Musically mature

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May 24, 2010
By: Gregory J. Scott
Gregory J. Scott
// The Honeydogs’ Adam Levy marries music-making with mentorship, responsibility with rock-and-roll //

Adam Levy used to have to balance.

For well over a decade, the local musician held together an exhaustive plate-spinning act, scrambling to keep the three biggest pieces of his life flying at top speed.

On the one hand, he had the band. As singer/songwriter for veteran pop-roots act the Honeydogs, he spent most of the ‘90s in full-throttle music mode, hustling to propel his celebrated local band toward nationally touring, major label success. Levy checked off that goal in 1997, when the ‘Dogs toured with INXS in support of their album “Seen a Ghost,” released on Mercury Records. Billboard Magazine proclaimed the band to be “the next Wallflowers.” Then, disillusioned by the big-label experience, he spent the early 2000s burrowing deeper into artistic innovation.  In 2004, the Honeydogs released “10,000 Years,” an album that, in addition to garnering reverent praise from music critics, helped Levy win a $10,000 Jerome emerging artist grant for a film project based on the record.  

On the other hand, he had the day job. Since 1989, Levy had worked full time as a social worker, providing employment counseling and other services to former gang members, teen parents and refugees. It was a far cry from the bartending gigs that most rockers work to pay the bills. But the benefits were a necessity. In addition to being a famous musician and a not-so-famous social worker, Levy was also a parent. His son was born in 1990. His two daughters came in 1999 and 2001, respectively. Levy’s family was the third spinning plate.

“There was a bit of schizophrenia going on,” he recalled. “I was staying up all night writing music and playing music with my friends.  Then I gotta get up, put on a suit and tie, and meet with students in high schools and jails. It felt like I was two people sometimes. I was going crazy.”

Now Adam Levy just has to be.

Thanks to a new position at the Institute of Production and Recording, a Warehouse District school that trains students for careers in media arts and the music business, this schizophrenia has eased.

As IPR’s full-time “student success coordinator,” Levy is a sort of rock-and-roll counselor. He’s still a social worker, meeting one-on-one with at-risk students struggling with mental health issues and learning disabilities, keeping them on track with their studies. But he’s also a resident rock star, offering career advice and networking opportunities to students excelling in their classes. He recruits students to do sound engineering or production for his many side projects. He helps them land internships and jobs at the many post-production houses in the area. And as organizer and host of IPR’s weekly “DIY 360” series, Levy flexes his industry connections to bring media pros in for candid career Q-and-A sessions with students. Recent guests have included Al Kooper and Dan Wilson.

For Levy, he gets to live his teenage fantasy while still being a stone sober adult.

“There’s a bit of being frozen in childhood, this fantastic daydreaming existence of being a creative person,” he said. “But I’m also a parent. I’ve never had, in my entire adult life post-college, the benefit of having long periods of time when I could travel and do whatever I wanted to. I was always keyed into being responsible for taking care of children. And thankfully my boss, Rebecca Buller, understands this tight rope walk better than anyone.”

Buller, IPR’s dean of students, says that “Adam is perfect for the job because he has lived the life,” both as a musician and as a counselor. She considers Levy’s day-job heroics as indispensable as his musical past. “He embodies the success strategies we impart to students by working full time at a job he loves as well as maintaining and growing as an entertainment industry professional. I would be lost without him.”

“They didn’t hire me because I write music or because I’ve been in bands for a long time,” Levy added. “They hired me because I knew how to communicate with folks who might be struggling a little bit. Definitely an argument for the B plan in the musician’s life.”

Once hired at IPR, in 2008, it didn’t take long for the plate-spinning to stop. Levy still has the social work, the band and the family to contend with. But his job allows him to package all three into a single lifestyle.

The dovetailing is perhaps clearest in his most recent project, the Bunny Clogs. Backed by members of the Honeydogs, Levy writes and performs children’s music with his two daughters. The band has been a hit on Wonderground Radio, the Current’s online kids’ music station, and has packed houses at the Southern Theater and the Cedar Cultural Center. Levy’s son, a visual artist, designed the cover to the debut album, “More! More! More!”

And the IPR connection?

“It was all students and teaching assistants who engineered the first Bunny Clogs album. And a student did the final mastering along with an instructor.”