Honeydogs frontman Adam Levy reveals the heartbreak of son's suicide

Daniel Levy, 21, took his own life in January

Daniel Levy also makes his debut as band mascot. "I have a picture somewhere of him in the van with all of us in the back, looking kind of sleepy," Noah says. "He was really young. When we were mixing in Atlanta, he came down and hung out for a couple days. Adam flew him down for a gig in Texas with [Gear Daddies frontman] Martin Zellar. All of us at the bar, Daniel drinking a soda. It was all he knew. With musicians' kids, they just think it's matter-of-fact."


In 1996, Mercury Records scoops up the Honeydogs in the major labels' mad dash to claim every band that seems to pair Gram Parsons-style songwriting with an alternative-rock crunch. This was the age of Wilco, Whiskeytown, Son Volt, the Jayhawks, and Old '97s.

"We got the sense that some labels aspired to that, and some aspired to Hootie and the Blowfish," Noah says. "We had to be careful who we went with, because it would've been easy to make a glossy record like that. They would never shoot those terms out, but you could feel it."

Two examples of drawings from Daniel Levy's notebooks, one unfinished
original art by Daniel Levy
Two examples of drawings from Daniel Levy's notebooks, one unfinished
The Honeydogs in 2009 (top) and 2000. Adam Levy is in the center of both shots.
The Honeydogs in 2009 (top) and 2000. Adam Levy is in the center of both shots.

Location Info

Map

First Avenue

701 1st Ave. N.
Minneapolis, MN 55403

Category: Bars and Clubs

Region: Minneapolis (Downtown)

Details

The Honeydogs play an album-release show for What Comes After with Rogue Valley and Farewell Milwaukee. 18+, $10-$13 ($1 from each ticket goes to Four Winds Hospital), 6 p.m. Saturday, March 10, at First Avenue; 612.332.1775.

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To explain the amount of excessive spending happening at the time, Adam points to a meeting the band had with label reps at an office in New York. One of the quickly declined marketing ideas: "Can we do hot dogs filled with honey?" Still, what irks the Honeydogs more is the label urging them to re-record older tracks like "I Miss You" and "Those Things Are Hers" for their 1997 album, Seen a Ghost. Regional hit "Rumor Has It" from the album shows that Levy's songwriting is already drifting into multi-part harmonies recalling his parents' Beatles records, and a less-twangy, but catchier pop template.

In the fall of 1997, the Honeydogs land gigs opening for Jon Bon Jovi, and INXS on their final tour with lead singer Michael Hutchence, and Delton begins teaching at Skidmore College. When the band passes through New York, Adam is sure to stop in Saratoga Springs to see Daniel. Also that year, he marries Victoria Norvell, and she is soon pregnant with their daughter Esther.

"I remember the first tension he had when he was adjusting to his little sister being born," Levy says of his son, who was eight at the time. "He was really insistent that she was encroaching on his world, his material things, and toys."

The Honeydogs are released from Mercury Records in 1999, and their fourth album, Here's Luck, kicks around until finally emerging in early 2001. Increased tension between the Levy brothers—seven years apart but still often mistaken for twins—finally reaches a breaking point, and Noah stops touring with the band.

"Our years of making money were behind us, and Adam and I were butting heads pretty badly," Noah says. "It was just time to move on. The lows were low, and the highs were high."

Adam, always one to diversify, looks to other projects, including a '70s soul cover band called Hookers & Blow featuring several Honeydogs members. Gradually, the band starts getting corporate gigs and playing to packed, enthusiastic crowds around the Twin Cities.

"It used to be that I was in the Honeydogs, and every year we'd work on writing music for a new record, and have a record cycle where you tour and write more music," Adam says. "It was this treadmill that you sort of got on. I broke that in some ways with Hookers & Blow. I needed something to get away from the seriousness of the music business: old soul music."

It also spurs cross-pollination of personnel and musical styles. Put out by Michael Penn and Aimee Mann's United Musicians label, the Honeydogs' 2003 offering, 10,000 Years, is filled with complex changes and sci-fi imagery, and signals a new level of critical attention. Even Levy admits, "that record is a lot of work to listen to sometimes," but counts "Last War Lullaby," an as one of his most accomplished songs to date.

A couple of years later, Daniel Levy tells his father he wants to join the Army. Dad's response: "Truth Serum," a song that shows up on 2006's Amygdala. "I am not myself/Maybe I never will be/But you're too young to die/For something you don't understand, why?/I've loved you since you were born/Don't go."

"I certainly couldn't give him my blessing," Levy says. "But I wanted him to know I was there for him."


Daniel's gifts as an artist lead him to the Twin Cities to study at Minnesota College of Art and Design in 2008. It's the first time in a long time that father and son live in the same city.

After a year and a half of college, Daniel decides he really doesn't like art school. Loves art, loves the people there, but feels pressure to be something he isn't.

"That's when we started really seeing the depression," Adam recalls.

A look into Daniel's artwork of the time yields selections of grotesque horror. Characters evolve into monsters on the page, and where the mask begins and the real face ends is anyone's guess. He gravitates toward artists inspired by dreams, like Hieronymus Bosch and Max Ernst, and seems preoccupied with physical torment. Sometimes the pages are ink-spattered like Ralph Steadman's work.

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1 comments
Elizabeth
Elizabeth

Thank you, Adam, for being willing to talk about this deeply personal pain.

 
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