Monday, May 7, 2012

Pheaturing Justin Levinson

Hello, kids, and welcome to the Phile. What a piece of junk! All through May as you probably know by now it's Star Wars Month here on the Phile. Before we get into all that, let's see what is going on in the real world.  During a speech, Mitt Romney told students that if they want to go to college or start a business, they should just borrow money from their parents. That should work fine as long as your parents are Mitt and Ann Romney.  After the prostitution scandal in Colombia, Secret Service agents are banned from bringing guests back to their hotel room. The new policy is raising lots of questions like, "So, your place then?"  Last week, a man running the London marathon stopped 800 yards from the finish line to propose to his girlfriend. Unfortunately, though, a guy from Kenya passed him and ended up proposing first.  There's a new dating site aimed at matching up women who like to travel with men willing to pay for their trips. It's part of a new dating trend called prostitution.  A few weeks ago, a hunter in Kansas shot his friend twice because he mistakenly thought he was a turkey. After the first shot, the guy said he wasn't a turkey. But, come on, that's exactly what a turkey would have said. There's a new restaurant in Oregon that serves food infused with medical marijuana. It's annoying when customers call the waiter over and they're like, "Hey, we never got our appetizers. Wait, did we get our appetizers?"  A couple in Indiana claims that a deer got into their house and filled up their bathtub with water. Even weirder... the deer also lit some candles and put on a John Legend CD. Senator Joe Biden and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg played a round of golf together. Biden shot an 89 while Bloomberg shot the person who arranged a round of golf with Joe Biden.  A new survey found that a third of Americans would not be able to pass the U.S. citizenship test. It's a real insult to our Founding Fathers... Denzel Washington and George Jefferson.  I mentioned this yesterday I think, Levi Johnston and his girlfriend revealed that they will name their child Breeze Beretta. I can't tell if it's a boy or a girl or a Jamba Juice.  A new report found that prostitutes are using Twitter as a free way to advertise. They are getting a lot of retweets from one user... @secret service. Hey, did you guys hear about this? The brakes on President Obama's limousine were apparently damaged while he was in Georgia. Yeah, Obama tried to call AAA, while Biden tried to call the Geico gecko.  I was just reading about this. Qantas Airlines will start attaching electronic tags to luggage to keep it from getting lost. And they're going to start doing that once they find the suitcase containing all the electronic tags.  This is interesting, you guys. Over 100,000 people have listed themselves as organ donors since Facebook made it an option this week. Which is weird 'cause I've always turned to eBay for all my organ needs.  So, yesterday I showed you that Obi-Wan Kenobi was almost going to be Mexican, right? Obi-Juan Kenobi I think he was gonna be called. Well, before they settled on the Kenobi we all know and love, he was supposed to be so called something else. This would really have the films looking different. Anyway, I got my hands on what Kenobi was gonna be.

I have been showing you real but kinda odd pieces of Star Wars merchandise that is out there. I found this, but I am not sure if it's official. It is really cool though... it gets geeks and nerds to have sex.

Yesterday I showed you what the Stormtroopers would look like if I created Star Wars and not Lucas. Today I will show you what C3-PO would of looked like.

Not too different, right? Okay, wanna see today's real but odd Star Wars product? Everyone loves R2-D2, but sometimes having a lifesize replica in your home can just take up too much valuable space. Fortunately, this stylish fish tank gives your swimming friends and your favorite droid a cool place to hang out together while making your place look awesome.

Alright, now from the home office on Coruscant, here is the...

Top Ten Perverted Sayings in Star Wars.
10. "Curse my metal body, I wasn't fast enough!"
9. "Look at the size of that thing!"
8. "C'mon, Luke, let's blow this thing and go home!"
7. "I've felt him, my Master."
6. "Ahhh, yes. The Jedi's weapon... much like your father's."
5. You judge me by my size, do you?"
4. "I can't, it's too big."
3. "R2, you can't repair the Hyperdrive, you're not finished with me yet..."
2. "Put that thing away, your gonna get us all killed..."
And the number one perverted saying in Star Wars...
1. "Get in there, you big furry oaf, I don't care what you smell!"

Alright, a past character of the Phile wanted to come on and tell us what is bothering her. I hope it's Star Wars themed. Anyway, please welcome back to the Phile...

