Adam Levy Interview

Adam Levy: Expressive Playing.

Adam Levy is a guitarist and songwriter from Los Angeles, California. Beyond his solo work, Adam is known for his studio work and touring withNorah Jones. Adam has also recorded an EP with singer-songwriter Amber Rubarth. He recently wrote in to discuss his first guitar, playing the Hollywood Bowl, and his love of Scrabble.

How old were you when you first started playing guitar?
10 or 11.

What was the first guitar you had?
An inexpensive Crown nylon-string. It belonged to my mother, who had taken folk-guitar classes a few years before I started.

Do you have a favorite guitar to play?
I got a new Gibson ES-335 electric in 1979, for my 13th birthday. I have some other great guitars—arguably “better” guitars—but that one always feels like home to me. There were many years when it was the only guitar I owned.

Do you prefer acoustic or electric?
I like to play acoustic at home, when I’m practicing or writing, but I always prefer electric when I’m performing. I find it more expressive.

Do you remember what you wrote your first song about?
“In the Morning” was my first song with lyrics. (I’d been writing instrumental music for a long time before this.) The song is about a woman who I had an addictive relationship with, and wishing I could quit her. Norah recorded the song on her ‘Feels Like Home’ album. I recorded my own version on my ‘Washing Day’ album.

Were your parents musical?
My grandfather—on my mother’s side—was a professional pianist and arranger. My mother played a little guitar and piano, but never as more than a hobby. My father played saxophone in high school and college, but didn’t pursue music as a career.

Do you remember the first jazz album you heard?
I think it was Benny Goodman’s ‘Carnegie Hall Concert’ from 1938. I was probably 10 or 11 when I heard it. My step-father is a big jazz buff and he used to play that record at home a lot—really loud.

What was the first concert you went to?
Depends on what counts as a “concert.” I saw Beatlemania in Los Angeles when I was 12 years old. It was like a concert, but also a theatrical performance. Around that same time, I saw Toto at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium and Dan Fogelberg at the Los Angeles Forum. I can’t remember which of these was, strictly speaking, first.

What are your hobbies outside of music?
I run. I’ve run a couple of marathons. I’m not very fast. I run because I like the the solitude and I like getting out of the house—most of my guitar practice happens indoors. I am pretty serious about Scrabble.

Do you have a favorite record store?
It’s a tie between Down Home Music in El Cerrito, and Amoeba Music in Hollywood.

What have been some of the best albums you’ve heard this year?
Monsters of Folk, self-titled. It’s from 2009, but I just heard it this year. Sam Phillips’ EP ‘Magic for Everybody.’ Noël Akchoté’s ‘So Lucky’ is another one that’s not brand new, but was new to me at the beginning of this year. It’s an instrumental guitar album, featuring covers of Kylie Minogue songs. The idea might seem wacky, but it’s a truly lovely recording.

When did you first meet Norah Jones?
1999, at the 55 Bar in New York City.

What was the vibe like the first time you played with Norah?
It was just the two of us, vocal and guitar. We were hired to play a private event at an art gallery inside a car dealership. We had a lot of fun.

What guitarists would you love to work with that you haven’t yet?
Noël Akchoté, Ry Cooder, Jacob Bro, Mark Ribot.

Do you have a favorite gig you’ve played?
Hollywood Bowl, with Norah, in 2004. Growing up in L.A., I’d always considered the Bowl the ultimate venue. I missed my 20-year high-school reunion that night. I couldn’t think of a better reason to miss it.

What do you enjoy most about being on the road?
Going home.

What’s the oddest thing that’s happened to you while on tour?
The oddest thing? I must have blocked it out of my memory. Mostly I remember a lot of good music and a lot of good times—and a lot of boring times. There’s so much “hurry up and wait” on the road. Sorry if that sounds unglamorous, but it’s true.

What is the strangest venue you’ve played in?
Placer County Fair—ages ago—on a big concrete stage in the middle of the fairgrounds. I was half of a blues duo with a great singer/bassist. We were the opening act for a goat-milking contest.

How did your collaboration with Amber Rubarth come together?
We met in 2005 at the Hotel Cafe in Hollywood. It was a chance meeting. We got to talking about co-writing, which led to a writing date a few weeks later. We wrote “Washing Day” that afternoon. We’ve been writing and gigging together ever since. Our ‘Church EP’ was my wife’s idea. She recognized that Amber and I have a special chemistry, and she thought we should document it and share it.

Does your songwriting process differ within the many projects you’re involved with?
I’m sure it does, but not by any conscious change. It happens naturally. I always try to meet fellow artists where they’re at—rather than forcing an emerging song into my own comfort zone.

What is the biggest piece of advice you would give to musicians just starting out?
Take care of your body. We musicians tend to take good care of our musical instruments while neglecting our native instruments—our bodies.

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