Where I End and You Begin: August John Lutz II Talks Levee Drivers’ First Full-Length, Radiohead, and More

Featured Image courtesy of Caitlin McCann

Rock music has always been deeply rooted in early American music. The raw authenticity of early Country and Blues music has been a source of inspiration for generations of songwriters like Bruce Springsteen, The Rolling Stones, and Jack White. Philadelphia’s soulful Country/Rock act, Levee Drivers, have played their part in extending this long tradition of storytelling and adapting elements from these genres. Since forming in nearby Bucks County, frontman August John Lutz II, Kyle Perella (lead guitar), Jon Covert (bass) and Jeff Orlowski (drums) have made their mark on Philadelphia’s scene with their eclectic, barn-burning brand of country music. They were named “Best of Philly Rising” by World Café Live in 2007, “Best Emerging Artist Poll” in a Deli Magazine Poll, and brought now the Tri-State Indie Music Award for “Best Indie/Folk Americana Band” in the Tri-State area. Lutz recently released his own solo EP, O’ My Foolish Heart, last September, but has still been been in the studio with Levee Drivers recording the follow-up to their 2013 EP, Speakin’ Bourbon Coated Blues. I had the chance to catch up Lutz ahead of Levee Drivers’ upcoming show at Ortlieb’s and talk about sharing music, his time in the studio, and the creative process behind Levee Drivers.

ROP: Country music, as a genre, has always managed to combine various elements of Blues, Folk, and Rock traditions. What about the genre stands out most to you as a songwriter?

August John Lutz: I really enjoy the storytelling more than anything. There’s so much range on how a songwriter is able to present their lyrics in this genre that’s very interesting to follow. You can have the most heartbreaking songs ever written but at the same time be able to throw in a touch of tongue-in-cheek without it ruining the overall tone…hopefully. If done right, that’s a pretty exciting combination to me.

ROP: You mentioned how you really dug into your family’s extensive music library growing up. What was the first artist/band that you discovered on your own and introduced to your family?

AJL: That’d be Radiohead. I liked some elements of Pablo Honey but it wasn’t until The Bends and OK Computer came out that I truly fell in love with them. My family always saw them as a modern day Pink Floyd so converting them wasn’t a problem either. And since then, my family have been to almost just as many Radiohead shows as I have! Side note: Kid A is my personal favorite Radiohead album without a doubt.

ROP: I noticed that The Rolling Stones are a frequently mentioned as an influence on Levee Drivers and your solo career. Listening to  “Foolish Heart” reminded me a lot of their songs from Exile On Main Street (specifically, songs like “Sweet Virginia” and “Loving Cup” that Keith Richards wrote after hanging with Gram Parsons). What would you say is your favorite Stones record (or Stones era)?

AJL: I’m a big fan of Exile on Main St. and Let It Bleed. Though they had a lot of great records during the late 60’s early 70’s era, when digging into their catalog, I tend to reach for those two records first. I loved how they were “secretly” this brilliant country band while still remaining heavy hitters in rock n’ roll. The balance they had between genres always intrigued me the most about their band. Around that time you had many artists doing the same thing but The Rolling Stones were one of the few bands that really went for it and owned it…whether that be when making a rock song or country song or especially a blues number.

ROP: It’s almost been a year since you released O’ My Foolish Heart. What would you say had the biggest impact on the development of that record?

AJL: O’ My Foolish Heart was my first solo venture (recording wise) outside of Levee Drivers. I was a little nervous but also excited to branch out on my own and make a very bare bones type of EP. I had a few songs piling up that I didn’t necessarily see working as Levee Drivers tunes. So during a small break in the band’s schedule, I took that time to record with friends Brian Dale Allen Strouse and Josh Friedman of The Lawsuits. Levee Drivers had previously worked with them during the making of Speakin’ Bourbon Coated Blues, so that definitely took a lot of the pressure off the whole experience.

 

ROP: Matthew Shaver of The Key, after seeing your last performance with Ben Plotnick, said that he has never seen a bad Levee Drivers show. How have you managed to establish and maintain that kind of consistency in your live act?

AJL: Levee Drivers have had a lot of years to really lock in on what works best and what doesn’t work while performing live. Between that and sticking to a steady rehearsing schedule, we’re all pretty comfortable getting on stage together and playing like it’s our last show every time.

ROP: There has been talk of Levee Drivers preparing to record/release their debut full-length. What should fans expect from this record? Was it recorded around the same time as O’ My Foolish Heart?

AJL: Yes, we’re in the final stages of releasing our debut record. Without giving away too much, this full-length is the closest we’ve ever come to capturing the energy of our live shows, while in the studio. It was recorded just a few months after O’ My Foolish Heart but doesn’t share too many similarities.

ROP: When talking about “All Dolled Up In Red” you mentioned that you don’t often get so personal with your music. Has that been a new development in your songwriting?

AJL: I rarely write love songs, so when “All Dolled Up In Red” came along, it carved out a bit of a change in my writing process. That’s also another reason why that song was put on my solo EP rather than a Levee Drivers record. In the past few years there have been many changes going on in my life that have all been a driving force into breaking out of the usual drunken barroom sing-along.

ROP: What do you see as the biggest challenge writing a full-length versus an EP from a creative standpoint?

AJL: Consistency is the biggest challenge. While preparing to track in the studio, my ultimate goal first, is to pick out the right songs and put together an order that will keep myself and the listener interested in continuing to revisit the album. It’s a lot easier doing that with a four song EP than a ten song album. This is a minor issue to most people, but I grew up obsessing over the order of albums and the way songs flow from one track to another. To me, that’s an art form in itself.

ROP: What was your favorite memory from the time between when you first started recording O’ My Foolish Heart and now?

AJL: The obvious choice would be the O’ My Foolish Heart release show at Bourbon & Branch last September. Everyone that came out to that show and everyone who was involved with making that night happen one way or another, will forever have a place in my heart. Another really rewarding memory was when Levee Drivers got the opportunity to play the main stage at Philadelphia Folk Fest last year. That was a surreal feeling for all of us as well.

ROP: What are you most excited about moving forward?

AJL: I’m excited for the release of Levee Drivers first full-length. It’s been a long time in the making and we all can’t wait for everyone to hear it.

You can catch the Levee Drivers performing with Miles Nielsen and The Rusted Hearts and William H. Travis at Ortlieb’s this Friday, August 12th! Get your tickets here.

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