Levi Weaver: The Best of What’s Next

Music Features Levi Weaver
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Members: Levi Weaver
Homebase: Nashville, Tenn.
Album: The Letters of Dr. Kurt Gödel
For Fans Of: Chris Thile; David Bazan; Right Away, Great Captain!

Levi Weaver is on the road in California, traveling from one gig to the next, when he answers my phone call. It’s an overcast day in April, and he’s about 15 miles south of Visalia. After exchanging the usual pleasantries, I ask him to tell me a little bit about the inspiration behind the dense concept of his most recent full-length, The Letters of Dr. Kurt Gödel, and I’m surprised when, rather than start off mentioning the titular Austrian mathematician and his incompleteness theorem, Weaver launches into the details of an intricate, three-part dream.

Whether it’s the result of one of those happy accidents where an idea gets launched from the cosmos lightning bolt-style straight into the mind of an artist or simply a case of his subconscious making itself known as he slumbers, the Nashville-based singer/songwriter’s dream provides some key insight into not only his work, but his life. The album’s not entirely autobiographical, he explains, but perhaps the best way to tell his story is to revisit that epic nighttime vision, one section at a time.

It started, I was hunting this butterfly. It had these weird, iridescent colors, colors that I’d never seen, and of course in your dreams you sort of know things to be true, and the thought was, ‘If I catch this butterfly, this is going to be like the defining moment of my life.’ And I caught it, and as soon as I caught it, it faded, it went back to looking like a regular old butterfly. Still pretty, but it wasn’t what I expected. And the narrator or whatever you’d call it of the dream said something to the effect of the butterfly was romance. When you’re young and single, you think ‘if I just catch this romance, this love, if I fall in love with the right person, that’s gonna define me and I’m gonna be happily ever after.’ This is not gonna complete you.

Levi Weaver’s lucky in that, in reality, he’s caught that butterfly and found love. Presumably, his wife Heather’s vibrant colors haven’t faded. But Weaver’s careful to make sure he doesn’t depend on her to feel complete.

“I got married in 2007, and I have an absolutely fantastic wife,” he says. “She’s incredibly supportive of what I do, but it doesn’t matter how great your spouse is, that’s not going to bring you personal completion. There’s a certain fulfillment that comes from being happily married, and I would not trade it for anything, but if I relied on that for my own personal completion, I’m basically going to be an emotional drain on her if my entire existence is based around her.”

That search for personal fulfillment and ability to not put all his eggs in one basket—whether that basket holds his love for his wife or his love of making music—is probably why he was temporarily able to walk away from his career in order to help save the Ridgelea Theater in Fort Worth, Texas from being turned into a Bank of America.

“Long story short, we just sort of put music on hold and jumped into the fray, and in the end, Bank of America backed out, which was great,” he says. “I mean, I don’t wanna take full credit for that. I really felt like Rango.”

He laughs and continues: “I was like, ‘Look, this theater’s been up since 1950. This was here before the Dallas Cowboys, guys. It’s just one of the few theaters we’ve got left in the city. Someone should stand up to Bank of America and do this.’ It was sort of like a lot of people in the city, friends and stuff, went, ‘Yes! That guy’s gonna stand up to Bank of America!’ So I felt like I was a figurehead. It was an ugly battle for a while, but we won, and in the course of that I realized I could do things that are not sort of fame-based, doing things for their intrinsic value.”

So shoot to the next scene where there’s what I can only describe as like a large bull or a buffalo but vastly more vicious than that. And my thought was, ‘If I can contain this beast, I can jump on and ride it until I break it. Then I’ll be renowned across the world, like no one else can tame this beast.’ So I jumped on and gave it a go and of course, time in dreams is weird, and I rode him for a long time, for over a year. And I was so exhausted, about to pass out, and with my last bit of energy I knew that I had to jump off and just try to escape because it was gonna try to kill me. And I jumped off and the narrator came back with the idea of the beast as fame. No one can contain it, you just ride it until you jump off.

There was a time, when he was opening for Imogen Heap back in 2006, that Weaver thought he’d be famous, and it troubled him when it became clear his path wasn’t pointed towards superstardom.

