Intimate pop, noisy soundscapes: Portland band Leveret breaks out of the bedroom

Jesse Gertz is 22 years old. He lives in South Portland. He’s released 24 albums and written more than 300 songs since he put out his first album in 2004, at the age of 13.

When I was 22, I was proud of the fact that I had watched the entirety of “Twin Peaks” in less than one week. That was a major accomplishment.

empire“Unfortunately, or fortunately, I think I may have become addicted to making music,” said Gertz, who now records under the project Leveret, which will perform on Friday, Jan. 31 at Bayside Bowl in Portland with Tall Horse and Starlight Cicada, and on Thursday, Feb. 6, at the Oak in the Ax in Biddeford with Weeknight and Afraid. “At the very least I have so many song ideas that I need to record that I can’t keep up, so I need to keep doing it.”

Leveret spans a gap between electronic music and indie rock. Big waves of keyboard sound and programmed drums meet guitar noise and intimate vocals, with occasional flashes of upbeat pop, as if contemporary bands like Washed Out or Deerhunter were produced by Brian Eno. Leveret’s first album, “Infinity,” came out in August, and was written entirely by Gertz, with contributions from musicians like Portland drummer Mike Cunnane and trumpeter Darrel Dennison, and was recorded by Gertz and producer Jonathan Wyman, who also mixed it.

Gertz didn’t have an especially musical upbringing. He grew up in a single parent family, and he moved around a lot. He sought out music on his own.

“There was a piano in my first home and I really enjoyed figuring out little melodies on it,” said Gertz. “I was always eager to learn more… but what was really put me on the path I travel now was moving in with with a member of the Portland band Peepshow, right as they were releasing their first and only album, ‘Duhj,’ which is still one of my favorite albums of all time. I was super into them, and got to watch them practice a few times. Shortly after I got my first guitar and that was that.”

In eighth grade, a supportive teacher gave Gertz a mix CD featuring noisy bands and experimental electronic musicians like the Melvins, Skinny Puppy, Aphex Twin, Merzbow, The Art of Noise, Faith No More and others. For most of high school, Gertz recorded hours upon hours of music in his bedroom. It was an escape.

“At first I made music as a form of escape from homework, and school in general,” said Gertz. ”I’ve only ever been able to express myself satisfactorily through the act of recording music, more so than actually playing or performing with instruments. I see it as similar to drawing a picture.”

leveretPlaying live has been a relatively recent development for Gertz — as is working with other musicians in general. Up until his last album as his previous solo project Glass Fingers, he flew solo almost exclusively, under an array of one-off names. With Leveret, he’s consciously trying to change that.

“As I started taking my music more seriously, and as more people started listening to my music, I found it a bit silly to start a new one-man-band for each album I made,” he said. “I had defined Glass Fingers in my mind by a specific set of guidelines. What makes Leveret different, for me, is that I stripped away all guidelines for myself. My intention is to let the music happen and release it as Leveret, even if the music is of a different style.”

Gertz’s longtime friend Cormac Brown now plays with Leveret. The pair have a shared history — they met in middle school, but haven’t played together since.

“[Back in middle school] we even formed a couple of bands that never actually played or anything, but we sure took a bunch of band photos and came up with awesome shirt designs,” said Gertz. “After I finished recording ‘Infinity’ I was on the lookout for people to help perform the new songs. I got in contact with Cormac because he is extremely talented… He also has a similar history in making solo electronic, but is a more learned musician. We write good music together, and I think the more comfortable we get, the more creative we will be, and the more interesting music we’ll make.”

Emily Burnham

About Emily Burnham

Emily Burnham is a Maine native, a University of Maine graduate, a proud Bangorian and an arts and lifestyle writer for the Bangor Daily News, where she's worked since 2004. She reports on everything from local bands to local food, from media and the Internet to theater and dance. In her quest for stories, she's seen countless concerts and plays, been lobster fishing, interviewed celebrities, taken belly dancing classes, hung out with water buffalo and played in a ukulele orchestra, to name just a few. She's interested in everything -- especially if it happens in Maine. She welcomes any and all feedback or suggestions for stories.