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Michael Leviton

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It was Summer of 2001 on Matador Beach in Malibu, California when Michael Leviton first sat on the beach with a ukulele and a beautiful girl and performed his ukulele love songs. The girl was charmed but not successfully wooed. Nevertheless, this leisurely summer romance blossomed into a magnificent obsession: not with the girl but with ukulele love songs.

By the time Michael relocated to New York in Summer of 2002, he had composed fifteen nautically-themed ukulele love songs and performed ten beach concerts before audiences of one. Michael's ukulele seductions reached their climax with his composition "For Lydia". Tragically, Lydia responded like the others before her, charmed but not wooed.

But Michael was not discouraged. In fact, his love song productivity doubled, though his lyrical subject slightly shifted. The songs still glowed with innocence and longing, but now they also contained themes of heartbreak, alienation, despair.

After numerous rejections of varying degrees, Michael gave up on romance and concentrated all romantic energy on ukulele songwriting. It was in this Morrissey-esque celibate period that he wrote most of the material on his debut record, songs like "Saltwater to Quench Your Thirst", "The Beach Gets Cold", and "You'll Pay for your Day at Pleasure Island".

Michael had not intended his songs for mass audiences, but once in New York city, he began to play ukulele at open mikes, and soon fell in with the New York anti-folk community, befriending such brilliant songwriters as Regina Spektor and Nellie McKay. Michael began to play non-beach ukulele shows open to the public, developing a loyal following.

It was after an opening slot with Regina Spektor on Valentine's Day, 2004 that girls started winking at him, handing him napkins scribbled with doodled hearts and phone numbers. As the girls became more persistent, so did the record labels. Michael signed with Smith Street/Acefu Records and in the Spring of 2005 went into Smith Street Studios with producer Kyle Fischer of Rainer Maria fame to record his debut album "My Favorite Place to Drown".

"My personal favorite place to drown is in a pretty girl's eyes," Michael says. "But on a less personal level, the title's supposed to refer to how love seems to be everybody's favorite self-destructive past time. Romance is the most worthwhile misery. In the old days, sailors used to chase after sirens and drown. Drowning is sort of the essence of romance. It's not very romantic unless you're in over your head."

Michael Leviton grew up deep in the San Fernando Valley of southern California, son of an L.A. punk music critic with a room full of records. Though Michael had no formal musical training, jazz harmony snuck its way into his writing. "Maybe it's because I have the same birthday as Richard Rogers," Michael says. "Or maybe it's all the Looney Tunes I watched as a kid. Looney tunes had a lot of barber shop quartets, that frog singing "Hello, My Baby". Bugs Bunny sang "I'm Looking Over a Four Leaf Clover". I used to sing that song to myself when I was a kid but only the first line because that was how far Bugs got." Wherever it comes from, the sound and lyrical precision of Tin Pan Alley is ever-present in Michael's songwriting. Equally present is the orchestrated pop sensibility of the 50's and 60's, of groups like The Ronettes, The Crystals, and The Beach Boys. "My other favorite place to drown is in reverb," Michael says.

But as a singer, Michael's a classic crooner, dubbed "the Chet Baker of indie-rock". "There are plenty of indie-rock folkies, punks, hippies, dork rockers, where are the indie-rock hepsters?"

One question remains: why is Michael so ocean obsessed? "In emotion, it's like the ocean; it's either sink or swim," Michael says. "Also, my last name's "Leviton" which comes from "Leviathan". Do you think that might have something to do with it?"



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