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Interview: Levi Patel Discusses His Debut Album 'Affinity' (+ Album Stream)

Interview: Levi Patel Discusses His Debut Album 'Affinity' (+ Album Stream)

Tuesday 18th April, 2017 12:06PM

Up-and-coming composer and producer Levi Patel is somewhat of a ground breaker, carving his own musical niche by venturing down a path signposted by an ambient and classical sound that often goes unexplored by young New Zealand artists. With two captivating solo EPs under his belt, along with a collaboration with local electronic producer Suren Unka that proved his versatility as a composer, Patel has now unveiled his debut album Affinity to further showcase a range of ambient textures and poignant notes. 

Noticed for the enchantingly bittersweet nature of his work, Patel has had his work featured on films, including the touching six-minute piece Last Letters by German filmmaker Nils Clauss. And the cinematic nature of his single 'Since Last Letters' lends itself to a clip that feels more like a candid film than a scripted music video. With the release of Affinity, UnderTheRadar had a chat to Levi about his work and where the future might take him...

UTR: Tell us about the inspiration behind Affinity?

LP: I realised I wrote the first piece for it almost four years ago, so it varies a lot. I think most of the inspiration comes from the music that I listen to.

What kind of stuff is that?

I listen to a huge range but some things that really inspired me in particular when I was writing was Rhian Sheehan from Wellington. Another one was the ambient album that Alex Somers and his partner Jón Þór Birgisson of Sigur Ros made together called Riceboy Sleeps and I listened to that a lot. Both of those make use of really beautiful textures and the notes are my kind of my notes.

Do you have any surprising influences that people wouldn’t expect you to have?

I’d say deep house music. The only way I feel it is related is the way it progresses. My music will start with something simple and then gradually evolve so it is minimal in the same way. I think a lot of the notes I use are really simple. I used to listen to a lot of post-hardcore [laughs]. Funeral For A Friend was one of my biggest influences when I was younger and every now and again I’ll be writing a string line and I’ll hear something that sort of feels familiar so it still sticks with me a little bit.

How do you name your tracks?

I find it hard to name my music in general I’m not good with words and I can express myself a lot better with music.

I try to choose song titles that when I hear them they feel like the feeling that the music gives me - and match it that way - rather than having a literal meaning behind the name. Kind of like if you read some poetry, sometimes if you read it aloud - especially even if you don’t know what it means - sometimes it makes you feel a certain way but you don’t know why. Often I find pieces of poetry I like and that sparks a phrase. I don’t read a huge amount of poetry but when I’m trying to name my tracks I do [laughs].

Do you feel the need to make up for not having lyrics in your work to tell the story or portray emotions?

Not consciously. I think people are either open to instrumental music or they’ll get bored. The type of people who will enjoy it will enjoy as it is, and anyone who is waiting for the chorus would have switch it off after the 30 second intro.

I used to write songs with lyrics when I was in school. I realised I was mostly writing lyrics so I could sing something, and there was a melody in the song - and I realised I could have a melody without lyrics. Occasionally if I’m feeling particularly angsty I’ll write an emo acoustic song with lyrics [laughs]. They’re never that good but they’re fun.

Brian Eno has been experimenting with generative music, is that something that interests you?

It’s hugely interesting. He’s been working on that since the 80s I think, and it seems suddenly kind of trendy, like it has re-entered the minds of musicians. I’ve loved it since I read what he said about how he thinks in the future people will find it crazy that we listened to an album that sounds the same over and over again, when we could be listening to a slightly different performance each time.

So far a lot of the more famous generative music pieces have been soundscapes. I know Ólafur Arnalds is working on one and Sigur Ros did one where they drove around Iceland for 24 hours with the same sound regenerating.

Your song ‘Since Last Letters’ has been featured on a short film by Nils Clauss, similarly named Last Letters, which remembers the victims of a tragic ferry sinking near South Korea where almost all of the passengers lost their lives. How did that come about?

I wrote the music first then was talking to Nils and his film kind of got me right at the start. It’s really heartbreaking, but at points the parents are going through the rooms of their kids remembering them fondly. We thought that fits as ‘Since Last Letters’ has that duality to allow if you watch the film you can get into both of those sides without the music restricting you.

Nils is not a musician himself but he is really into music. When he edits and makes films he says it's a lot more inspiring to him if the music is good and it's more obvious to him what to do. What I think is unusual about film - because of Nils - is that music’s really heavily a part of it, it doesn’t feel like a documentary with music in the background to fill the space, it's sort of between a documentary and something more poetic. Like more of an art piece, but real.

I also did one film for Nils called This Island Is Ours. It’s about the dispute between Korea and Japan over two rocks in the ocean. It’s partly disputes over fishing rights but it’s mainly national pride. All of the films in the past have been from a specific side but Nils followed a really hardcore activist from each viewpoint. Because it was trying to be unbiased we ended up only having two bits of music in a feature-length film, which is the start and the very end, as Nils didn’t want to enhance or skew anything in the film and I respect that.

Would you ever specifically pursue being a film scorer?

Definitely, I’d love to do some films and it’s my dream. Alex Somers and Olafur Arnalds have their own sound and later on they’ve been found by filmmakers who like them. The makers of the TV show Broadchurch came to Olafur Arnalds and basically gave him free rein. They come to him knowing the mood they’re trying to get with the series is close to the sound he makes, so he’s still working to the story but still in his own way without having to adapt.

You’ve spent some time in Korea, did you pick up on anything interesting about the music scene over there?

I went to a couple of indie gigs and they were fun and energetic, but not super alternative. I went to this one gig and they did a huge opening speech in Korean. Then they hit the first chord, shouted “rock and roll” and went for it, playing this huge energetic song before finishing and saying “thank you” in Korean very politely and walking off stage. A lot of people also get really into singing ballads. They’d come up and sing a slow, famous song really nicely rather than have bands playing. They’re also into some really particular famous acts. When I was over there they were really into Maroon 5. That was one of the biggest bands there but here they’re not so popular.

So with Affinity released, what’s next on the agenda?

I’m working on some piano pieces, producing an album for This Pale Fire and working on a track with Rhian Sheehan. I’m really enjoying working with my label Marigold Music and I also want to travel and go and stay with people I talk to overseas. I’ve got a friend in Sweden who lives in a cabin with a studio in a forestry town, and a friend in Scotland.


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