Eventually, however, he realized that “there’s a huge difference between fame and success” and learned to take pride in his life as an independent musician, so much so that his website now reads like a veritable how-to manual for up-and-coming artists, featuring blog posts like “How Not to Get Screwed by PayPal” and singing the praises of the latest apps that make his life slightly easier.

“I appreciate getting tips like that,” Weaver—who is completely self-managed—says. “Anything that makes my life easier is much appreciated. So I’ve got a chance to share that with other people, and it’s great. And part of it is just me saving myself time because I get people who are just starting, and unlike maybe somebody who’s on the level of like a Josh Ritter or a Ryan Adams or somebody who’s not as accessible, I’ll get e-mails like, “So, I’m about to head out on my first tour, do you have any tips?’ And rather than write that same email six different times, I’m just going to sit down and write it once really well and then put it in the blog and just respond with like, ‘Yeah, actually here’s a link and just check it out.’”

Since he’s made peace with the fact that he probably won’t be filling arenas any time soon, humility has cropped up as a recurring theme in Weaver’s music—so much so that he named his latest EP I Am Only A Tiny Noise.

“Once you begin to think that you’re something amazing, then the focus is on you instead of on your craft or the people that you’re creating art for, and if your focus is on bigger things, if your focus is on other people and the bigger story of how we interact with each other, you know, that’s what we have as humanity,” he explains. “We’re pretty unique in that dogs don’t hop on Skype and talk to other dogs from Germany.”

He chuckles at the image he’s just conjured and then goes on: “But we’ve got each other. And so it’s me realizing that I’m not that important, but I can be influential about the things that I’ve learned and the people that I know, I can matter to them and likewise they can matter to me and they’re important to me even on the grand scale of things. The universe is so big, and we’re so tiny, and it’s embracing that. It’s not a ‘poor me’ statement at all. It’s not, ‘Oh, I’m just a tiny noise, I want to be a big noise.’ It’s more embracing the fact that we’re all tiny little noises and that’s part of the beauty of it, that even something as tiny and insignificant as songs that I write can be meaningful to somebody and open up the dialogue for other conversations and human connection.”

And then there was a bird, and so I jump on this bird and just fly away, and we get up high enough where it’s a dangerous height and the bird dies and she starts to plummet back to Earth, so I’m sort of toppling back to Earth knowing that I’m about to die. And the narrator said the bird is the idea of following someone else’s path to faith.

He’s comfortable with being a tiny noise now, but when he was 29, Weaver—who is the son of a pastor—suffered what he calls “an existential crisis” where he found himself questioning his faith and hurtling towards Earth.

“It was probably a few things,” Weaver says. “I was frustrated a little bit with my music career, and having poured everything into that and just not seeing the kind of return that I wanted. And then if I’m quite honest, David Bazan’s album Curse Your Branches. He had a lot of the same questions about faith and about the church as I did. And watching him come to not just a conclusion but a very eloquent conclusion about why he was no longer in that, I just felt like I related so well to all his questions, and I was sort of more open to that position of what he had to say. And what he had to say was pretty convincing. And it probably helped that it was possibly his best album, including all his Pedro the Lion work. And I was just on the road and tired and a little bit discouraged anyway, and to just have that CD on repeat for probably three weeks straight, I was just like, ‘I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know what I believe. Start all over.’”

That’s where Gödel’s incompleteness theory comes into play, on the album and on Weaver’s own personal journey.
“[It] has songs regarding that search for filtration and meaning and eventually coming to the idea that you’re created incomplete,” he says. “For me, to claim incompleteness is sort of a license to explore faith on my own and to explore what I have to do to live, like you can’t just go, ‘life’s incompleteness, we’re screwed, life’s one big nihilistic search for hedonism.’ For some reason we don’t do that as humans.”

No, what we humans do is ask questions—big questions like “What’s the meaning of all this?” or “Where do I fit into the grand scheme of things?” as well as the more mundane stuff like “Where am I gonna crash before the next gig?”

Levi Weaver doesn’t have all the answers (“I answer ‘I don’t know,’ a lot,” he remarks). But through his music, he’s embracing that incompleteness as he searches for answers and doing ol’ Dr. Gödel proud.