It was a visitor playing AC/DC’s “Back in Black” during a guitar clinic in his humanities class that made Minnesota singer/songwriter Levi Henry fall in love with the guitar at 11-years-old.
“I was pretty much like ‘Ok. Cool. Nothing else matters. This is pretty much it.’ And I started playing the guitar,” said Henry.
After learning guitar from covers, Henry began playing and songwriting for metal bands through high school. It was a very different kind of band that prompted a change in sound.
“I was probably 16 or 17 and I heard The Band for the first time and like their harmonies and the guitars. That was the next moment when I was like, “OK.” My first song was probably an exact rip off ‘The Weight’ with different chords,” he laughed, “Then I got really into folk music and being a songwriter.”
Henry’s music is full of the sort of ache that sits heavy in your chest. While the songs are often somber, Henry said the tone was not a conscious choice.
“I mean I realize it when I’m done but when I’m in it, it’s just kind of where I’m at,” he said, “But I’m trying to grow more subtle, you know? Say things in a way that’s not so literate and journal-y at the same time there’s nothing wrong with saying what you mean. Yeah, I don’t know, I’m kind of a sad person.”
While his 2018 EP “Splinters” has more of an acoustic folk feel, many of the jam videos posted on his Facebook page are electric blues. “Blues has always been kind of like my home on guitar and music in general,” explained Henry. He added that a lot of the music he is currently working on is, “bigger, louder blues tunes,” with expanded instrumentals.
The artist has the ambitious goal of releasing four to five EPs in 2020, with the first tentatively slated for an early April release.
“I have like 25 or 30 songs that I wanna put out. I think I have clusters of 5 or 6 that would work well together. I want to try and push all of those out because it’s been a few years since I’ve released any new music, so now I’m going to make up for lost time,” said Henry.
Laura Ellen Brandjord (LEB): Is there much of a music scene in St. Cloud?
LH: For me, I’ve found I have to travel. I haven’t had a ton of luck in St. Cloud. There’s kind of two separate music scenes it feels like. There are some people downtown that kind of have a lock on the stuff. There’s a good scene for cover bands that’s for sure, but, yeah, it’s not like around here (Red Wing) or in Rochester. It’s not as supportive maybe, not as fruitful.
St. Cloud is a town that may have kind of settled in a way. I mean it’s definitely not a rule. There are plenty of people there that are doing a lot for the scene and trying to bring people together and making beautiful things. It’s just hard when you’re a minority.
LEB: What are some of your inspirations?
Levi Henry (LH): Alright, I’m going to try and hit the big ones. Gregory Alan Isakov he’s one of my favorite artists of all time. I really like Ben Howard.
I really love Leonard Cohen. I admire him on many levels beyond music. Not really Bob Dylan as much as people think. I tried. I tried to love Bob Dylan. You can’t deny what he’s done, It’s undeniable but…
Who else? I really like music that you can tell they’re like shredding but what I really like is when they have a feel and they aren’t trying to do too much and they’re just doing what they do and you can just tell by looking at them and listening.
LEB: Do you have any tricks or methods to overcome a creative block?
LH: Hmm, I’m not a very bloodthirsty creator or anything else. Like, I’m not real competitive or like, ‘I have to do this,’ because if I force it, I’m not going to use it anyway. Yeah, I can’t really do much if I’m not feeling it. If I can’t write I’ll just play guitar or listen to music.
LEB: I like to end on some ‘fun questions’. If you were stuck on a desert island alone with only one album for the rest of your life, what would you want that album to be?
LH: Hmmm. I have one but I just want to make sure it’s the one I want for sure…yeah, I’d have to say ‘Evening Machines’ by Gregory Alan Isakov. It’s his latest, which…there’s nothing wrong with it. Nothing at all.
LEB: Name three headliners (living or dead) for a festival you’d want to go and see.
LH: Ok. I’d have to say, Phoebe Bridgers. Also one of my favorites I didn’t mention earlier. Um, three? Phoebe Bridgers…Son House. He’s a blues artist from the early 1930s.
LEB: Yeah you did a cover of ‘Grinnin’ in Your Face’ by him on Soundcloud, right?
LH: Yeah. So Son House will be there. Nathaniel Rateliff.
LEB: Oh, I was so mad at myself. He was at the Bluestem Amphitheater in Moorhead this past summer and the tickets sold out before I could get one.
LH: He’s playing in March in Minneapolis. He’s playing two nights at the State Theatre? I’m going on the third (of March).
LEB: And I do of course, as a dog lover have to ask about Maggie.
LH: (laughs) Maggie?
LEB: So, If you had to write a dating profile for your dog Maggie, what would it say?
LH: (Laughs) Ha, oh my God. Ok. She loves to go for long runs on the dog park. She loves cuddling. She loves to cuddle. She likes nice guys. She doesn’t like to play games. Um…she’s just the best girl you’ll ever meet anywhere.
LEB: Is she a mix or?
LH: Yeah she’s a mutt. We adopted her from the humane society last December. She was in foster care. She came in with like nine puppies. All the puppies got adopted and they had a picture of her on their website with a Santa hat on, and I was there very soon after. And the rest is history.
LEB: Anything else?
LH: New album coming out in the Spring. Some of the songs I wrote while walking Maggie and she will be included in the album artwork.
Since this interview took place, Henry has started a music series called The Homebody Series consisting of videos of “new songs, old songs and songs that were created without my involvement,” according to Henry. The first, “126 Pounds,” is available now on his Facebook page.