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Last week I had a Skype conversation with singer-songwriter Eric Leva, from Boston but now living in New York City. Eric’s got a new single that’s out today, “I Should Know.” It’s a fantastic tune, co-written by Leva and Katie Costello, produced by Elliot Jacobson (drummer for Ingrid Michaelson) and Jerry Fuentes.
We recorded our conversation, where Eric talks about his musical background, as well as his songwriting process, and gave me a look at the way “I Should Know” came about.
I’ve posted the interview below, (with my apologies for the sound quality in spots), as well as a written transcription. Also, check out the other links. (All links open in a new browser window or tab)
-LISTEN to the interview-
-Interview transcript (PDF)-
-Listen to “I Should Know”-
-Purchase from iTunes-
- Visit Eric Leva Music-
-Follow Eric Leva on Twitter-
GE: Eric Leva, I’m delighted to be speaking with you, and I’m looking forward to learning a bit about who you are, and maybe something about your musical influences, and particularly about your songwriting process. I’ve listened to your new single, called “I Should Know,” many times since you sent me the link, and I really love it. Congratulations.
EL: Thanks so much.
GE: What’s the release date for that single?
EL: That is coming out on Monday, August 25, which is also my birthday, so it’s a very exciting day.
GE: That’s great. I really enjoyed listening to it. Could you describe your musical background for me – maybe your musical influences, and what’s got you to this point in your musical life.
EL: Yeah, sure. I was a self-taught pianist. I taught myself to play when I was very young. And then I auditioned for the New England Conservatory of Music as a classical pianist when I was in fourth grade, and I took lessons all throughout high school. I was also in the marching band and the jazz band. Somewhere in high school I started to sing as well, and I was in the musicals and I did the chorus and all that kind of stuff. Then I went to the Berklee College of Music, and I just graduated this past spring (2014), and there I entered the school kind of with the intention that I would be studying music education…
EL: …’cause I do teach lessons, and I do work with small groups and large groups at the high school age, teaching music and things like that. But somewhere along the way I decided to basically make my hobby, which was songwriting at the time, become more of the centre of what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.
GE: So is it fair to say that a career in music business is what you’re hoping for?
EL: Music business…
GE: As in, you know, as a performing singer-songwriter, more so than the classical end of things?
EL: Yeah, totally, and I think Berklee was a great place for that, because it kind of gave me the confidence to break away from, you know, the traditional styles that I’d been studying all my life, and find the merit and credibility in popular songs. I think it was in high school that I started listening to, like, Sara Bareilles and Ingrid Michaelson and people like that. They were doing a piano-based songwriting thing…
EL: And so that’s kind of the connection that I drew. You know, they’re great pianists, but they’re also doing… they’re writing pop music, and so that’s kind of when I began writing songs.
GE: So do you think your classical training has had an influence on the way you write?
EL: Yeah, totally, I feel like my vocabulary is pretty sound, you know, I feel very free to just kind of be creative.
GE: Right, yeah. So could you describe your songwriting process? Are you a pen & paper kind of writer, or do you use technology when you’re putting your ideas together?
EL: It definitely varies. There’s obviously something to be said about sitting in a natural space that isn’t cluttered with technology, and writing pen-to-paper. I’m totally inspired by that, you know, natural way of going about it. But I also think, on the other hand, it’s great to stretch yourself as a songwriter, to put yourself in a place where you’re coming at a song from starting with a track, or starting with a drum loop, or something like that. That’s a great way to change it up and make sure that you’re not writing the same kind of song over and over again.
GE: Right. Yeah, so sometimes you’ll start with a rhythm loop or a set of chords you might play over and over and sort of see what happens after that.
EL: Yeah, definitely. Whatever way I can get my idea out faster is usually the best way.
GE: I remember reading an interview with Paul Simon where he said, you know, when he writes music – or when he writes songs, it’s the music first, and then as he listens to the music, it’s almost kind of like it’s speaking to him, and he can sort of tell what the song’s going to be about just from the sound of the music.
EL: Yeah, I totally relate to that, but on the other hand, I definitely have many times come at it from starting with either a full sheet of lyrics, or a lot of times it’ll be a concept or a title that is what starts me. I like finding a great concept for a song, like, lyrically speaking, is when I’m most inspired to begin. I feel more comfortable if I feel more prepared with a title, at least, or a concept, or like I said, a lot of lyrics.
GE: In the song, “I Should Know,” do you recall how that started – what kind of a germ of an idea you had at the beginning there?
EL: That was the first time that Katie Costello and I had written together ever, and it was really a great day. Basically, we just kind of hung out for two hours before we started even thinking about songwriting. I feel like a lot of co-writing is just hanging out and, you know, talking about what’s going on in each other’s lives, things like that. And sure enough, after two hours of walking around, talking and drinking coffee, or whatever it was we were doing, we were like, “OK, let’s write this thing!”
It was a great process… I mean, we wrote the music and the lyrics at the same time, and I find that those are the songs that usually have that extra-special something, if both parts are coming together at once.
GE: Did you sort of feel like you were working mainly on the chorus before your got to the verses, or…
EL: We started with what I thought was the chorus, but then that ended up being the pre-chorus.
EL: And then I was like, “OK Katie, what do you want to do for the verses?” And she was like, “Wait, what about the chorus?” And I said, “Oh, I thought that was the chorus…” And that was one of those great moments where we could say that since we’re not completely sold on it, why don’t we try to beat this and then come up with an even better chorus. And so we wrote the pre-chorus, and then the chorus, and then we kind of took a step back and said, “All right, we’ve got something great here.
GE: I think it’s going to resonate with people.
EL: Thanks. I mean, that’s obviously the goal, and I mean… I’ve also worked with younger songwriters who are kind of just starting out, and I always ask, “What’s your goal as a songwriter?” And for some people, people do really write for themselves, but I know that I’m definitely the kind of person who, at the end of the day, the goal is to always connect with somebody else.
GE: Is your collaboration with [producer] Elliot Jacobson something that you see as ongoing, and I’m thinking more of up-&-coming singer-songwriters here: How important do you think it is to get a producer and other professional people involved in your projects?
EL: For me, it has changed pretty much everything. I used to record my songs by myself. And you know, I’m not like a producer or anything, but I could get pretty good sounding recordings on my own, and then have someone else mix and do the mastering and all that kind of thing, and I basically did that for a long time. When I finally realized like, OK, I think that the next thing for me is going to be to get into a real studio with a real producer. We are not always the best critics of our own work, and so…
GE: Yeah, true enough.
EL: …to work closely with someone who also has the goal of creating something that sounds really good, and getting the songs to be as good as they possibly can be, and getting the recordings to sound right. And for me, it was also kind of like, I was going to Berklee… I definitely struggled with figuring out what kind of songwriter I even felt I wanted to be. There’s a lot of different kinds of music happening in such close quarters, and you can kind of lose yourself. So working with Elliot was definitely something that helped me kind of carve out a sound that I felt was natural for me, but also unique and still exciting and fresh and pushing boundaries for me. And it didn’t feel forced, but it also helped me get over my identity crisis with this genre.
GE: Beyond this new single, what does the coming year look like for you?
EL: I have this single, and then the plan is to release another single in a couple of months or so, and then there’s a full E.P. on its way, and then I hope to do as many shows as possible.
GE: Well, I really want to thank you for taking the time to speak to me about your music, Eric, and I wish you great success with all your future projects.
EL: Thanks so much, yeah, this is great.
-Purchase “I Should Know” from iTunes-
Written by Gary Ewer. Follow on Twitter.
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