TEN: Starting in 2013, each Friday, Innocent Words started shining the spotlight directly on up and coming artists/bands with 10 questions we like to call IW10.
Members and Instruments:
Levi Petree – Songwriter, Guitar, Vocals
Sean Novak – Bass, Backing vocals
Chad McKinsey – Drums, Backing vocals
Short Bio (in your own words):
I grew up in Lafayette, LA, which is right in the heart of Cajun country. It’s hard to come out of there without a love for good times and good music. As a kid, I had a fascination with the history and imagery of popular music, be it classic rock, country, or the hits of the day. I wanted to know the little trivia nuggets behind each song and could tell you who sang what, when it came out, and what album it was on. I wanted to be part of it so badly, but lacked the discipline to teach myself an instrument. My parents got me an electric piano for Christmas when I was 10, but when I asked for a guitar years later, they said, “Nope, you never learned the piano.” Fair enough.
I played football and other sports as a kid, but was definitely more drawn to performing in some capacity. I did a couple of musicals in high school and when it was time to choose a career field, I told my counselor I wanted to be an actor. He set me up with an audition at a small school in central Louisiana and I ended up getting a scholarship. The rest just kinda tumbled from there. I moved to Chicago after school, helped start a theatre company, and eventually left for Los Angeles. In all of that time, though, I maintained that what I really wanted to do was play music. I’d put off learning my guitar for a long time, but lucked out when I did a play with these Irish musicians. They’d invite me to their jam sessions and it took off from there. Once I’d learned a few chords, I started writing my own songs and eventually got over my fear of performing them live. As fun as it was to finally play my guitar, I knew I wanted the energy of a rock ‘n’ roll band, so I pulled from my circle of friends and started making noise. Put out one EP called ‘Rebel Music’ a few years ago and now my full-length debut, ‘It’s Country,’ comes out on March 3rd.
What was the first live concert you ever went to?
The first concert I ever went to was a quadruple bill at the Cajundome in Lafayette, LA. It was Hank Williams, Jr. headlining, Charlie Daniels, The Marshall Tucker Band, and Molly Hatchett. My Dad was a member of the Rotary Club and they were hosting an international exchange with some Australians (“Young Levi” they called me). My Dad wanted to take them out and he got tickets to this show.
What is your funniest, or worst tour experience?
The absolute worst was a show I set up in Portland a few years ago for my birthday. I got it in my head I was gonna go somewhere I’d never been and set up a mini-tour in the process. What I failed to take into account was that I’d never been to Portland and nobody, not one person, had any idea who I was. Therefore, no one was gonna go out of their way to see me. I fly in, exhausted from celebrating the night before and having taken a red-eye with long layover, then show up at the venue where it was pretty much me, the lady playing before me, and her friends. I let the jet lag and embarrassment get the better of me and proceeded to laugh and stumble through my set. I played my entire set for those three, or four people in the room and it was AWKWARD. Felt like I made a complete ass of myself. The girl running the show, Ashleigh, was really sweet and took pity on me. She brought me to Voodoo Donuts immediately after. That’ll pick anyone’s spirits up.
What THREE things are a must have when you go on tour or play a show?
1. Ten minutes pre-show to sip a drink and write the setlist out. Before the show, there’s a lot going on with load-in, visiting with friends and, if you’re lucky, soundcheck. I’ve learned that if I don’t sneak away for a few minutes I probably won’t be in the best frame of mind to start the set. Not much of a drinker, but a little red wine, or scotch whiskey helps me relax and writing the songs out helps me visualize the flow of the evening.
2. A band huddle before we start the show. I’ve found the best gigs are usually the ones where we have a little inspirational pow-wow right before we go on. The delivery usually ranges somewhere between Jack Black in “School of Rock,” or a Marty Schottenheimer pre-game speech (“There’s a gleam, men!”).
3. A new battery for my tuner. I mainly play a ’78 Gibson Les Paul (that I’ve been “borrowing” from my stepdad for about 16 years). It’s notorious for going out of tune during shows, which leaves us up there practicing our Abbot and Costello routine. All of the band have given me enough grief over it to where I’m a little on edge going into shows. Lord Snark to the rescue!
