I owe Facebook a lot this year. Not only does it keep me up to date with my weekly events calendar but it also connects me to captivating likeminded young people from all over the world almost daily. One of those individuals is Houston native Danielle Levy. After meeting in a group online, we basically decided that we were practically twins and had to be friends. There were too many similarities between us, mainly that she and I are both independent website editors. Danielle is the founder and editor of Bandolera, a quarterly online publication designed to release conceptual mixes. In short, the volumes explore the "interconnectedness of themes in music throughout various genres and eras" and is accompanied with custom cover art. She also pens a thoughtfully written letter to the listener and expands on the relationship between the concept and the music.
As someone who curates my own playlists weekly, I thought her approach was tasteful. Danielle pulls her life's experiences, thoughts and memories together and frames something totally unique and conceptualfor the public. Recognizing that our generation has "grown up on the periphery of an era that is urged to love the single and neglect the album," Danielle hopes the listener understands her personal connection to the tracks as well as the historical and often more abstract connections between them.
A collaboration was necessary. We first met in January, right at the beginning of the year, before she took off to Europe to study abroad in Spain and Prague. Now that she is back at school in New York, the timing couldn't be more perfect. Read along to get to know Danielle and visit her website to find new music.
Can you tell me a little bit about yourself? Where do you study? What kind of work do you do? What are you currently working on? I was born and raised in Houston, growing up between Sharpstown (where my family lived) and Montrose (where my family owned a taco trailer). I left in fall of 2012 for school and I’m currently a senior at Sarah Lawrence College in New York. I’m getting a liberal arts degree with a focus in film and Spanish/Latin American studies.
I’ve lived in multilingual households my entire life, my focus as a filmmaker is to tell those narratives, both through fiction and non-fiction. My dad is from Israel, I was also raised by my ex-stepdad who’s from Mexico and my mom is trilingual. I want to show audiences as authentically as possible what it’s like to exist in environments where more than one language is spoken. That’s the reality we live in in the U.S. and abroad, though in domestic film, that cultural and linguistic diversity is seldom shown. This summer I took a filmmaking intensive program at Europe’s oldest film school in Prague, FAMU.
I’m in the research and development stages for a short form documentary that will go into production this winter. Now that I’m back in New York, I’ve been in conversation with friends working in various mediums. We’re all really hungry for collaboration. It’s feeling a lot like a time of development, a time of harvest.
Where is home? How would you define the concept of home? Last I heard your mother left Houston, you have school in New York and you have traveled throughout Europe the majority of this year? That’s the question I’ve asked myself for most of my life. I think that’s because where I’ve lived hasn’t always felt like a “home.” I identify a lot with Houston—it’s the city that raised me. I also left when I was 18 and have lived in New York for the better part of the past four years. My parents live on opposite sides of the world (Chicago and Tel Aviv). I just got back to the States a few weeks ago after nine months of travel. I don’t know what I was looking for with each place I went, but I felt pieces of familiarity in some cities, places where I could feel at ease, and that felt a lot like home to me. “This Must Be the Place” by Talking Heads has been a big song for me throughout my life. I think part of what David Byrne is getting at in the song is our desire for home and the places we look to find it. He’s talking about how we want an idea, but we can go from place to place and never really find home, because home is intangible. It’s unsettling, because it seems so simple, that fundamental need for a home, but it’s such a complicated idea. I don’t think you can ever find “home” in that real, idyllic, singular sense. But I think you can find places that move you, that change you, and that stay with you when you leave them.
How did the name Bandolera come about? I have a strong connection to West Texas. It's a unique part of the state, because of the desert landscape and the Mexican influences. One of the slang terms I picked up while I was there was "bandolera." It translates to a female bandit, an outlier. You can trace the word back hundreds of years, all the way to Spain. Women in many ways are the outliers of the industries I'm a part of and have been for centuries. So many of my influences are badass women who have fought against an industry that wanted them out. They're still facing push back today. They're also forming collectives and making their own space to create art. I wanted to build this project--this space for myself and other feminists to contribute to this industry under a name that represented who I am and where I came from, while connecting to this feeling of being an outlier, but also being tough and willing to fight back.
When did the project start? Music is sooo engaging to the brain and life's process, symbolism and all of the memories we create. What have you learned the most from it? I got into mixes because my 8th grade English teacher was a super cool guy, who introduced me to a lot of the music through mix CDs. In high school, my friends started driving and I became the designated mix maker. I’d make copies for my friends, design cover art, and pass them out at school. Everyone had a physical copy in their car. As music moved even more aggressively toward a digital market, I started putting my mixes online under an alias. I was making a downloadable volume a month of “what I’ve been listening to.” After four years, I felt burned out and took a break.
On a gap year from college, I decided to bring my mixes back, but under more of a clear concept, something I hadn’t seen anyone else doing. Bandolera, which is a publication of quarterly released conceptual mixes, came out of a New Year’s resolution. The idea was to create conceptual volumes centered on a specific theme accompanied by a letter from the editor and custom cover art (often made through collaboration with artist friends). My interest in “conceptual volumes” came from my love of the concept album. I wanted to create volumes that had the same idea, of bringing songs together under a specific theme, while also connecting genres, decades, and languages you wouldn’t normally see together.
