When people fantasize about being a musician, they tend to think about living the high life -- travelling from city to city in a jet, playing sold-out shows in front of thousands of screaming fans, and having access to the finest things. But no matter how nice the dream sounds, we rationally know that this isn't the reality for most musicians.
While life for the average touring group isn't all G6s and endless alcohol, it's still a pretty sweet gig. If you're talented or lucky enough to get a record deal, you probably at least have a semi-reliable vehicle and a road crew to help set up your equipment.
Now imagine that touring meant spending hours alone behind the wheel driving from city to city playing in people's living rooms. Imagine spending 200 days a year away from your family and friends and with nothing but the radio to keep you company. And then imagine that on top of that you get to visit Texas in the summer in a car with a broken air conditioner.
Levi Weaver doesn't have to imagine that. He's living it.
He's heard his songs referred to as "serious music" and "repentant music"; some have even called it "important." These are all shorthand for "you have to really pay attention to what he's saying." His songs force you to lean a little closer, listen a little harder.
They're songs uniquely suited for the intimate setting that a house show provides. Playing house shows might have been something that started out of necessity for Weaver, but they're a venue where his songs shine.
Although he may have been born in Colorado, Weaver's family moved to Texas when he was three and he considers it his home state. Rocks Off caught up with him at his home in Nashville, where he was preparing to return to the Lone Star State for another round of shows, to talk about the good and necessary evils that come with playing the house-show circuit.
Rocks Off: So what lead to the decision to start doing house shows?
Levi Weaver: I think for a while I thought house shows would make me look like I was not successful, so I kind of ignored them. Then I kind of had this realization of the different between fame and success; it's very easy to get those two confused in this industry. I began to look at it like, "What is success? If it's not fame what is it?" And for me it's trying to make a living.
I would rather play a show for ten people and have five of them come away from it going, "Man, that was a meaningful experience," than play a show for 500 people and have them all walk out and go, "Eh, that was all right," and then in two years not remember it.
So with that in mind the house shows began to make a lot more sense. Look at them from a business standpoint: if I bring in 30 people to a venue I'm not going to get booked again most of the time because the venue doesn't make money, I certainly don't make a lot of money, and people haven't had a good time because they're in a mostly empty room.
If I bring 30 people to a living room show that's a really successful night. It's a more intimate setting and I make more money, which isn't the primary focus but it helps.
RO: Do you approach a house show differently than you would a show at a regular venue?
LW: I don't feel like I approach the show differently from a performance standpoint. I do think it's a more intimate setting. At a bar it's accepted that you go and you talk with your friends during the performance. Everyone is ordering drinks, glasses clink. You're in a coffee shop and in the middle of a quiet song someone orders a drink that requires the machines to go wrrrrrrrrrr.
At a house show it gets so quiet, like you can make the most delicate of noises and it's quiet and people are listening. For somebody like me who makes music that I would call at times delicate, that's a really nice thing.
RO: You've said that from September to September you'll have done 200 shows. Is that a regular year for you?
LW: This is the most I've done. The most I've done before in 12 consecutive months is 115, 120. I quit for a while. I kinda started over and have been doing a lot of house shows trying to build things back up from the ground up. My ultimate goal is for my wife to be able to quit her job and bring the whole family on the road with me and have the best of both worlds.
RO: Does all that travel take a toll on your performance?
LW: I feel like I'm doing an OK job. I definitely have my off days like anybody, but I also recognize I don't have the luxury of not putting on my best show every night. If I want to build this up, if I want to be able to bring my family on the road with me, I've got to impress people every night. If I'm not feeling the songs because I've done them a couple of hundred times I'll just let missing my family be my motivation.
RO: Besides playing a show, what's an average day on tour for you?LW: It's a lot of baseball talk radio. I would love to write but it's not safe. I'm driving and I'm by myself, and from behind the wheel it's difficult to do. A lot of it is looking at emails that come in on my phone and thinking "I'll get back to that in a minute." I'll reply to things that are urgent and send out tweets but mostly it's just listening to the radio and looking around.
RO: You do your own booking. How daunting is that part of the job?
It's horrible. I hate booking so much. I spend most of my time when I'm at home booking shows and I will be really glad if the day ever comes where I don't have to do that for myself anymore. Then I can focus more on making music and writing and doing the things that I love to do- the aspects of this job that make me want to do it. Booking is a necessary evil for me right now.
RO: You've talked about the necessary evils. What makes being a musician great?
There are some very real connections that happen with people. I love when something that I wrote when I was in my bedroom having a crappy day is meaningful to somebody. I feel like I'm able to have a real conversation with another human being about something going on in their life. That means a lot to me.
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And I do love travel. It's exhausting but I love seeing new places. I had the realization a few months ago that in just about any major city in the U.S. if I was stranded I could call somebody whose number I already have in my phone and I could have a place to stay and that's pretty cool.
Levi Weaver is doing a pair of house shows in Houston this weekend, one Friday and one Saturday. For more information you can view his tour schedule on his Web site.