Song Stories

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.

Southern Songbook opens with Lush Life, November 14.

Levy and Gray talk more about Great Songs at