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Interviews, Music

Interview: The Black Angels’ Alex Maas on the evolution of Levitation Festival

Levitation 2016 will feature performances by Brian Wilson, Slowdive, Flying Lotus, Ween, and more.

Levitation 2016 will feature performances by Brian Wilson, Slowdive, Flying Lotus, Ween, and more.

When you were choosing the venue for the festival, how did you end up with the Carson Creek Ranch and what do you think it brings to the atmosphere of the festival?

Our buddy Jason Hicks turned us onto this spot [when] the festival was getting bigger and bigger, and we listened to it and wanted it to be an outdoor festival. When we went out there and looked at it, we were like, “man, this is a great location.” It feels more like Texas because it’s on a ranch, which is obviously going to happen. It made it feel more important, more appropriate, because it was never really an outdoor festival until four years ago.

Yeah and it’s spanned out. Having it span out to different locations and turn into multiple festivals must be an amazing feeling. Do you find that there is still this nostalgic feeling when you spend those few days at the ranch in Texas?

Oh for sure. It’s not only nostalgic, it’s a good feeling. That feeling of, “oh look what we did.” (laughs) “Look what the people did!” The people wanted this festival to be what it is today, we just put it out there and more people started buying tickets. It wasn’t just us.

The pre-shows will be presented with Nebula, a new DIY independent music-streaming service, it sounds really interesting. Could you tell me a little more about that?

I don’t know too much about that, but I know that we’ve been trying to live stream our festival for years. It was never a possibility, because we just didn’t have the money. So I’m guessing that it’s something that… I’m not sure who’s in charge of it, maybe it’s Rob or James, but streaming our shows live has been something that we’ve wanted to do for a long time. Not just audio, but the visual. I can’t really touch up on that too much, but I know it’s happening.

With nine years of successful festivals under your belt, can you think of a favourite performance, or even favourite year?

I think the first year that we did it at Carson Creek Ranch was pretty special. It had some of our favourite bands. I feel like that was the year that Clinic played, The Warlocks, BJM, Black Rebel, and Raveonettes. (laughs) Some of our heavy influences all played one year and that was my most memorable year. I remember watching Clinic and The Warlocks and just being blown away by both of those bands.

If you were to pick a dream, even far fetched dream line up for a festival, what would it be?

It would probably look very similar to this year. (laughs) I say that every year [though], every year is like a dream line up, so I’d probably look at this one and just make a couple amendments. It always comes down to money. Obviously bands like Radiohead and Bjork would be amazing, but it looks like what it looks like every year. That is our dream that year, what we dreamt up. So this year was our dream line up, with what we could do.

It must be really cool having such a close knit founder group still going through with it too.

Yeah, the four of us besides James… I went to high school with Rob Fitzpatrick, and Christian, and James grew up in Gun Barrel Texas, but it’s an interesting, really good feeling, that’s also super scary. (laughs)

I can imagine. Do you get that nervousness before the festival happens?

Completely, 100 per cent. (laughs) I get nervous in general before shows, (laughs) but because we perform and also everything leading up to the festival, this is a whole year of planning going into one weekend. You just hope everything goes well, that the weather is good. The stress is pretty high, you have to eventually just be like, “look, you can’t do anything about the weather.” Just pray nobody gets hurt, that there’s no crazy catastrophes. That’s all you can really hope for. As much as I get nervous, there’s not a real reason to get nervous, because you can’t control a lot of things in life. But I definitely get nervous, the weather is what I get most nervous about.

Have you had anything happen during the festival ever, that’s been what you’re nervous about actually coming to life?

There are so many little fires to put out during the festival. Most of them aren’t huge, but we’ve had some people get injured or sick out there and you just hope that shit doesn’t happen. Last year it rained really bad before the festival and one stage… we were supposed to be building on Tuesday and building the ranch out with production, but on Tuesday we got out there it was a pool, like a big lake basically. There were stages out there, the River stage, which might be one of my favourite stages in Texas, if not in America. It’s really pretty, it’s on the Colorado river [and] it’s a natural amphitheatre [that] we built out. But we get out there and that stage, where it’s supposed to be, is completely under the water. So last year we had to move the entire production plot around like 180 degrees. We couldn’t have the river stage, which sucked. We had to move the main stage, the tent stage, everything that week was like “well there’s water there, so we can’t put things there, so what are we going to do now?” That was probably the most terrified we’ve all been, as a group.

I can imagine that would be pretty stressful.

Yeah and then you have 48 hours to build the entire festival, basically starting fresh. That’s after you spend a year talking about the design of the ranch and where everything is going to be. Everything is all planned out, then it rains and you lose everything. There goes all those meetings that you had about where things should go. It’s all up in the air and that’s really stressful.

How long does it usually take you guys to set it up the first time?

It takes about five to six days. So trying to do it all in 48 hours is a brand new idea.

That’s a full week crammed into 48 hours. Stressful.

It was really gnarly. That has to be the most stressed out we’ve been. Then during the festival, you’re hoping there’s no lightning when it’s raining, because if it’s lightning everyone has to leave and get in their car, or get under shelter. Yuck.

That’s never fun. I was volunteering at a festival a few years ago and it started pouring rain and people were like fighting for a spot under the beer tents, just to get out of it. It’s pretty amazing to see how fans will stick it through that to see a band though.

Oh, it’s pretty incredible. The festival goers that come to Levitation, I feel like they’re veterans. A lot of them come from out of state and out of country. So these people have been to Glastonbury, Leeds, and all these festivals that do piss rain every time. These people are seasoned, so they just go with it and embrace it. That’s all you can do. “Well, it’s raining. I’m not going to have a bad time.” You might as well go jump right into it.

You can find tickets (including pre-shows, weekend, single-day, deluxe, and camping), along with the full schedule online at http://levitation-austin.com.

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