Being a music journalist is a dirty job, but somebody has to do it. Since 2009, that somebody has been me, but the demoralizing state of discourse in 2021 has me questioning whether or not there is any value in continuing. People say they want the truth, but what they really want is to be coddled by writers willing to regurgitate their opinions back at them. People say they crave new experiences yet the majority of them crawl back into their shells whenever the opportunity to discover a new band or artist arises, because it’s easier to stick with what they know.
I wrestle with this reality on a daily basis, but my recent conversation with Jules Galli, singer for LA-based rock trio LEVARA, reminded me of why championing new music matters. Here is a passionate young band preparing to release its debut album in the middle of a pandemic that has rendered concert venues “non-essential” until further notice, so relying on positive word of mouth from an industry that has already de-emphasized rock music becomes that much more critical to success.
When Bruce Cockburn told me back in 2019 that The Kardashians don’t care if we’re listening or not, he was basically saying that the wheels of self-aggrandizement keep turning regardless of how many everyday people are put off by what their brand represents. They don’t need anyone fighting for them. With nearly 200 Million Twitter followers, why should they give a shit what anyone outside their circle of fake friends is doing?
That is why highlighting bands like LEVARA matters and why I hope that you pre-order their album after reading this piece. Unlike tuning in to watch Kim, Khloe, Kourtney, Kris, and Rob on E! Entertainment, your support of Jules, Trev, and Josh can actually make a difference.
MNOD: You grew up in France, so I’m curious as to how you found yourself in Los Angeles.
Galli: My dad is a chef and he wanted to explore America, so we moved here when I was younger. He realized that it was harder to make it in France without being your own boss. We first came to Miami where I learned English and started writing songs in high school. As I got older and more into music, I had a friend who told to pack my bags and move to LA if I was serious about making it. My early influences were R&B and classical. I remember learning all the words to Usher without knowing English, so I did it all phonetically. The music in France tended to be more international and less compartmentalized, so my parents had a lot of diversity in terms of what they listened to. There was the Gypsy Kings, as well. Later, I got into Bob Marley, Queen, Led Zeppelin, and The Doors, when I wanted to try to sing at a lower register. I saw my first concert when I was five. It was Johnny Hallyday. He was essentially the French Elvis and an amazing performer, which inspired me to get into it on my own. Now, I love to write all kinds of songs, because great music is great music.
MNOD: I’ve listened to the new record quite a bit already and it’s made me miss the days when new rock music like LEVARA used to be hyped on the radio. Describe the process of how the project came together.
Galli: There were a couple songs that really captured the overall sound we wanted like “Automatic” and “Ever Enough,” and that gave us a good start. We had nine songs ready and then wrote another four while in the studio. Everything was laid out pretty well. We had some demos in Pro Tools and just put together the rest during the recording process. It was definitely not a painful experience, at all.
MNOD: It’s apparent from listening and watching that you guys have a solid chemistry. Did that come easily?
Galli: We do. I think it helps that we’re all very different people, because our affinity for different genres provides a lot of inspiration. Josh is into music with heavy double kick pedals while Trev and I don’t really know that world. Trev obviously has his father and the Toto influence in addition to the various session guys he’s been around. His knowledge of ’80s rock runs deep. Me, I come from more of an R&B background, but we’re all united by the desire to write great songs. There’s a uniqueness to our sound that can’t be faked. I never thought I would be in a rock band, but I had met Trev in LA and it was just perfect timing. He and Josh were looking for a singer, so I ended up being a good fit. It’s a new challenge and we’re definitely ready for it.
MNOD: What was the songwriting process like?
Galli: It’s a collaborative process. I’ve always appreciated hearing music that has substance and a real story, so that’s what we try to bring to our sound. Lyrics are usually that last thing that come, because Trev usually has a guitar idea and I’ll start singing over it with whatever comes to mind. I like to write all together in the same room, because it’s a great way to get over writer’s block. I’ll put a huge piece of paper on the wall and we’ll all write things down in colored markers until we stumble upon a concept that we like. I like having that visual map of how a particular song was brought to life. Sometimes, I’ll have something that I wrote that I’ll question whether or not it’s good or too cheeseball, so I’ll bounce ideas off Trev and Josh to see what they think.
MNOD: You’ve been sitting on this album for a bit due to the pandemic. How has the lack of live performance hurt the promotional aspect?
Galli: It’s been frustrating, but we’re grateful to have finished the album just before the pandemic began. I think it was late February 2020 that it was done, so it was perfect timing. We’ve had to be patient and wait for our time, but we’re gaining momentum and we’ll be back out there as soon as we can. Making videos for the album has been great, because it’s allowed us to put the songs into an even deeper context for the listener. I’d love to make videos for all the songs. We might have an idea of what the song is about, but a video can take the meaning to another level or put a different spin on it completely. ‘Chameleon‘, for example, has a positive anthemic vibe to it, but the video gave a whole new understanding. Videos are also a way to connect with people online without being able to take the songs on the road right away. I’m trying to be optimistic that touring will happen again early next year, but we’ll see what happens.
MNOD: Steve Perry has kept a notoriously low profile since leaving Journey, so I was surprised to hear that he contributed to this album. What was that experience like?
Galli: It was definitely a ‘pinch me’ moment. It’s really an incredible story, because he came to the studio during the making of the record and was just hanging out. He and Trev have a 10-year friendship, so Steve has always been really supportive and almost like a cheerleader for the band at times. He’s a private guy and didn’t want any pictures taken, but became really interested in what we were doing. I was nervous with him listening to my vocal sessions, because he’s Steve Perry. Then, he would hear something he liked or start offering suggestions about singing a particular line in a certain way, which kind of made him another member of the band at the time. When we were done, he said ‘See you tomorrow,’ which was another ‘What the fuck?’ moment, because we didn’t think that he would come back again. We were lucky to have him in the studio. He said it reminded him of the good old days with Journey and having him there was something that no school could teach.
MNOD: Now that you’ve had time to sit with the album for a while, how do you feel about the way it turned out?
Galli: It turned out even better than I expected. I think we did our collective best and produced a huge sound. I’ve been listening to it a lot and, sonically, it’s just so good. I wanted to make an album where every song had something to say and that would still sound great if you were driving a shitty Toyota where you had to listen to through terrible speakers as well as if you listened through professional headphones.
MNOD: It’s been 13 months since I’ve seen a show, so I’m hoping that things return to normal at some point and you guys can starting gaining some traction in America.
Galli: Yeah, we’re ready. This album was a great project to work on and I love talking about it, but I’m hopeful that everything will work out and we can start getting some widespread acceptance.
LEVARA’s self-titled debut album comes out May 14.
See http://www.levaramusic.com for details.