Sit Down with Levi Westfall and the Last Call
Here at Hold the Note, we enjoy making our interviews an individual and personal experience. When Michelle was getting ready to sit down with the members of Levi Westfall and the Last Call, Levi mentioned that they all enjoy being open and honest with each other, and Michelle decided to have fun with that…so we at Hold the Note asked our friends to create a list of interview questions, just for Levi Westfall and the Last Call. What happened because of this experiment was some great insight and and really good conversation. Read on:
HTN: **Unfortunately, Jay (their bassist) couldn't join us, but we did get to meet with 3/4 of the band**
Hey guys, thanks for having a sit down.
Your new EP is officially being released on Friday. And we know you all enjoy some good, open conversation (which expresses itself in your music, as well as everyday life). So we decided to open the “questioning floor” to Facebook, to your fans, and asked everyone what they wanted to know about you and your music.
Jesse (Forrest): It’s basically our moms. (laughter)
HTN: The first question that came through…I’m not sure if you’ve read any of them, already…
Jesse: I totally did. I have canned answers for all of them.
HTN: Perfect. So we’ll start with Aaron’s question, then. Aaron says: “The songs I have heard are written so well. Perfectly structured and lyrically they are strong and catchy. At what age did you start writing original music and what inspirations do you pull from? Thank you and best of luck with your new album.”
Levi: I started writing lyrics when I was about 14, in my spare time at school. I started writing guitar riffs about the same age. My friends started teaching me how to play Nirvana songs. I was all about grunge…
Chuck (McPeek): That’s where everybody starts (with grunge music).
Jesse: I’m glad there’s no documented proof that I liked it (grunge).
HTN: Only if you say it (that you liked grunge), right now…(Ha! Proof!)
Levi: There’s pictures of me with long hair…
Jesse: You have a problem with long hair (as he pops his hat off and shakes his long hair about)?!
Levi: Oh, I don’t have a problem with it. It just doesn’t look good on me.
But in the last 3 or 4 years I started taking songwriting more seriously, and I’ve started noticing an improvement in the last 2 or so years. I’m happy with where I am. Can’t wait to see what lies further down the road. (This has little to do with Levi cutting his hair)
Chuck: What he said.
Jesse: I started writing music when everyone I knew started writing songs. And I thought “I can’t do that, but I’ll polish ‘em!
Chuck: Right, Jesse and I are polishers. Levi’s the structure guy, and we’re the finishers.
Jesse: Yeah, some people lay concrete, and some finish concrete. Ya know.
Levi: It’s all about the brooming pattern, in the concrete.
HTN: So even outside of the “bones” (lyrics, since that’s what we were talking about) of the song, do you also write other musical parts of the song, Levi? Or is that something you all contribute toward, together?
Levi: A lot of times, Chuck and I will come together for a song, try to do riffs together, but for the basic structure of a song, I try to put all of that, together. I present it to the guys, and if they dig it, they dig it. If they need to make changes…
Jesse: It’s like that whole skeleton of a creature. It’s there. But it never comes out the way it came in.
HTN: That totally makes sense. Let’s skip to question 2.
So Chad wondered: “Being based in Appalachia, how has that helped shape the sound of the band?”
Jesse: I think that it’s obvious that it’s done a lot to shape the sound of the band. There’s certain inherent influences that, like a kid growing up in New York wouldn’t get, that we have. Did you listen to Ralph Stanley when you were a kid? And even outside of that, I think Appalachia as a whole is kinda isolated. I think a lot of what you (I) grew up on was your parents’ music. And I think a lot of our influences are funny here (in Appalachia), because a lot of influences didn’t get in. My parents don’t know about a lot of things that were really popular. Like in 1975, there were things that were huge in New York, but never made it, here. So I don’t know about you guys. I didn’t get much of that (exposure, growing up).
Chuck: (I was) pretty limited as far as early influences, but I think as far as the Appalachian influence, it’s more of the isolation than anything else. What a lot of us write about in our little group is loneliness and driving around on back roads, and, at the risk of sounding like a cliche country song, those themes do come up from time to time…and (also) leaving and going on to bigger and better things (are also themes).
Levi: Kinda opposite of what the guys are saying, from a musical standpoint, I do believe that being centralized in Appalachia, from West Virginia and Ohio, I grew up listing to a lot of Bluegrass, Folk Music, I have a lot of family that played Gospel styles, and Jay (Mason), who plays bass in our band, is not here…
HTN: We miss you, Jay
Levi:…after the whole Grunge thing blew over, I spent a lot of time playing Bluegrass music with Jay. So a lot of my musical stylings-the way I play guitar-I can kind of build around Bluegrass scales, things like that. I think Chuck picks up on it sometimes. I’m not sure if anyone else does…
Jesse: Progressions, too. There’s a lot of that. Not that there’s necessarily a lot of 1-4-5s, but there’s a lot of that (progressions)…It’s typical kind of mountain-like, Hill music. It’s not like polished country. It’s something that probably more directly relates to more traditional music, that started here.
