Adam Levy finds harmony in Turn Turn Turn – even when they can't sing together
June 24, 2020
Logistically and professionally, now is a terrible time to launch a new three-part harmony group. Spiritually and emotionally, though, the members of Turn Turn Turn are happy their new trio came together when it did.
“This has felt really good to me, something that has grounded me and kept me looking ahead,” Adam Levy said.
The Twin Cities rock vet from the Honeydogs and Sunshine Committee (aka Hookers & Blow) is forging ahead with the new band even in the pandemic. Their debut album, “Can’t Go Back,” lands online and in stores Friday.
Levy formed the group with fellow singer/songwriter Savannah Smith and sidewoman Barb Brynstad specifically to have two female bandmates for singing three-part harmonies. Over the past months in quarantine, though, they haven’t been able to sing a single note together.
That’s all the more reason their album — recorded before lockdown — is coming out now. At least their warm harmonies can resonate from record players this summer, if not from any stages.
“The way I live now is: If there’s something that seems good to do, good to put out in the world, do it now,” singer/bassist Brynstad said. “You don’t know what six months from now is going to look like.”
A year ago, the trio did not even know if it would be a vehicle for original songs.
Their first few gigs over the winter of 2018-2019 were sit-down affairs filled with cover songs. Their wide variety of classic audiophile material ranged from Nick Drake and the Velvet Underground to Fleetwood Mac and America, with the requisite Beatles songs here and there.
“After a few gigs and it was clearly going well, Barb suggested doing some originals,” Levy recalled, “and I stuck my nose up in the air: ‘No, I’m not gonna!’ ”
It was Smith who broke the cover-band mold one night. Her song “Fourteen”— a slow-burning, Stevie Nicks-channeling gem — became one of the highlights on the new album, recorded with Levy’s pal Jason Shannon at his Zoo School Studio in scenic St. Croix Falls, Wis.
“I’ve always been an active songwriter,” Smith said, “but it was a lot more freeing knowing that song was going to be channeled through two other people and not just sitting there mired in my own scrutiny.
“That’s been really an inspiring part of this band: It’s a true, comfortable collaboration.”
Smith and Levy first met almost a decade ago as student and teacher when she took a songwriting class he taught at the Institute of Production & Recording. She has since graduated into a well-recognized Twin Cities tunesmith — even while moving back to her native Eau Claire, Wis., this spring to open a downtown vintage store, Seven Suns.
Levy lined up Brynstad knowing she not only sings well, but also played bass for the likes of Tina Schlieske, Chastity Brown, and the late Willie Murphy. She writes, too: Her Paul Simon-folky song “Wide Open Place” lends a warm moment late in the album.
As for Levy’s contributions, the melodic rocker “Cold Hard Truth” — picked to be the first single — features his bandmates singing the verses but it is all his lyrically. It touches on personal turmoil that predated the trio’s formation:
“Anyone with half a mind could read the signs and know/ That all the things we tell ourselves shield us from the cold, hard truth.”
After losing his son Daniel to mental illness in 2012, the Honeydogs leader struggled with alcoholism and his own mental health, often abruptly canceling gigs and ultimately seeking treatment in 2018.
“I had a rough couple years there,” said Levy, who also lost both his parents more recently.
“I had to change just about everything I was doing, and I needed to take a break from the Honeydogs for a while, too. But I didn’t stop writing songs.”
Another of his Turn Turn Turn tunes, the title track “Can’t Go Back” sounds like an up-to-the-minute reflection of the headlines of the day, but it was actually written last year: “Fools rush in while we watch the world burn down,” he sings, before the refrain, “We can’t go back to the way we were before.”
The trio at least hopes to get back to singing together soon. Their release party at the Cedar Cultural Center was postponed in early June, and now even the fall makeup date is questionable.
In a bittersweet twist, the trio had just finished a three-month winter residency at the Aster Café right before the quarantine hit.
“We really locked in our harmonies with those gigs and had gotten very good at putting on a good show,” Levy said.
“We all came out of that with a lot of enthusiasm, which was strong enough it’ll still be there whenever we can finally get back to it.”