Can you tell me a little bit about your past? Where you came from… that kind of thing? A testimony, of sorts… ?
I came from Roswell, New Mexico, and I hated it. I hate where I grew up, and I hate the state of New Mexico. Basically, the reason that I left New Mexico is because I hated it so much, and I knew there was something else out there. But basically, before I did that, I did a bunch of soul-searching – around sixth grade – after being made fun of for so long. Yeah. Soul searching. That summer, I just kind of realized who I was and became my own person, and became confident with who I was. I started skateboarding and playing guitar, and got really into music. Nirvana dominated my life until I was, like, 18, and that’s when I found out about Tooth & Nail Records. Then, I found out about mewithoutYou, and that changed my life, totally. The record A to B Life just totally changed my life, and that’s when I found about all these other Tooth & Nail and Solid State bands. And that’s where I think I really got intrigued by music – and not just distortion. That’s when I became a fan of lyrics and music and starting diving into a whole bunch of different kinds of music. I kept on playing in bands and stuff, and… well, how much of this do you want to hear, Levi?
Dude, whatever. How much do you want to tell?
Okay, well… so yeah… from sixth grade to seventh grade was a huge turning point in my life. When I started playing music was another turning point in my life – that happened when I was about fifteen. And then, finding out about the band mewithoutYou – that was a huge turning point in my life. I just can’t talk enough about that band. Like, all of the scrambled words and stuff in my head that I always tried to express to people but couldn’t explain it right… Aaron Weiss put to words and put it so beautifully. So that was another turning point in my life just because it helped me really look at myself and figure out who I was, and definitely influenced my walk with God. So shortly after I found out about mewithoutYou, I moved to Canada – after I turned eighteen. Just trying to get as far away from New Mexico as possible. I worked for a church that had a skatepark, and I worked for free for, like, eight months. That was another life-changing experience… just one after another, and that was great. Moved back to New Mexico for a few months to try to figure out what I was going to do next. Found a band at Cornerstone that summer that lived in California and needed a bass player, and I moved out to California when I was nineteen to have the worst, horrible, horrible, horrible time of my life – almost for two years in California. But I felt like I wasn’t supposed to leave yet, and I was like, “God, why can’t I just leave?” I felt like I was supposed to stay there, even though I was becoming the most depressed I’d ever been… you know… the strangest crap happened to me there, and I hated my life. And everyone was like, “Dude, you complain about California so much… why don’t you just leave?” And I just didn’t feel like I was supposed to go yet. It was really weird. But then, I got into another band, and a kid moved down from West Virginia to be in that band, and he started introducing me to some of his friends that he grew up with that moved to Seattle, and knew Tooth & Nail people. That was, basically, how I got involved in Tooth & Nail – through that guy. And that’s what I’m working on now, and I love Tooth & Nail, and I love my church and I love Seattle and, I don’t know… I just really want to emphasize on people that are like, “Oh man, I’m having such a sucky time. Why am I going through this?” It’s like, dude… maybe God has a reason. God definitely has you there for a reason if you’re going after him, and you’re listening… be obedient if he’s telling you to stay in a place even though you hate it. Because if I would’ve ducked out early, and taken the easy way out, I would have never met that gentleman that introduced me to that gentleman, and on and on… So yeah, so I got out of California, moved up to Seattle, networked like crazy. Just, you know, meeting Tooth & Nail people, wanting to work at my dream job, and God opened doors through an internship, and it was the right timing, and I got hired on eventually, after months of interning, and God has just totally blessed my socks off tremendously. So that’s where I’m at now. That’s the super short version.
How long did you intern at the Nail, and what did you do, as an intern? What exactly is your job description there now?
Dude, I interned at the Nail for eight months while I still had a full-time job. And it started out just doing, like… mailing things out, or loading up tour dates. And I just tried to get my hands on everything. I tried to let everyone know that I was available for anything. So, if a band needed to be picked up from the airport, I’d do it. If someone needed me to drive a band around during the photo shoot they have in town, I was like, sweet – I’ll give up my weekend to do it. I did everything, man. From painting graffiti in the ally that’s on the building to going to get coffee and stuff. I made myself available in every way possible, and tried to read people really well and watch my step so that I wasn’t being the annoying guy at the same time. And then I learned… I took down notes about every little thing so that once they told me they didn’t have to tell me again. Did things without people asking – I think that was kind of like… uh…
Yeah. I just tried to get every angle to make me seem like a bad-a, basically. And somehow I pulled it off, which doesn’t happen very often. Had to of been a God Thing. So yeah man – everything under the sun.
