Street Level Doppler interview 2010-01-27

It has been a little over half of a year since Street Level Doppler released their first EP, and we at Music Reviews are way over due for interviewing them. Fortunately, Chris Lehman of SLD was able to take some time out of his busy schedule to answer a few questions for MR's Carson Ball.

MR: When did you first become interested in playing music?

CL: Does playing a record player count? I remember playing "We Gotta Get out of This Place" by The Animals on my portable record player outside on the sidewalk over and over again when I was about 4 years old. What really sparked my interested in playing was when my parents purchased a Baldwin spinet piano when I was about 5 years old.

MR: Does music run in your family?

CL: Definitely. My dad was in bands from the 60's all the way up until he died last year. He was a electric guitar player and singer in some locally very successful and popular groups over the years. He also used to own and play some amazing keyboards (Mellotron, Hammond C3 organ) back in the 70's. My dad's brother was also pretty accomplished musically, and had a real ear for the technical side of things, to the point of running a recording studio in Rockford, Illinois in the 70's. My brother, Dan, who is in the band, is also musically talented in a lot of different areas, as he plays mostly plays drums, but also plays guitar and even some keyboard.

The band started as me and my brother jamming in the basement when I was in college, mainly around Christmas time. Ever year, Dan would put together an official program of Christmas music, and me and Dan (and occasionally my sister and dad) would perform it. For those Christmas concerts, I would play piano or keyboards, very little guitar (if any). I had been playing guitar as a hobby for about 5 years after college before I decided that I'd like to try putting together an acoustic band with Dan to play out in local venues in 2006.

MR: How would you describe the sound of your music?

CL: I'm going to steal a writer's (Eric Heisig) description because I liked it so much: "It's breezy yet not sappy, and the melodies are strong and rooted in the best pop out there." I try to focus on writing upbeat acoustic guitar driven pop/rock songs, although I'm more of a melancholy person overall, so sometimes that comes through a bit.

MR: What artists have influenced the sound of your music?

CL: I'm a big fan of the sound of Jars of Clay's first record, which was all really punchy acoustic guitars, so that is definitely a strong influence. In college, I was really obsessed with the Beach Boys, and I think you can hear the harmonies from them come through. I also love the Beatles, and am always amazed at the strength of their songs.

Lately, I've listened more for lyrics than for sound, so I've enjoyed digging into Bob Dylan's catalog, so hopefully the lyrics benefit a bit from that (although I can't compare myself to Bob Dylan in terms of lyrical ability at all). One of my favorite artists these days is Andy Osenga (who is from Normal, Illinois originally), who does a great job layering amazing lyrics on top of a rich musical backdrop, which is I think is what all singer/songwriters strive for.

MR: If you could meet any living musician, who would you choose?

CL: Maybe Tom Petty, I've always loved his music. He really seemed like an interesting guy in the Running Down a Dream documentary that came out a few years back. I already met Brian Wilson, which would have been my stock answer to this question for many years.

MR: What instruments do you play?

CL: Guitar, mandolin, harmonica, piano, Wurlitzer electric piano, synths, melodica, bass, accordion. I got to play a Continuum Fingerboard once :)

MR: Street Level Doppler is an unusual name, is there any significance to it?

CL: At our first gig, we were known as Dr. Sbaitso and the Acoustic Mayhem. I really liked that name, especially the Dr. Sbaitso reference, but it seemed kind of long and maybe a little too goofy. I got the name Street Level Doppler from a local TV station who liked to break into programming to show off their "street level doppler" radar technology. They claimed it could show the locations of possible tornadoes street by street in a town. I was always amused by this, and liked the sound of it. Plus, Dan and I have always been big into weather phenomena, and Dan has even (successfully) chased storms around here. So it seemed like the perfect name for the group, and it even has a little "cool" factor I think.

MR: Do you have any sample music for people to check out?

CL: Definitely. Our official website is http://www.streetleveldoppler.com, and there are plenty of audio and video samples on there, both cover and original. You can purchase our album on our site for $7 (which includes shipping and handling). We also have some complete songs from our album that you can listen to on our Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/streetleveldoppler.

MR: Have you released any albums?

CL: Our first album, an EP called "Taking Some Time," was released April 18, 2009, at a show at the Iron Post in Urbana, Illinois. There is actually a song on there called "Taking Some Time," but the title was also kind of an inside joke as to how long it was taking for us to finally finish the EP, as it took over 2 years to finalize it. I was pretty happy with how it turned out, especially since it was our first time doing this.

MR: What do you foresee in the future for Street Level Doppler?

CL: We've had to scale things back a little lately due to the birth of my daughter Harmony about 6 months ago, so we've been playing very sporadic acoustic shows as a duo. Hopefully later this year we can get back to playing shows with a full band. We have a great full band lineup with my friend Jim Wilson on lead guitar and Paul Frieden on bass. At some point I hope to play some more mandolin and Wurlitzer electric piano in the band, as that could expand our sound a bit (especially having keyboards in the mix).

I'd like to do some more recording in the future, but it's a very time consuming process, and I just don't have a lot of free time right now. As long as the songs keep coming, the recording will happen, but I'm not the most prolific songwriter out there, so don't expect a new release anytime soon. Besides, we have to sell the rest of our copies of our current album first (although there are only about 25 copies left, so we're close there).

We're just trying to be a good little band that makes music that people enjoy listening to and can relate to. It's been great for me to hear how our songs have impacted people in different ways, and it's fun to share all of this with our friends and family, and hopefully we can keep doing that for a long time to come.

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