We spoke with Julian Porte of Levitation Room about working with Burger Records, touring Europe, and the inspiration for their excellent neo-psychedelic record, Ethos.
Levitation Room had a busy 2016 with the release and touring behind the new album Ethos. First, tell us about Ethos and joining Burger Records and who makes up Levitation Room.
The band is comprised of 5 people - me, Gabriel Fernandez (lead guitar), Johnathan Martin (drums), Glenn Brigman (keys) and our friend Christopher Mercado (bass). Getting Ethos released and creating our relationship with Burger Records all started when me and John were asked to fill in on a southwest tour for The Abigails. Their drummer and rhythm guitarist couldn't make it, so me and John hopped on. We were on a caravan with other Burger bands going up to SXSW and Lee and Sean were along for the ride as well. I'm not sure what part of Texas we were in, but John thought it would be a good idea to introduce ourselves and tell them about Levitation Room. It was our first time meeting them, but right off the bat they were cool and amiable. We told them about our band back home, so they said we should drop by with our demo when we returned to California. So when we got back, we paid them a visit, played our demo, smoked a huge blunt and shared a few laughs. They ended up putting out our first EP, Minds Of Our Own. The response from that first release propelled us to start working on Ethos. We met our good friend Glenn Brigman (singer for Triptides and musician for many great bands) and he became an integral part of our group, acting as our keyboardist and recording producer. We had all the songs ready to go, Glenn just took them, polished them up and we made our first full length record.
Are you guys in any other bands? What happened to make Levitation Room a thing? (friends, former bandmates, etc.)
Yea, our drummer John and new bassist Christopher Mercado have a band called The Mad Walls - really awesome band. I would describe their sound as like a psychedelic dark-wave punk kinda thing. Tim Presley of White Fence is actually putting out their first release soon, so look out for it. Our keyboardist Glenn is somewhat of a wizard who can play a multitude of different instruments, so he's in like 5 bands right now. He plays keys with us; lead singer and guitarist of Triptides, drummer in Frankie and The Witchfingers, keys in Creation Factory, keys in Jason of Dead Meadows side project band called Old Testament, and every now and then plays keys in the old 60's band Strawberry Alarm Clock. And me, I sometimes play solo acoustic sets. I play guitar and harmonica, so I'll do a Bob Dylan kinda thing every now and then, but I hope to one day write a solo album based around the folk genre.
You're a Los Angeles based group. How has living in L.A. shaped your creative, writing and recording processes.
Well they say "you're a product of your environment" and I guess it's true. Coming from L.A., we're naturally pretty laid back people. We like soaking up the sun and drinking mimosas in the park with guitars and good company. But the fast paced nature of the city reflects the struggle as well. It's expensive in L.A. Affordable living is hard to come by, there's fog and pollution everywhere, homeless people roaming the streets, the cops are assholes, drugs consuming minds, everyone's just trying to fit in - these are things we see and draw inspiration from. It's beautiful and it's ugly at the same time, but we love it. There's no other place to live. You get the feeling like you've just arrived in Rome when Rome was the epicenter of art and culture.
You just returned from your first European tour. What are some of the differences, difficulties, or benefits you guys noticed that was unlike touring the US?
To be honest, Europe is way cooler and easier to tour than in the states. I'm sorry, but America needs to get some schooling from Europe on how to treat their artists and musicians. Out here you're lucky if you're touring through the middle of this country and you get a percentage from the door or any pay at all from playing a gig. And good luck finding a place to sleep for the night if you haven't booked your own hotel. In Europe, they look after you. They make sure you've got everything you need. The promoter does a good job of promoting your show, they make sure you eat a good meal, they run errands for you if you're in need of something, they make sure you have a hotel room or an apartment to stay in. It's absolutely amazing. Not to mention, everyone who comes out to your show is completely stoked to see you. They know your songs, they sing the lyrics, they ask for autographs - they made us feel real welcome. We can't wait to go back!
Any city or show stand out either for good or bad while you were in Europe?