What’s your job description there now that you’re hired on full time?
As far as “now” goes – I’m the merchandise coordinator. Anything merch related. I run all of our online stores, and coordinate with Zambooie, who runs our warehouse stuff. I coordinate with them for pre-orders that we do with an album, or a new shirt. Like, if someone needs a new shirt up in the store. When we go on Warped Tour, or other festivals and stuff – organizing what stuff is going to go out. Oh, we need a new hoodie – let’s do that. Oh – a Demon Hunter dog tag with this preorder – that would do well. Where can I get those made? And then when we get designs we have to get them approved by the bands before we can start selling them, and get different printers to print with, and stuff like that. So I do that as the merch coordinator, and then my other title is an A&R assistant. So, all the A&R guys who sign the bands and stuff like that – I just help them out with things that need to be done with stuff they can’t get to that day. So that’s kind of where I am now. My title has kind of switched around a little bit since I’ve been here, but that’s that.
You’ve been out representing T&N the last couple of summers on Warped Tour… how has that been? What does that consist of? How do you maintain your relationship with the Lord while you’re on tour?
Oh man… so… well, it goes like this: You fly a buttload of merch down to California at the beginning of the summer, and then you frickin wake up every day at 8 AM, go wait for a semi truck to unload your tent and your merch stuff and you set up. Then the doors open, and you have a frickin mob – a cult – of crazy neon-colored kids that run through your gates. And then you basically just talk to kids and sell them stuff until, like, 6:30 that night. You get all your stuff packed up and go unwind from the ten hours you’ve spent in 100 degree weather, and then you do it all again! So basically – I get a good tan. The days off are cool, and definitely needed. Just hanging out with people afterwards is cool. You get to know everybody in this traveling circus. It gets pretty difficult though, involving God and stuff… you get so distracted. You have so much to do each day, and it really quickly takes over. “Oh man, I’m already so tired from the heat!” And waking up an hour or thirty minutes early every day to do a devotion or have some quiet time with God, it’s like… there’s barely any room for it. But if you don’t have it, your day is going to suck. So it’s definitely harder on a Warped kind-of-tour, to do that. And then there’s parties every night. Everything’s available, whether it’s drugs or chicks – everything’s available. And dude, not gonna lie, the temptation out there is nuts. So… I don’t know… I found it hard. I did, I found it hard to really have this strong relationship with God, but it can totally be done. And you know what? I think I’m just being a pansy. I think that’s what it is. But yeah, it is hard to be on a tour and really have a consistent flow with God. And I guess it’s hard to do that in life. Maybe it’s just especially hard to do that on Warped, I don’t know.
That makes sense.
A lot of “I don’t knows” in there. Sorry about that.
No man, it’s fine. It’s just interesting for me to think about. I know we’ve talked about it in the past, and I can’t really imagine it.
Yeah. Pretty nuts.
What did you grow up listening to? Who are a few of your favorite bands/artists that T&N has signed – past or present?
Dude, I grew up listening to Tears For Fears. I love, love, love Tears For Fears. Frickin awesome band. And then there was Nerf Herder – which was some nerd/punk rock band that I got into around the same time, and saw the “punk rock” side. But after that, the band that I really embraced and started to grow up with – being a teenager – was Nirvana. And then I got all interested in the Seattle scene, and pretty much everything that came out of Seattle or that was considered “grunge,” I was obsessed with. And that’s seriously what I listened to up until I was eighteen – was just a bunch of grunge music. And then a friend introduced me to a little band called Zao and As I Lay Dying just released the album with “94 Hours” on it, and I got into the metal thing, and then I heard mewithoutYou and my whole mind was frickin blown. So that’s what I grew up listening to up until that point or whatever. But about some of my favorite bands on the label now: mewithoutYou, of course. Um… Surrogate is amazing. Let’s see… August Burns Red, of course. The Famine is amazing – Andy is the best guitarist on the label. But my favorite, newest band would be Poema. And you know all about Poema, Levi. They’re up here recording with Aaron Sprinkle right now. And that all came out of that little Wake Tour, that I almost didn’t go to.
I’m excited for them, that’s awesome.
Yeah man, when God tugs on your heart to go somewhere, you’d better go.
You guys have gone through a few changes over the past year with Chad Johnson and a couple other A&Rs leaving to pursue other things – how have those changes affected the workplace/organization of your artists, or have they?
