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Interview with MC/Producer Levi Watson

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Interview with MC/Producer Levi Watson

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Atlanta MC/Producer Levi Watson released Neptune in March of 2012, but it sadly slipped past my radar until November. After hearing the  pleasing, aquatic production and Watson’s solid lyricism on “Star of The Story,” I was pretty much sold on the solid project. I was able to hold a phone conversation with the 20-year-old artist, as we discussed the inception of the project, how he collaborated with fellow producers, his personal production chops, how he fuels his lyrics, and his favorite anime.

Femdog: I feel kinda dumb for finding Neptune almost a  year after it came out, but it’s really good. I appreciate you for making it.

Levi Watson: Ah, thanks man.

FG: So the thing that I noticed the most besides the music is that it has great presentation; the artwork, the kanji, the song titles etc. What was your process in coming up with Neptune before things got rolling?

LW: Well it actually started off really simple, like a lot of my stuff does. It started off, from the jump, with me liking the color blue. Like, that was pretty much it. (laughs)

FG: Oh, OK.

LW: And from there, it blossomed into having so many different meanings. You know, I just like to start off simple and just work my way up. I didn’t wanna start off so complex with all this stuff. Blue is my favorite color, and I also categorize all the music I make in colors; I might make a certain song and think, “Man, this sounds blue!” So I knew I wanted to go in that direction and make a project that had that blue overtone.

FG: Another thing I noticed is that- You’re in Atlanta, right?

LW: Yessir.

FG: When I was listening to it, I swear I thought you were a West Coast dude. It has a really smooth vibe to it, and you even had a line like “One time for the West side…”

LW: Yeah.

FG: So are you just influenced by a lot of West Coast artists, or is that just you’re natural rhythm?

LW: Um… Well I’m not influenced by too many West Coast artists. There are a lot of cool West artists in that sense, but I don’t necessarily pull from them. And that specific line that you quoted- Well I was raised in West Atlanta-

FG: Ah, OK.

LW: So that’s where that came from, and even the song is called “West [Neptune]” ’cause most of my family still lives over there. But as far as it having that West Coast feel, I would just say that I enjoy smooth-sounding music, and I guess, um- I guess people from that area love that sound of music, so we just have that in common.

FG: I wanna get in detail on a couple tracks, like the beat on “West [Neptune]”-

LW: Yeah!

FG: Forreal, every time I hear it, I just feel like riding out, just wanna get in my car and just drive somewhere, ya know?

LW: Yeah. (laughs) That beat is crazy.

FG: So how did that song come about? Did you start by hooking up with the producer, Dijon Stylez, or…

LW: Man, Dijon, that’s my dude. I’ve known him for about four or five years now, and he’s actually just finna graduate high school. He’s really ahead of his time.

FG: Yeah, wow.

LW: From about four years ago, I just took the opportunity to work with him on a lot of different stuff. But that track came together- My friend Garret came through with the OST from Bomberman Zero, that’s where the sample is from. And um, I played that game growing up and it brought back memories. The actual song is called “Zip,” and I thought it was perfect. So I took it to Dijon and pitched the sample to him, and he said OK. Then a couple days later he told me he had something for me to hear, and when he played it, I was like “Oh man! This is perfect!” Yeah, that’s definitely one of my favorite joints on there.

FG: Your beats are pretty cool as well. Do you know a guy named Cities Aviv?

LW: Uh, no I don’t.

FG: The way he makes his own beats is similar, with a cloudy, ethereal sound, but you have a much cleaner output and use some pretty unique samples.

LW: Yeah.

FG: How do you make your beats?

LW: The most ethereal, atmospheric one I made on Neptune, was the “Blue [Planet] Love,” So I’lll talk on that one. A friend of mine showed me the original sample for the song, but then he showed me one where a guy had added a bassline and some percussion, and it had an airy quality to it. So to top it off, as a special- well maybe not special, ’cause I’m not the first one to do it, but I like taking out the back bass in a sample and then putting reverb on it. That pretty much gives you that airy sound… It’ll just wash it out.

