Levi McGrath Interview
It has been just over two years since the release of Melbourne soloist Levi McGrath's explosive debut Move and since then he has toured New Zealand, the USA, visited Compassion projects in Thailand and worked with World Vision in Uganda. Now Levi returns to Australia in support of new album Children Of War. Closely informed by his recent travels and aid work Children of War is an astonishingly honest, powerful collection of songs. Songs that not only chronicle many of his life-changing experiences in Africa, but the impact these had on this boy from Bendigo, VIC.
Levi McGrath demonstrates a passionate commitment to changing the world for the better.
From working with former child soldiers in Uganda, to accompanying The Choir of Hope and Inspiration (comprised of Melbourne's homeless people) Levi is committed to the belief that music is one of the most powerful influences in the world. That's why he aims for his music to motivate and inspire a new generation of people who are willing to stand up and make a difference.
"I want for my music to impact people's hearts and change people's lives. I want to be a voice of challenge to inspire people to open up their hearts to a bigger world," McGrath enthuses.
2011 has been a big year for Levi McGrath. Following on from landing a top spot at the Australian National Folk Festival, Levi won second prize in the Indie International Songwriting Contest, competing with hundreds of international songwriters, with two of his songs from Children of War making the top 5 in the Folk Category.
Levi toured Australia over May with World Vision and two former child soldiers, and has performed his powerful mix of musical story-telling to thousands of people: from Sydney Bank Executives to World Vision leaders in Singapore. He has accompanied Rev Tim Costello (World Vision Australia CEO) on several key speaking engagements and with more national television appearances coming up, Levi continues to reach out with his message of positive social action.
Levi McGrath began his professional music career in 2007, with the release of his debut album Move on the Australia/USA independent Small House Records label. Move has since sold 4000+ units and has garnered over 300 radio interviews, national television appearances, feature articles and community radio airplay on 300+ stations nationwide, including several syndicated national programs.
2008 saw Levi touring Australia for six months, followed with a Australian Government-funded tour of the USA's South East.
In 2009 Levi returned to Uganda to work with former child soldiers for five months, with World Vision in Gulu. This led to his sophomore, critically acclaimed album Children of War (Small House Records April 2010) - rich in passion for social change and heart-rending stories of suffering and dignity.
2010 saw Levi complete a 100+ venue, Australia-wide tour sponsored by World Vision Australia to spread the message of rescuing the child victims of war and exploitation.
Interview with Levi McGrathQuestion:
Can you talk about your work in Thailand and with World Vision in Uganda? Levi McGrath
: Travelling to Thailand in 2008 to meet my sponsor child 'Pop' was one of the happiest moments of my life. I saw slums built over sewers, and toddlers picking through garbage tips for food -- and in a country known by most Australians as a tourist destination. But Pop was happy, healthy and proud to be sponsored. She even named her pet dog 'Levi' after me.
Then in 2009 I got to spend five months rehabilitating former child soldiers in Northern Uganda through World Vision. I met a young guy the same age as me who was abducted at age twelve, given a machine gun and forced to fight on the frontlines of battle for a rebel army. I found out that there were over thirty thousand others just like him - boys and girls - that have been used as child soldiers over the past twenty-five years. And some of those children, now my age, I count as my best friends.Question:
Did this work inspire the song Children of War? Levi McGrath
: Absolutely. My song Children of War -- and the whole album in fact -- was inspired by my time spent in Uganda. The song itself compares my life growing up here in Australia to the life of a child growing up in a warzone. It's so easy to forget that even though we live in peace here in Australia there are children being forced to fight against their will in wars around the world. Question:
What's else inspires you when you're song writing? Levi McGrath
: At the moment I'm working with Melbourne's Choir of Hope and Inspiration, a choir made up of mostly homeless men and women. It's been incredibly inspiring to see people who have experienced homelessness and disability find confidence and healing through singing. I'm inspired by issues of social injustice and by people who have overcome hardship in their lives. I love telling stories through my songs, so I'm always interested to hear people's tales. Question:
What hopes do you have for your music? Levi McGrath
: I hope to open the eyes of my audience to injustice and humanitarian crises around the world. I hope my music is always able to speak out on behalf of those without a voice and that it encourages people to engage to take action against injustice, wherever that might be. Question:
