words by sammy maine
“I’m 24 but still learning things about myself – of being really and truly on my own. It’s been really good; maybe a little isolating at times but important, definitely.” Nick Levine is embarking on new chapter in their life. After moving half-way across the country (from the New York area to Chicago) to complete their art degree, they’re feeling reflective but excited to move on. As a founding member of Pinegrove, they’ve continued to make music while studying – “a few solo shows here and there” – but it’s only in the past year that they’ve embarked on a full solo LP as their moniker Jodi.
“I’m questioning whether or not I want to say that Jodi is me but yeah, Jodi is me,” they say, laughing. “I do want to have some narrative distance – this stuff is loosely autobiographical but I don’t feel limited by that.” Levine describes themselves as having an INFP personality; it’s one of sixteen personality types determined by the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) and stands for Introverted, iNtuitive, Feeling and Perceiving. INFP personalities focus a lot of their energy on an ‘inner world’ dominated by ‘intense feeling and deeply held ethics’ and also correlates with an urge to be creative, in a lot of different ways – something which Levine describes as both a blessing and a curse.
“If I had been able to just put my head down and just do one thing, I would’ve probably finished school a couple of years ago,” they explain. “In other parts of my life, it’s really fun to have a lot of interests and I can talk to a lot of people about a lot of different things and that’s great but right now I’m really catching the brunt end of curse bit. It’s mostly a good thing, though!” This need to dabble in a bunch of different creative subjects allowed Levine to explore both the sound art and graphic design departments in college and as a literature student before this, they explain it’s been a lot more “making rather than digesting.”
Both aspects of this creative spectrum ring throughout Jodi’s Karaoke LP. First track “Remember” is a sombre but forthright execution in introspection that, through its steady fade-in intro, nudges the listener into attention rather than pushing them into a forced experience. It marks the beginning of a collection of songs that feel nostalgic and hopeful – a comforting blanket of reassurance that’s sincere in its utterances of uncertainty and regret but ultimately optimistic for the future. “[Karaoke] is for self-examination but also trying to work through things and trying to be better,” the explain. “I am definitely thinking about my impact on people and my surroundings a lot. This is one place for exploring that.”
While Levine is a frequent collaborator, they wrote, recorded and played pretty much 100% of everything on Karaoke (Levine’s father plays pedal steel on “on the sly” while Pinegrove’s Sam Skinner leant a hand with mixing and Warren Hildebrand took care of mastering). “[Karaoke] is a place for me to push myself to really try and get it but this whole process, some parts probably took a little longer than it needed to so it was just about navigating the slowness of doing it all yourself,” they continue. “I felt like I had to do at least one record, seriously, in my own world. Totally on my own. Trying to play everything – just like, this is my thing. I’ve always collaborated with people and that’s great but working on your own is totally different and hard. It was just important to me to do that at least once. I do want to do it again too. It’s really fun. I worked on this album for awhile – I started recording it almost a year ago at this point and now I have 15 minutes of audio to show for it,” they add, laughing.
Sonically, the tracks act as a series of exhales, omitting a certain thoughtfulness that adorns each strike or strum as an embellishment to the emotive tendency of each story and at times, juxtaposing the lyrical poignancy. The unhurried, aloof nature of “Passerine” for example, or the stripped-back essence of “Scratchoff” allows Levine’s contemplative musings to find comfort in their surroundings. Each strum, beat and strike offers a safe and lush environment for Levine’s disclosures.
These disclosures can come across as seemingly insignificant but it’s Levine’s delivery that allows lines like “Did you notice me, waving aimlessly, again?” to feel crushing, with an inner-tempestuous streak often running throughout. Most notably, Levine is someone who notices the little things; on “Coffee”, they speak of finding a coffee stain on their leg and rain drops falling into a cup. “What’s the opposite of tunnel vision? I feel like I notice stuff in the periphery more than the stuff that’s directly in front of my face,” they explain. “I take the train every day to and from school so standing at the station, definitely, and looking around and thinking about things that are around. That all came from doing that, definitely.”
While Karaoke is a particularly lyrically-driven LP, it’s Levine’s interest in the sonic aspect of language that allows each line to sound poetically tethered, whether through alliteration or inflection. “I’m fascinated by the fact that language has this sonic component to it – that you have to speak to hear each other and that relationship between sound and meaning is basically, totally arbitrary – just me making a sound with my voice doesn’t have inherent meaning in itself,” they explain. “I try to play around with phonetic stuff in my lyrics and a part of that is coming from a place of ‘okay, how can I bend these similar sounds to really signify different things’.”
“I write lyrics pretty slow; I’ll write a melody and say nonsense along with it and then I’ll be unwilling to let go of the nonsense. I’ll have to slowly decode that into words that sound the same because it feels like there is mouth shapes or phonetics that are attached to these melodies and that’s part of them – I can’t just throw any words on – so trying to take to that and figure out what is actually possible to be said here. That’s something I try to figure out when writing lyrics. It’s a slow process but sometimes it has cool results.”
With some songs on Karaoke coming in at three years old, it’s a release that feels like the end of a long but worthwhile process; to others, it’s just the beginning of getting to know Jodi. “It was definitely an exercise in trusting myself through the process,” Levine says of the experience. “It wasn’t until this thing was almost done that it was finally starting to take shape and these songs felt like they fit together. For a long time, I was pretty concerned about that. Like, alright I’m into all of this stuff but I don’t really know if it works together as one unit; working through that was really – a much softer word than enlightening – something like that. It’s also proving to myself that I can do it all myself if I really want to. It’s maybe not the best way to do it or the most efficient or whatever but I’ve done it now and it’s something to be proud of. I do feel proud. This is my little baby. I feel excited to show it to the world.”
‘Karaoke’ is out May 12, via Sooper Records
Pre-order it here