The Level Heads on Current Affairs EP, playing with a live band
Mike Lipset and Logan U'u (aka MC Lipset and producer Lokes) may only be 25 and 24 respectively, but the hip hop duo known as the Level Heads already seem to have their proverbial ducks in a row.
The two met five years ago, in Logan's U of M dorm room recording studio, but it wasn't until Logan returned from living in Samoa and Arizona ten months ago that the Level Heads really came into fruition. Tonight at the Fine Line Music Cafe, the group releases its second effort, a concept album called Current Affairs: The Alien Project EP. The project, featuring guest vocals and collaboration with rising R&B star Margeaux Davis, includes six buoyant, catchy songs, merging Lipset's clever, easy rhymes with Lokes beats that reveal his R&B and island reggae roots.
Interspersed between memorable hooks and grooves are several hilarious War-of-the-Worlds-esque scenes finding the Level Heads abducted by aliens, and tasked with playing tour guide to our friendly extraterrestrial visitors. While there's much goof to the project, the concept affords Lipset, known for his poetic, thoughtful spoken word-MC-style, a forum to share his thoughts on the state of the human race.
"These are the toughest times to be clearing the air, when no matter where you turn Big Brother is there, network the revolution say we'll meet in the square, it's a flash mob for change til we're bloody and bare." rings the chorus of the title track. Lipset warns of traitors, haters and wars for peace, but reminds us that dark begets light. Their message is simple and unabashed: love, live music, and a community of respect -- it may not be all we need, but it's a start. The Level Heads profess no grand answers, but they do a damn good job at encouraging us to have fun while we ponder the big questions.
Gimme Noise: Let's talk about your partnership.
Lipset: The way we work is very live. He'll be making a beat and I'll be back there writing as he's making it.
Lokes: It's very organic how it emerges.
Lipset: We do create live, but up until very recently it's resulted in a very traditional hip hop MC/DJ sound. Only recently have we started rocking with a live band, doing more improvisational stuff, Logan now does live beat build outs on stage. We've been doing lectures at the U of M and around the Twin Cities we do showcase freestyles - he freestyles a beat, we get people to voluntarily come up and freestyle if they're up for it.
Lokes: Mike was the person who brought me into music on a professional level. I was finishing my time at the U...I committed to doing the first Level Heads album before I left [to study abroad] for Samoa and when I returned back from the Islands I realized I really wanted to do music. Mike was already handling everything - promoting his mix tape, performing around city, doing the tracks we had made.
Gimme Noise: After Samoa, you [Lokes] were in Arizona working at Juggernaut?
Lokes: I withdrew from grad school to pursue an executive producer role with Juggernaut Music ENT which was a startup record label created by Arizona Cardinals starting fullback Reggan Mauia. I was managing an island reggae band that toured around the west coast in different states. I was operating a heavy load - it was a nine person band on the road every other weekend so it was really tough to pursue something so heavily and so heartily but to remove yourself from actually making the music. It made me realize I'd have more fun, feel more righteous if it was something I wanted to passionately pursue on my own, which is why I decided to come back here.
Lipset: And that is a huge reason why we have a live band now. Lokes came back here so energized about live music, as opposed to live with a two track, that we had to make it happen.
Gimme Noise: How is it different playing with a live band?
Lokes: I get more energized.
Lipset: Definitely - that risk offers more reward....To us it's [performing] more than just standing on stage and presenting the music, it's giving the people an event that they'll remember, an experience that's otherworldly.
Lokes: When you are at a live show, why not just unlock? At our last show at Cabooze, we had dancers in gas masks, all sorts of lighting effects. This show is going to be even more theatrical.
Gimme Noise: How do you see your music and this album in terms of current and/or local hip hop trends? Do you see yourself as part of a scene? Outside of a scene? Are there specific artists and styles that influenced you and Lokes?
Lipset: We have made it a goal to do something as different from the norm as possible, so while we see ourselves as part of the hip-hop and greater music scene, we also try to be pioneers of new and exciting endeavors into entertainment on a grand scale.We're very careful not to bandwagon anyone we don't believe in or jump on any movements that aren't real. We're influenced by a lot of West Coast artists (Lokes) and Midwest artists (Lipset) as well as groups like The Roots, Nipsey Hu$$le, Brother Ali...
Gimme Noise: And after that - what's next?
Lipset: Next for us - we're gonna get back in the studio - we're already about halfway done with our next project and planning a tour end of summer for the Midwest.
Lokes: Through this whole process - it's just a learning process, it's just life - we've figured out our strengths and weaknesses.
Lipset: That's where the idea of the Level Heads came from - separately Logan and I are just nuts - we're a couple of super right brained people that can't keep their shit straight, but together somehow can find that level-headed balance to put out a project that from top to bottom tells a story.
The Level Heads Current Affairs: The Alien Project makes contact Friday, May 11 at the Fine Line Music Cafe. 18+ Doors 8pm. $8 Hosted by, Manny Phesto. Also performing: The Crunchy Kids, Duenday, Margeaux Davis, Wize Guyz, Rich Garvey, Alnansa, DJ's - Audioperm.