Bassist Alex Levine shares about the acclaimed reception from The ‘59 Sound, the band’s New Jersey and blue-collar roots, why he admires the past so much, and looks ahead to the next record.
Are you excited for this upcoming fall tour?
Yeah, man. I’m pretty stoked. We got another two and a half weeks until it starts. We’re pretty excited about going out. Murder by Death, Loved Ones, Frank Turner, Ninja Gun, Broadway Calls – we’re taking out all those. It’s going to be an intense tour.
This is your final tour in support of The ’59 Sound. Does it feel like a victory lap at all?
That’s a good way of looking at it, I guess [laughs]. That’s a good way to look back at the year. This year’s been incredible. Everything that’s happened because of The ’59 Sound has been unbelievable. So yeah, I guess so.
Did you ever imagine the kind of reception this would get?
No, of course not, not to the magnitude that’59 Sound has really brought to us. But, I don’t know. Any band that puts out a record expects something, I guess, because they’re proud of it. We didn’t really expect the mainstream feedback that we’ve gotten.
I heard a couple weeks ago you had an interesting time at Lollapalooza. What was that like?
It was fun. Nothing really crazy happened. We just played, actually [laughs].
Wasn’t there like a rainstorm during your set or something?
Yeah, it was raining. I mean, it was raining all day. There were people there. It was in the middle of the day, but it was raining. It wasn’t that intense. It was fun, you know? It was a pretty awesome show, but nothing crazy really happened.
Then you’re doing Reading and Leeds in a couple days too, right?
Yeah. We’re flying to the U.K. this weekend and doing those two shows.
Are you looking forward to those?
Oh yeah, of course. That was one of our first big festivals we ever played last year. It was one of the best times we ever had as a band, so we’re looking forward to playing. We’re playing onstage with the Gallows and AFI, so we’re looking forward to playing with those guys.
What’s the update on writing for the next record? I heard Brian’s been working on some stuff recently.
Yeah, we’ve been working on some stuff. We got a couple songs that we’re working on. We’re going to jump into rehearsals and the studio by January. We’re going to be home for a little while, writing and recording.
I thought there was a pretty big jump between Sink or Swim and ’59 Sound. Do you anticipate something similar with the new one as well?
We really just want to sustain our career, basically. We’d be happy playing the shows we’re playing right now for the rest of our career, headlining these kinds of venues and doing things like that. We’re not really interested in anything. You’d be a liar if you’re not going to say you’re striving for more and better, because any human should, but we’re not really expecting anything, I guess.
As far as sound goes, will it be something similar to what we’ve heard before, or do you have ideas on changing things?
We’re just going to write how we write. We’re not very conscious of how we sound most of the time [laughs]. Whatever feels good comes out. We’re not one of those bands that are going to be like, “We need to push the envelope here. We need to be more innovative.” That’s not who we are. We just kind of play a couple chords, and that’s really about it.
Your band is one of those that has that retro feel, where you make a lot of old references to the ‘50s and generally have that yesteryear feel. What intrigues you about that time period and the past?
For me, I’m intrigued just by the way people lived, the way it was recorded and the style, for sure. I’m really influenced by the way people dressed and just about living, when it comes down to family life to hanging out. I wish I could go back to 1955 and start my life back then. It just seemed like a different time and a better time, for music and for living in general. After the war, people were happy.
When The ’59 Sound came out, you guys got compared to Bruce Springsteen a lot. Do you feel those comparisons have become exaggerated?
Oh yeah, of course. It’s hard to say. Let’s say I’m talking to you right now and you ask me a question about how was playing with Bruce Springsteen. Just as simple as that, right? I’ve answered that question maybe 30 or 40 times in the last few months, but you personally haven’t asked that question [laughs]. It’s all relative, you know?
We understand that it’s a personal thing. People want to hear our reactions or our thoughts on how our comparison to Bruce Springsteen is. It’s not that exaggerated. It is what it is. I look at it as he’s one of my favorite artists of all time, and being compared to our favorite artists is – I’ll answer it all day long. It’s just me saying the same answer. It is what it is.
You played in front of something like 80,000 people. Was that pretty mind-blowing?
Yeah. The festival things kind of feel the same every day, no matter where you are or what country you’re at, but that one was a little bit different. You look out, and we’re used to a half-filled field or a quarter-filled field, but by the time we got there it was like we were headlining the festival. It was like Kings of Leon were headlining France or something, you know? We walked out and there were 80,000 people there. It’s insane, just looking out to a sea of people. You really can’t look at one person’s face.
You have some blue-collar roots and that everyman storytelling quality about your music. Why do you think that’s been able to resonate with so many people, especially as many of them are struggling and stuff?
That’s just the way America is, you know? For sure, you’re not talking about how rich we are [laughs]. People gravitate towards real struggles and real problems and real life situations, especially in times like this where people are having trouble with losing their money and getting jobs and all that stuff.
It’s that ‘50s aesthetic. It all comes full circle. That’s how it was back then, and then all of a sudden that’s just how it is now. I feel people always gravitate to music that’s a little bit different, that’s speaking to you differently and telling you different things. I feel like people haven’t really been talking about certain things that we’ve said in some songs.
What did you do before the band took off?
I was a cook, actually. I worked at a restaurant, and some pizzerias and stuff like that. All that good stuff. Brian worked with me. He was like a pizza boy delivery guy [laughs] and a gas station attendant across the street, so he had two jobs. He went back and forth. The other Alex was a manager of a shoe store [laughs], and Benny ran a newspaper. I don’t really know what he did. He did something on a newspaper [laughs].
Jersey has a pretty well documented music history. What was it like to grow up with that and then be able to experience it for yourselves?
It was funny. When I was a kid, getting into punk rock of course, I was right down the street from an Elk’s Lodge, like a VFW place where we used to put on shows every Friday and Saturday and Sunday afternoon. So, I’d walk down there and just go see 17-year-old kids on the flyer shows put on a show. Everyone would be like the same show every weekend, but it was awesome.
I sort of realized that that was going on all over New Jersey. There were VFWs and Elk’s Lodges all over New Jersey. This was where the Bouncing Souls were from. This was where all these bands that I loved are from. I remember thinking, “Does this happen in, like, Nebraska?” No, man, this happens in New Jersey. That’s it.
So when I went on tour, I really saw that. In Jersey, it was way different and way easier to get a show than many other places around the country. Brought up in that scene, you have a different outlook on putting on shows. Playing shows is kind of picking up anywhere and playing. That’s really how Jersey is. You play in a basement. You play in a VFW. That’s it.
What has it been like being on Side One Dummy during this last year or so?
It’s been great. They’ve got great guys who’ve done a lot for us. There’s not many labels you can really just call up, like we all have, and have a conversation with and hang out. Me and the owner were hanging out in Hyde Park and we met Mick Jones over a beer. You can’t do that with the owner of Sony Records [laughs]. They’re great guys. They understand us and all that.
I imagine you’ve gotten a lot of major label attention. Would you like to stay on an indie?
This record coming up is going to be coming out on Side One Dummy, and then after that we are free to go and shop around with any label we like or stay on Side One Dummy. Only time will tell to see what we have to do, but this next upcoming record is coming out on Side One Dummy.
Looking ahead to this next one and beyond, what would you like to see happen for the band?
Really, like I said, just sustain our career. Continue to tour, and continue to put out our music, and people continue to come to our shows. That’s really all I could ask for.
Originally appeared on Mammoth Press