Let's Go Sailing Biography
This happy/sad anecdote provides an apt evocation of Let’s Go Sailing’s sound, an exquisitely bittersweet flavor of indie pop that has inspired a devoted following. Based in Los Angeles, LGS conjures a tender blend of memorable melodies (informed by Levy’s classical background), sophisticated arrangements and affecting, heart-on-the-sleeve vocals. The Chaos in Order (released 3/27/07 on Yardley Pop/GR2) is the band’s full-length debut.
Levy started Let’s Go Sailing while she was keyboardist for the indie act Irving as an outlet for the many songs she’d been writing on her own. She asked her pals cellist Tanya Haden (Haden Triplets), bassist Nikki Monninger (Silversun Pickups), guitarist Brent Turner (Irving), and drummer Byron Reynolds (Possum Dixon) to help her flesh out those compositions. The collaboration unfolded like a dream – except for the fact that Haden, Monninger, and Turner were all in other bands and thus unable to play and record with Levy consistently once LGS became her sole focus.
Still, when Levy was approached after a show by producer Rod Cervera (Weezer, The Rentals, Silversun Pickups), who wanted to record “All I Want From You Is Love,” the course for The Chaos in Order was effectively charted. Joining forces with engineer Chris Chandler (Flaming Lips, Elliott Smith, Modest Mouse), Cervera recorded three tracks; Jim Putnam (Radar Bros.) was brought on board to record the next crop of songs.
As the recording process gained momentum, Levy, who’s also played on records by Rilo Kiley and dios (malos), collaborated with a trio of gifted guitarists: David Scher (Jenny Lewis, Beachwood Sparks), who played lap steel on “Too Many Stars”; singer-songwriter Elvis Perkins, who appears on “Icicles”; and Shon Sullivan (Goldenboy, Elliott Smith), heard on “Better Off.”
“I was always trying to accommodate everyone’s schedule, and that really slowed things down,” Levy concedes. “After basic tracks, we recorded everything at Chris’ studio, but he was on tour doing sound for Flaming Lips a lot of that time.” Which did have its upside: Let’s Go Sailing has been the house music at Flaming Lips shows for the past several years, bringing the band fans from all over the U.S.
Another blessing in disguise came when LGS’s unpredictable recording schedule forced Levy to take up the mechanics of making an album. “I ended up producing and mixing a lot of it myself,” she attests, “and I even did some engineering on ‘Sideways.’ I came out of this knowing a lot of computer programs!” Though a majority of The Chaos in Order was recorded on two-inch tape, Levy did lay down some of the vocals at home on Pro Tools because, as she reveals, “I felt more comfortable making cheesy faces in the privacy of my own home.”
This last technique may partially account for the album’s remarkable intimacy, about which Levy says: “I wanted every song to draw the listener in. I love when you feel like the singer is talking to you alone in your living room or, even better, whispering in your ear.”
Engineer Ben Mumphrey (Frank Black) helped Levy complete The Chaos in Order, songs from which have already turned up on L.A.-area radio stations KCRW – “All I Want From You Is Love” was heard on the influential program “Morning Becomes Eclectic” – Indie 103.1, KXLU and KROQ (on Rodney Bingenheimer’s tastemaking “Rodney on the Roq”). “All I Want” had earlier been featured on the CW TV show “One Tree Hill,” and “Better Off” had appeared on MTV’s “Real World Philadelphia.”
Levy says of the album’s title: “I used to be kind of a math geek, and I thought it was so cool when I learned there is order in chaos. I remember being on a plane over Miami, where I grew up, looking down at all the buildings and thinking how orderly the chaos of the city looked from far away – perfect shapes and lines. I thought how the reverse is also true – there is chaos in order. No matter how much order we try to make out of life, it always gets messy. It looks good from far away, but the closer you get to something or someone, the more you notice the flaws. I think accepting that is part of growing up. It’s a theme that sort of floats below the surface of this record.”
And it’s an attitude that has served Levy well through repeatedly rescheduled recording sessions; the vagaries of countless shows – with Rilo Kiley, Lisa Germano, Lou Barlow, dios (malos), Of Montreal, Deerhoof, Oh No! Oh My!, and fellow members of a loosely organized Northeast L.A. collective known as The Ship (Silversun Pickups, Earlimart); a West Coast Tour (with Harvey Danger); and even an unexpected visit from Courtney Love. The Hole frontwoman got onstage with LGS one night to play guitar and sing backup on “Sideways,” which she declared “a hit.” Levy recalls: “I had no idea what she was going to do when she got up there with us, but I’m flattered that she liked our music. You can say a lot of things about Courtney Love – and one of them is that she has good taste!”
Levy’s first forays into songwriting came early on, when she began writing instrumental pieces while studying classical piano. When she left for college, finding a piano became challenging. “I’d sneak onto the soundstage in the film department and play once in a while, but I needed to find another way to decompress and process my emotions,” Levy confides. “I didn’t plan it that way, but I found it in writing poems. A few years into taking myself too seriously and thinking I was going to be a professional poet, I heard Elliott Smith and something clicked for me. Until then, I’d either written instrumental pieces on the piano or written poems; when I heard [Smith’s album] either/or, I realized I could put the two together.”
Levy’s introspective lyrics often provide sharp thematic counterpoint to her cheerful melodies. As RollingStone.com pointed out, “[‘Icicles’] is so pretty and soft and strummy and hopeful that it actually makes you feel like winter is melting away and the little buds of spring are poking through the earth,” and urged readers, “Any time you’re feeling blue, we recommend you drown out the doldrums with this gorgeous ditty. It’s like musical Prozac.” But under the song’s candied surface lies a biting sentiment: All the icicles are falling down/ Like tiny little daggers in the ground/ I better run for cover or they’ll soon be/ Sticking in the softest spots inside of me.
Let’s Go Sailing is perhaps most distinguished, however, by Levy’s tender voice, alternately girlish and world-weary, innocent and experienced, perplexed and resigned. These dualities are reflected in much of the media coverage of LGS, which also includes mention in MTV News Online, NME, Filter.com, the Los Angeles Times (which dubbed LGS a “buzz band”) and Campus Circle, as well as such trailblazing blogs as Rock Insider, You Ain’t No Picasso, Said the Gramophone and Large-Hearted Boy.
A certain innocence has also found its way into the artwork for Chaos, an assemblage of construction-paper cutouts Levy created with meticulous care. “People have to be pretty motivated to buy an actual CD nowadays, so I wanted the package to be really special, something someone would want to own. Tanya [Haden] did the back of the record. I love her artwork and it totally goes with the feel of the music. We also worked together on the designs for the T-shirts.”
Those will surely come in handy at the merch table when Levy and her touring band hit the road in support of The Chaos in Order. A 2006 residency at Spaceland (a coveted L.A. showcase for promising independent artists) was good preparation for LGS’ upcoming appearance at SXSW and a spring “07 national tour with XL Recordings act Elvis Perkins.
Whatever order and/or chaos ensues thereafter, Levy is likely to savor it. “It’s hard to know what events will serve as hallmarks in your life,” she reflects. “I guess that’s why you have to try to appreciate the happy times while they’re happening – because you never know when you’ll come home to find your boat or your heart or your life sticking half-way out of the water!"