While Tim Levinson (aka Urthboy) describes feeling like “a kid in a candy shop” when choosing vocalists to collaborate with on his solo tunes, he admits he never thought he’d get his number one pick into the studio for latest track Naive Bravado. But the stars and rainbows aligned, and he’s so gratified. “Underneath that big Daniel Merriweather hook is the kind of rap tune that I feel personally is one of the more ambitious songs that I’ve written. And I stand behind it fully: I’m so excited about it.”
The single is from his forthcoming fourth solo album Smokey’s Haunt, and while the hip hop veteran won’t be specific about the story behind the rhymes, it’s clearly a jarring personal encounter. “I feel like in society people put a lot of attention on the right and wrong. You’ve either socialised, and you’re one of us, or you’ve become the villain. And all of those things are fine because you do need laws to regulate how we behave, but most of the time they don’t take in context. And facts aren’t really truth unless they include the context.” Levinson apologises for the long explanation, as this is one of the first interviews he’s given on the album. But he’s so instinctively expressive, it’s all meaningful. “I guess we don’t really have that much patience for the truth behind someone’s actions. We don’t have room to allow for that explanation, we just need to be able to punish,” he concludes.
Levinson has worked with Count Bounce (TZU) and Elgusto (Hermitude) separately before, but it was planned that this album would bring the guys together whilst also giving room for writing and production to breathe. “I’m a fairly frenetic worker and I like being busy and I like being occupied,” Levinson says. “This was just about trying to hit the refresh button and do something that allowed us a little bit more time and a little bit more space.” Of course he’s also been busy talking with the acts on his label Elefant Traks. “Lots of blahs going on, but good blahs,” he laughs. “No blasé. Good blahs.” There’s a rhyme for free, kids.
Levinson is super aware of challenging himself and the genre, particularly in Australia. He believes the “indie” approach (guitar and bass, as opposed to emphasis on sub-bass and synths), “comes quite naturally” to Australians. “We found ourselves going back to really song-based compositions. It’s just about getting the drums sounding really tasty and having a strong piano melody. Those parts of music, they don’t change. So much about music is as simple as that. And that’s also problematic because that’s also really hard to do. You can get really busy, you can fill songs up.”
The internal struggle between promoting rhymes over melody is an ongoing theme. “As much as MCing is my thing, that’s all I do well, I think.” (Earlier I suggest he’s got a canorous singing voice and he sputters with mirthful scorn: “Whatever, give me a break! I’m not going to inflict that on the poor listening public. I have, at times, been cruel to ants and insects when I was growing up but I’ve grown past that.”) But some force-feeding of Brit pop and Leonard Cohen from his brother ensured Levinson is always attracted to (albeit sometimes unwillingly), melody. “As much as I want to take a purist hiphop approach to [a particular] song, there’s a certain powerlessness that I have where part of me is hearing these melodies: it’s like the little angel and devil on your shoulder,” he says. “I feel like I’ve grown up absolutely nothing less than a hip hop head. In some ways you’re in control when you’re writing and in other ways your unconscious, or subconscious, takes over. I’ve been working on music for long enough to know that I actually don’t have control of my own creative ideas; some of them just creep from beneath the surface and before you know it, there you are. There’s another bloody sung part in a song.”
BY ZOE RADAS
Urthboy [AUS] plays The Evelyn on Friday August 31. Smokey’s Haunt is to be released this October.