A few weeks ago, Dead Curious was able to sit down with Gabe Levine, member of New York band Takka Takka, before his show in Atlanta with his side project Gabriel and the Hounds. Gabe talked to us about how it’s like to go on tour with Beirut at the last minute, of the challenges of making a classic “American” record and of becoming a Crystal Palace supporter, for all the wrong reasons.
After the usual pleasantries, and ordering a round of beers for everyone, we got down to the business end of things.
Dead Curious: So, Gabe, first of all, what motivated you to break away from Takka Takka and make this album on your own?
Gabe Levine: Well, you know, I’ve been playing with Takka for a while, and we’re working on a new album. And I feel that band has a very defined sound, but I was writing a lot of material… so I don’t know, this is a product of a creative process in which I found myself with several songs that had a different feel from what we were going for with Takka Takka.
DC: How did you decide on the name Gabriel & The Hounds?
G: It seemed like a cool name, a play on Gabriel and the Hounds of Hell. And it’s pretty appropriate, seeing as I worship the devil! [laughs]
DC: How would you describe this sound, versus what you guys were working on, as a band?
G: I wanted to make a “classic” record, something that was influenced by Buddy Holly or Roy Orbison. Obviously, I have no idea how to do that, so, this is what came out. It’s funny, when I try to explain what I mean by a “classic” record to people in Europe, I play some of my material; they always end up saying, “Ah, you mean an American record” [laughs]. I guess that’s what I’ve ended up with.
DC: Did you record all of the instruments yourself for the solo album?
G: No, no. I was really lucky and had a shit load of guest musicians for this. Brian, the drummer for The National did the drums on the album. Pat Jordash did a lot of the guitar work, and Mike Atkinson arranged it. The drummer from Clap Your Hands Say Yeah! (Sean Greenhalgh) produced the album. It was an incredible opportunity for me, to get all of these really cool people to play together.
DC: And it sounds like it worked out pretty well.
G: Yeah, it was definitely an organic sound. A lot of stuff was unplanned – the drums, for example, just came out sounding HUGE. Brian recorded his part in between the National touring and recording their album. And we just had to make the sound big.
DC: So how did you end up on tour with Beirut?
G: My friend Basia Bulat was supposed to open for Zach for these tour dates (at the National in Richmond, and at Variety Playhouse in Atlanta). She’s an incredibly talented artist, but unfortunately, she had to pull out of these dates. The opportunity presented itself and I just jumped in.
DC: Wait, so how long have you known that you were doing this?
G: Umm… let me see. Since Monday night? Yeah. Monday. And today is Thursday, right?
DC: Yep. So, you get a phone call one morning asking you to be in Richmond and ready to play, and you just drove?
G: Exactly. Just drove down to Richmond, Virginia, with a friend, for the show last night.
DC: What did you think of the city and the crowd?
G: Dude, Beirut’s audience are the nicest people. Everyone is listening and really into the music. It was a pleasure to play there. But being in Richmond was weird – I had a crazy experience there many years ago and hadn’t been back [laughs]
DC: What was that?
G: I think it was freshman or sophomore year of college, I can’t remember precisely when this happened. I was on a road trip with one of my best friends from growing up; we were just trying to do the usual cross-country trip. He and I got into an argument and it got pretty heated. We were driving through Richmond and eventually he told me to get out of the car, so being the 20-something asshole I was, I did. He drove away. I always thought he’d turn around and pick me up after a while, but he never did! [laughs] Guess it serves me right for getting out of the car. Oh well. But it’s great to be back!
DC: That’s pretty shitty.
G: Yeah, and we even drove by the spot where he left me. Crazy that I recognized it. Whatever, it’s all water under the bridge – that was a long time ago
DC: How has it been touring with Beirut? He has a pretty unique sound, compared to other guys making what we could call “alternative” or “art” music.
G: Zach is definitely doing his own thing. He’s an amazing artist and his entire band is comprised of really talented musicians. I think they’re the only people who are able to pull this off. I know people would be laughing at me if I tried to do what he does. And they’re really nice people too!
DC: They have you drinking the kool-aid.
DC: So what’s next for you?
G: Well, I’m headed back to NYC tomorrow morning. Then it’s back to the studio to try and finish the vocals. I’m aiming for releasing this (Gabriel and the Hounds) in the UK in January/February, and the Takka Takka album should be out in March. After all of this, maybe a marathon session of Breaking Bad, or the World Series, if it wasn’t St. Louis & the Rangers. I’m a Mets fan, born and raised.
DC: I’m so sorry for you.
G: Hey, come on. The Mets were doing so terribly, it was easy to get great tickets. And for dirt-cheap. When they start doing well I’ll be grumpy, because I know people will jump on the bandwagon again and I won’t get such awesome seats.
DC: So what’s your opinion on the music scene in NYC? Seems like a lot of great bands are coming out of there, all the time.
G: Brooklyn never stops. The indie scene is ridiculous, and a lot of kids are doing a lot of stuff. I’m a little older, so I’m over the point where I was hyper focused on everyone else. Now I’m just thinking about my own sound and what I’m trying to do.
DC: So what do you think of those who are trying to make a career out of music?
G: You know, careers in music are fascinating. Bands come and go, and some are fortunate enough to stick. The National are doing some amazing things, and it makes me just say “YES!” It’s exciting. It’s like (base)ball players.
DC: I can see that. So who would you say is the “Daryl Strawberry” of bands?
G: [cracks up] Ah man! Shit! I gotta think about that one, I’ll text my answer from the road.
DC: So what are you doing when you’re not in the studio?
G: I play a lot of tennis. The sport, not the band, though they’re wonderful too. Chris, the guitarist from Radical Dads is schooling me at tennis.
DC: Any thoughts of going pro as a tennis player?
G: Like most indie musicians, I avoided sports for a very long time. I don’t have the coordination. I have been watching a lot of soccer though, particularly the English Premier League. Any suggestions on who to follow? I’ve heard that Tottenham (Hotspurs) are really cool… or some team that sounds like Crystal…Castles?
DC: Crystal Palace?
G: Yeah! Exactly. I knew it couldn’t be Castles.
DC: You’d definitely get hipster cred for that. Iain Dowie (former Palace manager) is a hideous man. Would be quite ironic to support them. And you’d have to be prepared to talk the talk if you’re planning on touring Europe.
G: Yeah, we’re planning on going through the continent in the cold months, in early 2012. It’s enjoyable, but we hardly have time to do anything. It’s like two days in Paris, then half a day in Rome, then off to somewhere else…
DC: So you’re looking forward to it then?
G: Yeah, it’s an intense log, but the crowds in general are extremely nice to musicians coming over and playing. They’re definitely a lot more patient. And so are the venue promoters.
DC: Any notable differences from how things are done here in the States?
G: Yeah, you know, they give you meals. And delicious cheese plates, with the occasional smoked meats [laughs]. It’s really a perk.
DC: So, when you make it big…
G: Hey, who says I haven’t?
DC: Right. So, when you make it big, what are you going to put on your rider? All red M&Ms? Any particular drink?
G: Hmm… I think I’ll make it so that it’s my birthday at every show. Because, I mean, who doesn’t love ice cream cake?
Dead Curious would like to give special thanks to photographer Birney Robert, who came along for the ride and drastically improved the level of attractiveness at this meeting.