Well, I would say not many things have changed, but at the same time, they have. And that’s such a cop-out answer, and I’m sorry. Jimmy and Chad were my main mentors when I was an intern, so I learned so much from those dudes, and when Jimmy said he was leaving, I was super bummed. I was like, I know the label will still go on, of course, but he was a great part of the team. And then when Chad said he was leaving, and that God was calling him elsewhere, as well, I was like, “Oh my gosh! Chad’s leaving!?” I know we’ve still got a lot of good dudes on the staff, but he was such a huge part that I saw. Not that Tooth & Nail couldn’t go on without those dudes, but for me, at the time, they were my mentors, and them being gone, I was like, “How am I going to go on?” Stupid early-twenties stuff. But then the other dudes on staff were like – bam! Okay, we hired on two more A&R dudes, and it’s been really cool. I loved the Tooth & Nail family then, and I love the Tooth & Nail family now. So that’s better than going downhill… so some things have changed. Some things haven’t. But I still love those guys and hope to work with them sometime down the line in the future.
A lot of people have said that they don’t think it’s very far out to wonder whether or not labels are going to have a whole lot of lasting value what with the decrease in album sales and increase in music pirating, and the general climate of the music industry. What do you see happening with Tooth & Nail as time progresses, and how are you guys shifting gears to keep up with the times?
That whole climate of stuff – what’s going on right now – definitely scared me in the past. It really became kind of an issue by the time I got here. It was like – cool! Now I’m here, and I thought I was going to be out selling records. Now we’re fighting to stay alive or something. But by God’s grace we’re still here, and staying afloat. It’s been a bummer to see other indie labels drop off the map, but it’s been a huge blessing that we’re still afloat. I think Tooth & Nail has always had this kind of cult following, and that’s definitely helping us operate. As far as finding out what to do with the future, as more and more kids download illegally and stuff… we’re going to probably have to learn how to reinvent the wheel a little bit. It does bum me out though, man. I don’t think kids get it. There were tons of kids that would come up to the booth this year at Warped, and look at the CDs and they were like, “Dude, I’ll just go download this CD for free. Why would I have to buy it?” So I’d say, “Do you love that band?” Yes. Totally – they’re my favorite band. And it’s like, okay, well if you keep on downloading stuff illegally, we’re not going to be able to release their next album. Like, I don’t even know if they’ll have money to record their next album. Kids just think that they’re sticking it to the man, downloading stuff for free. It’s like – no man – you should go out there and buy the albums and support the albums that you like. Downloading illegally is such a selfish thing. Kids want to go see their favorite bands and then steal from them. That’s just a glimpse of what I have to say about it. So… kids are just growing up with myspace and all this other stuff, and they don’t really realize… like, support your band. Support the label so that they can keep putting out the music that you like.
That makes sense. And it trickles down, too. If the labels don’t have anything, then the bands don’t have anything and it’s like, “Okay, cool. The labels don’t have money to support the bands that don’t have money to promote in the magazines that don’t have money, and on and on…”
Yeah. And dude, when it all comes down to it, they’re going to be whining. Like, “Oh I wish you guys would just put out another album!” And the bands being, “Oh! Well I wish you would’ve bought our last one that was really good so that we could put out another one.” What bands are going to be able to record a decent sounding CD on their own if they’re not some mega-huge band that has a lot of money? So many kids think: you’re signed? You’re on a label? Then your band if frickin bringing in the money, and the label has tons of money because they have a lot of bands on the label. And you know what? Some bands – yes. Most bands? No. They’re still starting out and trying to get places. It’s hard to be in a band. So people that enjoy that music should support the band.
There seems to be a timeless debate among fans and musicians about what exactly it means to combine ministry with artistry, and I know that there have been a few bands that T&N/Solid State have released that have caught some flak from the “Christian community” – so to speak – for their methods (or lack thereof) of “representing Christ”. Does Tooth &Nail – with it’s image as a “Christian Label” (whether or not that may be true, exclusively) – catch any backlash or criticism from people when that happens? How does the label deal with it, or do they?
Dude. All the time. All the time. And I can say this personally – whether I worked at a label or not. Like, when I worked at that church in Canada, I learned that you will piss everybody off. You will piss off the homeschool mom, you’ll piss off the tattooed-up Christian guy that’s seen everything under the sun. Then you have the super conservative Christians and the super liberal Christians and the non-Christians, and then the people that are just in the middle. And so I learned that just by being a “Christian” you’re always not going to be a good enough Christian for this person, or too good of a Christian for this person. Even though there’s no such thing. And dude, the same thing goes for the music industry. This label is viewed as a Christian label since many of the bands happen to be Christians, or some of the people in those bands are Christians. So yeah dude, we definitely get a backlash. You know… if somebody puts out an album that looks weird or has an odd title… I mean… take the second Destroy The Runner album – some people wrote in and said things like “I Lucifer, that isn’t a Christian title, Im going to stop listening to this band ,we don’t like that.” It’s like, if you would just open your mind to what the meaning behind the title is. Read the lyrics, actually. There’s just so much crap when dealing with that.
