Adam Levy and DeVon Gray on the theme of their new series: Great Songs
Q: Adam, you’re known for rocking with the Honeydogs. DeVon, you’re known for the Heiruspecs, a hip-hop band. But for Southern Songbook, a series of three concerts at the Southern Theater, you’re bringing in other musicians to celebrate great American songwriting.
Adam Levy: Yes, the first concert features new interpretations of the jazz canon—music by guys like Hoagie Carmichael and George Gershwin—played by artists you’d never expect, like hip-hop musicians.
Q: Do people write such universal songs anymore?
AL: I think Burt Bacharach is the last such songwriter. By the early 1970s, pop artists were saying, “I think it’s important that I perform the songs that I write, not just write hits for the Monkees.”
Q: What’s the state of songwriting in Minnesota?
Devon Gray: The bar is really high right now. A lot of artists had something in themselves that they wanted to play but hadn’t taken that chance. Now they are.
Q: Why is that?
AL: There’s no money in recorded music now, so musicians are stimulating themselves in new and different ways. There are so many musicians now, for financial or artistic reasons, who are reinventing themselves.
Q: Which songwriters inspire you?
AL: [Brazilian bossa nova pioneer Antonio Carlos] Jobim. The melodies and chord changes are so nuanced. DG: Smokey Robinson, Isaac Hayes. These guys weren’t just inventing grooves, they were writing songs that were then interpreted by others. And that needs to happen again.
Q: What might be the perfect song?
AL: “This Guy’s in Love with You” by Burt Bacharach. DG: Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On.” It always strikes me as fresh—it keeps your ears on their toes, so to speak.