FG: Wow. It reminded me of Wild Nothing, this dreampop band. Like, you did the same thing where it feel like you’re swimming in velvet.

LW: Yeah, yeah.

FG: What’s your mindset as a person, that cause you to write the sort of lyrics you do?

LW: Well, let’s see… I take everything from an experience. My experiences are the biggest driving force behind my music. That’s really what Neptune was, it was a more cryptic experience than just saying what it was verbatim, you know, that wouldn’t have made it fun.

FG: Yeah.

LW: A lot of things that I’ve experienced growing up, that led me to see- I was the type of kid in school to ask my brother and sister, “Hey, can I read y’alls science book?” And I’m in second grade, you know? I always wanted to know a little bit more, push the limits. So being that way as a kid got me to expand myself into knowing all this different stuff. Knowledge is infinite, you know? No one person can know everything, but I just went out there and said, “What can I learn today? What can I soak up today?” Maybe researching this or, maybe I just read a book from the library.

FG: Hm.

LW: And since I make music, i should rap about my knowledge in some type o’ way. When I’m saying, “Underwater ashes/laying waste to the masses/all we have from them is text written in Sanskrit,” its just how can connect to the myths and legends about old civilizations in their golden era. We don’t know what happened to them, all we have is this text that no one can read. Sometimes it’s just me making what I read about just sound cool. Like, no one’s gonna come up to me and say, “Hey, have you read blah blah blah?” But if I spit it right over a cool beat, people get super excited about it. So, experience is 100% the thing for my lyrics.

FG: This is something that kind of puzzles me, um, you titled yourself as “Levi Watson as Akira Sengoku.” What’s up with that, ’cause I have no idea. (laughs)

LW: Yeah, yeah, yeah. That’s a really cool- I just like to do things like that because it provokes thought. A project that’s surface value… people just take it and bam! It’s just right there, just all surface value. So that’s why I did that because no one really knows, so people come up with whatever it means to them.

FG: Yeah.

LW: But what it means for the entire body of work relates to a theme in Neptune that a lot of people didn’t catch, the exploration of split personalities. On most of those songs, it’s me exploring another part in my mind, a part that I’ve never been before, a distant side of me. And that’s why I came up with the name Neptune because, since Pluto isn’t a planet anymore — well, according to the astronomers and stuff — Neptune is the farthest planet from Earth, and Earth is the only planet in the solar system to have life, it’s like this feeling in my mind that’s so far from myself.

FG: Really.

LW: yeah, that’s the beautiful part about lyrics, is that you can allude to something just as much as you want, and then leave the rest up to imagination. I like making surface value cool, to kinda pull people in, but once they step into this and dig into it, I want there to be gems for people to find.

FG: Indeed, man. You’re 19, right?

LW: No, I just turned 20. (laughs)

FG: Oh OK, Happy belated. How long have you been rapping?

LW: Uh, I haven’t put a specific date on it, but… about 6 years.

FG: And did you start making beats around the same time?

LW: I started making beats in the 9th grade, so significantly after. I was in a beat shortage, not wanting to buy other beats, and I happened to end up kinda good at it.

FG: Do you use a program or an MPC?

LW: I actually want to get into an MPC, maybe after my next project, but most of my beats were made on FL Studio.

FG: Have any details on your next project?

LW: The name is Legend of Zero, and the production will be handled by Jonathan Lowell.

FG: Cool. One last question, is that a Sonic sample on “FINAL CREDITS”?

LW: Yeah man, good ear! It’s from Sonic Adventure… 2, I believe. Three to four of the samples from the album are from video games. Most people think they’re from anime, because they know I like anime, but I’m like “What album are you listening to? I didn’t put any on there.” (laughs)

FG: What’s your favorite anime?

LW: Yu-Yu-Hakusho.

FG: I agree wholeheartedly. Mine is FLCL.

LW: Oh yeah. That’s good stuff.

FG: Thanks for your time, and I wish you the best.

LW: Thanks man, you too.

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