Rider on the Strom
Levi Strom plays Fernwood, helps forge Big Sur recording studio.
Thursday, January 13, 2011
Levi Strom’s approach to music is as spontaneous as his approach to life. A few years back, the 29-year-old decided to leave his job at a nonprofit in the Bay Area and head down the coast to focus on his true love: music.
“The wind blew me to Big Sur,” Strom says.
Strom began writing his own songs when he was 15, drawing inspiration from what he calls “the basics”: death, misery, human suffering, joy, passion, love and fun. His first album was done on the fly: He would pretty much hit record and play the songs as they were, without any do-overs or production polish.
Throughout his time living in Big Sur, Strom has become somewhat of a local music fixture, whether he’s accompanying Little Wings at the July 4 Mother Hipnic at the Henry Miller Library or playing a solo set at Fernwood.
The new year looks to be productive as he’s scheduled to record a follow-up to his self-titled debut.
“I’m approaching this album without having any ideas or conceptions about it,” he says. “I’ve been trying to go into the studio with a real clean slate and making stuff up on the spot.”
So far, Strom has five songs recorded and plans to record another five before the album is ready for release. His gritty and raw debut – only 22 copies were released – ignites a spirit similar to Beck’s One Foot in the Grave. But Strom’s new material travels into territory featuring a much fuller sound, probably because he has Cave Country – who opens for him on Saturday at Fernwood – backing him on some songs.
“The first album was mainly acoustic guitar and some overdubs,” Strom says. “This one’s more electric and I’m playing the keyboard and piano a lot more. It will be more of a studio album.”
Strom refers to the upcoming release as his Sgt. Pepper. After listening to one of the new tracks, “The Cave,” his mention of the seminal Beatles record makes sense. It’s grandiose, psychedelic and noisy but also holds an infectious melody; his reverberated voice sounds like he’s singing from a mountaintop. “Here I Am” is a whirlwind of surreal yet simple imagery – sung in an endearingly adolescent tone – that eventually grows into a sing-a-long guided by whistling.
Along with the new LP, the curly-haired folkster is also working with the Henry Miller Library on a 100 percent analog recording studio and an all-vinyl record label that will eventually release live recordings of bands that play the intimate venue. Strom plans on being heavily involved with the record and he’ll act as the lead engineer for the library’s recording studio.
“It’s kind of a White Stripes approach,” he says. “No digital whatsoever; tape straight to vinyl.”
Meanwhile, Strom is still glad he left his former nine-to-five existence up north for the majestic wonders of Big Sur and the life of a struggling musician.
“It was a shift and took me a little while to grow into,” he says. “But I have no regrets.”
LEVI STROM AND CAVE COUNTRY play 9pm Saturday, Jan. 15, at Fernwood, 47200 Highway 1, Big Sur. Free. 667-2422.