Danny Levin is an award-winning musician who plays a multitude of instruments including trumpet, cornet, flugelhorn, trombone and many other instruments. Having worked with many major artists, he has traveled the world touring, producing, arranging, and singing. As a long-time user of Little Blondies, he was kind enough to sit down with us and answer a few of our questions.
An Interview with Danny Levin
You’ve worked and toured with many “big name” artists. Can you name a few of your favorites?
I’ve performed live, toured, and/or recorded with Rilo Kiley, Lenka, Matt Nathanson, Julian Casablancas, Built To Spill, Diane Birch, The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Josh Radin, TOCA, Natasha Bedingfeld, A Fine Frenzy, Christina Perri, Glenn Campbell, Robin Thicke, Jon Brion, Sly Stone, Brooke Fraser, Sugarplum Faeries, Eric Hutchinson, Honey Honey, Cydney Robinson, Chris Schlarb, and a lot lot more.
You’ve been touring a lot lately. How do you split your time between touring and recording?
When I’m not on tour I’m holed up in my studio or someone else’s studio recording. That’s pretty much what I do with my life when I’m not hanging out with my wife and/or my friends. Often times that is what I’m doing when I am hanging out with them.
You’ve worked with so many amazing artists. Who is one of the artists you’ve learned from, and in what way?
I would say I learned a lot from Blake Sennett of Rilo Kiley and The Elected. My first touring experiences were with Rilo and the Elected. I feel as though that was a tremendous growing experience for me as a musician, to be out on the road and see how a lot of things are actually done. I watched (and on occasion helped) him and Mike Bloom put the finishing touches on Sun Sun Sun in hotel rooms all over the United States which was really cool to see first hand. He is also a pretty knowledgeable guy about gear and in the studio in general and I’ve gotten the chance to pick his brain more than once about how he got certain sounds on certain records, which is always edifying.
For that matter I would say that about all of the guys and girl in Rilo Kiley. They are in many ways responsible for me really getting my start in the music industry. Furthermore, my friend and longtime conspirator from UCLA David Moyer is the person who initially introduced me to Blake after he recorded saxophone on Sun Sun Sun.
Tell us about your most memorable recording session.
My most memorable recording session was probably when we tracked strings on The Ventriloquists song, “It Is What It Is” – we had a great arrangement written by Matt Fish, and then 3 absolute killers – Daphne Chen on violin, Miguel Atwood Ferguson on viola and Matt on Cello.
We set up the trio around a BLUE Cactus, and then close micd them with 414s. We put a royer between the violin and cello and then blondies between the viola and cello and viola and violin. Also, we put 2 TLM 103s at about 10 feet each on the opposite sides of the huge tracking room at Crown City and hit record. The first take was just awesome. I thought we were going to have to stack and stack but ultimately we did 2 complete takes, one with Daphne playing up an octave, and then Daphne overdubbed a single second violin part, and that’s pretty much what you hear on the record. Then we tracked a take of everyone, including at this point myself on piano, David Moyer on tenor sax, and Jeff Glassberg on guitar, improvising over the end of the song. This, flipped backwards with bunch of effects and stuff on it, makes up the basis for the sonic world that happens at the end of the song. Months later me and Edy Pickens and Ian Souter added vocals and keyboards to finish that part off.
How were you first introduced to Little Blondies? What made you decide to try them out?
I first heard about them on Gearslutz. I needed a pair of SDCs and they came highly recommended so I figured it was a good bet to try them out. They exceeded my expectations. I love them because they pretty much sound good on everything – accurate but more importantly musical.
How do you use the Little Blondies?
Everywhere on everything.
Tell me about a few recordings you’ve used the Little Blondies on.
DL-Bailout! by the Ventriloquists features a lot of different instances of the Blondies on different instruments – guitar cab, banjo, horns, strings, etc.
For the song “Roll With The Punches” by Lenka on her new record, Two, I used a Blondie to record all of the horn parts.
It’s a running joke with the guys at Crown City Recording – even though they have a very nice selection of expensive mics, I still insist on a pair of Blondies on just about every thing I record there, including much of the tracking on the aforementioned Bailout! as well as Eric Lilavois’s record The Only Way. Eric’s record features a lot of cool stuff from the Double D Horns, myself on brass and David Moyer on woodwinds. Then again so does Bailout! but that also has a lot of trumpet work from Ian Souter as well.
What are some of your recording techniques for trumpet?
For trumpet I often will put a ribbon mic about 6 inches from the bell and then hang a metal Blondie a few feet back to pick up a roomier sound that gets some of the high frequencies you lose with a ribbon mic. This was before I got the new Little Blondie. Now I pretty much use that, hanging from a harness in the middle of the room, and I adjust the position of the mic according to how much depth of field I’m trying to get from the sound.