How does it feel to hear your song on the airwaves? Levi McGrath
: Soul-affirming. It's a huge rush knowing that I don't have to be playing live for people to hear and connect with my music. Question:
What music/artists do you listen to when you are not playing your own? Levi McGrath
: At the moment I'm listening to a lot of singer/songwriters like Laura Marling, Luka Bloom, The Swell Season, Brett Dennen and Brooke Fraser. Question:
What's next? Tour/Album/Single? Levi McGrath
: I'm currently working on song writing for a new album with Small House Records to be released in 2012. I'm also heading back to Africa this month to visit famine-affected areas in Somalia, which will be devastating but also will give me a lot to write about. Question:
Was there a moment you contemplated throwing in the towel? name
: Writing my album Children of War was one of the hardest things I've ever done. It took nine months and at times I definitely wanted to throw in the towel. The first draft of the album was completely scrapped. There were a lot of tears and painful memories to wade through, of the friends I made in Uganda and the atrocities of war I witnessed there. But I was challenged by my record label not to gloss over the pain but to let my songwriting truly explore the emotions of my experience. We all felt that the integrity aspect was far and away the most important part of the album.Question:
Do you prefer performing live or recording? Levi McGrath
: Definitely performing live. It's my chance to share the stories behind the songs and show video footage from my time in Africa. At every concert there's always a few people in tears at some point in the show, and it's a massive encouragement for me to see and feel that emotional connection playing live.Question:
What/who was your inspiration to go into the music industry? Levi McGrath
: My sister and I used to sing together when we were kids and put on concerts for our parents and their friends, so she is a big inspiration in my life. Growing up though I saw the powerful influence - both negative and positive - that music had on my friends around me. So I got into the music industry to create music that uplifted and inspired people and hopefully helped to make the world a better place. Question:
What is the biggest challenge you have faced along the way to your musical success? Levi McGrath
: There's a lot of strain financially when you're starting out which can be really tough, but I think the biggest challenge is time away from home when I'm touring. You have to love life on the road and meeting new people, or it's very difficult to keep going. It takes a lot of self-motivation and personal drive, so it's been really important to me to surround myself with people that believe in me and support my passion for music. And I count myself hugely lucky that my wife - who is working in Somalia at the moment - is as supportive of what I'm doing as anyone.Question:
What's a typical day like? Levi McGrath
: I usually make myself some breakfast, followed by an hour of guitar practice, vocal exercises and then responding to emails in the mornings. Writing mail-outs, blogs, planning travel and organizing upcoming shows usually takes up my afternoons. Evenings are reserved for performing, rehearsing or connecting with other artists/checking out bands. I often play open mic nights to keep fresh as well. I try and support my local scene as much as I can -- performing as a support to other musos, donating time for benefit gigs, helping spread the word on artists I admire.Question:
What has been your favourite part of becoming a music artist? Levi McGrath
: Music has taken me all over the world in the five years I've been an artist, from Uganda to the USA, so I'd say that travel is my favourite part. Getting to experience life in different cultures and sharing my music on the world stage is a childhood dream for me.Question:
If you could collaborate with another artist, who would it be? Levi McGrath
: I would definitely choose Brooke Fraser from New Zealand. I really admire her songwriting and in my opinion she has one of the best female voices in the music industry. She advocates against injustice through her music and supports organizations like World Vision in fighting poverty, which I deeply respect.Question:
Do you have a website fans can visit? Levi McGrath
Can you tell us 5 things required for a happy healthy & enjoyable life? Levi McGrath
: I've recently started eating as much organic and homegrown food as possible. Makes you feel great! I try to research the brands I buy and have started purchasing fair trade products when I buy chocolate, coffee, even clothing and shoes. I try to go for a walk or a ride everyday outside. This really helps to break up the day and helps me to appreciate nature more. A good collection of comedy DVD's keeps the blues away. At the moment I'm watching a lot of 30 Rock. I think the number one thing though is having a goal and working hard towards it, whatever it is. Invest in it, believe in it and chase it down. Living life as the gift that it is.
Interview by Brooke Hunter