MIDWEST of EVERYTHING (July 2019) - Levi Smith got his first guitar around the age of 16. Basically, he got his first job and the guitar was one of his first big purchases as a newly-christened consumer of fine goods and services. It was a red Peavy something or other that he bought local in Mason City. He began by learning other people's songs and eventually playing in a few local cover bands.
He could play Wonderwall, it was fresh and new back then. A simpler time. Before the explosion of Internet memes.
Anyway, here's NOT Wonderwall.
In the nether-regions of 2008-2010-ish, Levi was studying Anthropology at the University of Northern Iowa when he made the deliberate switch to writing his own material. His own thoughts, his own music - something more personal.
"That’s what I’ve wanted to do with it, and I feel that’s a reason to be involved with it. I think there are many ways to get involved with music, but my enjoyment has definitely come from the inner desire to write about things that “I” want to sing about. And, from that, there is a vulnerability, because I write with naked emotion, knowing that everything I feel will be poured out to the people I play for."
After college at UNI, armed with a lucrative degree in Anthropology, Levi worked "in the field" on archaeological digs in the area. It is a very difficult way to earn a living as one must continually contract themselves out and move around. Levi didn't necessarily want to do that, so he eventually found himself back in Mason City. He works at Mason City Brewing and finds his love and passion playing out and recording with friends.
A Soft landing with The Bad Landings.
Friends are people with whom you share interests. They come in all sorts of colors and shapes and temperaments.
Friends are awesome (See: every TV beer commercial ever).
A few-couple-a-years-ago, Levi got a little more serious about playing out and writing songs. He ended up eventually doing some recording with local musician, Brent Estlund. The two had met before, but ended up re-meeting. (Re-meeting: when you meet someone once and then meet them again later on).
Brent ended up jumping in on bass guitar with Levi and Matt Root who plays drums. They played like that for a year or so. Then David Morris ninja-jumped up on bass just recently and Brent ninja-fell-over into the guitar role. Brent admits he had been hearing great guitar parts in his head the whole time... so now he gets to finally play them.
And lo, a great disturbance was felt among the Worlds energies as the four men gathered upon the mighty stage with beer in hand and more in belly. Armed with instruments manufactured on both foreign and domestic land, they put forth their mighty sound for all to hear. The sound was good and the people were pleased. ...Except for a couple dicks on the Internet.
The Bad Landings look remarkably familiar to the band that backs up Juni West on occasion (hint: same people).
They haven't been a foursome long enough to know each other by smell, yet. But, they were friends first, band mates second, so the set-up is pretty easy.
These hands were made for crashing.
The name The Bad Landings came from a bit of an inside joke that occurred one night at Mason City Brewing after a recording session. Levi is never real sure of what to do with his hands when he sings, sans-guitar, so Brent joked that he looks like a skier about to have a bad landing. It was just a joke at first, but the name started to resonate with the guys. It became their official moniker just this Spring (2019).
The Bad Landings are a hell of a back-up band to have. Brent Estlund on guitar is a well-known Iowa musician and has been for years. He played guitar in the 80's metal band Litterer and more recently The Pork Tornadoes.
Brent is one of those guitarists that can pretty much drop in anywhere and get shit done. Especially with his "The Edge-like" effects board.
- His board has more buttons than a Mennonite prom dress.
- His board actually drove itself to rehearsal.
- His board came with instructions from NASA.
- On a clear day his board can be seen from the moon.
- One day his board will rise up with the machines and become our new God.
Matt and Dave keep the rhythm alive with beards and long hair - the staples of any low end.
Matt keeps time on a minimal kit for The Bad Landings - just a kick and snare and a set of brushes. He plays in other musical projects - as well as holding down a day job.
Dave keeps the heads bobbing with his bad ass Fender Jazz Bass. AND keeps local kids interested in music with his day job at Rieman Music in downtown Mason City. He hooked my daughter up with her Oboe. #OboesFoLife
Having these guys on board has challenged Levi in many ways - made him a better musician.
