“I got inside of it (the tomb)… I dug down a little further, and it was about the size of a cigarette pack. It looked like the little bible you get from Sunday school. And I knew immediately what it was… I could barely read any of the words. It was weathered and in bad shape. But I read those words, that poem, and it hit me what this guy was going through.” What Levi held in his hands was actually a diary containing the last words of a man headed off to battle in the Civil War. He would go on to include this in his upcoming EP, Gettysburg.
Levi Clark grew up in Metairie, Louisiana in typical American hard-working household. They built cars, they played football, they worked on dead people, and they played music. Okay, maybe not entirely typical. But they were close knit and full of life. The youngest of five children, he began to gravitate toward music at a very early age. And there was certainly a wide variety where he was raised. Levi remembers, “My brothers were listening to Sly and the Family Stone, Jimi Hendrix, Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin; there was Woodstock basically in that room. And my sisters listened to LTD, Earth, Wind and Fire, and Peabo Bryson. Mom had Coltrane and Billy Holiday. Dad had Willie Dixon, Robert Johnson, ZZ Hill, Muddy Waters.” His first experience making music was on his brother Avery’s drum set. At the age of six, he snuck into his brother’s room with the intention of figuring out what drums were all about. But with no drum sticks in site, he proceeded to break a drum head using a brush and a comb. Being a percussionist, part of the discipline his father handed down was playing Led Zeppelin IV over and over, and making Levi learn how to play the proper way, this time with actual drum sticks. “Every time I made a mistake, I got popped with a drumstick. And when this (interview) comes out, my brother Avery will find out how I learned that because he has no idea that I got my ass tore up for breaking his drum”, Levi recalled.
At family gatherings, the Clarks didn’t break out the radio. The family would bring their instruments and a live session would serve as entertainment for the occasion. With his brother Avery on drums, his other brother Ronald on bass, his step-brother Donald on keys, and his cousin Wade on guitar, the gatherings became real events. “They were kids, barely in their 20’s! And they’re back there playing Hendrix. And they’re back there playing Muddy Waters, and Sly and the Family Stone” Levi exclaimed. Music would always be a huge influence in Levi’s world as a child and even to this day. At the young age of five, he got a chance to see his father DJ at a dinner reception for his brother. And one could argue that this experience forever changed his life. The place was packed, everyone was on the dance floor. And to close out the night, his father played Who’s Loving You by the Jackson 5. Levi explained, “I had already known that Michael was my age when he sang that. And I’m watching these grown, drunk ass men belt out the words being sung by a 5-year-old. At that point it became my disease. I thought, I wish I could create something that made people move the way I saw those people move.”
With an ear for the drums, Levi would spend the rest of his life in pursuit of his new found passion. Though his first band was known by the name of Never Fall, his first gig was a sold-out show at the municipal auditorium with a band by the name of House of Dread. He was just sixteen years old. Accompanied by his two cousins, he showed up with all his gear only to find out that, unbeknownst to him, the band had hired a guy named Kufaru to replace him. Yet he didn’t cower, nor did he break. Wounded, betrayed, and dressed to the nines, Levi got on stage anyway. “It’s a live gig man”, said Levi. “Shit’s gonna happen that’s out of your control. Not everything is going to go the way you want it to happen. You just have to duck and cover and move forward.” With a hard lesson learned, he went back to playing with Never Fall which, according to Levi was a three-piece progressive rock band influenced by bands like Rush and Saga. And oddly enough, he would be using his brother Avery’s drum kit. On the bill with Big Sum, Exhibit A, and Dead Eye Dick, Levi recalls one night playing at Muddy Waters, in Uptown New Orleans. “So I’m on stage during our last song doing my Neil Peart thing, my big rock thing (insert mouth drum sounds here), you know. I hit the last note and found out that someone had put a door behind the drum riser. When I hit this last note, the centrifugal force threw me back and through the door to the outside. I had to run back inside and up on stage to close out the set.”
As Levi was well aware, paying dues came with the territory. But the common goal was always to make it to the big leagues. One time at practice, he found himself face to face with an A&R for Sony Music Group. The only thing more they wanted was a bassist and a rhythm guitar player to make the outfit complete. At the time, Levi was occasionally jamming with another band by the name of Sobriquet. From that experience, he was able to call on some friends. As Levi explained, “I contacted Michael Prado and a guy by the name of Brad Richoux. They were ready but Adam and John decided that school was more important. And they were right. John went on to be a banker or some shit but Adam went on to do work for Steve Vai.” Always moving forward, Levi would form his new band Cain immediately following.
