When talking about the intricacies and enjoyment of metalcore, most topics of conversation and heavy debate can be boiled down to the dynamicism of the band. Metalcore- already a modification of the bare-bones metal and hardcore punk approach- by and large entails two key factors: emphatic breakdowns and greater use of dissonance. It is within these free-form confines that musicians must create shifting degrees of energy, emotion, key changes, and tonal shifts. Musicmaking becomes a calculated multivariable game of synchrosity, potency, intensity and integrity. In short, it takes and creates Levels, an up-and-coming progressive metalcore outfit from Little Rock, Arkansas.
We had the pleasure of talking at length with Level’s drummer and vocalist Dalton Kennerly about the finer details of the band’s operation- from their choices audio/visual direction to the very core of their revitalized sound. Enjoy!
Ouch That Hertz!: Hey, Dalton! How’s it going?
Dalton Kennerly: Couldn’t be better! It’s been a very exciting day with the release of our new single. It’s really nice to get to talk with you. Thank you for wanting to interview us!
OTH!: Alright, let’s talk on all ‘Levels’- First of all, congratulations on your signing to Famined Records!
Dalton: Oh, thank you! We are so excited to finally share that we have jumped on board with them. The relationship we have built with Famined over the past couple months has been so promising and we can’t wait to see where things go. Hector and Chelsea are just great!
OTH!: I’ll admit, I was a bit surprised to see you’re based out of Little Rock, Arkansas. I feel like it’s a location that’s often overlooked when it comes to the heavy music community, despite the fact that Little Rock is home to a plethora of heavy music acts, with Pallbearer and Iron Tongue hailing from your city. Does this ever strike you guys as an impediment in your career? Does this reinvigorate your approach to music- to prove yourselves harder in a burgeoning yet underground music community? Perhaps both?
Dalton: Well, we have been around long enough that we realize there are limitations here in Arkansas as far as heavy music goes. We don’t let that stop us; we take every opportunity at home that we can get, whether it be opening for bigger national acts or playing festivals that are around. We love playing in Arkansas. There is a supportive crowd here. We consider them all friends and family. We also love touring, seeing new places, and meeting new people. We live for that. Like you said, a lot of people are surprised by the fact that we come from Arkansas. I think it actually helps us a little, to be honest. It’s a bit of a shock factor. We do want to prove ourselves. It doesn’t matter where you come from. Don’t let that stop you from pursuing the things you love. So yes, we would say it is a little of both.
OTH!: Furthermore, how do y’all as a band specifically combat the constructs of physical barriers such as your overlooked location?
Dalton: I mentioned before that we tour. Being from Arkansas, it’s not like you’re going to run into a booking agent at a local show who can watch you and get stoked to send you out on the road. So, we only can hope that we cross paths with the right people when we are out of state. We are very lucky that we have all these online outlets to give people like that a chance to hear us and give us a chance. It’s still a little different when they actually get to watch you play live though. We really try and make ourselves stand out by going against the norms that we see other bands following, online and at our live shows.
OTH!: Y’know, while we’re on the topic of Little Rock’s metal music community, recommend us- and our readers- some locals to check out!
Dalton: We would have told you even if you didn’t ask! We love all the bands around here. Some that we really enjoy include: Abimael, Auspicious, Census, The Lucid Architype, Go For Gold, Past Comfort, Smoke Signals, All Is At An End, Eight Eyes, MisManage.
OTH!: Now, let’s turn the focus back onto Levels. I see that you guys just released your new single and music video “May Flower” in partnership with GKE. I hope you guys liked working with Chris Cave- he’s a good friend of ours. I love the juxtaposition that you’ve created in this dual-timed release: “May Flower” is such a heavy-hitter, yet the music video is peculiarly humorous. I have to say, who’s idea was it to create a live game of cat-and-mouse for this video?
Dalton: This is actually our second music video to release with GKE! Our first “Exist” was released about a year ago. We love working with them. I think it was our vocalist Jake who mentioned that we should do a video that alludes to a “happier” vibe. Then our guitarist Rob honed in on the idea of the cat and mouse chase. After the initial idea, Jake and I wrote a script.
OTH!: I think what made this release particularly interesting is that it escapes the metalcore trope of “tough guys making dark music with dark visuals.” And I deeply thank you- rather than make another music video of just y’all playing brooding music and mean-muggin’, you’ve taken a ‘dark-comedy’ sort of approach. Is this something that you think you’ll continue to pursue- providing layers of substance to your visual media?
