Interviewed by David Felix
Date: August 2009
With the release of his latest solo project entitled "DEEP SOUTH," I jumped at the chance to once again chat with one of my favorite guitarists and interviews, Bill Leverty. As always, Bill did not disappoint providing us with another great interview and some insight into the background, stories and concept behind "DEEP SOUTH." Here’s what he had to say…
David Felix: How did you first come up with the concept behind "Deep South?"
Bill Leverty: It became very apparent that FIREHOUSE was not going to record an album last winter, so I decided to work on doing something that I had wanted to do for a long time: record an album of cover tunes. My first idea was to record a song from each of my influences, but it seemed to me that all of the songs that I wanted to record had been covered by hundreds of other artists. I decided to go back to a period in music history just before rock and roll was born. In the late 1800's to the early 1900's, many people were listening to gospel, country/bluegrass, and blues. From these genres, I found 8 songs that I really felt that I could add my guitar and vocal style to. I didn't realize it was a "concept" until after the album was done and I needed to come up with an album title. Then I realized that all of the songs had originated from the Southern United States. The music from the South has made a huge impact on our culture and I was very happy to bring awareness to this unique sound.
David Felix: This is a bit of a stretch in styles from what you are use to playing with FIREHOUSE. How did you approach these songs and turn them into your own?
Bill Leverty: I love so much music, and much of what I love is not from the genre that I'm known for. With this project, I really just tried to keep an open mind and let the songs tell me what to do. If the song asked for big guitars, I recorded big guitars. If the song asked to be treated with a more traditional approach, I recorded more acoustic instruments. I certainly tried to fit as many electric guitars in these songs as possible, but some of these songs didn't feel right with that kind of production, so I didn't try to fit the square peg into the round hole. I know that this stuff sounds different from what I'm known for, but this project was an artistic learning experience for me in which I was able to have a lot of fun. The bottom line is that I really enjoy listening to this album, and that was my goal. If it sells, that's great! So far, I've gotten nothing but great reviews, so hopefully, more people will get a chance to hear it.
David Felix: With such an extended library of songs from that genre, how did you go about picking the ones you wanted for the CD?
Bill Leverty: I found that finding and picking the right songs took more time than recording them. I was not familiar with 8 out of 10 of these songs before I started this project, but that was part of the idea: to get me out of my comfort zone of what I'm used to doing, and try something that was new to me. I solicited everyone to help me pick the right songs. I contacted a lot of old friends to get their advice. Ultimately, my brother, who is a great singer/songwriter in his own right, suggested 3 or 4 of these songs. I found "Boll Weevil" on a website called "playingbyear.com." The others I just kept digging and digging on the internet, and when I found one that felt right, I went into my studio and tried building it up from scratch.
David Felix: Was there any song in particular that you found more challenging to reconstruct and compose? If so, which one and why?
Bill Leverty: They were all challenging in their own way for various reasons, but one that stands out is "Trouble So Hard" which was the last song that I recorded for the album. I just loved the song, and I wanted to write a riff that would change chords within the riff, and fit the vocal melody while trying to bring out the bluesy, gospel, spiritual vibe of the song. In my research, I became aware of the awesome recording that Moby had done of this song. The chord progression he picked to go with the melody was absolutely perfect, but I couldn't use the same chords for obvious reasons, so I had to figure out how to make it different, but still sound genuine. I wrote a final verse for this song to show the relevancy of the hardships that we are dealing with today. I struggled with this song for a while, but ultimately I liked it enough to make it the first song on the album.
David Felix: Were there any other songs you were considering for the release and if so, why didn’t they make the cut?
Bill Leverty: Once I found ten, I couldn't wait to get the album out, so I stopped and "called it an album". I then worked on getting the mixes up to snuff, trying to create a very intimate vibe on all of the songs and a consistent feel from start to finish while still bringing in a very large variety of instrumentation. The mixing took some time.
David Felix: I understand you got Kristina Leverty involved with the release as well… how did that all come about?