Me: Eve, welcome back to the Phile. What is bothering you?

Eve: I can't make up my mind.

Me: About what?

Eve: About which Star Wars movie to watch tonight.

Me: How about the first one?

Eve: Maybe. Bye.

Me: Bye, Eve. Eve Rest, everybody. Well, that was stupid. You see bits work and some don't. That one definitely doesn't work. Even I don't think it's funny. Moving on...

I've been hearing lately from a lot of naysayers that the comic book/superhero movie is stumbling towards irrelevancy, that all the good characters and adventures have been strip-mined. And when cookie-cutter origin stories are the norm, when outer-space-ian threats to humankind's very existence are so completely unthreatening that your response is, "I wonder what those pizza-pretzels at concession taste like?" and when what should be character-specific wit is just a punched-up-but-still-indistinguishable soup of sarcastic quips, it's easy to agree. Comics aren't junk. But studios sometimes treat them like they are. The grumps have a point. Except when they don't. Like right now. Welcome to the next great superhero story, one that will restore any good will you've allowed to fade away in the past couple years, one that earns all its excited pre-release buzz. And in the film's opening, when Loki (Tom Hiddleston), the villainous, adopted brother of Thor (Chris Hemsworth), announces, hilariously, "I am burdened with glorious purpose!" he's talking about himself and his plan to make everybody die, but he might as well be speaking of the movie he's in. Everything in the goofy universe of extraordinary beings performing extraordinarily brave acts feels like it matters again, at least for now. The threat is presented in the form of the "Tesseract," a cosmic energy cube that can destroy all life. Loki's got it and he's going to use it. We're all in trouble. If you need a real-world analogy, just think about those unstable Japanese nuclear reactors that won't withstand another earthquake before... no joke... poisoning every single thing in the world to death. The band is assembled. And sure, it might help if you've already seen Thor and Captain America and both Iron Man movies, for no other reason than that this film allows them to grow as characters out of their respective origin tales. But it's not absolutely essential. Bring a nerd friend to fill in the gaps where necessary. Meanwhile, you don't need to see either of the Hulk movies. Nobody's really gotten him right until right now, anyway. And while the action here is exciting, as wham-bam as you want it to be, the biggest pleasure involves watching director Joss Whedon flex his strongest muscle, which is managing the group. It takes a master plate-spinner to handle larger-than-life personalities, keep the action going, remember to give everyone a shot at greatness and never lose sight of the fact that an ensemble needs to be populated by strong personalities who crash into each other even while they work together for a common goal. So when Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo, the best Hulk we've been given), Captain America (Chris Evans) and Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) spend a good chunk of the movie standing around bitching at each other, it's character development of the coolest kind and a respectful nod to the way the characters really interact in the original comic. Whedon is building a family of fighters and everybody knows you fight with your family the most. So if the save-the-world-a-lot beats are the ones you've felt before, if the first chunk moves awkwardly as Loki sets his diabolically crazypants plan in motion, if the Transformers-ization of How Movies Destroy Big Cities is a little too familiar and if the 140 minute running time is a bit butt-numbing, the whole dwarfs the finer points and any irritation you experience won't stick around for long. The job here is to make the Big Bad go away and to save the genre from boredom. The good news is that these heroes won't rest until they've accomplished both. They happily work overtime for you. From 1 to 10, it gets a 10, and of course I will be buying it when it comes out.

The 16th artist to be pheatured in the Peverett Phile Art Gallery is AJ Paglia, and this is one of his pieces.

AJ will be a guest on the Phile a week from today.

Today's guest is a singer-songwriter whose new CD "This Side Of Me, This Side Of You" is now available on iTunes and elsewhere. He and his band The Valcours will be playing at 1/2 Lounge in Burlington, Vermont on May 19th. Please welcome to the Phile, the very talented... Justin Levinson.

Me: Hello, Justin, welcome to the Phile. How are you?

Justin: I'm doing well thanks. Really appreciate the interview.

Me: I have to say, thanks so much for the "This Side Of Me, This Side Of You" CD you sent me. What a great album. You must be very proud of it, am I right?

Justin: So glad you enjoyed it! I am very proud of it. My band and I really put our heart and soul into this record. We've been touring extensively and the songs aren't driving us nuts yet. I'd say that's a good sign. I've also been happy with the positive press and nice feedback from our fans. I really feel like we are starting to make a spash. It's just a momentum I haven't experienced in my career before. I'm excited.