Dalton: We are very glad to hear you like the idea! We were honestly a little worried that it would not be received well. You nailed it, though, that was exactly our thought process. As far as sticking to that theme, yes and no. Some of our songs will have brutally dark and intense visuals. It just depends on what the song calls for.
OTH!: In your “May Flower” premiere with The Noise, you stated that the song was based on true events. Do you care to elaborate on such events?
Dalton: I would love to 🙂 We had just finished playing a show in Fayetteville and were getting in the van to head to Dallas that night. I had left a bag of chips in the van along with some other snacks in a plastic bag. When I got in the van, I started putting trash into my bag (cleaning up the place, ya know) and when I stuffed some napkins into my chip bag I felt something squishy. Before I could even react, a MOUSE shot out of the bag onto my chest (I was not wearing a shirt). I yelled like a scared child, not knowing what the hell it was, and all the guys are jumping over bench seats and out of the doors just to get away from me – the source of the chaos. I finally realized what had just happened and after we got settled down, we all got back in the van and drove to Dallas. Knowing we had a new passenger on board who was going to be cuddling with us all night, we knew that something had to be done. So we set out to walmart to buy a sticky trap (We had never used one before). We placed a cheeto on the sticky trap and placed it under our bench seats and around our bunks and went to sleep with our little mouse buddy. There is no telling who he cuddled with that night before his demise. We woke up the next morning to find him on the cheeto trap. We tried to save him, but there was no hope… for the glue had him all too well. I (Dalton) had to be the one to put him down in the streets of Dallas in the Best Buy parking lot. His name was Cheeto. RIP Cheeto.
So that’s where “May Flower” derives from. Our fallen brother, Cheeto.
OTH!: …Sweet ****ing Satan Below, that’s… That’s quite the ordeal! R.I.P. Cheeto- he sounds like he was a mighty mouse!
Dalton: We have another great story about this lost dog in Oklahoma City, “Angle”. We will save that one for another time, though.
It doesn’t matter where you come from. Don’t let that stop you from pursuing the things you love.”
OTH!: I honestly can’t wait to hear it! But, moving forward… I love the fact that I can immediately hear the Volumes and Novelists influence in your single “May Flower.” I’m not surprised, given that you’ve been working with Joey Sturgis on your recent material. What’s it like working with one the mixing masterminds behind Miss May I (Deathless), The Color Morale (My Devil In Your Eyes), and The Devil Wears Prada (Dead Throne, Zombie EP, With Roots Above and Branches Below)?
Dalton: We love those two bands. They have made big impacts on us as musicians and as a band. Honestly, Joey mastered the album, so we haven’t gotten to meet face to face. We have only spoken. He is a very insightful and hardworking guy. We are lucky to have his creative final touches on our album. We hope to work with him more extensively in the future.
OTH!: And he’s also worked on the completion of your new full-length, yes? Have you got a title for it yet?
Dalton: Like we said, he mastered the whole album. It was all developed and written by us at Kolossal Recordings. Kolossal Recordings tracked, edited, and mixed the album with the exception of the vocals being edited and mixed by Nathan Cloos. The album will be self-titled. We feel like this truly captures the essence of what Levels sounds like.
OTH!: I have to say, I’ve enjoyed listening to you develop as a band over such a short amount of time. The vocals have become much more polished since Exist, showing steady progression from “Slip” and now into “May Flower.” Likewise, where Exist seemed to crutch on metalcore’s tropes, your newer material- especially on “May Flower-” showcases a complete redevelopment in your musicality, giving way to your own brand of depth in soundscape within the genre. Can listeners and fans expect that same multivariable approach of technicality, musicality, and raw power as previously experienced in your discography? Or does your new album venture into a wider expanse than what we may anticipate?
Dalton: Excellent observation and we truly appreciate you taking the time to compare and contrast our previous work! The album is a nice blend of the “old” Levels sound and the kind of sound you hear in “May Flower”. But even still, “May Flower” is NOT the tip of the iceberg for our album. We would say that anyone who likes our old stuff will find at least of couple of songs that grasp that old Levels sound. We tried new things and we also held on to old things.
OTH!: Alright, that’s all I’ve got for you today! Thanks so much for taking the time to chat with me! Before I let you go, is there anything else you’d like to add?
Dalton: Thank you for taking this time to get to know us better and asking about our music. We sure love to talk about it! We just want to say thank you to all the support we have gotten from all our friends and music community here in Arkansas and any of the other places we have been fortunate enough to play in. Thank you to our families for the unconditional support. We hope that everyone has a chance to hear our music and we really hope to make a positive impact in the lives of others!