Bill Leverty: I always wanted to cover a Ray Charles tune. He was one of the very few artists that my parents and I BOTH loved. When I decided on "Hit The Road Jack," I needed to get a female voice recorded to sing the lines in the chorus that Ray's background girls sang. I asked my wife to come into my studio to lay down a scratch track with the idea that it would later be replaced by a local professional female vocalist here in my hometown. After I heard my wife sing, I said "we don't need a professional singer! You sound GREAT!!" I honestly had no idea that she could sing so well. Neither did she! She still doesn't because she is so humble. Anyway, when I got ready to sing the high harmonies on "Rain And Snow," I thought I'd ask her to bail me out and she nailed that one too. I've come to find out that my wife is a great singer. The down side is that I now have to pay her MUCH more! :)
David Felix: The artwork for the CD has a pretty interesting story behind it as well, tell us a little bit about that…
Bill Leverty: I couldn't think of a title for this album after I had finished it, and I looked at a piece of artwork that my Grandfather had created and thought it looked really cool, and noticed that he had titled it "Deep South." I thought it was perfect since all of these songs came from the South. It felt like my Grandfather was saying, "Deep South would be a great title for your album." He was a really unique artist who had a passion for block print art. His main job was the news editor for the morning paper in Richmond, VA. He was a brilliant man.
David Felix: Now you pretty much did all the instrumentation on the CD yourself. How long did it take for you to complete the project and why did you choose not to use any additional musicians?
Bill Leverty: It was really just a matter of scheduling. I did all of the recording in my spare time without any schedule. If I had time after I put my daughter to bed, I'd go work on the album. If I felt like working on it in the morning, I did. I was juggling a few other projects with other artists I was recording in my studio, so I wasn't able to set a solid schedule for this project. I did bring in Houston Scott (the best harmonica player in the country) to play on "Man Of Constant Sorrow." He came in one afternoon and knocked it out of the park. He's a monster! I didn't work on the album every day, but I started in January '09 and finished in April '09.
David Felix: In the end, did "Deep South" live up to your vision of what you wanted the CD to be?
Bill Leverty: I didn't have a vision when I started. My vision formed as I dug into this project, so I would have to say no. I went into this totally blind, unfamiliar with most of these songs, with no preconceived notion as to what it should sound like. I really enjoy working this way. I had no restrictions. No debates or arguments. No pressure. No deadlines. Just a lot of fun while gaining an education as a recording artist and producer/engineer.
David Felix: How have your fans been reacting to the release?
Bill Leverty: I've had a very positive reaction from friends, family and fans. Most of the fans who are into FIREHOUSE have very open minds when it comes to music, and they are very eclectic when it comes to multi-genre music. I've found that many of the people who like this music are very musically aware and have a love for the emotions that these songs touch on.
David Felix: If there was one thing you could change about the release, what would it be and why?
Bill Leverty: I would have put it out a long time ago! I really have nothing that I would change. This is an album that I love listening to from start to finish.
David Felix: The most familiar track to most of your listeners would probably be "Hit The Road Jack" which is also the "youngest" of just about all the songs. What made you decide to include this song and were you nervous at all in approaching a song that has just about become an "American standard?"
Bill Leverty: I always LOVED this song, and I looked around and I couldn't find any recordings by anyone who had covered this masterpiece. I certainly wasn't nervous about giving it a try, and as it developed in the studio, I really starting feeling good about it. It's hard to mess up such an awesome song. :)
David Felix: What do you think Ray Charles and Percy Mayfield would think of your interpretation?
Bill Leverty: I think they'd like it, but it's hard for me to imagine what a musical genius like Ray Charles would think of anything that Bill Leverty has done. Percy Mayfield wrote it, so he's got to be a musical genius too. It really doesn't get any better than this kind of song, and Ray Charles' recording is legendary. I only hope that people get to hear my version and get some enjoyment from it.
David Felix: Do you think you accomplished what you wanted to achieve with "Deep South?"
Bill Leverty: Since I only wanted to please myself, yes. Absolutely! I think I surpassed my goal of self satisfaction. I recorded an album of cover tunes that I really enjoy. If other people enjoy it, then that's icing on the cake.
David Felix: What would you say to any of your fans or ANYONE for that matter who may be a little hesitant to give something like this a shot?
Bill Leverty: If this album is not your cup of tea, I understand. But, if you listen to it with an open mind, and with the mindset that most of these songs are about 100 years old, I think you'll walk away with a good feeling. If people will take the 4 minutes to listen to a song on this album, I thank them from the bottom of my heart. If they like the first song, then, by all means, please listen to another one; and, if you like that, please continue. If you find that you like the music enough, please buy yourself a copy. I'm happy to sign it for you if you order through my website and want me to sign it for you. I've always said that there's a "nerve" that goes from your ear to your heart. Not every song from every artist is going to make it all the way from the ear to the heart for everyone. Every one of these songs does that for me. I hope that these songs find their way into the hearts of as many people as possible. After all, these songs have passed the test of time and deserve another listen.