What other pieces of gear do you feel compliment the Little Blondies?
They work great with API stuff. It has tons of gain and tends to be really forward in the upper mids. This works nicely to bring out the smooth musical thing the Blondies pick up from the higher end of the frequency spectrum. I’ve also found them to work really nicely with an Avalon 737 for vocals.
The combination of a Blondie with a ribbon mic gets a nice balance of warm mids and clean musical highs.
Other than the Little Blondies, are there any pieces of “best kept secret” gear that you would be willing to share?
The combination of a Yamaha EM100II mixer with a Metasonix TM7 going through the reverb send is a really great dirty crunchy kind of 70s sound. It’s awesome for fattening and warming up otherwise digital sounding stuff, like virtual instruments and cheesy keyboard synths. I usually run stuff from that into a Roland Space Echo and then into the Chandler Germanium, which makes drum machines and keyboards and guitars and just about everything else sound rad in a low fi but also hi fi at the same time kind of way, if that makes any sense. Also Yamaha PSR 510 has some killer drum sounds in it. They sound corny as fkk when played by themselves but when run through the aforementioned signal chain they suddenly somehow sound awesome.
What other recording gear do you use?
I’ve got an RCA 74B that I like a lot for a vintage ribbon sound. TLM 103 for super bright modern really hot mic. I use a Beyerdynamic M88 for my trumpet when I’m on the road although usually I prefer a Blondie or a ribbon when I’m in the studio. I also have a bunch of analog verb and delay effects including a Moodys Mushroom Delay, Roland RE201 and 301, Ekdahl Moisturizer, Strymon Blue Sky reverb, and more.
What projects do you have coming up?
Going to Asia for a few weeks with Lenka. More TV and shows with Matt Nathanson. That plus whatever other gig and sessions pop up will likely keep me busy for the next little while. In the mean time, I’ve got a number of my own projects to keep me busy.
The Ventriloquists, a band I play in with friends, just finished a record called Bailout! in December of 2010. We’d been working on that for 5 years and are now starting to work on a follow up.
I’ve also started working on a project with Trey Lockerbie, who plays guitar in Lenka’s band. He is also a singer songwriter in his own project called Dragon Layzer. We’ve been writing a bunch of songs but also working on a series of covers. Hopefully it sounds like the name. My wife Edy contributes to both of the above projects.
In addition, I’ve got a collection of my own music that I may release at some point under the Amanitas moniker. I’ve also got about an EP’s worth of material I wrote for my wedding which I also might release in some form or another eventually.
Do you have any creative ways to use the Little Blondies?
Like the time we mic’d a mini marshall amp inside of soda machine? Or like the time we mic’d the horn section from behind the fern? Or the time we hung them over a broom on top of a stair case? Because they are so small and durable, you can get up up to all kinds of creative things you aren’t supposed to do.
Finally, do you have any advice for musicians looking to tour and work with established artists?
My advice for musicians looking to tour with established artists is:
- Don’t be a dick.
- Be good at something. Even better, be good at many things.
- Move to a place where the established touring artist you want to tour with is located (or where most of the band lives). This is probably LA, New York or Nashville if it’s in the USA.
- See #1
- Remember, you are being paid to play music on stage. The other 97% of being on tour is “the hang.” Which means, see #4.
- Be helpful.
- Know basics of sound engineering, cables, microphones, etc. especially as it relates to your instrument. Know what an XLR cable is and how it is different than a 1/4″ cable.
- Never, ever, ever mouth off to the sound guy. He can make your performance irrelevant. When in doubt, see #4.
- Be creative, and be yourself. Original style is the only style that really counts for anything.
- Know how to read music and play by ear.
- Know the fundamentals of music theory and be able to improvise on your instrument.
- Learn the tunes.
- Don’t use crappy gear. It’s a waste of time and money. Save up for gear that doesn’t suck. Or, do the research to find the good bargains in the world, ie Little Blondies!
- Leave the haterade at home. Nobody cares how much you don’t like the music you are playing or the music someone else is listening to. When in doubt, see #4.
- Know how to play the piano, at least a little bit.
- Know how to play guitar, at least a little bit.
- Know how to sing background vocal parts and play your instrument at the same time. Unless your instrument is a horn or otherwise requires your mouth. In which case, learn to play it one handed and do something else with your other hand, like tambourine or keyboard.
- Be quiet. Don’t say anything if you don’t have anything helpful or important to say. This might be the most important rule of all, save for:
- Do all of this because you love music. If you don’t, someone else will who loves it more than you do.