By Johnny Griffith
It’s always fun to check back in with people we’ve interviewed in the past and see what they are up to a couple of years later. This month I got to sit back down with Levi Kitchen and check back in with him about 3 years after our last interview. If you’re not familiar, Levi is a veritable one-man band. A multi-instrumentalist who utilizes looping technology to lay down his own background music on the fly, Kitchen has been bringing his unique brand of entertainment to stages around East Texas for almost 20 years now. A man of many talents and constantly creating, Levi took some time out to catch us up on what’s been going on lately:
Johnny: It’s hard to believe, but it’s been 3 years since we last did an interview. What are some of the more significant events for you during that period?
Levi: Being hired to perform for political fundraisers for district judges, state representatives, and even the Longview Fire Marshal’s retirement party were a few proud moments. That last one resulted from the Fire Marshal being called to my house because a neighbor thought my studio was on fire, but then he obtained my business card and later hired me to play his party. I was shocked to be hired by several different Chambers of Commerce, including Lindale, where I performed for Miranda Lambert’s friends and family. I had the opportunity to do several radio interviews and had original compositions placed in different video and film productions. Seeing your name in movie credits is a cool feeling and my music was the background in some national television commercials.
Johnny: I’ve been able to catch a couple of your shows this past year and they’re still as impressive as ever. Has the technology improved or evolved that makes the process a little easier?
Levi: It’s not getting easier. The technology is advancing, of course, but it gets more complicated as it advances and that’s not always a step in an easier direction. I have a newer, “better” loop station that I’m still currently not using at shows because it’s taking me quite a while to learn the new one as well as I know the old loop station. The familiarity with the equipment during the performance is crucial to the success of a looping performance. When performing, I still use the old faithful BOSS RC-300, which has been top of the looping heap for a decade. The next step up from this pedal has traditionally been looping programs that require you to use a computer. But now I practice with a newer, more advanced loopstation regularly to achieve the kind of familiarity necessary to perform with it. It’s called a “Headrush” and it’s going to be a big leap in technology for me when I finally decide to bring it into my live performance. Practicing a new loop station is like learning a new instrument, to a certain extent. It might take me over a year to implement the new loop station to a satisfactory level of smooth operation.
Johnny: About how many shows a month are you playing these days?
Levi: Within the past few years I reached a point where I was getting hired to perform so often that I had to cut back. The grueling pace I set for myself was beginning to wear me out. I was holding down 5 or 6 shows per week for several years, which left very little room for other things in life. I have intentionally cut it back to doing about 3 performances per week these days, but I pick and choose now which venues or events I actually want to do where previously I used to just play anything I could get my hands on.
Johnny: Last time we spoke, you were looking forward to playing more shows over in the Dallas area. Have you made any progress playing more shows out of the greater Tyler area?
Levi: As far as Dallas, I have been invited to play all kinds of things over there that I have avoided on purpose. In the past few years, I have traveled to Dallas at least several times to perform for weddings, mostly. I will just be honest here and say, ironically, I’m very introverted and prefer quiet, peaceful environments. When I go to Dallas, all I can think about is getting back to a comfortable setting like East Texas. I have played nearly everywhere there is to play in Tyler at some point over the years, as well as the Longview area, and just about every small town within an hour or two of Longview. I prefer it out here in East Texas over the chaotic frenzy of large, busy cities. Staying here is intentional at this point. I’m not looking for more attention or trying to expand my range or anything. People just keep hiring me to jam all around East Texas so I keep on jamming. I’m happy playing my little shows around here and I never saw much happiness down the path of the nationally touring artist, but that’s just a personal preference.
Johnny: You were also about to put out a new album at that time as well. How did that turn out?
