Eyal Levi is one interesting and prolific guy. A few weeks ago I had the privilege of chatting up the super congenial and thoughtful founding member of DAATH for over an hour.
We covered all kinds of topics, from DAATH's creation and POSSIBLE FUTURE to the world of recording metal music. The Berklee drop out had a huge vision for himself and now he's got everything going on from the URM Academy to The Metal Beard Club. If you have any desire to learn about the comparison of metal and classical music styles or the place metal has in the world of music, Levi is the man to listen to. We dig deep over the course the hour into Levi's personal and professional history. If you wanna listen to a really smart guy be insightful about all kinds of metaly-goodness from the solid recordings from Korn to the brilliance of Jens Bogren and Opeth to the work ethic of The Black Dahlia Murder, you can listen to the entire interview here:
Here's a few juicy excerpts from our time together:
How did you create this band (DAATH) and why?
I created the band because I wanted to be in a big band when I was that age, and for some reason I had it in my head that I could do it with extreme metal, which is kinda dumb, kind of a dumb idea. I was going to college to try and learn how to play, ya know, adult music and real people music, and had a real people music kind of band that made me feel sick on the inside every single time we would play. So, uh, I hit up a friend in Atlanta and asked if he would start this pseudo-death metal project with me and I was going to do it on winter breaks. And as it turned out it was better than my real people music band. Uhm, it was just way better. Everything about it was way better.
So you said you dropped out of Berkeley to pursue DAATH?
Well, I dropped out to do two things: Pursue a band and start a recording studio. I just felt like i was ready. I could do it if i went home and did it. I always viewed music school as kind of like a runway where as your career is the airplane going down that runway. If you're going to music school and you are able to launch and get airborne… you should leave the school. Same goes for art school or any sort of creative school – the degree does not matter in these fields, it just doesn't. Queue the person in a Hollywood studio that says "we only take interns with degrees from Julliard" but that's a very, very rare thing and I knew that.
Can you talk about your hiatus? People wanna know…where did DAATH go? And, are they coming back?
We didn't really go anywhere. That's what a hiatus is, we just stopped. We were at a point where we had worked really really hard on the band and the growth was not matching the amount of work we put in it. And yet, the clock kept ticking on our age. And so, you know, you don't wanna be that has-been that just doesn't get the picture and is still trying to beat a dead horse. I'll never be that guy. I don't wanna speak for the other guys in the band cause they're capable of explaining it themselves but I'm gonna go out on a limb and say they don't wanna be that guy either. None of us wanted to be that lame has-been who doesn't know when the project has expired. No way. So, we had been feeling that way for a while, and then I got an opportunity from a studio called Audio Hammer right around that time we were touring around with Chimaira a lot, and they were losing members left and right and so it just made sense to… kinda… morph our lineup into theirs. Their members were dropping like flies and the one thing about DAATH is we really did have great players and guys in the band – except for me, I'm the worst player. The guys I played with were among the very, very best in the world and we all knew the DAATH gig was almost done… and then one day, we just decided hiatus. MAybe we'll do something again, the music's great. WE don't hate each other THAT much – maybe a little but not that much… If we do something, we do something. But for now, we gotta move on with our lives.
Lets talk about URM Academy. Can you explain what it is and what you're doing with it? I know you're a founder on it. Could you please expand a little bit on it?
URM Academy is the biggest and best online school for rock and metal producers. We like to say that we're training the next generation of audio professionals. Our flagship program, which some people might know us by if they follow metal, is called Nail The Mix which is where we bring on a different artist and mixer every single month and give our students the tracks from a song and then at the end of the month our mixer will do a live streaming class where our students can interact with them. For instance, this month (June) 2018, the artist is Opeth and the song is off watershed and the mixer is Jens Bogren… we've had Meshuggah on, Periphery, Gojira, but then all the way to bands like Karnivool, or Asking Alexandria, or Papa Roach. It's not just like metal its in, what I call the heavy rock umbrella.
Why put this out there for people (Nail the Mix), and how is mixing a metal or heavy rock song any different than your average rock and roll or pop song?
I'll start with your second question first. The way that its different is that its far more difficult – the thing about metal is that at its very nature it's not supposed to sound good. I don't mean artistically, I mean technically with frequencies. The way that the music is arranged and the way they produce the sound all happen to be stepping all over each other. So, basically, you have guitars that make noise in the same ranges as vocals make noise, in the same ranges as drums make noise, and the same ranges as distorted bass guitars make noise. We're talking about literally noise because the distortion that you hear on the guitars and the distortion on everything is literally noise. So, basically a great metal recording is basically controlled chaos. And, the more beautiful they sound, like an Opeth record, that is truly a masterpiece of controlled noise. And other genres don't really have that, they have a lot more space. They don't use distortion quite so heavily and they don't have double base going at 300 mph as the same time as base guitar and at the same time as distorted guitars. Like, if you were to leave it alone it would just sound like a blanket of shit. For instance, if you've ever gone to a death metal show, and all you can hear is some high end of the drums and it just sounds like a piercing mess of garbage and you cant tell anything that's going on. That's because all these instruments put together just put out noise. So, the metal engineer's task is to carve that together in a way that makes sense…they don't need to do it in other genres because they don't need to be quite so carved up. That's whats different about it. Other genres, when they have a bass that's the only thing that's down there in the bass range. There's no bass plus de-tuned guitar plus low vocals plus hundred mph kick-drum all trying to take up that space. When you hear an r&b kick or an r&b base, you are hearing (it) so clear and so huge because there's nothing interfering or getting in its way. So, that's what makes it really really different, that's what makes it so difficult. And that ties into the first question, "Why do this?" This style of music isn't taken seriously in schools, so if you were to go to a recording school you would not get a good education on how to work in this style of music… I wanted to do this to set things right. To do what I wish was around when I was starting, but also I want the bar to keep getting raised. I don't like the direction that music was headed at the end of my DAATH career, the negativity with everyone thinking the music industry was gonna implode and with everyone thinking that music was getting worse. This is my way of ensuring the sky does not fall and helping to raise the bar for production in a style that doesn't get serious attention in any sort of educational form.
What's your goal? What's your passion? What are you trying to put out there, and what is your fire inside?
This is probably going to surprise you… So, my life took an interesting turn when I was 18 or 19. I really wanted to join the military and go into intelligence. I wanted to devote my life to finding people who did terrible things to other people and having them taken out. Back in that age range, in Israel where most of my family is from, people were blowing themselves up in coffee shops and I wanted to do something about it. I wanted to serve in the Israeli military… and my dad talked me out of it and was like – look, you've got a talent for music… don't do it. And, it's always kind of nagged me – I have a sense of justice that I haven't been able to shut up… But, then I started URM Academy, and I noticed how great it felt to help turn people's lives around… We took people who've never mixed a thing in their lives and now they're taking clients… That was giving me a fulfillment that music never did.