Sunny Levine is an internationally known music producer who has just released his own, first solo album as a musician, Love Rhino. He is also a film composer and a mixing engineer. Growing up in Santa Monica, Sunny was surrounded by music. Most of the men in his family are musicians. His grandfather is Quincy Jones, his father is producer Stewart Levine (Simply Red, Joe Cocker, BB King, Dr. John, Minnie Riperton, and Jamie Cullum) and his uncle is producer QD3 (Tupac Shakur, Ice Cube). Becoming part of the family business was just the next logical step. After fronting the band Matta Haari, he decided to try his hand at production and found himself really busy working with a diverse cross section of artists from Mickey Avalon to Hugh Masekela, The Sylvias, and the upcoming album from Pete Yorn. Levine played a key role in the completion of Happy Monday’s first studio album after a twelve- year hiatus.
The focus of our interview with Sunny Levine was on use of new technology in his work.
Bijan Tehrani: Please tell us a little bit about your background and how you use new technology to use as an artist?
Sunny Levine: I started out in hip-hop music using just turntables and a sampler. Then I slowly built up from that through the years. When I started there wasn’t proper computers to work in so I had an 8 Track tape recorder and then a digital recorder.. Then after many years I finally switched to Pro Tools. I had the top-of-the-line Pro Tools on a Mac. I was just using pretty simple Pro Tools technology but I was always pushing it too hard. As my work became bigger and better, the equipment couldn’t handle the work load and began crashing all the time. It could not keep up with me. Then I got the HP Z800 Workstation – the HP rig gave me more power than I thought was possible. I’ve obtained some really good projects now and the system has been rock solid! I push it harder and harder and faster and faster and work and do a lot of edits really fast, on the fly. With the HP Workstation, I don’t think about the gear anymore I don’t think about slowing down, I think about it in terms of my ideas.
BT: Some people think that it is only Mac software that it is good for editing video and sound, but I have noticed that the Z Workstations might be better when it comes to doing this kind of work.
SL: Once you are inside a program it is fine, the two programs that I work with are Pro Tools and Ableton live. Once you are inside of the actual program they are exactly the same as they would be on any other computer and from then you are just working, so for me the program is the same as it always was but now I’ve got this rock solid hardware running things. It hasn’t been that much of a change and it does not stifle my creativity in any way.
BT: Some people say that the new technology is great but if you are a composer working on the computer it affects your work and it is not as emotionally effective as it was with the old way of composing music, does this sound right at all?
SL: I think it depends how you work, I think I keep my process pretty damn emotional. .I don’t think it has changed anything at all. I am always moving on an emotional level so I have not encountered any problems at all. The HP Workstation doesn’t slow me down, allowing my creativity and emotion to flow.
BT: You have composed music for a documentary using HP Workstations right?
SL: Yeah, the documentary is about a record that we were making about the Alekesam record. It turned into a bigger story, so a lot of the story that is in the movie was taken from the record we were making and then turned into a score that we re-imagined for actual from film.
I did all the manipulations and compositions on my mobile workstation, because I was so busy working full days in my real studio on other projects. I would work at home sketches compositiate and then finish them off on the HP Z800, so I did about half of each on the mobile and then the other half on the Z Workstation.
BT: Have you done any video editing?
SL: No I have never done any video editing, it is something that I am trying to learn because it relates a lot to the way that I edit music, but so far I have done no visuals.
BT: Which Z Workstation are you working off of?
SL: The HP Z800 Workstation.
BT: Would you tell us a little bit about your experience with it and the work that you have done with it.
SL: I can only really judge it off the timeline of my work. I’ve done about five albums this year and have scored two films and then done a bunch of other little shirt projects mainly for fashion brands (rvca, band of outsiders. citizens of humanity). I have done a lot of heavy work this year. I am not that technical of a guy so I don’t pay attention to what’s different for me technically but I think it is mainly just that I have this powerhouse of a working environment now and it’s been perfect timing with my increasingly intensive work load.
BT: Would you say that working with the HP Z Workstation helps enables you to do more work than you could do without it?
SL: Yes, I think it is way better, but I really don’t think about systems. I think about the tracks. When the track is like 80% done, I used to get concerned about having too many tracks and need to slow to consolidate, as to take the pressure off the machine. That is no longer the case with the HP Workstation. It allows me to focus on the tracks and not worry about the system failing and slowing down my creativity.
BT: What are some future projects that you are working on?
SL: I have a film that I am just finishing that is coming out in August. It is called celeste and Jesse forever. I did the score and me and my partner Zach Cowie did all the music supervision as well. The film features Rashida Jones, Andy Samberg, Emma Roberts, Elijah Wood. It has a bunch songs that I wrote for the movie. I have been in the studio working with Keziah Jones who is an amazing artist from Nigeria. I am working on a full length album for a Persian artist named Asa Soltan that i am very excited about. I have a solo record that I’m just finishing which should be coming out in the fall. And many more things in the works.