I asked him what they bring to his music.
He responded, "Honestly, we’re having so much fun making this whole thing from scratch. I see each one of us expressing something we’ve always wanted to do in this. And, each member has their own ability to project themselves in their own way. The chemistry is working great, and there is a natural respect and admiration for each other and what we’re doing together. I’m learning so much from them and I feel we’re all learning from each other on this ride."
No immediate EP or LP is on schedule to be released, but they are working on it. The process of recording, in and of itself, is helping them develop as a band.
I asked Levi if having a full band changes the way he writes a song.
"I think our approach from the start has been, “what does the song need?” I come up with the idea and solve the puzzle by thinking “what does this idea for a song need?” It should sound natural and complete. Then, I present it to them and we fill it out by adding an arrangement that will add what the song needs without taking away from it. On the other side of things, I’m learning from these guys what other songwriters take into consideration when it comes to writing a song for performance, as far as lyrics and music. So, in effect, I have opened up to learning from all music while we do this, which has caused my songwriting to develop and take course."
(The smartest sounding words I learned in college.)
Levi and I both studied Anthropology at UNI and are 99% sure we had a class together. That time still tends to inform his writing, or at least that time in college developed a love of reading and research for him that he carried through to life. I asked what the catalyst for his songwriting is.
These are the words he gave me:
"Life experiences. It’s usually some experience I’ve had that projects an
expression that starts a song. The lyrics then develop to range from feelings about that
experience, or a philosophy I’ve read in a book about life, the earth, and being human. I feel
music is a way to cope with how we experience the world as ourselves and as a species. And
therefore, I try to keep it simple by not overthinking it."
They are still recording and hope to have something for the merch tables soon. When it happens, you can read about it here on We Got Corn. I am a fan of the band, so I will be eagerly waiting.
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And now... the part of the story that you haven't read yet:
I met the band on a Monday night at Mason City Brewing in downtown Mason City. Levi works there and its also where the band occasionally rehearses. Brent was the first person to pull up and we chatted and made a few jokes about his fx board as he hauled it inside on an industrial-strength dolly. Brent is a cool dude.
I also met the owner of MCB who said he really liked this blog. That means I really like him. Who can not like a guy that makes beer for a living and also likes the shit you write on the Internet?
Levi showed up shortly after and we started chatting and did a few photos as we waited for the rest of the band.
Dave came next followed later by Matt. With the band all set, we headed out to get some band photos. We had beer and our hearts were full of summertime joy - or at least that's how the beer made us feel.
We then headed down the alley to get a few more photos within rock-throwing-distance from the brewery.
This is what that looked like:
After that is was time for them to get busy with the evenings task - rehearsal for their upcoming Fourth of July gigs.
I hung out and played around with my flash and shutter speed as they jammed. They basically went through the set from start to finish.
I really enjoyed being able to listen.
The songs are acoustically driven in nature, but the addition of Brent on electric guitar seemed to "amp" that up and add a nuance to the songs that was really cool to hear live. Dave was "in the pocket" on bass and Matt's brushwork was spot on. I really love the sound of that brush-shuffle type drumming. Perfect for Levi's songs to my ears.
Here are some of those photos that you can look at with your eyeballs:
*All the streaks and twirls of light were done in-camera, not in post. (Sorcery)
I had a super time hanging out. At around 8:30 PM I realized that I still needed to drive home and be present for my family. It was difficult to leave because I was having a straight up a blast.
Many thanks to the guys for letting me hang out and point cameras and questions at them.
You can catch Levi Smith and The Bad Landings playing all over the north Iowa area this summer. Levi plays both solo and with the band. I'm always updating my calendar on this site, so check them out if you can. You can wear your whole pants, but you'll only need the ass-shakin parts. Wear shoes with a reinforced toe (see: tapping).
Great songs, great musicians, great dudes and great fun.
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