The South African folk music scene is small but resilient. One artist who has been charming fans for several years with her brand of pensive acoustic balladry is Johannesburg’s Laurie Levine.
We’re glad to have the SAMA winner on The Songwriter Series this week, chatting about her artist experience.
At what point did you know that you wanted to be a songwriter professionally? Was there something that made you realise it was the best thing for you?
“I started writing songs towards the end of high school. I wrote for a couple of years while I was at university studying drama.
I had plans to become an actress but felt increasingly drawn towards the music world. When I left university, I realised that writing and performing songs was what I was best at.”
What do you hope people take from a Laurie Levine record?
“My music is intimate and it’s about being honest. If people can feel something real in my songs, then I feel very satisfied.”
Is there a song on your setlist that you look forward to playing a little bit more than the others?
“I always look forward to playing new songs. That’s very exciting. But in terms of my regular set list, there are a handful of songs from my latest album which I enjoy playing most: ‘Where Have You Gone’ and ‘Beautiful Loser’ are two of them.”
Can you think of a gig, or a moment during a performance, when you realised you were doing something bigger than you had been before?
“Yes. I opened for Rodriguez in London in 2005. I had no idea what to expect, because I was playing with musicians I had never played with before. We had one rehearsal. I also didn’t know what kind of recepetion we would get, as being an opening act can be a double edged sword.
During the performance the songs took over, and muted all my anxiety and uncertainty. They carried the show. That’s when I realised that its all in the song.
No matter who you play with, what you look like on stage, and the slight variations in your voice for each show, if you commit to each song you will be fine. Ever since then, I’ve been really focused on trying to make my songs as good and tight as possible.”
Please describe what it is that you experience when you’re on stage.
“Sometimes it’s stage fright. I go through phases with that. I get very shy at times. And then its quite scary because people are watching you, and there is nowhere to escape.
But other times I feel very confident and at peace on stage. That’s when everything comes together effortlessly. Its like I’m expressing the best version of myself and every moment is a moment. And I feel a great connection with the audience.
For me there is no other experience, aside from finishing a song I am proud of, that matches this feeling.”
Is there a song that you wish you’d written?
“So many. It’s really hard to pick one. But one of the first to pop into my mind is ‘Both Sides Now’ by Joni Mitchell.”
Is there a songwriter who you love, that you wish more people had heard of?
“Once again, so many. Patty Griffin is one of them. She is known in the States but not much beyond that, I don’t think. She is one of the finest living songwriters.”
What are Laurie Levine fans like?
“They’re kind and warm and lovely! They are people who come out to shows and really listen. They’re not in it for dancing, drinking and a good time (although there is always a place for that!)
Sometimes I catch people closing their eyes to listen even deeper. That’s when I know I have a true fan.”
Check back later this week as Laurie reveals her favourite female country/folk artists of all time for The Songwriter Playlists.
Last time on The Songwriter Series: Dan Michaelson.