Me: Correct me if I am wrong, Justin, this is your third album?

Justin: This is my third full length album. My debut was "1175 Boylston" in 2005, then I made an EP in 2007 entitled "Bury Your Love." That was kinda of a segue drug into the 2009 alt-country release "Predetermined Fate." Now we are back into the indie-powerpop genre. I think it's much more of an authentic place for us.

Me: How long have you been writing music and playing?

Justin: I started when I was six years old and I'm twenty six now. Yikes... twenty years.

Me: Where are you from originally, and do you still live there?

Justin: I grew up in Elizabeth, New Jersey and left when I was in first grade. Those who have spent time in Elizabeth know how tough of a town it is. My parents wanted me to grow up in a safe environment so we moved to Vergennes, Vermont. After High School I spent five years in Boston, MA building my music career and attending Berklee. Now I reside in Vermont again.

Me: You, like half the musicians I have interviewed have went to Berklee. What did you study there?

Justin: I started out with a focus on jazz trumpet but later switched to Songwriting/Composition. I just felt like I stood out more as a writer there. Some of the jazz cats could just play circles around me. Honestly I was kind of embarrassed when I'd go to my brass ensembles. I started thinking I needed a major game change... no pun intended.

Me: I always ask my guests that went there what was the experience like and was it worth it to go? 

Justin: Berklee was such wonderful place for me. I wasn't interested in being anything except a musician when I left High School. It was like School Of Rock but you had to work your ass off. Like anything, it's what you make of it. I just happened to be a serious go getter and I worked it. I took advantage of signing up for all the production majors recording projects. This got me a lot of experience in the studio and learning about production. Berklee Studio A is one of the nicest studios you could ever walk into. I applied for scholarships and I entered and won many school songwriting competitions. By the time I had a left I had performed my song "Sunny Day" at a packed house at the Berklee Performance Center. It's gets me down when critics think Berklee is just a factory pumping out robotic pop sensations. Sometimes I feel like I have to keep my Berklee experience on the down low to avoid harsher criticism. In all honesty it's a great school with great teachers.

Me: Speaking of Boston, the Boston Globe described you as, "Something like Ben Folds with more heartthrob potential." What was the first thing you thought of when you read that quote?

Justin: Well, I was pretty excited to be honest. There was a huge picture of me and this quote on the cover or the arts and entertainment section of The Boston Globe. At the time it was the biggest press I had ever had and it led to many television appearances and other cool opportunities. I was getting phone calls from friends and family all over the country. The cool thing was that I didn't even send out a press release or anything. How cool is that?

Me: Pretty cool. Are you a single guy, Justin? I would of used that to my advantage if I were you, if you know what I mean. I wonder if any of the girls you knew in high school or Berklee read that quote. LOL. Anyway, are you a fan or inspired by Ben Folds?

Justin: I am a single fella, but currently I'm just enjoying being married to my music. I remember hearing that someone cut out the article from The Globe and tacked it up in the Vergennes High School library. People have always been supportive back home. I think I was only eighteen when it was published. Guess I was only a year or so out of school. As far as Ben Folds goes, he's always been an inspiration to me. 

Me: You also play piano like him, right? How long have you been playing piano?

Justin: Yeah, I play both guitar and piano in the band. I've been playing piano twenty years now. I started guitar in 2007.

Me: Have you ever met him? If you do, you should tell him what the Globe said. If I ever get him on the Phile I will tell him. Anyway, what music do you listen to now, Justin, and what music did you listen to growing up?

Justin: I have never met Ben Folds and honestly it's a blessing. I'd need a written script and some anxiety medication to get a peep out. I don't think I do to well with meeting my idols. I see Ryan Miller from Guster at shows in Burlington, Vermont all the time. I just recently found the courage to introduce myself to him. Maybe he can give me some advice. Currently I've still been on my Dylan kick with "Blood On The Tracks" and "Desire." Both records have got me through a lot of painful things. Typically I'll listen to a lot of 60's and 70's stuff. I'm big into Elton John, The Beatles and The Byrds. As far as new stuff I'm really loving the band Fun. I'm usually not a top of the charts kinda guy but these fellas are writing with a lot of integrity.

