Mike McNamee has never been afraid to dream big — but this time, he’s taking things in a whole new direction.
Now known to music fans as Boston Levi, the one-time professional hockey player traded in his skates for an acoustic guitar in 2020 — pairing powerful, unique vocals with a kind of down-to-earth, insightful and relatable lyricism listeners can’t help but warm up to.
Needless to say, folks across the industry have taken notice; most notably Jay Emmons (The Glorious Sons), who has been working closely with Levi, helping to not only shape his sound but produce his first full body of work, as well.
The singer/songwriter’s first two tracks, Feel It All and a cover of Taylor Swift’s Exile featuring Martina Lake, dropped last year, while Run Baby Run hit streaming platforms in early 2021.
We recently sat down with Levi and Emmons, via ZOOM of course, to chat about what it’s like to step off the rink and into the spotlight, as well as the pair’s songwriting inspiration, and what they’re cooking up for the future.
There’s really no better way to kick things off than by letting our readers know how you got started in music. What made you want to pick up a guitar for the first time?
BL: I didn’t start playing until I was about 20, but the earliest I can remember, I was in high school when I really dove into music and found my favourite artists and what I connected with. Since then, it’s really gone with me everywhere. I listen to it all the time. I was given a guitar when I was 13 or 14 for Christmas from one of my uncles — and I didn’t touch it until much later when I was playing junior hockey away from home and I had a lot of spare time on my hands. I picked it up and just sort of started playing songs I enjoyed. Over the years it really became what I loved to do.
When did you discover you could also write music?
BL: Definitely not that long ago. I mean, back in university I remember writing my first song and looking back at it now, I mean, it wasn’t much. But it was something you start just trying to make happen and then a few years ago, while I was over in Europe, I started writing a little more seriously. Obviously, over the past year it’s taken off quite a bit.
You’ve been praised for your honest and relatable lyrics, where do you find that inspiration?
BL: I’ve been lucky enough, just in the hockey world, to play with a lot of people and hear a lot of their stories about where they’re coming from or what they’re going through. I’m not good at making things up, I’m never going to be the kind of guy to come up with wild stories. So, generally I pull from things that I’ve heard from buddies I’ve played with over the years or people close to me. It’s about real-life events, whether good or bad or sad or happy. It’s important to know where people are really coming from.
I’d love to ask — where did the name Boston Levi came from?
BL: My mom wanted to name me that at birth, and my father said no at the time. But my Nana’s maiden name was Boston, and her dad’s first name was Levi, so I guess my mom just switched it around. When we were thinking of names for what I could be instead of Mike McNamee, Boston Levi immediately popped into my mind, so we went with it.
That begs the question, why take on a stage name at all?
BL: Jay mentioned that Mike McNamee wasn’t really appealing or artistic at all — and I agreed, it’s just a bland name. So yeah, we just used it to change things up.
You had mentioned finding bands in high school that really influenced you. Are they the same as the ones that speak to you now? Or have your tastes changed over the years?
BL: When I first got into music in high school it was heavy Kings of Leon. They were probably the first band that ever made me feel something from music, and I’ll never forget that.
Nowadays, The Glorious Sons have had a major impact — as silly as it sounds, working with Jay — but, honestly, ever since I first heard them, they’ve had a huge influence on me. I can’t really see that changing, both of those bands will always be with me.
Thank you for the perfect segue; how did you and Jay get together for this collaboration in the first place?
BL: We met when I was in Germany, and they were on their first European tour. They had a show in Cologne and I went to it and there were 12 people there. So, after the show I met (drummer) Adam Paquette at the merch table and ended up spending the whole night, until about three or four in the morning, just talking about life and everything. Ever since then, Jay was in touch with me and I got lucky enough that he asked me to come record last year.
Does that sound right Jay?
JE: Correct. We were buds right away, but then all of a sudden Mike would start sending me songs. Then, probably about two years ago we did a writing session at my place. We wrote a song together, and it was OK . . . and then last summer I was doing a recording session for myself and finished one of my songs and wondered if that Mike guy would come down and record it with me and see what happens. He had Feel It All at the time, and we literally walked into the studio — I think we finished it in one day. I felt, I think we might be on to something here.
So, there’s been a lot of big changes for you over the past year — specifically making the decision to move on from hockey to music. What was that decision like? Was it a hard one, or relatively easy to take that leap?
BL: It was tough. I put a lot of time and effort into the sport of hockey and it’s been my life since I was about three years old. But last year I had signed to go back to play in Europe and obviously that wasn’t happening because of COVID. This whole thing with Jay started and that first weekend we went into the studio we ended up completing two songs, I think, in four days. Without even saying it, we looked at each other and knew that with a little bit more work, we might be on to something in terms of getting me into a music career — and that just became my reality.
Throughout the summer, we obviously got the chance to finish the EP and it was exciting times. It all happened really fast. I still love hockey, and I still think about it every day. But, with everything that’s been going on, it just seemed like the right time to jump into music, especially having Jay on my side and the team I’ve got in my corner. It was something that I really couldn’t pass up.
Jay, was producing something that you’ve done before? Or was this a new venture for you?
JE: I think Mike was the first record I ever produced. Before the pandemic, I never had time to even think about getting into something like that. We were on the road pretty much 70 percent of the time. So, when you got home, you didn’t really even want to think about music. We got pulled off the road on March 15, 2020, and I literally did not think about music until about mid-May when I booked some studio time. At that point I was ready to get back to it, and I’ve pretty much been in the studio with myself and Mike and The Glorious Sons on and off ever since. It’s been really nice and it’s been a good time to connect with music on a different level. Even though we can’t play live, recording and producing music has been a blessing, for me anyway. It’s so different to come at everything from this angle.
Was that where you found the inspiration behind your new label 745 Music?
JE: I guess that’s another thing that came to fruition from having some downtime. That’s myself and Michelle Owen, my business partner — she used to tour manage The Glorious Sons for two or three years. We basically traveled the world together, and we both always had this desire to help other musicians realize their dreams.
It started with a band called Brother Elsey, who we saw in Detroit. They opened for The Glorious Sons about two or three years ago. Michelle and I started managing the band, and over the years we talked about where the company was going and what we wanted to do to take it to the next level. With COVID, we started getting serious, working with Boston and recording a record with Brother Elsey. Michelle’s got a couple artists under her belt, and it all just came together.
In September of this year, we made it official and launched our own artist-friendly label. From there it’s just gone up.
It’s been a lot of work. It’s been fun, a little scary and challenging, but it’s been great.
Coming back to Boston, as a relatively new artist, what do you want our readers to know about you?
BL: I’m a pretty passionate guy that writes meaningful lyrics.
I think one thing I’ve always gotten from music is just how much you can connect with it, no matter what you’re going through. Someone will always be able to see themselves in a song for many different reasons — and to me that’s really important. With the first five songs or six songs on the upcoming EP, that’s really what you’re going to get.
Hopefully with a lot of hard work, we’re going to take this somewhere.
And lastly guys, when can we expect that debut EP from Boston Levi?
BL: The EP is scheduled to come out May 26, so that will be the next thing, which I’m very excited about. There was a lot of hard work put into that. I can’t wait.
Keep up-to-date with news, videos and new music at bostonlevimusic.com