What was the first record you ever purchased?
I’m pretty sure it was a cassette single of Weezer’s “Undone (The Sweater Song).” Our local pop station, 94.5 KSMB in Lafayette, had an underground show on Sunday nights and I remember lying in bed, trying to go to sleep, and hearing this really weird song about destroying a sweater. I didn’t know who sang it, though. About a week later, I was with my friend’s family at the New Orleans Riverwalk and saw a tape in the music store that said “Sweater Song” right there in the title. Surely, there could only be one. “Holiday” was the B-side.
If you had to record an EP of covers, which FIVE songs/artists would make the cut?
This is a tough one cause I love to cover songs and have been known to throw them at my band with zero notice before shows. These are the five I’ve got in my head right now, but I’m sure they’d change if you asked me next week.
1. “Shut Up Kiss Me” by Angel Olson.
I was obsessed with this song the last half of 2016 and strum it at home all the time. It reminds me of early Bowie. I wouldn’t wanna do anything too different from the original of the song, but could see it being performed a little heavier, a la The White Stripes. Pretty sure this is gonna get covered in rehearsal tomorrow.
2. “If It Makes You Happy” by Sheryl Crow
Had iTunes on shuffle the other day and when this came on, I thought, “Oh yeah, we GOTTA cover that!” Love me some girl pop and this song packs snarl without being over the top about it. That opening guitar riff is so gritty and the chorus kinda reminds me of Springsteen’s “Darkness on the Edge of Town.” I grew up with ’90s alternative rock and this is something that could kinda fit into that. Good bar band song.
3. “Night Drive” by Part Time (acoustic)
My current obsession. Was at a bar the other night, heard this song, and it has literally been on repeat since. It came out in 2013 and I’ve no idea how I could’ve missed it. Sounds like these guys listened to the “Drive” soundtrack and set out to write a song that would not only fit on it, but also somehow be the best song on an already perfect soundtrack. My favorite thing to do in Los Angeles is roam around at night with a perfect playlist, so a song about just that was always meant to find me. At it’s core, it’s a really sweet song with a simple structure, so I think I’d wanna do an acoustic version with harmonica. Maybe recording this would finally give us some credibility with the hipsters in my neighborhood and they’d let us play The Echo.
4. “Nancy Spain” by Christy Moore
This is a beautiful Irish ballad and one of the first songs I ever learned on guitar. It’s a song about this guy who pines all his life for the one who got away, and it’s one of the most haunting and aching choruses I’ve ever heard. My friend John McKenna used to sing this song at the Irish Jam session I mentioned before, and I would be in awe when he did it. He’s got this great, soft growl in his voice and it comes across as such an honest and heartfelt delivery. Would love to do an arrangement where I sing the first part of the song and John takes the last half, representing the passage of time.
5. “Wolf Like Me” by TV on the Radio
This is one we’ve actually done a few times and it always brings the house down. Our band has some punk rock roots and the guys work the hell out of this one in their approach to it. Start hard on that B minor strum and just let the atmosphere build. Have the vocals come in first before letting the band go into full attack.
What’s your preferred music format – vinyl, CD, digital, cassette – and why?
I’d have to go with vinyl because there’s an experience associated with it. I like specific types of music on vinyl, though. Easy, strummy stuff like an old country album, or maybe some jazz and standards. Things that are perfect for a Sunday morning, or a rainy day. And I love that album sides are their own mini-playlists that the artist pored over to determine what was the best order for listening. I have a couple go-to selections for my favorite album sides and think they’re perfect – Van Morrison’s “Moondance,” Side 1, The Pretenders debut album, Side 2, and Springsteen’s “Darkness on the Edge of Town,” Side 2. Actually, Springsteen gets a whole album with “Born in the U.S.A.” I know most people would probably pick “Born to Run” over it, but I have fond memories of “Born in the U.S.A.” on our home sound system when I was a kid and I still love doing chores around the house to it. Newer artists like The War on Drugs and Angel Olsen have pretty perfect records for vinyl, too. But if you want a single band that personifies the vinyl experience, I’d say CCR. Any Creedence will do the trick.
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