As far as what I think about doing it as a ministry and stuff like that… of course, the Word says to do whatever you do unto the Lord. Everything you do should be an act of worship for God. You’re a mechanic? Sweet dude. Fix cars, and frickin offer that labor up to the Lord. You’re in a band? Awesome! God makes you happy? Sing about the Lord. But if you’re a Christian in a band, every word doesn’t have to be “Jesus.” I don’t even think every song has to be about Jesus. Jesus is awesome – he’s the key to my joy, my existence, to everything. But you want to write a song about a chick, or falling in love or something, that’s cool, you know? Um… but when you’re a band and you’re saying this is totally and completely as a ministry… like… Sleeping Giant, for example, has been the purest example I’ve ever seen of that. I totally dig the bands that are Christian dudes that get up on stage and play some songs and share their hearts a little and mention Jesus and say “come talk to us after the show” – I totally think that’s cool. But as far as an actual ministry band, every night on the road, full force, no compromise: Sleeping Giant is, to me, the perfect example of that.
So, from a label’s standpoint… I’m trying to think of how to say this…? A couple issues back, Doug did an interview with He Is Legend. So, completely opposite the ministry side of things, He Is Legend is a band that caught a lot of flak for not necessarily being the Christian example, or whatever, but still being on the “Christian” label. So when that happens, when people get angry at the band for that type of thing – do they get angry with you to? Do you become the victim of frustrated emails and stuff like that? Do you think the criticism is justified or warranted?
Maybe that’s not the best example…
No man, I think that’s a really good example. Like, He Is Legend – I don’t think they were even a Christian band, or whatever. But at the same time they weren’t singing about all of this crazy, nasty stuff, or whatever. Their first album was awesome. I thought it was positive. I thought it was good. And then, if you see them live or something, and they drop a little cuss word on stage or they say they are going to get a drink after the show, everyone’s like, “What? What’s going on here?! What’s happening with these guys?” And then a huge uproar starts… I think with He Is Legend, they just got viewed as a Christian band because they were on Solid State, and they’re like, “Well, we’re not.” You know? And maybe it just depends on who you ask. I was never here when He Is Legend was here, but if you read interviews and stuff, it seemed like the dudes were fed up with it, and they were trying as hard as possible to not look like a Christian band. And then that threw all of their Solid State fans off, and then other people… I don’t know. That one’s tricky. I wish I knew more about those dudes. I don’t know the dudes, and I wasn’t really here when they were signed. But with the label, you know, totally – people are like, “Why’d you sign a band like that?” And it’s like show me a band that doesn’t sin, we’re all sinners, man. Even the Christian bands – the super, super Christian bands that share the gospel every night – they sin, too. And they mess up, and when you’re in a band there’s a lot of cameras on you, and eventually someone’s going to catch you messing up. So it could be the most Christian band ever, and then someone sees the singer slip up – or being human – and someone writes a blog about it and someone else is like, “Oh, what’s going on with so-and-so band? Tooth & Nail, why are you signing this garbage?” It’s like, dude… look in the mirror. I don’t know, there’s a lot of degrees to it. You can talk about that for hours. There’s people out there purposefully trying to piss off the Christians, and then there’s Christians out there trying to follow Jesus with no intentions of messing up, and then…
So yeah – you basically just piss everybody off whether you mean to or not. There’s a lot of closed-minded people out there that will just jump at the chance to be like, “Oh my gosh! Why is this going on!? Oh my gosh! This isn’t Christian-like!” I say we all need to check ourselves and bring that judgement knob down.
As an A&R assistant, who do you work under? What does an A&R do, and how do they do it? What do they look for when signing an artist, and how long might they keep an eye on any particular artist before they decide to do anything with them?
Dude, it’s different with every artist, and it’s different with every A&R. If I come across a band, I won’t put it in one email and tag all of the A&Rs on it. If I find an indie band or a metal band that’s really cool, I’ll email a specific person about it. There are definitely A&Rs that are more geared to the metal bands, and stuff, although there is an A&R that does most of the metal stuff but also has some of the most mellow releases that he’s A&R-ing as well. So it’s an interesting label. It’s really cool. People are all over the place at the same time.
