So male/female collaborative duos have become a bit of a cliché (to put it mildly), but they’re a cliché that you often can’t help but love… especially when they’re legitimately brilliant. My new favorite such duo is James Levy & The Blood Red Rose, which pairs the anti-folk singer/songwriter James Levy with psychedelic folkster Allison Pierce of the Pierces. The collaboration is grandiose, timeless, and decadently romantic. It would seem to find itself at the intersection where Americana meets twee. It’s impossible to not immediately fall in love with their sadness. Their debut album, Pray to Be Free (produced by Coldplay bassist Guy Berryman), is set to be released this Tuesday, October 2nd, on Heavenly Recordings/Cooperative Music. The collaboration has been in the works for more than half a decade and has already received quite a bit of positive feedback throughout Europe (including four-star reviews from Q, MOJO, and Uncut; extensive radio play; and several BBC sessions). However, it was NYC that housed the roots of the collaboration. The two have been collaborating on-and-off for years now, whenever they had a break from their respective musical projects. I recently got a chance to chat with Levy about the project, however, his “manager” felt inclined to do the majority of the talking.
Izzy Cihak: How would you characterize the sound of James Levy & the Blood Red Rose for people who might be fans of your or Allison’s previously released work? I understand you’ve been working together for quite some time now.
James Levy’s actual answer: Daft punk.
James Levy’s “manager’s” answer: The songs on Pray to Be Free are mostly performed as duets with real strings and horns. There are no electric guitars.
IC: What is the dynamic of your working relationship? Is there a particular process that the two of you seem to think works best?
JL actual answer: Writing songs on one of my yachts usually works best for us, by the fire, on the water.
JL’s “manager’s” answer: We’ve been working on and off on Blood Red Rose for a few years and finally got the chance to make the album, thanks to Guy Berryman. We had some original demos of the songs where we had worked out parts and then got to develop it over the course of about a year, recording in New York and London.
IC: What are your most prominent collective influences, whether musical or otherwise?
JL actual answer: Vintage refrigerators.
JL “manager’s” answer: Musically, for me Leonard Cohen, Serge Gainsbourg, Pearl Jam. Otherwise, Seinfeld and ping pong.
IC: This project is already quite successful in the UK, having gained prominent praise, along with a number of prominent appearances. What have been the highlights of the year and of the promotion of the album
JL actual answer: When back at our 3-star hotel room, we tend to enjoy silence and sleep.
JL “manager’s” answer: Performing in front of almost 800 people at the Union Chapel church in London was great. I also enjoyed recording a few BBC radio sessions, hanging out in East Berlin with my manager and seeing Billy Ocean play at the Hop Farm Festival.
IC: What does the future hold for James Levy & the Blood Red Rose? Do the two of you plan to continue collaborating? Any possible touring in the works?
JL actual answer: Yes. The future.
JL “manager’s” answer: The album comes out on Oct 2nd in the US and we play that night in New York at Mercury Lounge. Allison and I have recorded some other material with Guy Berryman that will hopefully be released and we are planning to do some east coast shows and toward the end of the year.