HTN: So speaking of polished…what’s a 1-4-5?
Jesse: Oh! That’s just…the easiest way to explain it is to go listen to every Johnny Cash song, ever. And really blues used it a lot, too.
HTN: I may put a little YouTube-y link in here, just so people can see what that is.
Jesse: I forget that sometimes people don’t know what that is (a 1-4-5)…
HTN: But they’ll know now.
Jesse: Yeah, we’re educators…we’re basically School House Rock. Chuck’s actually gonna teach everyone how a bill becomes a law, later in this interview.
HTN: Do you have costuming for this, Chuck?
Chuck: Yeah, but I can’t talk about it.
HTN: Well speaking of music: “Is there an instrument that you have not yet incorporated into your music, but would like to? If so, what is it, and what do you hope it will add?” That’s Jason’s question.
Jesse: I have a lot, but that’s because that’s just how I think. I think there’s room for brass and strings and pianos, and organs, and theremins, and xylophones and everything.
Chuck: But what are you serious about?
Jesse: All of it, but not necessarily in a live context-because most stages wouldn’t hold that many people, and I only have 2 arms.
HTN: It is hard to travel with all of that.
Jesse: It is, but I think especially in recorded material, you do the recording, and then you do it live, in a way that doesn’t have to sound the same.
Chuck: I personally would be content with a groovy keys player of some sort. During our recording, Jesse did a coupla organ and piano parts for one song, and I thought it really added a lot. I would like be able to replicate that.
Jesse: I think that would be good, live.
Levi: I love all of these ideas. I think they could be incorporated so well. I would also like to get a good keys player. I think it would be cool to incorporate a banjo somehow, someday.
Chuck: We’ll just have a lead banjo player, we’ll forget the guitars.
Jesse: Only if you run it through 3 fuzz pedals. That would be fun. 3 fuzz pedals, 4 treble boosters…
HTN: And a wah wah (pedal)?
Jesse: Noo, I want a top box. What is that? Obnoxious, that’s what it is.
Levi: And it would be really cool to have strings of some sort. A violin, some cellos.
HTN: So cool.
Okay, back to our Facebook questions. Angela asked: “I have a few artists that every time I hear their work, I feel like I have to write. What artists inspire you?”
Levi: A lot of the artists I look to for inspiration when I write…definitely I think Tom Petty is a standby. I’ve loved Ryan Adams throughout his whole career. Bruce Springsteen, Jason Isbell is an amazing lyricist and musician. I really look up to Brian Fallon, and I think that reflects in a couple of our songs. I look for inspiration in lots of places. I don’t really have a concrete list of people I go to. Just anywhere I can find inspiration, I do.
Jesse: I think it can come from a lot of places that aren’t musical, too. (But) As far as music goes, I like Black Flag, and The Ramones, The Clash. I don’t think it always has to relate to the thing you do, specifically. I think there’s a lot to be gleaned from a band like The Clash, that fits in context, but…I guess you just have to take that thing, and the way it inspired you is more important than the sound, itself. I really like Robert Byrnes. God knows I’m not writing Scottish prose, but sometimes the most important thing about an artist is the way they present ideas. It’s not necessarily the specific thing they do, but more the presentation of an idea (that) causes us to say “I never thought of that, that way”. I think with (Jason) Isbell…he can paint a very broad picture with very few words. So simple yet so descriptive. I would have never done it, that way.
Chuck: I’m a pure musician in every sense of the word. I don’t particularly listen for the lyrics. I get inspired by melodies a lot more than words. I find myself drawing from a pretty diverse bank when I’m trying to come up with something different. I’ve got a link in one song which sounds almost identical to a Baroness riff (which, I am a huge fan of Baroness), of course it sounds nothing like what we play….
Jesse: But you re-contextualize that stuff. That makes a lot of sense.
HTN: So “How did your band members meet and end up playing together? How did they find that “connection”?” That’s what Kristy wants to know.
Jesse: We’re in the exact place. This is it.
HTN: Was it open mic?
Jesse: It was. (we had the sit down interview at the Adelphia Music Hall, while Jesse was hosting open mic night)
Levi: The first night I ever came, you (Jesse) were here.
Jesse: We started doing all the things we do right here on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Levi: And one day we said “Hey! We ought to play music together.” And before this band came about, Chuck and I, Corey (Shields) and Kevin Neale had a band called The Doomscooter. All we played was just straight, dirty Rock N’ Roll. I decided it was time for me to put a band together. And I couldn’t be happier with where we all are.
HTN: And that was part of it, too (part of the question)…how did you find that “connection”?
