On Robin’s wings

Hassidic singer/songwriter Levi Robin arrives on his first Israeli tour.

Levi Robin: I always played from instinct. (Courtesy) (photo credit: LEVI ROBIN)
Levi Robin: I always played from instinct. (Courtesy)
(photo credit: LEVI ROBIN)
California-based singer/songwriter Levi Robin released his self-titled EP in 2014 and began gaining recognition by touring as the opening act for Matisyahu that same year. Robin’s brand of spiritual folk music rushes in like sweet river waters, captivating, deep and true. Robin is touring in Israel for the first time this month, playing five shows in total: August 22 in Jerusalem, 26 in Safed, 27 in Bat Ayin, 28 in Beersheba and 29 in Tel Aviv. Robin’s Jerusalem concert will be on the rooftop of the Jerusalem Cinematheque.
Robin recently sat down with The Jerusalem Post to discuss the time he spent living in Safed as a student, meeting Matisyahu, and his new album.
I can’t believe this is your first time touring in Israel.
Yeah, I played a couple of impromptu shows when I was in yeshiva in Safed and then a couple more four years ago when I came on a spur of the moment trip, but this is the first official tour.
What was it like being in yeshiva in Safed?
It was like finding this place that was kind of timeless, so ancient and in some ways, and so futuristic because of the unity and spirituality. There’s something very above time there and very special.
I’ve never thought of Safed as futuristic. That’s interesting.
Not in a technological way, more in how we can dream about what it would be like to live among other people.
Where did you grow up?
Huntington Beach, California. It’s a surf town about an hour south of LA. It was an American traditional Jewish household. I began finding hassidic philosophy and Kabbala through my own search as a teenager. I ended up meeting somebody who knew someone at a yeshiva on a mountaintop in this old, mystical city in Israel, and I thought that sounded pretty cool. So I went on that adventure. It was another chapter of the story. Every part of life has been pretty uniquely growth-filled.
When did you music enter your life?
Some of my earliest memories are of listening to my mom play the flute. She’s very gifted, classically trained. I didn’t pick up an instrument until I was 13. That’s when I got a guitar. I always played from instinct.
At what point did it switch from being a hobby to being what you wanted to put out into the world?
I knew pretty early on that this is something really important to me. Then I started to find out that this is something actually sacred to me. Then I started to find out that this is something that seems to even move people who aren’t me. I’m trying to do what I’m doing wholeheartedly and we’ll see what everything leads to one step at a time.
Your lyrics are steeped in Torah and hassidut, but not in an overt way. Is that a conscious choice?
I don’t know how conscious it is, since I don’t really sit down and write a song. It’s mostly listening for the sounds and the words that will move me in a certain way, that will open me up to listen to the question that is being whispered deeply within my soul and maybe hear the response coming from God in this dialogue. It’s listening for that undercurrent. I don’t think that it’s so dissonant with the way that life really is. Torah is a part of life, but it’s not necessarily overt in our lives either, in the way that we think it could or should be, or want to pretend that it is. God’s presence in our lives is so imminent and so nuanced, so hidden and so quiet, yet sometimes so loud.
How does that translate to creating an album? What was the process like for you recording your EP?
The EP was put out right after I met Matisyahu. He has had a tremendous influence on me. He took me under his wing for a bit. He sent me to this great musician, Brian Gibson, and we recorded the EP in a house on a farm in the mountains of Alabama. Everything was happening very quickly. I was touring with him across the country within a few weeks of putting that EP out. Everything was changing very rapidly. I had just been in yeshiva for a year and a half.
How did you meet Matisyahu?
I played music for a guy in Safed one night, who ended up being a friend of Matisyahu. About a year later in 2014, when I was in a different yeshiva in Morristown, New Jersey, I got a call from him asking me to come to New York. But it wasn’t so simple; I was in yeshiva. Someone else ended up grabbing the phone and saying, “Get your butt down here, I want to hear your music.” It turned out to be Matisyahu. So I took a train and ended up playing some music for him and his manager. That was the start.
How did the experience of making the second album differ from your first?
I got to work with a special producer, who I know through touring with Matis. He’s a very talented musician with a sharp ear. The time was right to work together. I’ve been dreaming about making this type of an album my whole life. The producer brought in amazing musicians, people who it’s humbling to be playing with and who are putting their hearts and souls into the album.
From the few songs that I’ve heard, the new album sounds fuller and more complex.
The first was very sparse, almost just me and a guitar with maybe a few strings and a tambourine. On this new album, we explored more instruments and soundscapes. But it’s all still built around me and my guitar.
What’s the name of the new album?
It’s called Where Night Meets Day. It’s “where,” which is paradoxical because it’s not “when.” It’s an invitation to come meet me in this space where night meets day.
For more information on Robin’s show and/ or his music, please visit: https://www.facebook.com/LeviRobinMusic