud of them, but I am not an engineer, and then met Aaron Dethrage for the last few. He did a great job, but he was still in college at the time. We’ve sort of grown together throughout the recording processes since then, so I think this is really going to be a crowning achievement for both of us, for the time being. We recorded it all at East Side Manor studios here in Nashville, and I had the same band for the whole thing; guys I’ve “accumulated” over the last few years. I could not be more excited about the work those guys did on this record.
Is the act of creating music a methodical process or more of a free-floating affair for you? Is it a real personal process for you or something that you can detach yourself from?
It is incredibly personal, yeah. Even the ones that are fiction, I almost have to “method act” while I’m sitting down writing them. I always want my lyrics to be genuine, so I don’t want to write something that doesn’t resonate as true. As far as “which comes first”, there’s really no set way that happens for me. Sometimes lyrics, sometimes music, sometimes melody… it varies.
What type of pressures do you run across being a musician, a husband and a father and how do you try to balance those various parts of your life?
The biggest one is time away. I spent a LOT of time on the road in 2011 and 2012, and I missed a lot of my son’s growing up in those times. My earliest memory is my third birthday party, and I missed his (though it was because he and my wife couldn’t get on the flight they’d planned to). I think a lot of the reason I am so driven, professionally, is that I want to be able to afford for my wife to quit her job, and take them on the road with me, not miss any more of those times. It’s a huge source of guilt for me when I am away, and I don’t think “balance” really describes how I’ve handled it so far, unfortunately.
You and I had a good conversation last summer when you came into town for a show at my church and I was able to hear a little bit about your faith and some of your personal struggles in coming to terms with God and Christianity. Would you mind sharing some of that and how your faith/struggles have informed your music?
Man, I could write an answer to this question that is so long that people get bored and log off. Attempting to keep it succinct, I’ll just say that yes – I have absolutely struggled; struggle is a good word, it brings to mind the visual of someone in a straightjacket, just – you might get it off, you might not, but struggle is about the effort. I have exerted a lot of effort over the last few years, so anything that you put that much “struggle” into, if you’re an honest songwriter, is going to find its way into your lyrics. Even in this album, which is 100% a “relationship” album (the story is about a couple, following them from marriage to death), those themes are still swimming around, poking the listener once in awhile, reminding them that there are bigger questions than just this man and this woman.
One of my favorite songs off of the last album, as I think I told you last summer, was “Apostate,” which you wrote as a reflection on the recent news that David Bazan (Pedro The Lion) had pretty much moved away from the Christian faith. Why did you feel so compelled to write that song?
I had always, even when I was a youth pastor, admired Bazan’s songwriting. He had questions, and he was often sarcastic and biting, but his songs just resonated so hard with questions that I had. And it was like “Well, look – if Bazan can have these same questions and come out on the other side as a believer, then I’m good; I don’t have to explore those things, I’ll just co-sign with what he said.” I made the mistake of projecting a lot on him and sort of putting that aspect of my faith (doubts) on his shoulders where it had no place being. When he said he was, in a sense, done… It was a kick in the gut, it felt like all the questions I had just thrown over on his shoulders were now (rightly) thrown back in my face and I had to unpack them and come to my own conclusions. In the long run, that was a good thing for me to do.
So Mockingbird is all about recognizing and revealing how grace can be found in life and culture, where do you personally see the grace of God in your life, in the music business and in the very making of your music?
Grace is something I still don’t fully understand, but I don’t think I even began to understand it until I was in the midst of all that in 2009-2010. And I still can’t fully put into words exactly how I my mindset changed, because I find myself typing all these things that I already knew in my head: “You can’t earn salvation” “You can’t impress God with your good deeds”, etc. But to fully get the fact that we can be loved even in the darkest, grossest places we take ourself… while it’s true that you can’t do enough good to earn that love, the inverse is also true: you can’t do enough bad that you are disqualified from it. I’m not powerful or capable enough to do something bad enough that I “defeat” God. When I started to see it like that, I think there was a brief period of “Oh yeah? Bet I can.”, but eventually that pride just didn’t have the stamina to hold out. When you begin to accept love that you didn’t earn, it’s like “Okay, okay. You win. What now?” I’m still in the middle of that part of the process, I think.
Which song from your catalog has the most meaning for you personally?
I think “Good From Evil”, for a long time, was that song – I was traveling around, battling with myself for 4-8 hours a day in the car, and then I’d set up and play a show, and that song was the one where, I don’t even know if anyone knew this, but I just felt incredibly vulnerable and exposed singing that song. I was physically uncomfortable a lot of the time, because – I mean, I grew up in a preacher’s home, and I was a youth pastor for awhile, and I was expected to know the answers, and that song absolutely does not have any answers, it’s completely open-ended, like “I don’t know. I don’t know how this ends, and I’m sorry if that makes you uncomfortable, but I have to get it out, sorry for this burden I’m inflicting on you, audience.” I felt like I was going to cause others to lose faith, like I would be responsible for that. I’ve since reconciled that a bit, like – just as David Bazan wasn’t responsible for me putting those questions on him, I’m not responsible for causing someone to think about these questions – if God is real, if He’s true, then if you seek honestly, you’ll find that, and if you don’t, then maybe you were believing something with no foundation anyway? And if He’s not, then what am I worried about in the first place?
Thank you for allowing me to ask you some questions! Do you have anything else you would like to add? Personal nuggets of wisdom for the readers of Mockingbird?
No, I’m exhausted. (Sorry for being so wordy.) OH WAIT. Yes. One thing. I’m trying to pay my musicians and get this record mixed and mastered, so I should give you this link: http://www.pledgemusic.com/projects/leviweaver
(I’ve compiled five songs below for you guys to get a feel for Levi Weaver’s music. Enjoy them and if you like what you hear then please help by supporting him!)