Hmmm... we had so many awesome gigs. London's Shacklewell Arms bar was an amazing show. The place was packed and we got a beautiful response. Rome Psyche Fest was really great. I guess the one place that stands out in my mind was this place called Montecarotto, which is about an hour away from Rome in the province of Ancona, Italy. It was a beautiful ride up and we got to a point where we were ascending up a road through the mountains. It was a gorgeous day, with bright yellow sunshine and big beautiful clouds and rolling green hills. It felt like I was in a dream. We could see a small village at the peek of this little mountain and we wondered to ourselves "where the hell are we going?" The village looked ancient - cobblestone roads, little farmers markets on the streets. When we pulled up to park, I could smell the most amazing Italian food being cooked, and when we got out of the van, there was the sweetest lady in a blue apron there to give us hugs and welcome us in. It turned out we were going to play in this old 18th Century mansion that had been passed down generations to this guy who turned it into a cantina/live music joint. They led us outside to the garden and at the end of it was a stage and monitors. The garden/stage overlooked all the mountains and clouds and hillsides. So when we were doing soundcheck I could see the horizon to my left, and it gave me an indescribably romantic feeling that I'll never forget. They served us a delicious authentic Italian dinner, poured us as much wine and beer as we could drink, gave us our own rooms in the mansion and half the village came out to see our show that night. It was fucking amazing man.
So what's next for you guys? Is there a new album in the works? If so, who's releasing it?
Yes! We wrote a few songs that came to us just after we turned in Ethos for it's release, but didn't get recorded. And recently, a lot of new songs and ideas have been composed that we're really thrilled about, so we started recording right before we left to our European tour. Right now we're in the demo process, just getting the songs recorded so that we can go back, revise and add new ideas. I can already tell that these new songs are a step forward for us. The music has become a little more elegant, the lyrics are a bit more in depth and the ideas are really flowing. I don't know what we're going to do with it when we're done. We might still release it through Burger, or perhaps take another route and explore our options. Whatever we do, we just hope we can get the right promotion for it and get it out to as many ears as possible.
What were your inspirations for the writing and recording? Who's producing it?
Our inspirations for this new album came from a lot of the music we listen to. Music that inspires self awareness, political consciousness and touches base with the spectrum of life. Most of it coming from late 60s and early 70s rock n roll and world music. Also, the people in our music scene have really elevated our motivation to hone our craft. When we all first started out, us and all our friends' bands were playing at house parties and warehouse shows. Now we're on slightly bigger platforms, touring countries and playing nice venues, and we see our friends improving the quality of their music. And now that there's been a shift in the paradigm, where we're seeing tyrants like Donald Trump taking office, I can see that everyone is really geared up to express themselves, and we are too. This next album will be eclectic in music, ranging from psychedelic raga, to folk music, jazz, pop and good old rock n roll. Our keyboardist, Glenn Brigman, is producing it for us. He's a wizard with recording gear and really helps put our minds into focus. He's one of those guys that makes the room feel light, but also pushes you when you're being lazy, which happens when the room gets clouded with smoke haha. He's a great inspiration for us and we love him. LOVE YOU GLENN!
How will this record be different from your last?
Hmmm, well like I said, I feel the music is a bit more sophisticated this time around. We're becoming more comfortable in the writing process and there's a constant flow of ideas. There will be a lot more instrumentation; sitar, tablas, flutes, string arrangements. I've become more comfortable with my singing and I'm really happy with the melodies. I feel like we're finally making the music we've always wanted to make. I listen back to Ethos, and I kinda just feel like I'm looking back on freshman year photos. You will hear a lot of differences in this next album, even in it's production. Last time we recorded on a 6-track audio tape recorder. This time we're on reel-to-reel, so the sound will definitely sound warmer. I guess you'll just have to wait and see.
Who are some of your idols from the psychedelic age that Levitation Room builds on?
Oh man... the Beatles are definitely are number one idols. The Kinks. The late 60's Pretty Things is another big one for us. Buffalo Springfield is another. Lazy Smoke, Emitt Rhodes, John Sebastian and the Lovin' Spoonful, Jim Sullivan, CSN, Ora, the End (introspection album), Sixto Rodriguez, Bob Lind... man the list goes on, but those are some of the main ones. I know I'll look back on this interview and be like "Ah shit! I forgot to mention this band or this artist" blahblahblah haha.