Levi: Well, I post my original songs for free download on my website, levikitchen.com. I’m still fiddling around with hundreds of recordings in my home studio. I have been working for almost ten years now on a musical, spoken word audiobook in the epic sci-fi fantasy genre as well. I have created hours of this wild, unprecedented thing, but it still needs years of work before completion. This illustrates what is likely one of my biggest problems as an artist. I get distracted by interesting projects that never see the light of day because I don’t care much about what people are expecting of me. If I get caught up in the joy of creation, I don’t waste much time worrying about what is trendy or in-demand. I just dive into it and bask in the joy of disappearing completely into the alternate universe I’ve created with this music and story. So I’ve been somewhat distracted from making a new album. Aside from this, the need to combine songs into an “album” isn’t quite as applicable as it once was. Digital distribution has allowed artists the ability to cheaply publish singles as often as they want or, like me, they can choose their own method of distribution. Personally, I make very little money off of original works, but I make almost my entire living off of performing shows which consist mostly of covers. People are using music streaming services now more often than making purchases, so musicians these days are living in a rapidly changing landscape.
Johnny: So in addition to your music performance, you have been producing music for several years as well. What are some of your more memorable projects in that area?
Levi: I’ve been producing music for twenty years now. Those early years, my brothers and I were just kids with a garage studio, but we still had customers paying to have us record and produce them, so it still counts. It was probably about 1998 when my brothers and I spent one summer painting these massive banners for the Rangerettes to use at their Cotton Bowl half-time show. By painting these banners, and also painting some fireworks stand signs in Kilgore, we earned enough money to buy the best recording studio gear we could get our teenage claws on at the time. The first time I ever earned money as a studio engineer was in 1999. I was 14 years old. Some notable mentions and really good times were had by all over many years when I had the opportunities to produce and record Ally Venable, Lulu and the Black Sheep, Darby Warren, Andrew Beason, 3WeeksPlay, Daniel Foster, Jasmine Nyvall, Lane Rogers, David Smith, Biff Rushton, Allen Wayne Nichols, King Richard, and the Bayou Boys, Gypsy Rebel – lots of great artists and too many others to mention have recorded in my humble shack!
Johnny: As 2020 rolls in, what is on your radar this year that has you excited?
Levi: I intend to buy land this year and build my next studio by some water where I can create an aesthetically pleasing environment for musicians to create and record in. My little south Longview shack has lived its life as a studio and it’s time to take these creative energies to a pleasing new environment soon. Aside from this big dream, it’ll be business as usual in 2020 I suspect. I’ll play a lot of shows and spend the rest of my time hiding from everyone, tinkering with robots and strange invention ideas. I’m also getting married on Leap Day, Feb 29th. My fiance and I suspect we’re about the weirdest people we know, so we picked the weirdest day we could think of to get married on. We’ll only have an anniversary every four years and there’s no possible way I could forget the date.
Johnny: What do you feel is your best memory of your musical career so far?
Levi: I remember a moment ten years ago when I jumped up in joy and danced around my studio because I had booked 3-5 shows per week for four months in advance. Up until this point in my career, I had always worked another job. The realization suddenly dawned on me that I could do this full time. I guess you could metaphorically call it the day that I “quit my day job.” I felt at that moment that I had finally achieved a lifelong obsession that started when I was ten years old, dreaming of earning my living with music someday. I danced like I knew nobody was watching, and thankfully, nobody was watching. Strangely, and to my ongoing surprise, things continue to proceed in much the same way ever since.
Johnny: Where can someone find you playing over the next couple of months?
Levi: I’ll be performing at Holly Lake Ranch Resort in Hawkins, and The Villages Resort in Flint throughout the year, as well as Copeland’s of New Orleans in Longview regularly. I will also be performing at Nuna’s Cajun in Palestine, Steve-O’s Pizza in Mt. Vernon, Los Pinos Ranch in Pittsburg, Enoch’s Stomp in Harleton, Yamato in Tyler, Serenity Church in Longview and many more. I’ll be playing several new venues as well in 2020, so keep checking in with me. If you want to find the specific dates for any of these venues, I suggest finding/liking my facebook page or researching the venues directly to check their schedules.
Follow Levi Kitchen and all his projects on the World Wide Web at levikitchen.com as well as event updates on Facebook.