by Laura Furr
Rippling waters, undulating barges and majestic steel bridges have worked in harmony to make Louisiana’s Mississippi River basin an economic and cultural hub for decades.
A mile from Louisiana State University, the state’s flagship institution, Scott Graves, John Trufant, Andrew Borniak and Dominic DeJuilio take in the rhythm of the area from the roof of their house on the corner of Aster Street and River Road.
It is from their perch, which overlooks the pulsating Mississippi waters entrapped by river’s the natural levees, that these LSU seniors formed the locally acclaimed and burgeoning band Levee Daze—making a “spicy roux” of music in what they see as the unique and opportune environment of their new home of Baton Rouge.
The band members said they gained most of the inspiration for their eponymous debut album, which was released on ITunes last month, from the culture of Louisiana, sunsets on the levees and their individual hometowns.
“Our sound is pretty reflective of the area,” said bassist Borniak, who along with keyboardist, DeJuilio, is originally from Chicago.
“People have told us before that our stuff sounds like southern Louisiana,” Graves, the bands drummer and an Austin native added. “But coupled with what each of us brings to the table.”
It is this diverse and fluid community among the band members Graves and lead vocalist, Trufant, agreed that brought the group together.
While living in LSU’s Pentagon dormitory, Trufant first encountered Borniak and DeJuilio playing covers in the dorm’s courtyard during their freshman year of 2010. The former jazz-band-mates invited Trufant, a North Carolina native and blues enthusiast, to join them after meeting in a history of jazz class that fall.
Their sounds mixed well and eventually the group began to attract crowds of residents during each “jam session.”
The trio later joined forces with a drummer whom they claim “spontaneously combusted” in the spring of 2012. They then invited acquaintance Graves to join the band as a consistent member.
From then on, the group officially became known as Levee Daze and gained notoriety in the Baton Rouge music scene.
By the next semester they had won the Student Government’s Battle of the Bands contest, which afforded them the opportunity to play at the annual Groovin’ on the Grounds concert at LSU with the likes of big-names like Grace Potter and Lupe Fiasco.
“We could see things were going up once we got Groovin’,” Borniak said. “We gained more traction.”
They considered the LSU concert as their breakthrough and said their creativity flourished after the show.
Within the month following Groovin’, the band solidified the seven-song track list for their first album, played at local venues more frequently and even landed a show at the New Orleans House of Blues this past February, which Borniak called the “pinnacle” of the band’s emergence.
They attribute their success to the friendly community of musicians and music-lovers who promote original artists, and noted that venues such as Mud and Water and Chelsea’s Café were especially open to local acts.
Jeremy Woolsey the owner of Mud and Water said local acts are the “backbone” of his venue’s schedule.
Having started his own career in the music industry at Baton Rouge’s college radio station KLSU, he said he thinks Baton Rouge is a great place for young musicians to start out.
“It’s a very collaborative community with plenty of energy and places to play,” Woolsey said.
The band agreed that they enjoy playing in and attending shows in Baton Rouge because of this collaborative element.
DeJuilio explained that it is common for performing bands in Baton Rouge to invite other artists or groups to accompany them or play their original work during local shows. Musicians attend each other’s shows and offer support and advice to other bands trying to make it in the industry.
“The musicians are friends, and then the people who go to the shows go to all of the other musicians’ shows,” DeJuilio said. “It’s always the same group of people, kind of like a family.”
DeJuilio and Borniak said this type of environment does not exist in their hometown of Chicago, which they described as “cut throat.” Borniak predicted that it would have been difficult for a band of Levee Daze’s caliber to gain prominence back home.
“[In Baton Rouge] we’re all just coming out here to play,” Borniak said. “All trying to find gigs.”
In addition to the friendships in the community, the band said the bonds within their group have also allowed them to be so successful so quickly.
Trufant, Borniak and DeJuilio are all roommates at the Aster house overlooking the river, and Graves lives less than a block away.
The band said they spend the majority of their days together, even when they are not playing. They admitted to bickering often, but said it has yet to seriously interfere with their work.
“Even if we get in a big fight in the business world, I still have to live with these guys,” Trufant said. “We have to make up fast.”
“It’s too much fun to let the bad stuff get to you,” Borniak added.
They believe that their music has become better as their fun-loving and close friendships have evolved.
“We can pump out songs like nothing these days,” Graves said. “Well not nothing…”
“But it’s more natural now because we are so familiar with each other’s style,” Trufant continued, finishing his friend’s thought.
Graves said he thinks their friendship is palatable to the audiences he sees dancing and having fun at each of their shows, and said their energetic style is one of the reasons they have been so well received.
“We play in a band together because we are all good friends and we enjoy each other’s company,” Graves said. “It’s more than business and professional relationships. It’s music and friendship flourishing. That’s what I think makes our vibe special.”
The band plans on taking their spirited vibe on tour this summer across the Southeast, and possibly to Colorado, to promote the album.
They don’t claim to have many plans for the future other than what Borniak calls, “doing the living in the moment thing” in their house on the levee.