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Sail into sublime pop waters

Former Irving keyboardist Shana Levy broke out on her own to create her own brand of melodic pop and the struggle to make her record has made her stronger than ever. By Paige Newman
/ Source: msnbc.com

Watching a brand-new band take the stage can be an unnerving experience. Because it’s an opening act, most of the crowd isn’t there to see them, and there’s no guarantee that they’ll connect with the audience.

You’d think it would make most bands nervous, but at a recent show in Seattle, Shana Levy of Let’s Go Sailing just looked out the crowd, smiled and started to play her own brand of heartfelt melodic pop. It took all of two songs to win the crowd completely.

“The audiences have been great,” says Levy. “People have been getting CDs and stuff. It’s been really awesome. If it keeps going like this, we may not lose tons of money on this tour. Usually, your first tour, you always lose money. That’s one of the facts of touring when you’re first starting out.”

As the former keyboardist for the pop band Irving, Levy knows something about the realities of being in a band. Let’s Go Sailing began as a side project. “I basically started Let’s Go Sailing because Irving is a group of five songwriters. I was writing so many songs, and I had my limitations there. It just became very frustrating not to have another outlet.”

Luckily, she had a bunch of friends from other bands who were happy to help out: cellist Tanya Haden (Haden Triplets), bassist Nikki Monniger (Silversun Pickups), guitarist Brent Turner (Irving) and drummer Byron Reynolds (Possum Dixon). Which was great — for the record. When it came time to tour, she had to break in a whole new group of musicians.

“It’s very new,” says Levy, “And so far it’s been great. I think that probably most of the people I’m playing with I’ll record with in the future.”

Though Levy values collaboration, she sees Let’s Go Sailing as being similar to Bright Eyes — a moniker for a person like Conner Oberst, rather than a band. “I think it’s important to have one person make the final decision on things. Unfortunately, it’s hard to have a democracy in a band. It would be great to have that. And I think for some bands it does work, but usually there has to be someone who has the final say in stuff, or else nothing happens.”

One great recent developement: two of their songs were featured on the hit show “Grey’s Anatomy.” Though Levy was almost embarrassed to watch the show, her East Coast friends convinced her she should check it out. “I thought I was going to start cringing and feel really awkward,” she says, “by myself in my room with my cats. I’m like on IM with five of my friends, and I was just like, ‘Oh, that was good. That came out good.’ ”

A classically trained pianist, Levy also brings a slightly askew sensibility to her pop sound. “Classical music makes going anywhere make sense,” she says. “Like just changing keys really quickly or just making a note natural. Anything goes. And I think coming from that background is really informative when I’m writing. If it makes sense to me, then it will make sense. It isn’t always the most predictable thing.”

Lyrically her songs aren’t predictable either. At first, her album, “The Chaos in Order,” just seems like a collection of love songs. But then you being to see how they all work together and the album almost feels like a progression through one relationship.

Though the album tends toward upbeat pop, the lyrics can provide a dark contrast. “You get lost in music,” Levy explains, “and then lyrics are just kind of a little reminder: Don’t get too lost. I definitely think I’m an optimist, so I hope that comes out.”

Strangely enough, it does. Levy is able to add some hopeful element to even the saddest song, conveying a “things could actually get better” vibe.

On “Icicles,” in which she sings about the pain of love — comparing its sharpness to icicles being like “tiny daggers” — she ends with the lines, “But I know one day the sun will come out/And the icicles will have no choice but to melt/And I’ll forget how all this felt.”

“That’s one of my cheerier songs,” says Levy, laughing.

She laughs a lot when talking about the struggle to get her album made. “I started my own record label,” she says proudly. “When I was having a hard time, I just was like, ‘Why can’t I get on a label like everyone else, and why can’t this happen?’ And then I realized that I’m really lucky. It kind of makes you stronger. Even though people told me no, I was just like, ‘I don’t care I’m just going to do it anyway, because I have to.’ And it’s so weird that you don’t really think that anything good is ever going to happen, and then all of the sudden it does.”

For information on Let’s Go Sailing, visit .