Adam Levy—Former GP Staffer, sideperson to the stars, and man of a million chord voicings—seems to love upsetting his own apple carts. Perhaps it’s that restless jazz-musician mindset, but Levy has navigated everything from pop, rock, jazz, and beyond, and he even transformed himself from an instrumentalist into a singer/songwriter. But when a planned organ-trio recording went off the rails last year due to schedule conflicts, Levy was confronted with perhaps his riskiest project to date—the beautifully stark and raw Blueberry Blonde.
“I had everything all booked, and then the organ player had another commitment and needed to drop out,” he says. “I thought, ‘Oh, sh*t—should I cancel or reschedule?’ And my drummer, Jay Bellerose, just said, ‘No. Two people is enough to make a record.’”
So how do you make a last-minute conceptual transition from a trio to a duo?
Well, I didn’t want a listener to get to the end of the album and wonder, ‘Did the bass player not show up that day?’ [Laughs.] But Jay convinced me that by going more sparse and spacious we could actually do more interesting things. It didn’t mean the recording was going to sound empty. It just meant that what we played would matter more. Our inspiration was the transitional stuff between folk and blues—before rock and roll really exploded—and we found some great touchstones for how our album could sound from recordings by blues guitarist J.B. Lenoir and folksinger Josh White. Though it’s perhaps an obvious modern comparison, the White Stripes and Black Keys did not influence this record.
These songs are very intimate, and they’re done live in a continuous take with no overdubs. Did you have to hire a studio cop to prevent you from adding more guitar?
Before I made this record, this level of starkness would have scared the hell out of me. Would I have to turn into a Chet Atkins or a Tuck Andress if no one else is holding down the chords when I solo? But rather than figure out how to do everything all at once, I just adjusted my internal thresholds to say, “Okay, that’s enough music.” It’s like an ego thing to think the music you’re making needs more guitar. I had to cut some ego loose, and try to listen to the tracks more like an outside listener. So I’d play a melodic solo and let the space just be. That was the big takeaway on this project—less me is okay. And, you know, I realized records that are more spare draw my ears in more. When everything is played really explicitly, I almost feel like I can tune out for a few seconds, because everything is being taken care of. But when the music is very sparse, it’s like the listener’s imagination becomes part of the band, because they’re filling in the gaps.
So, just like the tiny house movement, are you now a disciple of minimalist production?
I just think that musicians shouldn’t be afraid to make records that are raw. Sure, there are a lot of massively produced albums out there, and a lot of artists try to emulate them. But I don’t believe you can imprint some big idea from an album you love onto your own record if you don’t have the budget, the insight, the songs, or the production chops. But you just might be able to figure out how to make smaller stuff sound big. Just talk to the microphone and tell your story.