Over the years, we’ve gradually moved away from appreciating the whole album with “Best of…” CD’s. And the ability to buy individual songs also changed things. I think we’re coming back to loving the album. Perhaps that’s a product of our nostalgic disposition as Millennials, but I also think the economic shift in the industry is really giving artists a chance to take risks and make more conceptual, full-bodied albums: Beyonce’s last two visual albums, Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly, Mount Eerie’s Sauna, Sufjan Stevens’ Carrie and Lowell, Nick Cave’s Skeleton Tree, which he just released paired with the documentary One More Time with Feeling. Elza Soares, who’s a Samba icon in Brazil, recently released one of the best albums I’ve heard in years, The Woman at the End of the World. She’s 79 years old and has lived a life of immense pain. You hear it all in the album; she drags you to the end of her world. It’s gritty and raw and feminine. Through the album she’s finding a new audience in the States. It’s really f*cking cool to see that. I’m hoping it all leads to more patient listeners. We need to be more patient.
What inspires each of the mixes? What is the value of "conceptual mixes" in our contemporary society? Sometimes I have the idea for one volume as I’m finishing up another. That’s a really lovely process, because I have several weeks to let the concept marinate. I love that. It’s also happened that I’ve come up with the theme and put everything together in about a month. “Everybody’s Feeling, But Nobody’s Touching” (Vol. VII) had been on my mind for about a year, but I wasn’t sure how to execute it. I’m glad I waited because there were new releases on there that feel essential (especially the Erykah Badu track).
“Mothers&Fathers&Daughters&Sons” (Vol. VI) was a product of living abroad with a new host family thinking about songs that explored those relationships both because I missed my own family as I was getting to know another. I’ve also put together volumes like “Under the Covers” (Vol. IV), a collection of some really distinguished and playful cover songs. The idea for that one came from a debate with a friend in defense of the cover song as an inspired way to create music rather than being merely a copy of someone else’s work.
I just released "Zuzia" (Vol. VIII) and I’m really excited about it. This one definitely feels like a new conceptual direction. It’s also more singular in genre. The volume is a profile on a friend I made while living in Prague. She has this amazing energy and is super captivating. It’s a volume inspired by her lifestyle and her hometown of Warsaw. I’ve never been to Warsaw, but I’m getting to know it vicariously through this collaboration. That’s a cool way to create something and have it feel fresh. I’m working hard to keep the volumes varied, both in theme and in the process in which they’re created.
I think what I’m doing is important in media culture because audiences need an accessible way to listen to music from a wide variety of places. I work to include several decades, genres and languages into the volumes to show listeners the potential connections. I brought up patience earlier. I think a lot of our generation is in a hurry to get to the chorus of a song, the turning points in a film, the most interesting part of a Snapchat story. We’re rushing toward the idea of stimulation, but we’re missing out on things that may be worth checking out. I hope a project like this, where the listener just presses play and doesn’t skip from track to track, can bring some greater comfort with taking our time.
When I saw you last, you kind of romanticized your hopes for Spain, haha, it was really awesome. Did you find what you were looking for while you were there? Did the film project workout? I didn’t know what to expect, but I had a harder time than I could have anticipated. Living with a family helped me grow comfortable with the language. You have to learn how to handle yourself in any situation when you live somewhere and they don’t speak your language. I learned how to say “food poisoning” when I rushed to the pharmacy. It’s a crazy way to learn, but very rewarding. I also spent a lot of time on my own. It’s incredible how well you get to know yourself when you have no one else to distract you. Once I left Spain, I went to Lisbon on total intuition. It’s hard to do it justice when describing it, but the sky is always a little bit purple and a little bit golden. The whole city looks as if it’s dipped in those colors and gilded in this incredible magic. I’ve thought about Lisbon every day since I left.
Where do you want to take your website/online publication? I sat down and made a list of goals for the next year on the first birthday of Bandolera. This project can exist as a standalone concept, but I’m curious how things would evolve if I published on a larger host site. I’m really eager to bring the project to another site to either add to their music section or help them create one. I’d really like to transition the project to being part of a collective web publication. I think the collaborative nature of Bandolera would really thrive in that format.
Okay, this is an *internet assumption* but I feel like you are always listening to Dirty Projectors. What is the deal? I can’t stand when people ask me to pick a favorite of any category. It can feel so limiting. I developed this theory of favorites: I think you can have (generally) three kinds of favorite’s—1. The favorite that you can listen to/watch/consume again and again and it doesn’t get old, 2. The favorite that’s sacred and changed the way you consume that medium, 3. The favorite that is the best thing you’ve listened to in the past year or so that left you really, really excited about that medium. It may not be in your top 10 of all time, but it’s new and wonderful. That being said, when people ask me my favorite band, I often say it’s Dirty Projectors (category 1). They don’t get old for me. Dave Longstreth is a f*cking genius. Their music is full of surprises. When you first hear a new language, you have no intuition with how the sounds flow together, how the cadence works, but after a while you get a sense of it. I think that’s how Longstreth works when writing music. It’s his own language. He constantly does things I can’t anticipate. He surprises me. It’s a language I’ll never completely learn, but it’s mesmerizing to listen to.