Cain would start out playing at The Abstract on Magazine Street, and even got an opportunity to Play with Green Day before they made it big. To hear him paint the picture, Levi described The Abstract as the CBGB’s of New Orleans. “They had Dang Bruh WhY, Cain, Apostacy, Abuse played there. One of Philip Anselmo’s projects called The Satanic had played there. It was a shithole. But it was the best shithole. It was the atmosphere, the ambiance. To get any further underground you’d have to go to Haiti. But it grew. It grew like an oak.”
I wanted to shift focus a bit so I inquired about a bar in Fat City that so many people of that era used to frequent. Arguably, it was one of the most important bars for the metal scene in the greater New Orleans area. This gem was known as Zeppelin’s. With bands like Crowbar, Sevendust, Morbid Angel, Sepultura, Obituary, Anal Cunt and countess others, and often for as cheap as five bucks, you couldn’t find a better place to go see live rock music. Alongside this hotbed of talent came networking and opportunity. And Levi with his band Cain was eager to come up. He thought back to one such fortunate night playing at Zeppelin’s where his band scored a chance to perform on tour with Sevendust. “We showed up that night, played our asses off, and hit it off pretty well with Lajon. We threw all our shit in a minivan and followed them.”
Remembering a time after a particularly rough day on the job at the funeral home, Levi told me how he came to meet his now guitarist and closest friend, Trey Heflin, at the Ski Lodge in Fat City. “I drive up with my entire 10-piece drum kit packed into my Nissan Pulsar, don’t ask me how. But I get in there and standing on the bar, smoking, drinking, doing shots is Trey Heflin. We had played with his band called Genocide at the time. And about a month after that gig we got a call from The Abstract to go do a gig at the New Orleans Music Hall. (We played with) MeJack, Gwar, and Rawg. That was insane. Genocide would end up being Cain’s brother band. We would play around town with them. I haven’t left that dude’s side since.”
Albeit small, the metal scene was very interconnected at the time. Sometimes, the same guys you heard on the local radio station that day were the same guys you saw in the bar that night. And Levi’s experiences were no exception. “I was at Last Stop one night when I actually got a chance to hear the Down’s album NOLA record demo there. Philip (Anselmo) had gone in there some time after midnight when the crowd had thinned. I heard Temptations Wing, Underneath Everything, and Eyes of the South. I said to Philip, ‘man I don’t know if you know it man but that’s some bad ass shit.’ That was the first time I actually saw Last Stop…. Stop.”
As a current member of not one but two bands, Misled and Southern Brutality, he’s somehow found time to cultivate a new sonic venture. Levi’s latest project, 1016, is named for the address of the house he grew up in, where his love and obsession for music began. Resonating an influence of blues from his mother and his father, he maintains that 1016’s style is raw, uncontrived and unpretentious. His vision is to see it fester into a disease that will infect as many people as possible. (That ought to trip a few Covid algorithms) Following 1016’s eminent EP, Gettysburg, their first album will come. And they hope to spawn a tour shortly thereafter. When asked about his vision for the band, he cited no one particular direction, literally. “I’ll put it to you like this. The same vision that Robert Johnson had, the same vision Leadbelly had; they had no vision. They just did it.”
Whether it be visions or messages, both can be found hidden in the sounds coming through your speakers. Levi pointed out one such message conveyed through the power in 1016’s melodies. “The reason why we’re tuned to C and still playing the blues shit is to show people you don’t have to be blast heavy. The technique I’m using is a blues technique; the call and response technique. And the reason I do it tuned like this is to get rid of that whole death core, metal core, blues core… whatever you want to call that shit. It’s called Rock and Roll man.”
You can find footage of an interview with Levi on our videos page here or on our YouTube Channel.
Jennifer Leach on vocals
Levi Clark on guitar
Trey Heflin on guitar
Jamie Clouatre on bass
The upcoming EP Gettysburg features Tiger Agnelly on vocals and Brian Ordoyne playing drums.
Author: David Trahan
Neworleansmusicians.com Podcast can be found on these platforms.