Me: You are a pretty good songwriter. Does songwriting come easy for you?

Justin: Thanks! It's never easy for me to sit down and write. Actually it takes a lot of courage and discipline. On the other hand as far as keeping my head level it's a necessity. It's a bit like psychotherapy I guess.

Me: Okay, lets talk about the new album. I am guessing the theme is about break ups, right? Is the album directed at anybody in particular?

Justin: Well, the theme of the record is "feel-good heartbreak." I hope anyone who has been through the roller coaster of love can mourn and get a little chuckle at the same time. The album is sort of a theatrical monologue.

Me: The cover makes me grin, Justin. One side is a picture of a smug looking... well, I don't know if smug is the right word. But it's a picture of you looking serious I guess and the other side is a glass of alcohol and something else. So, Justin, what are you saying here?

Justin: Well, the 5th track "Bar Scene" is a humorous, vaudevillian drunkin' confession. I guess that might be at bit of a parallel to the album cover. My designer Peter Mailloux was the brains behind the operation. He's always filled with cool ideas.

Me: And where did the album title come from?

Justin: I say the line "This side of me, this side of you" in track nine, "Say What You're Gonna Say".

Me: On the CD you do a few song's with other people... Gregory Douglass, Will Dailey and Liz Longley. Who these fine folks, Justin? Would any of them be interested being interviewed on the Phile? Do they have their own albums out?

Justin: Yeah, all three are established artists who were kind enough to be part of my record. I'm sure they'd love to be featured. I would highly recommend checking them out.

Me: Speaking of folks on the album, who are the Valcours, Justin?

Justin: Colin McCaffrey, Sean Witters, Seth Barbiero, Josh Glass, Simon Plumpton.

Me: I don't know what that word means... Valcour. If I had to guess without cheating I would say it was a bird of some sort. What does the name mean and where did it come from?

Justin: It's named for Valcour Island on Lake Champlain. It was a pivotal battleground in the Revolutionary War.

Me: How long have you and the Valcours been together?

Justin: This lineup has been together for about a year and a half.

Me: Alright, back to the album, Justin, with songs like "You Became A Ghost", "Love You Goodbye", and "Million Tears", I have to ask, when you were writing the album were you pretty miserable?

Justin: Yeah, in all honestly I was a mess. 2011 was a tragic year for me. My granny, great aunt and a close friend all passed away. My mother nearly died from complications with diabetes and was laid off twice. My father's studio suffered serious damages from Hurricane Irene's flooding and he later fell off our roof installing a gutter system to re-direct the constant rain. While all of this was going on I was going through a painful divorce. I chose to focus the album on heart break. With this comedy of errors I couldn't do anything but crack a few jokes and create this concept album. I'm hoping the scale levels out in 2012... ha.

Me: I hope you're happier now, Justin. Maybe on the next album you can write a song called "Life Was Going Great Until I Had To Do A Lame Interview For A Stupid Blog". LOL. Are you already planning the next album?

Justin: Ha! No way. I really appreciate your time and sending me these questions. I have lots of ideas for a new record. I'm going to continue trends by experimenting with musical theater, big production and samples.

Me: I noticed you are doing an East coast tour but not making it to Florida. Ever played down here, Justin?

Justin: I have not made it to Florida unfortunately. We just signed with a new booking agency and I think we will be doing much more tour support. Keep an eye out for some new markets. I'd love the warm weather.

Me: You should play at The Social in Orlando. Oddly enough, I saw Ben Folds there right before he got big. "Underground" just came out. That would be a wonderful opportunity.

Justin: We'll consider checking them out if we book a Southern run. Must have been a great show. I love that album.

Me: Yeah, it was. Justin, thanks so much for being on the Phile. Please come back again when the next CD comes out, and take care and keep in touch. Go ahead and plug your website and anything else you wish. All the best. Take care.

Justin: Hey, thank you!! check out our site and find us on Twitter and Facebook..., and!/jxlevinson.

That about does it for another entry of the Phile. The Phile will be back on Wednesday with singer-songwriter Gayle Skidmore and next Sunday it's super hero, yes, I said super hero, Captain RibMan and then on Monday it's artist AJ Paglia. Spread the word, not the turd. Don't let snakes and alligators bite you. May the Force be with you.

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