A Gigmor Interview with a D.C. soul band, The Levee Music Group

Gigmor was lucky enough to chat with Michael K. Potts (who goes by Mike) and Ainsley Delissaint (who goes by Saint) of the Levee Music Group to sit down and discuss what it’s like to be an up-and- coming soul artist, how they (successfully, I might add) survive the gig economy that consumes the life of a musician, and how they see their music in the national landscape of today’s divided political schema.

Where and when did you and the rest of the band get started in the music? Where did it begin? 

Saint: Mike and I were both musicians before we met. A year after my former band’s break-up, I (Saint) placed an ad online – the band broke up when it got hard when we started to make waves on the scene, getting national airplay and opening for established acts.  Michael’s response to my ad was, if I’m remembering correctly, the first I received.  At that time, I was either in relationship, or somewhere in the middle of a break-up, contemplating the possibility of moving to California or New York.  Once the two of us met, however, we knew we were on the exact same page when it came to music.  We were looking to be original and at the same time make a statement.  We wanted to be dynamic, better than good: for the both of us, this was our legacy.  We started in December 2012 and added a guitar player in our previous band but we felt his longevity was not best suited to our passion.  Mike and I then went into creative frenzy- keeping our heads low so to speak and building up a repertoire of new music- which took about two years.  We then started to build to actually build a band in 2016.  This was however, a different process.  We knew anyone we would have audition with us would be fans of the music- but we needed the right people.  We painstakingly culled through our knowledge of artists and professionals to reach the right people- in other words people who would be on our level of talent.  You’ll be surprised to find the number of “musicians” out there that need a little work.  So when I say it took- almost 11 months of auditions and meeting people it definitely was a task but we got it together!

Mike: I responded to an ad on Craigslist for vocalist looking to form a band. At the time, I was playing with a contemporary jazz group who had an excellent sound but no room to express my compositions. Along with jazz, I’ve always has a fondness for progressive rock, the blues and funk. I have played every type of music, except opera. I’m a self-taught bassist and in the beginning, I started listening to Motown (the great bassist, James Jamerson), The Beatles, particularly Paul McCartney’s singing and playing, Sly & The Family Stone (Larry Graham) and Jimi Hendrix. I kind of put them all in a stew to develop my finger style playing.

What was the music that inspired you? I can tell, in listening to what you have sent me, that you hit a range of type of artistry in your music. What kind of music has guided that? 

Saint: Excellent question.  The true beauty of it all is that Mike and I have the same exact feeling about music.  We are not genre specific- we love blues, soul, rock, funk, R&B, theater, ballads, classical….. Performance-wise my favorites are Otis Redding and Jackie Wilson.  As a matter of fact, many don’t realize that Elvis gave a lot of credit to Jackie Wilson for helping him create his style performance (both his dancing and singing.) Some of my truest influences are Prince, Hans Zimmer, Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, Bob Dylan are a few- but I literally believe every genre has great music.  I’m a big Adele and Amy Winehouse fan too.  Oh and Lauryn Hill – oh my god, yes.

What is your gig schedule like? How many gigs do you play and what cities are they centered around? 

Saint: At present we are slowly working on a gig schedule.  We did a gig in November 2016 and had an immediate call back to perform every week but we are prudent.  As a matter of fact, news already spread about our one show and had another club actually offer us standing weekly gig as well. Our goal is to reach as many different people as possible. When it comes to gigs, it’s not really about financial gain.  We agreed to do another show in January- on the night of the inauguration.  It would be fun to see how our music translates with people that night.   We will most likely start to get really busy right before spring.  They are currently centered in DC at the moment but we are destined to tour.

Mike: We are currently booking shows in the district, Maryland and Virginia, but we are looking to tour regionally as the band gains traction. We love playing out as the interaction with our fans is truly priceless.

Your music is great — soulful and moving. The lyrics and music is classically soulful yet interesting. Who is the lyricist in the band, and how do you typically collaborate when making your songs?

Saint: Mike and I are whores of collaboration.  So I love making music, composing, melodies, thought patterns and lyrics.  Typically, I will come in with a song idea to present to him (record it) and he would go mull it over and comeback with some sick bass line that then makes me think differently about the song.  I typically will have lyrics assigned but that edge he puts into makes us become even more creative so that we end up not sounding like anyone else.  Mike will also come to be with songs and I would do the same in return.  As a matter of fact, Mike came up with Loneliness Code- I restructured the song and worked on a separate bass line at the end.  Then Mike ran with it and the new bass line and added a kick butt ending.  Mike is a very, very unique bass player- following the norm be damned.  His bass lines are so melodic and different. As a matter of fact you heard the almost final version of Loneliness Code, the new version has slightly different chorus lyrics edge.  I do write the majority of lyrics. Poetry was my go to as a kid.  My second grade English teacher (Mrs. Singer) would let little me recite a poem in front of the class every week- I’ll never forgot her.  But most importantly, our friend Curt is probably one of the sickest engineer musicians.  He is as good a drummer as he is guitar player.  When it came to riffs and such he would add so much to our music. We try and incorporate him into our compositions as much as we can.

Mike: Ainsley writes the majority of our lyrics. I often times, on songs that I bring to the table, will have a few lines or idea of what I want the lyrics to say. Sometimes each of us will have a complete song but most often we will present musical ideas to each other and we go back and forth, adding or subtracting things musically until we get what we want. The majority of lyrics are by Ainsley, he’s an excellent lyricist. Then we present the finished song to the band.

Where do you see your music taking you? Do you have any planned next steps for the year 2017?

Saint: Festivals, festivals, festivals.  Building an audience in DC as it’s ideal to be in a place that technically has lots of entertainment but not many bands get build a rep and get into the mainstream.  So as difficult as it will be, it will be just a fun.  Eventually, opening for large acts then center stage in 3-5 years.

Mike:  We are looking to release music for downloads, finish our first CD, “Epitome,” and push for airplay and hopefully get some mini tours in our area and the rest of the east coast.

Do you the seemingly dire state of the world having any effect on your music?

Saint: Absolutely.  We are essentially ego-driven tribal creatures with a minimal lifespan compared to the rest of nature.  We lost so many people in 2016 and we forget that it’s not really about the accumulation of things but instead love.  I’m not Left nor am I Right.  I am also not in the middle- I’m a person who empathizes with each person’s unique experience.  Everything we are is learned.  We need to unlearn a lot of idiocracy.  If you’re racist- there’s a reason- you’re not born that way.  A homophobe?  There’s a reason.  We must not believe our own lies.  Afraid of commitment?  Think you’re unintelligent?  There is a reason for everything so I rarely get heated- I get deeper.

Mike: Absolutely. Even before the current US election cycle, the world was becoming a dark and sometimes distressing place, to the point I sometimes have to shake my head and say silly human race. My message through music is that there is still light and hope, but you have to be ready to give serious push back to the people, institutions and forces that may not have everyone’s best interest at heart. I think in r reality, ALL of us are not really that far apart in our hopes, dreams and aspirations. If we can make you think and feel something with our music, what more could we as artist, possibly ask for.