If you enjoy music and live in the Twin Cities, there's a good chance you've listened to Adam Levy. His longtime band, the Honeydogs, rose to prominence in the 1990s, and his current creative collaborations — Turn Turn Turn and the Shabby Road Orchestra — regularly perform to appreciative audiences.
But it was a social media post in which Levy mentioned teaching history and social studies at the St. Paul Conservatory for Performing Artists that got Eye On St. Paul's attention. How did this coolness happen?
This interview, conducted in Levy's downtown classroom, was edited for length.
Q: You posted that Turn Turn Turn was playing Friday at the Fitzgerald Theater with the Zombies. Tell me about that.
A: The Zombies are one of my favorite bands. Very influential, 1960s. People would know them because they did "She's Not There" and "Time of the Season." So, the Zombies are doing this tour and they decided to check in with radio stations around the country: Who are emerging artists who would be a good pair? They talked to a DJ at the Current who really liked our band [Turn Turn Turn].
Q: How many bands do you have?
A: Right now, most of my energy is Turn Turn Turn. I also play in a group called the Shabby Road Orchestra, which is like a Beatles group. Honeydogs played this summer, once, first time in a few years. I'm still writing solo music and I'll probably put a solo record out.
Q: You grew up in St. Paul. How old are you?
A: I'm going to be 59 in December.
Q: How young were you when you started playing music?
A: I was probably about 13, 14.
Q: What was the first instrument you picked up?
Q: Teach yourself or take lessons?
A: I did both. I'm mostly self-taught, but I had a few lessons here and there.
Q: What was your first band?
A: I had a band called Orpheus at Ramsey Junior High with some of my friends there. And then in high school [Highland Park] I had a band called Go Borneo, which was kind of like a new wave/Ska band.
And then in college I sort of got more interested in academic stuff and cultural anthropology and American Studies. And then discovered country music while I was in college. I did social work while I was really wanting to be a professional musician. My B.A. enabled me to do social work, working with people who were on public assistance, refugees, immigrants, teen parents, youth offenders. Eventually, the Honeydogs started taking off and I stopped doing social work and just did music.
Q: Did music become a full-time job?
A: A lot of times it was. But a lot of times I would go from the full-time music thing to teaching. Then, during the pandemic, I kind of just reevaluated how much I was playing, how many bands I was doing, and I thought, "I really just like talking to kids about history and politics. Why don't I figure out some way to channel that?"
Q: Why did teaching keep tugging at you?
A: I've got two surviving children. I lost a child — Daniel — in 2012. So, I would say part of it is just a really basic desire to connect with young people since I lost my oldest child [to suicide] when he was pretty much a teenager. Also, my daughters continually through high school would say, "Dad, you should teach this stuff."
Q: How did this door open for you?
A: I got my feet wet by doing substitute teaching. I was teaching social studies for about three months. And I realized I really do want to do this. I wanted to work with high school students. I just started looking around and I reached out to the school here. My child graduated from here. And I just asked, "Is there a place for me here?"
I teach five sections on government. I taught a couple sections of geography this year. World history. And I also teach songwriting and also teaching kids how to be in a band. I sort of get to scratch two itches: Making music, which is important to me, and talking about the world.
Q: How many of your students know your background?
A: I'd say most of them know. The kids will tell me, "My parents are huge fans of your band." A lot of kids don't care though, and some kids who don't care about my music still think of me as somebody who's actually doing it. My records are all displayed over there [on a nearby wall] and the kids can see that I've got a discography.
Q: What has surprised you, working with young people?
A: I think their ability to live in a world that bombards them with information and to make sense of it. We didn't have these kinds of challenges when we were kids. We had four major television stations. And the news came from a couple of different sources. And now these kids are like, where's the truth?
Q: Do you see yourself always playing music? And do you see yourself continuing to teach?
A: As long as I can physically play music, I will play music. But I think teaching is in my blood. My dad was a teacher. Since I was really small, I've just always been interested in history. Interested in how people create meaning. It's nice to be able to put the two things together.