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Sounds x Interview: James Levy

Long seen as one of the NYC Lower East Side’s most recognizable indie vocalists and songwriters, James Levy is the ultimate “artist’s artist” stepping into the spotlight after a recent move to Nashville. I remember him from a few years back, as he released some of my favorite tunes as ‘Reputante‘ back when we were all running around Williamsburg and Bushwick (he was working with Jimmy from Lolawolf, Zoe Kravitz’s project, which is how I found out about him). Things change, times change, music changes. And, it was a pleasure to chat with Levy on what’s new—and what might be gone.

I know you’re releasing music under your name James Levy, and not focusing on Reputante. Can you explain the change and the new focus and also let us know if we’ll hear from Reputante in the future? 

I never thought of myself as having a focus!  Maybe that’s the problem.  I’m just making music and recording the way I see fit. The clearer things get, the more confusing things are. Reputante was just another record I made; it could have been any name. It felt fresh to me and exciting at the time. 

I remember the Safe n’ Sound video, and thinking hot damn, Reputante is the best — that was a while ago, what has happened/changed with you since then? 

That’s nice to hear. It seems like so long ago. I’d like to think that I’ve grown and humbled since then. I could never imagine making a record like that right now. 

What influenced Living in the Dark Age EP? 

We recorded the record 4 years ago. My life was completely different. Our friend Albert Di Fiore helped us recently to finish it.  A lot of that record felt to me like a record of sketches that became flushed out. More other people’s vision than my own. I was blind when I recorded that. 

How did you get the title for the EP, are we all currently living in the dark age? Will we always? (ah, existential questions are my favorite) 

It was a lyric in one of the songs. I think I’ve always felt that I personally am always living in the dark age. It’s hard to know what is real, it’s hard to grow older. It’s hard to look back at your life when you are starting to forget. 

What was it like working with Jimmy Giannopoulos on this record? (It’s been ages since I’ve seen him around the city, tell him hi) 

I’ll tell him “what’s up.” The last Reputante EP I think was as much his vision as mine, probably more. He has an interesting mind and approach to how he hears/feels things. It’s good to get that perspective. 

You’ve just moved to Nashville from NYC — what caused the move? Do you think you’ll ever come back? 

Sometimes you just gotta move! In hindsight, I should have left earlier. It’s hard to leave, but I find visiting there is much more fulfilling. 

Whats a solid story from NYC that you’d like to share? 

Hmm. I always look back at the Sidewalk Cafe days, when I was young. People I’ve met. Simple things like smoking cigarettes at the Verb Cafe reading the paper. My whole world in front of me. I think the best stories are the real-life ones where you look back and tear up a bit. Though meeting Krist Novoselic was nice. It’s a different world.

Can you tell us about the James Levy record that’s coming out on Sept 13? 

Well, I like it. I tried to make something that I like knowing that others may not. To be as true as I can, even if the truth was boring.  As the years go by, I’m slowly forgetting or constantly remembering what I am and what I am not. 

What was it like working with Charles Bradley on his last two songs ever recorded? 

I didn’t know it was going to be his final recordings. He was a true singer and a true heart. He clearly represented what soul is. Not much more to say than that, except that it truly was an honor to work with a man like him. 

What’s next for James Levy / Reputante — will it continue in the same capacity do you think, or will Nashville change it? 

Reputante had a swagger that I’ve lost. I’m a different guy now. There is quite a bit of unreleased stuff though, so ya never know. I’ve recorded another EP that I hope comes out. I’d like to do more duet records too, so I’m thinking about that.  It gets lonely singing by yourself. 

Finally, in honor of the 10 year anniversary of Cult Records, what has been your favorite/best moment as being part of the Cult Records family? 

Of course it was an honor for Julian to put out my record and to believe in it. He was someone I really looked up to musically, but the unsung heroes were Tim Wheeler who made this record for me with no budget and Har Mar who almost single-handedly got me on the label. I’ll always remember that. Most people don’t go out on a limb like that.

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