Naming your band is hardly ever an easy task, but taking the easy option can prove a folly if there are one or more artists named anything similar. That simply ain’t going to happen to Levi Sesega and his eclectically-instrumented cohorts in Levi Lights On Project – of that we’re certain. As that vaguely confusing name possibly suggests it’s hard to neatly categorise their music, elegant indie pop is a guide only, but if that comes close to turning your lights on then we strongly recommend you delve right into their latest offering, Live To Be. NZ On Air chose to include it in their NewTracks compilation this August, and with very good reason as you’ll discover.
What’s your given name, where are you from and what do you play ?
My full name is Michael Levin Sesega. I was born in Samoa but have lived in Auckland for the past 11 years. I play guitar and percussion.
Was any high school or other music training especially important to you?
When I first arrived in Auckland I studied songwriting and contemporary music at MAINZ. This was vitally important as it enabled me to meet other musicians and opened the door to the Auckland music scene.
Any other previous (or current) projects might we know you from?
I’ve been involved with several bands over the years, but the main one prior to the Lights On Project was the rock band Tribal State. We released a self-titled album in 2018 which you may have heard.
What’s the background story of how Levi Lights On Project came to be?
In late 2017 I decided I wanted to try a new formula and work with some new people. I already knew Jason Slade (guitar/bass) and Igor Shnayderman (percussion) and asked if they were interested in joining me in a new project. My manager, Jeanette Bramley, already knew Andrew Miller (saxophone), and she also managed to find Tim Shacklock (cello), to complete the 5-piece line up. I rehearsed with each of the guys individually, but up until a week before our first gig the five of us hadn’t been in the same room together at all!
How has your writing evolved from your early songwriting to now?
I feel that my songwriting has more understanding and conviction now compared to my early work. The life experiences I’ve had over the years have definitely shaped my music and songwriting. I have a rule that I don’t write about anything unless I’ve actually experienced it.
How and when did you come up with that name?
Although my name is Michael, everyone, including my family, calls me Levi and have done since I was a baby. At the beginning of the project, we set up a Messenger group chat for the band members and every week I would change the name of the group just for fun. Then one week I changed it to ‘Lights On’ and the name Levi Lights On Project was born…
Aside from this release, what’s been the big highlight to date?
In March 2020 we played at Kauaeranga Hall near Thames. It was the most beautiful gig for everyone involved. It’s difficult to explain but there was something very spiritual about both the audience and the location, and it was a real heart to heart experience for all of us.
What makes Live To Be stand out for you as a single?
Live To Be is our first single which features my sister, Mema Wilda, on backing vocals. This makes it really special for me.
What is the story behind Live To Be?
Live To Be was written as a self-reminder to experience all that life has to offer, with full acceptance of both its good and bad. Realising that maybe we were never here to fix anyone or anything, but only to accept everyone and everything, for acceptance is the bridge to all of life’s divisions. Live to be and life shall become a humble and self-fulfilled experience of the understanding of truth.
What’s your favourite moment, musical or lyrical, of the single?
The lyric, ‘We’re gonna live’. There’s just something about that one lyric which makes me very emotional, because it’s true.
Who did you write/record/produce the single with and where?
The track was recorded and produced by Mitch French of Black Dog Recording Studios in Pukekohe. I actually wrote the track way back in 2007, but it wasn’t until very recently that I understood it so I started singing it again. I feel very strongly that songs write themselves and each one teaches me something.
What would you like listeners to take away from this song?
Happiness and gratitude.
How do you generally work out what song would make a good single?
There’s no definitive thought process behind it. I just follow the signs.
Who else is in your team?
Greg Haver produced the first single, Mirror Man, and the next three singles were produced by Mitch French of Black Dog Recording Studios. Jeanette Bramley has been my manager since the start of the Lights On Project.
Are there any other musical endeavours you’re working on that we should keep an eye out for?
We have two more singles partially recorded and I’m writing new material all the time.
Can you please name three other local tunes that would fit well on a playlist alongside your song.
Mema Wilda – Blue
Camm – Thinking ‘Bout You
Sam Bartells – Blessed and Broken
Have any previous NZOA applications not gained funding or been included on NewTracks? Got any advice for others?
We’ve applied to New Tracks and to NZOA for funding several times and this is the first time we’ve been successful. My advice to others would be just to be persistent and not give up. Your time will come!
Are there any musical blogs, Youtube channels or podcasts you’re super into?
I mostly listen to Spotify and have music from all genres on my playlist.
Can you give me a link to the music video, if there is one, please? Who did you make the video with?
Unfortunately, we weren’t able to make a video specifically for the single release but there’s a live version of the track recorded by SofarSounds here.
Any last words?
Love surrounds us.