But as far as what we look for, I would say that every A&R looks for… well, they have there own tastes. For the most part, though, I think we just like to see bands that are active. Bands that are hard working already. There’s tons of bands out there that have this really awesome, super-good demo, and have all this potential, but then they never tour. There’s been times in the past where we’ve signed those bands and they’ve been like, “Cool, we’re on a label now, so we don’t have to do any work.” No – now you have to go out and tour. And then they go out and tour and they can’t hack it and they end up breaking up, or they don’t like the tour and think it’s too much work for too small a tour. Then they end up going into debt and breaking up. So I know that touring – for me, anyway – what I like to see in a band is a band that has something going on. They’ve toured a little bit, they have some kind of online buzz going, they’re at least trying on their own. They’re running their own little business pretty well. There have definitely been bands we’ve signed that have had very little going on anywhere that we’ve wanted to team up with and help them develop, but I would say – for the most part – we like to sign hard working bands. And if you combine that with a hard-working label, then the outcome is way better.
What do you guys look for when bands submit their work for you guys?
A physical press kit is a lot more intriguing than some kid who sends an email with just a myspace address. Tell me a little bit about your band. At least put some kind of work into this. I like to see that a band puts some time and effort into their press kit but at the same time Kids who send in press kits should have something going on online. They shouldn’t spend tons of money putting together this perfect, amazing press kit, and have nothing going on. I have seen a press kit that seriously cost over one hundred dollars to make. It was the most professional thing I’ve ever seen. It was impressive, it was great – I freaked out. I freaked out, and I went online to see if anyone had even heard of the band or if they had anything going on. And dude… they had barely any myspace friends, barely any plays, nothing online anywhere else about them and it’s just like… if you’re going to send in a press kit, at least have something else going on to further grab that person’s attention. I mean, you can send in a press kit and it can get someone’s attention if you don’t have anything going on, and someone might keep an eye on you – keep up to date and see if you’re going anywhere, but I always encourage to have something going on first in my opinion.
What is the most rewarding part of your job, for you? What is the most trying part? Do you have hopes, dreams, aspirations for moving up at the Nail from the position you’re in now?
It’s just a blessing having the same joy now that I had when I was interning. I started out interning because it was my dream job, and it made me happy. It made me happy to know that, the bands I love, I could help out behind the scenes somewhere. And that was thrilling for me. I didn’t care how much I was getting paid, as long as I had somewhere to live, something to eat, and could go home happy at the end of the day. So that’s what I’m most stoked about – I’m still loving it. I was loving it when I wasn’t getting paid, and now that I am, it’s even more of a blessing. So that’s definitely the coolest part about my job. Going to bed at night knowing that I’m helping out bands the best way that I can. I want their careers to succeed and I love that. I love being the behind the scenes dude. The most trying thing? Dude, it’s just stressful. The music industry is just stressful, you know? Especially with how it is right now, with not many people buying albums, and kind of just the whole media circuit just changing. It is stressful when a band puts out a really good CD and everyone gets bummed because it doesn’t sell as much as it should have and then the band gets all bummed and breaks up and I hate seeing that stuff. So yeah… it does get really stressful. You become friends with these bands – these people – and you love them, and then the things that they’ve been trying to reach for so many years… they just give up on it because it’s stressful. It’s hard being in a band.
As far as moving up and stuff… I do a lot of A&R assisting, and that’s cool. I really enjoy that. I would like to someday be an A&R. I signed my first band not too long ago, so that was cool, but I’m not A&R-ing them. Someone who has been in the field longer than I have is doing it, which is cool because he knows a lot more than I do. So yeah – I would, someday, like to be an A&R. But I’m really stoked with what I’m doing right now, though, to tell you the truth. I love being the merch coordinator guy, and I have some other little odd jobs that I get to do that I really enjoy, as well. I really like where I’m at. But yeah – maybe being a full on A&R someday could be cool.
But I would never want to own my own label, I don’t think. It just seems like there is so much… so, so much craziness… was there another question in there that I missed?
Nope. No, that’s it. Unless you have anything else that you’d like to add to the conversation that I didn’t address, or any random thoughts you have on anything or everything or nothing at all…?
Dude… I say “like” and “stuff” a lot, so hopefully that wasn’t distracting, and hopefully I didn’t talk in circles.
Haha… no it’s great man. It’ll go up tomorrow, Micah.
Good. Well I hope you’re happy with the answers to your questions. I just want you to be happy, Levi. Haha.
I am happy. I’m happy that you had time to do it. Thank you.
No problem. Thank you, man.
Alright. Later brother.
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