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Pittsburgh Artist of the Week: LEVI

Cliff Fields

It’s not always easy to be our fully realized selves, but it is always important to try. LEVI recently put out their first project as a songwriter — an endeavor that called for some discomfort and lots of grace.

Check out our interview with LEVI below and enjoy the new song “sail.”

LEVI's band includes:
Donal Levi Donovan (they/he) - songwriter, vocals, guitar, keyboard
Aiden Angle (he/him) - drums
Gina Winstead (she/they) - vocals, keyboard
Evan Leet (he/him) - bass

What’s your musical history up to this point?    

As a kid I learned how to play the drum set by blasting a stereo and playing along to songs. I played percussion in concert band until sports became my life in middle school. In high school I played in bands and in other random projects mostly as a drummer. In college I started writing songs with my guitar and became a songwriter. While finishing grad school I formed a band playing open mic at Eclipse Lounge (Lawrenceville) and meeting future bandmates at a coffee shop (Constellation).

2013-2015 - Roulette Waves
2015-2016 - Dream Phone
2016-2021 - Dinosoul
2016-2023 - Hearken 

How do you describe your sound? 

My sound is almost always a combination of emo, grunge, and indie pop, whether the song is heavy or light. I don’t typically write happy songs and there are layers that build around a few chords. It's simple, but emotional with a repetitive build like a mantra with a message. When people listen to the music I've created, they always mention it sounding like the 90s.

Tell us more about the song "sail." What inspired you to write it and what does it mean to you?  

“sail” is a song that went through a "transition.” It was the first song I wrote after my voice changed from being on HRT. The song changed a lot because I could no longer sing a certain way. I had a period of about 6 months where I literally didn’t want to sing, because my voice was so confusing to use and even listen to. I started out singing the song a whole octave or two higher for the chorus, but quickly learned I couldn’t maintain it. I was thankful that Gina, my partner, sang the higher parts for the chorus.

 “sail” was written in a period of rebirth. A time where I had left the comfort of not changing my life to fully taking steps to my independence and authenticity. I needed to lead with passion and explore who I was (am). It felt like a part of me died and was ripped into pieces, but I knew I had the capacity to feel so much more. To find the "fire that looks like a rose" and a "forest without any weeds." I fell in love, barely slept, and ran on butterflies. I had to be graceful. I was changing and exploring my gender "never finding the line." I wanted to be enough while the change was happening but "why's it hard to be fine?" At some point we have to surrender and let the wind take us. We drift and drag, back and forth, but a part of us knows what we really want. Our senses will show us the truth. How and who can really save us? We have the option to sail and follow our hearts and be who we really want to be. We might not land anywhere, but at least we tried. There's too much passion to not try and give it a go, go.

What was the first album that really changed your life?   

The Used The Used. It was one of my first CDs that I didn’t burn or borrow from the library.

Who are some other Pittsburgh artists you think more people should listen to?  

The Sewerheads, Old Game, late., Balloon Ride Fantasy, Zinnia’s Garden, Swampwalk, Sleeping Witch & Saturn, and Tiny Wars.

Joey Spehar is a Pittsburgh native who started as a volunteer D.J. at WYEP, fresh out of college in 2006. He took on any job they’d let him do like editing audio, engineering remote broadcasts, and shoveling snow.