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Interview with Paul Levinson
Paul Levinson, PhD, is Professor of Communication & Media Studies at Fordham University in New York City.
His eight nonfiction books, including The Soft Edge (1997), Digital McLuhan (1999), Realspace (2003), and Cellphone (2004),
have been the subject of major articles in the New York Times, Wired, the Christian Science Monitor, and have been
translated into ten languages. New New Media, exploring blogging, Twitter, YouTube and other “new new” modes of
communication, was published by Penguin Academics in September 2009. His science fiction novels include The Silk
Code (1999, winner of the Locus Award for Best First Novel), Borrowed Tides (2001), The Consciousness Plague (2002),
The Pixel Eye (2003), and The Plot To Save Socrates (2006). His short stories have been nominated for Nebula, Hugo,
Edgar, and Sturgeon Awards. Paul Levinson appears on "The O'Reilly Factor" (Fox News), "The CBS Evening News,"
“NewsHour with Jim Lehrer” (PBS), “Nightline” (ABC), and numerous national and international TV and radio programs.
His 1972 LP, Twice Upon a Rhyme, was re-issued on mini-CD by Big Pink Records in 2009. He reviews the best of
television in his InfiniteRegress.tv blog, and was listed in The Chronicle of Higher Education’s “Top 10 Academic
Twitterers” in 2009.
NYCMUSIC.NET: What were your first musical experiences?
Paul Levinson: Listening to Alan Freed and Murray the K on the WINS rock 'n 'roll radio in 1958...creating my first group, Little Levi and the Emeralds (after the Diamonds) also in 1958...creating The Transits, a doo-wap group, in 1963....creating The New Outlook, a folk-rock group, in 1965...
NYCMUSIC.NET: Who are your musical idols?
Paul Levinson: The Beatles, Stones, Beachboys, Dylan, Lovin Spoonful, Simon & Garfunkel, Supremes, Four Tops, Temptations, Kingston Trio, Sam Cooke, Peter Paul and Mary, Eagles, Phil Ochs.
NYCMUSIC.NET: What motivates you as a songwriter?
Paul Levinson: Life...phrases I hear on television...melodies and harmonies that always percolate in my head.
NYCMUSIC.NET: What's your favorite piece of musical equipment?
To listen to: guitar (electric and acoustic).
To play: piano.
NYCMUSIC.NET: What's the weirdest experience you've ever had in the music industry?
Paul Levinson: Meeting John Lennon in an elevator in New York City, when I was taking it down after trying to get someone at some record company to listen to Twice Upon a Rhyme.
NYCMUSIC.NET: What really pisses you off? Gives you joy?
Paul Levinson: Uncreative losers really piss me off - people who can't write, think, or create well themselves, so they spend their time obstructing people who can. Creative people - producers and appreciators - give me joy. So do my wife and kids, my students, the books and songs I write, great television and movies, science fiction, tasty food, walking, swimming, Cape Cod, New York City, making money.
NYCMUSIC.NET: In what direction do you see your music heading?
Paul Levinson: The lyrical, psychedelic folk-pop I've been writing and singing for more than 40 years.
NYCMUSIC.NET: What's your opinion on the issue of whether or not artists need record labels in today's music industry? Do you think artists are better off self releasing and running their own business affairs, or is it better to sign with a large company and have to surrender some control to them in exchange for their financial backing and logistical support?
Paul Levinson: It's still better to sign with a big label if you can get one, but don't hold up your career waiting for it. Releasing Twice Upon a Rhyme on my own label, HappySad Records, was the best decision I ever made in the music business.
NYCMUSIC.NET: What's the best gig you ever played?
Paul Levinson: Some small folky club out in Queens in the mid-1960s, where we (The New Outlook) got booed for performing an acoustic version of the Four Tops' "I'll Be There".
NYCMUSIC.NET: What's your favorite musical sound and why?
Paul Levinson: Great harmony - the kind the Beachboys, Eagles, sometimes the Beatles, sing.
NYCMUSIC.NET: As a guitarist and songwriter, do you make use of music theory, chords, scales, and all that stuff, or do you rely on some other method to arrive at your compositions?
Paul Levinson: As a songwriter, I pay a lot of attention to chords, but no musical theory per se. Same when I arrange harmonies, and play a little piano (I'm more an "air guitarist" than a real guitarist).
NYCMUSIC.NET: What's your favorite activity -- writing, recording, or playing shows?
Paul Levinson: Writing and recording, tied for first place. I like performing, too, though.
NYCMUSIC.NET: How did you get your record deal?
Paul Levinson: Stu Nitekman, Ira Margolis, and I (The New Outlook) were performing in Central Park in the Spring of 1968. Ellie Greenwich and Mike Rashkow walked up to us, said they liked what they heard, and signed us to Atlantic Records. We released two singles, under the name, The Other Voices.
NYCMUSIC.NET: What's your newest song?
Paul Levinson: Lime Streets - I wrote the words and my music in 2006.
NYCMUSIC.NET: What are the four most exciting recent things to happen with your music?