Jesse: It was Ryan Adams appreciation night…it’s been a running joke that I would just get up there and play like, 4 or 5 songs to start. Often times I’d find myself playing 2 Ryan Adams songs. I think a lot of artists we bonded on, to some degree. That was it, for me. I thought “These guys get it. A lot of people don’t. But they do”.
Levi: And the deeper we went in our friendships, we found a lot of common ground. And it’s just worked out, ever since.
HTN: I’m sure it goes far beyond music.
Jesse: Right. We love thoroughbred dog racing, a lot.
HTN: Who doesn’t?
Jesse: And actually, Levi turned us all on to cross stitching. We do a lot of that, together.
Chuck: Levi loves to bedazzle denim jackets.
Jesse: Absolutely. Glitzy Canadian tuxedos are kinda his thing.
HTN: I think this is the last “question” before we devolved into candy madness (on Facebook-scroll to the bottom of the thread if you want to see how much these guys love giving each other hell). Olivia’s original set was: “How would you describe your band and/or your music in three words? Where are your favorite local post-show hangouts, and why? Do you have any rituals before the show?”
Chuck: I think drinking heavily could be an answer to all three of those.
Three words is tough…
HTN: What if you try just one word.
Chuck: Dadrock, one word.
Jesse: It’s everything and it’s nothing. Every band I’ve ever been in, it’s hard to classify. I think you’re just so in it, it’s tough.
HTN: Well how bout this…say you had one of the best nights ever, performing. What would you hope the people who attended your show would say about it?
Chuck: “They sounded like a cohesive band.” It’s more than just being musically tight. There’s a feel and a sound that comes across when everybody’s on the same page. I feel like we get closer to that with every show we play together. I’d say “cohesive” would be my word.
Jesse: For me it’s all an “energy” thing. It’s about dynamics. So even when people don’t know what it is they’re describing, I’d want people to say things flowed in the way they were supposed to. And there was just “that energy”, regardless of wether it was uptempo or not. I’ve seen it from the outside a lot of times. I would want someone to say “You could tell those guys were on, tonight”.
HTN: Do you have any after-show hangout places that you like to go?
Levi: We have after-practice hangouts. We like to go to the NET on Thursdays, after practice.
Jesse: Honestly, after a show, I just want to be by myself most of the time, and I just want to be quiet. Sometimes it’s different, I guess. But right after a set, I like to have a break. Most people don’t understand it’s not just that 45 minute set, it’s all day. There’s sound checks, and a lot of times it’s the only time we might see one another for a week or two, and there’s discussion…and then we play.
Chuck: I get in a zone whenever I’m performing, and I don’t really think about it when I’m doing it. But then when I’m done performing, I like to take a second and just gather my thoughts, so I can retain a sense of what happened.
Jesse: Yeah, reflection is important, because you don’t necessarily remember a lot of it, because you’re in the moment. But it’s important to think about “What was really important about that? What did I dig?” kinda stuff. If you don’t do it right away, you lose it. I guess what I’m getting at is when I’m done playing, I want to get as far away from all of you as I can possibly get, and as quickly as possible.
Chuck: Fine by me, because you usually smell. Drummer stench…
Jesse: You just wait, I’m gonna drench myself in Axe body spray this Saturday…
Is there anything you want people to know about your album, your music, this weekend, perhaps?
Levi: Yeah, Saturday, 10pm, at the Marietta Brewing Company, our dearest patron saint of the acoustic guitar, Corey Shields will be opening for us. Really excited to have him out. We’ll have our CDs available. They are officially “here”. We’re gonna play music from that, and we’ve got a lot of new stuff in the works- a lot of it’s never been played out (in public).
Jesse: Yeah we’re releasing an album. Come check it out. I think the biggest thing for me right now, is I realized there are so many people in our little corner of the world, and we’re all working hard, and there’s stuff coming out, and things to support…so please, come out, buy a CD, listen to it. Ask your friends who they know that plays music. Find their shows, support their music, buy their CDs. This thing can’t be a “thing” with only the 12 of us that show up, doing it. I don’t mean that to be condescending. I just think if people took it upon themselves to ask what was happening 15 minutes from their home, they might find out there’s a lot of stuff they really like, and it was “right there”. It’s the scene as a whole…we’re just one of the pieces. There’s ten more of us (bands) right around the corner, and we all need support. And that’s what I want.
Chuck: We’re just a cog in this wheel of a scene we’ve got here. Jake Dunn & The Blackbirds, they’ve got something coming up soon. Corey (Shields) of course…Hayfield & Crow, also doing really great things. Traci Goode, she’s going good stuff. There’s a lot of good stuff around here.
Levi: There’s so much just in the Marietta/Parkersburg area. Then you start branching out just outside of here…
Levi: Essentially, as a musical community, and a society as a whole, we just need to look out for each other and support each other.
We’re excited to work on tours, the next album…we’re really excited for all of it.