Interview with Levi J Burr: Hold steady and enjoy the ride, it’s only a short one

Influences from the rambling chaos of John Fahey to the clean, flowing lines of Nathan Salsburg, we get into it with Levi J Burr.

In his latest album, “Another Domino Map,” Levi crafts a musical journey that navigates through life’s seismic shifts, from moments of profound loss to exuberant highs.

With four different guitar tunings, each track possesses its own unique personality, yet seamlessly contributes to the album’s introspective tapestry.

levi j burr

As is the way with many independent artists, Levi wears many hats, from being a dedicated music teacher, imparting the joys of Taiko drumming, to his role as a vibrant member of Marrickville’s music scene.

Levi’s approach to music is a blend of scrappy ideas, relentless refining, and unexpected twists within the arrangements. “Another Domino Map” is more than an album; it’s a milestone in Levi’s musical odyssey, a promise of more to come, infused with strings and ambient elements.

Levi’s music is an invitation to savour life’s impermanence, a sentiment echoed in his wise words: “Hold steady and enjoy the ride, it’s only a short one.”

levi j burr

Happy: What are you up to today?

Levi: Today I was working at my day job as a music teacher. It’s so great to have a job where I get to share my love of music, all I ever wanted to do really! I’m teaching the kids about Taiko (Japanese drumming) and it’s a noisy racket and heaps of fun.

Happy: What’s the music scene like in your neck of the woods?

Levi: Pretty good I‘d say. I tend to watch a lot of live music in Marrickville.

The Gasoline Pony is probably my favourite place to play, hang out and watch shows. 

My mate D.C Cross (who played on the album) lives around the corner. 

So yeah, a pretty reasonable neighbourhood all told I reckon.

Happy: Can you tell us about the inspiration behind “Another Domino Map” 

Levi: It’s about very big changes in life, for good or for bad. I lost my mum last February and some of these songs were written in a period of acute grief, like a releasing or a cathartic experience. 

Others are way more lighthearted and upbeat, like Orange Juice. 

Life is pretty damn good but nothing is permanent and change is the main constant. 

Hold steady and enjoy the ride, it’s only a short one.

Happy: Each track on the album appears to have its own distinct personality. Could you provide some insights into how you achieve this individuality while maintaining a cohesive listening experience?

Levi: What a lovely compliment. There are 4 different guitar tunings used on the album so that is going to provide some variety. I guess there’s a real range of experience I was trying to conjure when I was writing and I wanted to provide a restful and relaxing listening experience.

I don’t think that can be necessarily said of the album as a whole, there are a few intense and dissonant moments. Having said that, the feedback I’m getting is that it evokes reminiscence and a sense of quietude.

Happy: Can you share any information about the recording process of “Another Domino Map”? Were there any noteworthy challenges or creative breakthroughs during the production?

Levi: I tracked the record with Daniel Natoli at A Sharp studios. He is an absolute legend to work with. I recorded the bass (excepting 1 song), banjo and synth at my studio.

Bruce Aitken recorded percussion at his studio. I approached a range of pedal steel guitarists to play on the record, including B.J. Cole who has played with T-Rex and Spiritualized. Once the pedal steel was all recorded, it went to Chuck Johnson at Cirrus Oxide in California for his parts, mixing and mastering.

Happy: Can you share some insights into your creative process? How do you approach composing and arranging your music?

Levi: Generally scrappy and sloppy ideas are recorded on my phone and then they are playlisted on my computer. I listen to them over and over and hammer the arrangements into shape. I’m always trying to do something unexpected within the song. When I have enough tracks I’ll record demos. Then more listening and more hammering into shape. Finally, the songs are ready to be tracked in the studio.

Happy: Are there any specific artists or musicians who have had a significant influence on your musical style and approach?

Levi: John Fahey would be the overriding influence on my music at this point in time. His music is full of rambling and chaos, beauty and darkness.

Lately I’ve been listening to Nathan Salsburg’s most recent record a lot; it’s beautiful, clean flowing guitar lines played over scratchy old 78RPM recordings. Such a cool contrast.

I’ve also been digging into a lot of ambient music, like Locsil, Stars of the Lid and Madeleine Cocolas. I do a monthly podcast that’s up on Spotify called ‘Antipodean Echoes’ where I tend to play what I’m listening to.

Happy: Could you provide some background on your musical journey leading up to the release of “Another Domino Map”? Are there any pivotal moments or experiences that shaped your sound?

Levi: I’ve played in bands over the years in Sydney and London. We had a band called The High Society from 1998 – 2005 where we did some pretty decent support slots. It was a Sydney via Detroit type band.

After that was Rack & Ruin and then into making electronic music for a while. Came back to the guitar seriously in 2016 and started to study fingerpicking in earnest.

Happy: Can you tell us more about the significance of the title “Another Domino Map” and how it relates to the overall theme of the album?

Levi: I guess it relates back to the earlier question, it’s about enjoying the ride and that nothing is permanent.

Happy: “Twisted Glass” is mentioned as feeling like it’s pulled straight from the Nashville score. What elements contribute to this distinctive Nashville sound in the track?

Levi: I think there are two  elements at play here. That song has a pedal steel guitar part from Will Van Horn who plays with Khruangbin amongst others. Will is from Texas but I understand what you mean. On top of that, my brother Aaron played bass on that track. He is a far better bassist than I and did a great part on that song that fits your description.

Happy: “Another Domino Map” is hailed as a career-defining feat. Could you share what this album means to you in terms of your musical journey and aspirations?

Levi: I am mighty pleased with this record. It’s great to have it pressed up on vinyl. Many, many thanks to everyone who supported my crowdfunder. I’m keen to try to release a new album yearly moving forward.

I’m writing heaps of songs and am keen to include a string quartet and more ambient elements on my next record. Another Domino Map is the first step on my instrumental music journey.

Happy: What makes you happy?

Levi: Music, gardening, Autumn, family and breathing deeply.

Head here to listen to the EP in full.

Photos by Lucas Griffiths