1. Twice Upon a Rhyme is now available - all tracks, MP3s, great quality - on Amazon, eMusic, and iTunes.
2. Big Pink Records issued a mini-CD of Twice Upon a Rhyme in South Korea in December 2008, and Vivid Records re-issued it in Japan in March 2009.
3. Copies of the original vinyl of Twice Upon a Rhyme (1972) are now on sale at Rockit Scientist Records on St. Marks Place in New York City.
4. Doing interviews like this - recently with Evan LeVine (WFMU and Swan Fungus), and Jack Hobbes (The Bubbling Dusk).
Paul Levinson and The New Outlook on MySpace:
Paul Levinson - New New Media:
The New Outlook, 1966 (Paul Levinson is on the right).
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An interview with Elizabeth
NYCMUSIC.NET: What is Devola?
Elizabeth: Devola, the name alone, is
a small section of a town called Marietta, Ohio where Chuck and
I grew up. After finding each other kind of randomly in NYC,
we decided to start making music together and to call it Devola
since that's where we both met and share a common history. Devola
now represents to us the music we make together. We don't categorize
it in a genre unless we're forced to. We don't adhere to any
expectations other than our own. We don't strive for the same
things other bands do. All that Chuck and I have ever wanted
to do is make music that is free and pure and meaningful. When
we started writing songs together over three years ago; we found
what we had been looking for and Devola is just that -- it's
music that demonstrates our own tastes, however quickly they
may change. We also take a lot of pride in our lyrics and we
hope that our fans take the time to seek out the writings that
accompany our songs and consider them just as crucial of an element
to "Devola" as the music is. And aside from the music
and lyrics, I feel like Devola represents a broad support of
musical integrity and truth in art. We don't compete with other
bands and we don't need to be on MTV or the radio to consider
ourselves successful. All that we do is try to make each new
song challenge us more than the last and we hope some of the
songs can speak to people on as many different levels as our
influences have spoken to us.
NYCMUSIC.NET: Tell me more about the
Elizabeth: Lyrics are actually the main
reason why I started playing music. I have always written so
much poetry that it kind of frightened my friends. They'd walk
into my room and see stacks of loose leaf paper at the foot of
the bed, boxes of it in the closet...I mean, I have 3 different
online journals all filled with different poems. I don't really
separate my poetry from Devola lyrics at all. When there's a
guitar riff or a melody that seems to fit well with certain lines
I have, then that poem evolves into a song.
A lot of the lyrics are about emotional
events. They come across as angry and bitter to a lot of people
and that really acts as a paradox for my friends-because I'm
pretty happy-go-lucky in person. But the thing is, I write when
I need to. And it's hardly ever when I am
happy. Writing seems to always be instigated
by something at least moderately tragic for me. I've also been
challenging myself a lot lately with different types of puzzles,
in a sense, in my poems. All of the lyrics for our next album
are part of this strange, somewhat mathematical approach, that
I have been using for my poetry lately. But that's sorta under
One thing I know about lyrics is that
they should be so raw and true that they make the singer choke
up while singing. They should come from a place that's totally
private and maybe even disturbing because I think that anything
else is just generic. And it's a shame what an overflow of generic
lyrics there are out there that kids are singing along to --
primarily because they just don't know any better. I was fed
lyrics from Fiona Apple and Ani Difranco mostly growing up, so
I suppose I'm biased. But I really believe there's a certain
craftsmanship involved in writing a good song and lyrics are
absolutely included in that.
NYCMUSIC.NET: OK, that's the lyrics
side of it, now tell me about the musical side of Devola, because
what you guys are doing there is definitely not ordinary either...
Elizabeth: The golden rule for us concerning
our music is to just do whatever we want. On our first record,
we wanted to experiment a lot with crazy timing and funky guitar
parts, and so we did. The second record was a little bit more
thought out and better developed. We have a 12 minute long jam
song, but also a really short punk kind of song. Currently, we're
writing a record that has been so far comprised of acoustic blues
songs that we'll electrify for the record. Nonetheless, we feel
like so many musicians limit themselves and that leads to their
demise later because they feel trapped. Chuck and I have always
believed in being open-minded about it. If you look at either
one of our Ipods, we've got everything
from Frank Sinatra to Lamb Of God to PJ
Harvey. Music, as a whole, is what we do. We don't care if people
call us progressive, or post hardcore, or punk or anything else
we've been called because it's all always evolving anyway. The
key idea here is freedom. If we release a blues record and then
a metal record; I really wouldn't be surprised. If our fans want
to be open minded with us and take whatever we put out there
for them, then that's great. If not, well, there are thousands
of bands out there who release the same record multiple times
who they can go listen to.
NYCMUSIC.NET: Is Devola really going
to kill me?
Elizabeth: Haha. When we started the
band, everyone thought of Ebola from the name. Eventually, we
started making really cheesy jokes like "Oh hey guys, we're
called the devola virus, we're gonna kill you..." and even
went as far as to make our first official website www.thedevolavirus.com
We haven't threatened to kill anyone with our virus in a long
time, but people still seem to like the catch phrase. Some people
actually think we're called The Devola Virus. It's great! But
I guess the answer is yes. We will probably kill you. I mean,
c'mon, we were on the soundtrack to a slasher film and all...
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